Search Savvy: Hire a sourcer

Apr 16, 2014

Need help identifying targets for potential recruiting? The answer is in the headline.

Sometimes in the recruiting world, you’ll hear the term “sourcing.” It sounds like something you would hear in the buying/procurement business, right? But when a recruiter talks about “sourcing” they’re referring to that part of the recruiting organization/process that is tasked with leveraging a wide variety of search methods intended to unearth professionals who demonstrate relevance for a particular open position. In other words, “sourcers” do exactly what their title implies – they source talent. The difference between a sourcer and a recruiter is that sourcers are typically not charged with developing candidates, while recruiters are. Rather, sourcers are charged almost exclusively with identifying “targets” who can be developed into candidates (the term “target,” buy the way, is a rather cold industry designation for professionals who appear to possess the relevant skills, experiences and credentials for a particular job opening, but have not yet indicated their interest in said opening). Because sourcers are charged with only identifying potential targets, they will typically specialize in just the initial procurement of names, profiles, bios, résumés, etc. of relevant professionals. The targets are then referred to a recruiter to be either dismissed or pursued further, based upon the information the sourcer provided. It’s really quite an effective recruiting method. It’ not uncommon for larger companies to employ entire teams dedicated strictly to sourcing as a way to “feed” recruiters with a consistent batch of relevant targets who can then be approached by the recruiter for further development as candidates (i.e. qualification, interview, and ultimately placement). In some cases, sourcers are utilized only tactically to simply monitor and scour major résumé banks, and then to hand off their findings to an assigned recruiter. However, other companies will leverage sourcers much more strategically. They often fill very difficult searches by using their sourcers to identify talent from non-traditional sources that go well beyond the active candidate realm of résumé banks and into the much more prolific (and less visible) realm where highly sought-after “passive” candidates dwell (i.e. association directories, conference attendee lists, articles, news releases, etc.). Clearly, there are numerous advantages to hiring a sourcer to compliment your existing recruiting team. If your firm has grown to a point where more than one recruiter is necessary, it may be worth considering hiring a sourcing specialist, as opposed to another recruiter. Typically (but not always), a sourcer is more junior in their overall recruiting experience than a recruiter, and can therefore be hired at a lesser salary. The addition of a sourcer will likely improve your candidate pool dramatically and free your recruiter to focus on qualifying/assessing candidates, as opposed to the time-intensive effort of researching/identifying targets. This alone should radically help improve both your quality-of-hire and your time-to-fill metrics. Considering the financial advantages and the advantages to candidate quality, you may be now seriously thinking about introducing a sourcer into your recruiting team’s efforts. In that case, you may be asking: “What are the characteristics that make for a good sourcer? What traits should I be looking for?” Good questions. There are many, but here are three traits that I find to be absolutely critical:
  1. Internet-savvy. Good sourcers know how to navigate the Internet. They know how to use Boolean search language to create very specific search parameters that yield very specific results. They are also extremely intuitive. They can discern relationships in the information and the profiles they surface. I call them “information detectives.” In other words, good sourcers know where to find information and, moreover, they know how to interpret the information they find in a way that leads them to greater repositories of information and broader pools of potential candidates.
  2. Analytical. Good sourcers are into the details – they revel in it. They don’t get bored easily with duplicative and analytical exercises. They love research, so they can sit in front of a computer for hours looking at countless lines of information without their eyes glazing over; all the while enjoying the challenge of finding a needle in a haystack.
  3. Disciplined/tenacious. Good sourcers plan their work and then execute their plan consistently. They know exactly what they’re going after and exactly how to prioritize their efforts. They don’t give up easily on a search. The more obstacles and brick walls they face, the more determined they become to find the honey hole. They’ll do it just like that every single day. In my experience, former analysts have historically proven to make the best sourcers.

Final thoughts. An important asterisk on this article is this: Sourcers are typically researchers, not recruiters, and should be utilized differently. I don’t recommend that sourcers begin the initial engagement with the targets they identify – especially passive targets. Play the strengths of your team without confusing their purpose. Also, keep in mind that the purpose of hiring a sourcer is ultimately to eliminate reliance upon other sourcing means. Because that’s true, the expectations you build into the position should be centered upon candidate quality, not quantity.

The next time you have a recruiting position to fill, take a moment to consider the benefits of hiring a sourcer instead. An Internet-savvy, intuitive, analytical, disciplined, tenacious sourcer is an invaluable resource in the war to win talent. Jeremy Clarke is the director of executive search consulting with ZweigWhite. Contact him at This article first appeared in The Zweig Letter (ISSN 1068-1310), issue #1052, originally published 4/21/2014. Copyright© 2014, ZweigWhite. All rights reserved.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.