Sourcing Doesn’t End with a Great Name—That’s Only the Start of a Good Sourcer’s Work

Sourcing and recruiting may seem like two separate activities, but they’re not. If you’re not good at sourcing, you can’t be good at recruiting, and vice versa. Why? Because if sourcers can’t convince the strongest people they’re identifying as prospects to seriously consider their open jobs, then their effort is wasted.

In a “Small Batch, High Touch” process you only need 20-25 pre-selected passive candidates to make one great hire. Five or so of these should be great referrals and the other 20 cherry-picked direct sourced prospects who would naturally see your opening as a career move.

Cherry picking is an advanced recruiter skill despite the somewhat superficial name. For example, for a CEO search I looked for people who were division general managers at companies in the same industry who would quickly see that the job offered more rapid growth, more independence and a chance to demonstrate their leadership ability.

For an HR VP search in a remote area, I looked for HR directors at bigger companies within a 100 mile radius who would instantly see the job as a significant career jump and worthy of relocation. For sales reps for a fast-growing medical device manufacturer we looked for those in related industries but at companies that had seen their growth slow down.

The idea with cherry picking as a sourcing tactic is to look for people who would instantly see the opportunity as worth considering in a short tweet-like email, message or voicemail. However, the purpose of the message is to get the person to initially engage in a conversation to see if the job is as good as it seems. Once on the phone, persuading the cherry-picked prospect to become seriously interested in the opening takes strong recruiting skills. That’s why I contend that good sourcers need to be great recruiters. If not, you’ll lose all of these people for the wrong reasons.

You must offer a 30% increase to recruit the best talent

Early in my conversations with these pre-selected (aka, cherry-picked) prospects I mention that the only reason they should even consider changing jobs is for a minimum 30% increase. I then pause and let the idea sink in. Then I say with a big but, is that this increase is non-monetary. It consists of some job stretch - meaning a bigger job, a job with more impact, a job where the mix of work is more satisfying and, of course, one that offers faster growth for a longer period of time. I then say that this will take some time to determine but that I’d like to use the first call just to see if the possibility exists. I refer to this concept as the 30% Solution.

There are multiple purposes for presenting the conversation this way. The big one: It forces the person to consider a job change from a longer-term perspective, minimizing the chance that an offer that emphasizes a bigger compensation package will be accepted. The next big one: It allows the recruiter to engage in a more conversational career discussion rather than an impersonal box-checking exercise.

Obviously I could write a book about how to recruit and close strong talent but the point is that if sourcers can’t recruit, it doesn’t matter how good they are at sourcing. In this case, I contend that recruiters actually make better sourcers, since cherry picking doesn’t take advanced sourcing skills. A green belt in “Clever Boolean” is more than enough.

How to Rethink Sourcing by Using Marketing and High Touch Techniques

I’m working with two clients helping them find and hire managers to run their marketing campaigns. One of the core principles behind digital campaign marketing is the idea of using targeted messages to attract new clients by emphasizing their needs and motivations. To increase the overall response rate, these messages are pushed out using video, email and web site advertising.

There is no reason companies can’t use a similar approach to attract stronger talent.

Using marketing techniques can help you get to a 70% candidate response rate

For an individual job the theme of messaging is developed during the intake meeting with the recruiter asking the hiring manager, “Why would a top person want this job?

For example, for one of the campaign manager spots above, the EVP turned out to be leading the conversion of the company’s entire marketing efforts to their new digital strategy and platform. For a cost manager’s role it was how the person’s attention to detail drove the company’s profitability. For a customer service rep in the health care industry it was improving the lives of the company’s most important assets every day – its customers. Defining this for each open job is essential. Generic messaging no longer is enough.

At LinkedIn’s Talent Connect 2016 I advocated the idea of implementing a small batch high touch recruiting process using career-focused messaging to drive the sourcing efforts. It’s relatively simple to find 15-20 strong prospects (this is the “small batch”) using LinkedIn Recruiter’s robust filtering techniques. What’s not simple is getting these people to respond to your messaging. This is where the campaign marketing idea comes into play.

Using a series of approaches (emails, voicemails, meet ups) and nurturing ideas (e.g., having the hiring manager or someone who knows the person in your company call, inviting the person to an evening presentation at the company) it’s possible to achieve a 60-70% response rate. This will yield 12-14 strong prospects.

How to convert these candidates into strong finalists

As important it takes a skilled recruiter to convert half of these prospects into interested candidates and getting the other half to each provide 1-2 highly qualified referrals to keep the top of the funnel constantly filled. This is the “high touch” part. Following the four-step process below results in a passive candidate recruiting machine that when implemented properly is guaranteed to result in 3-4 strong finalists in a few weeks for any job.

Of course, “implemented properly” does take some work. Here are some ideas on how to make this part go a little smoother.

1. Remove the lid on quality of hire during the intake meeting.

While determining the EVP is essential it’s also important for the hiring manager to define the job as a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills, competencies and experiences. Since some of the best people have a different mix of skills and experiences it’s silly to exclude these people from consideration. The logic is that if the person can do the work he/she has exactly the skills and experiences necessary to excel.

2. Don’t sell the job, sell the discussion.

Every recruiting message including emails, job posts, videos and voice mails needs to highlight the EVP, the big challenges in the job and why the role could represent a career move. The message also needs to make it abundantly clear that the next step is an exploratory discussion, not filling in an application.

3. Offer a 30% increase to convert prospects into candidates.

I suggest to interested prospects that unless the job offers a non-monetary increase of at least 30% it’s not a career move. This 30% consists of a bigger job, more job growth, more job satisfaction since the mix of work is different and more impact. Looking for this 30% is what the initial conversation is all about and few prospects balk at the idea.

4. If you can’t find the 30% ask for referrals.

When the job is either too big or too small I gently tell prospects the current job is not a good move. However, I also connect with the person on LinkedIn and ask them to refer me to the best people they’ve worked with in the past who would be open to explore the opportunity. Getting these referrals is how you keep the funnel filled with great people.

After Talent Connect I wrote a number of posts suggesting that a small batch high touch process was the key to improving quality of hire. The prerequisites are a great job, a short list of highly qualified potential prospects, a skilled recruiter and fully engaged hiring manager. When combined with a digital marketing campaign process designed to track and maximize yield at each critical step in the process it’s guaranteed to result in stronger hires

Answer These Questions to Dramatically Decrease the Time You Spend Sourcing

In my opinion more time is wasted talking to candidates who aren’t seen or hired by their hiring manager clients than any other recruiting activity. And even when these candidates are seen, hiring managers need to see too many before pulling the yes/no hiring trigger. Worse, some of the best people opt-out long before ever getting an offer so you are back to square one. It’s like doing the same search over and over again.

The primary reason for this problem is the lack of alignment between the recruiter, hiring manager and candidate regarding the actual job needs. Solving this problem will increase recruiter productivity by 100% by not having to present more than four candidates to get one person hired. Bottom line: Recruiters will be able to do one search once rather than sending an endless stream of candidates to get one moderately qualified person hired.

The 3 questions you should ask to align around actual job needs

To help you understand what it takes to align around job needs, I will share with you a project I am working on.

One of our medical device clients is planning on hiring 100 sales representatives during 2016. In 2015, using a list of skills, experiences and competencies as their selection tool, the company hired more than 60 reps. As of December 2015, more than half are underperforming. Worse, to hire the 60, they interviewed hundreds and screened more than 500. To prevent this problem from ever recurring I suggested their sales managers answer the following questions:

1. What are the 2-3 major objectives a person in the role needed to perform over the course of the year that you’d all agree defined on-the-job success?

It was easy to get agreement on “Make their quarterly and annual sales objectives,” as a starting point. But getting agreement on the major objectives on what needed to be done to achieve this overriding objective took hours. For this we came up with these three big objectives:

  • Maximize territory performance and growth.
  • Use advanced solution selling to develop an account-by-account calendared plan.
  • Project manage the entire territory sales effort to leverage the company’s internal resources of technical, marketing and sales support teams.

2. For each major objective, what are the one or two subtasks the best people do differently to ensure the major objective is met?

I call these the deal-breakers. They’re the tasks or abilities the hiring manager shouldn’t compromise on. After a few discussions these turned out to be: 1) conducting detailed discovery to identify real buying needs and create demand for the company’s solution, 2) being able to prioritize accounts based on size and opportunity and 3) being able to meet the key influencers at each account long before too much effort was invested in the project.

3. What are the most important skills, behaviors or competencies essential for success in this role?

When asked, most managers describe generic terms like drive, problem-solving ability or team skills. The more important question is, “How does the person use this ability on the job?” Unless you know how the skill is used on the job too much leeway is left to the interviewer on how to assess the skill. However, for example, when “problem-solving skills” gets converted to “develop a territory strategy that ensures even quarterly sales growth,” it’s easy to ask candidates to give you examples of doing this.

Final thoughts

Most jobs can be defined by 5-6 performance objectives developed using this simple questioning technique. I refer to these as performance-based job descriptions or performance profiles. Before sourcing and presenting candidates, recruiters need to first get agreement that the hiring manager will see 100% of the people who have achieved comparable results even if the person has a non-traditional mix of skills and experiences. Then when it comes to assessing candidates everyone on the hiring team needs to agree to these objectives and their order of importance. This is how you get internal alignment around real job needs.

Getting alignment with the candidate starts by suggesting that in order for the job to represent a career move the person needs to get a 30% non-monetary increase. This consists of job stretch, job growth and an increased mix of more satisfying work. Tell candidates up front that you’ll be using a series of exploratory meetings and discovery interviews to determine if this can be achieved.

By getting alignment around real job needs and as long as your candidates have done comparable work your hiring managers will only need to see four candidates to get one person hired. And if the job represents a true career move, you’ll hire one of them on fair and equitable terms. This is how you stop doing the same search over and over again.

Remove the Sourcing Blinders to Reach the Entire Talent Market



For every person who applies to a job who is skills and experience qualified there are 100 times as many people who are performance qualified who don't apply.

Performance qualified means they can do the work.

Performance qualified is determined by preparing a performance-based job description.

Performance qualified means they have the right mix of skills and experiences to do the work, but it's often different than what's listed on the job description.

Performance qualified broadens the pool to more diverse candidates and more non-traditional candidates irrespective of age, gender, race, religion and physical challenges.

Performance qualified expands the talent pool 100X while improving quality of hire and on-the-job performance.

The investment in performance qualified hires has an ROI impact of over 1000%.

Here’s more information describing the differences between performance qualified and skills qualified. The video describes how to find people who are performance qualified.



The 40/40/20 Sourcing Plan

I was holding a confab last week (circa 2012 - but it's still valid today, whatever day it is) with a few recruiting directors from some global companies discussing the future of sourcing and recruiting. The emphasis was how to get better results from LinkedIn Recruiter. Their contention was that more could be done, but their recruiters were balking. The discussion started with a few questions. Imagine you were there at the meeting. How would you respond to these points?

  1. Do you want to increase your emphasis on hiring passive candidates?
  2. Are you in a talent scarcity situation where the demand for talent is greater than the supply?
  3. Do you want to raise the talent level of your total current workforce, sustain it, or lower it?

All said they want to accelerate their passive recruiting efforts; they all thought they were in a talent scarcity situation for most critical positions; and, of course, they all said they wanted to raise their talent level. I suggested that to begin achieving these three results they needed to implement a 40/40/20 sourcing plan. This means that no more than 20% of their sourcing resources and efforts should be spent on job postings, about 40% on name generation and targeted emails, and 40% on networking.  This 40/40/20 sourcing plan maps closely to the job-hunting status of LinkedIn members. This is shown in the pie chart summarizing the results of a survey we conducted with LinkedIn in 2011.

Based on more than 4,500 fully-employed members, 17% categorized themselves as active (Searchers, Networkers, and Hunters), 15% Tiptoers (only telling very close former associates), and 68% passive (Explorers were open to receiving calls from a recruiter to discuss a possible career move). To source and recruit the best of these people you can’t just post traditional job descriptions, send boring emails, or make dozens of phones call a day, and expect to attract and hire many good people. Implementing a well-designed talent scarcity approach to hiring top talent requires that each part of the 40/40/20 plan be optimized to attract the best people in each job-hunting category. This then needs to be combined with rigorous performance-based selection standards and exceptional recruiting skills, to raise a company’s overall talent bar. I contended that without this type of overt and proactive approach it was very difficult to even sustain the current talent levels, since short-term needs dominated long-term decision-making.

The Essence of a 40/40/20 Sourcing Plan

  • 20% of your efforts need to be posting compelling, career-oriented recruitment advertising so that the best active candidates will find it easily when searching on Google or a job board aggregator. Not only does the posting need to be easily found, but it also needs to highlight the “ideal” candidate’s intrinsic motivator. This is what motivates the person to excel and what they’re not getting in their current job. Here’s an example of how we captured this for a posting we prepared for a client earlier this year for a business unit controller.
  • 40% of your sourcing needs to be focused on preparing short, personalized career stories that are emailed to prospective prospects. These prospects are identified using “Clever Boolean” techniques plus the advanced search filters built into LinkedIn Recruiter. Using LinkedIn’s InMail or a tool like eGrabber for extracting email addresses, it’s simple to send emails in reasonable volumes within a hour after taking a search. This needs to be followed-up with timely and persistent phone messages from the recruiter. What’s left as a voice mail is as important as the email message.
  • 40% of a company’s sourcing efforts needs to networking-based with the objective of spending more time getting pre-qualified warm referrals, rather than making endless cold calls. Most of the initial names will be generated by using LinkedIn Recruiter to search on your co-workers’ connections, and before calling, getting the co-worker to vouch for the person. This is much more proactive than waiting for a co-worker to recommend someone. But this is just the first step. Once on the phone, there’s a heck of lot of recruiting that needs to be done. Much of this involves getting the person to consider the career opportunities involved in the open position, rather than attempting to browbeat the person into hearing about your “great” job, which is no different than every other “great” job the person has heard about.

We ended the meeting by creating the agenda for next month’s call. The ideas focused on what came next once a company implemented a 20/40/40 sourcing plan. I suggested that there were some prerequisites that should come first, specifically:

  1. How to obtain the full support and engagement of the hiring manager. If hiring managers aren’t willing to invest extra time upfront and spend more time recruiting candidates, it was unlikely any sourcing plan would help in attracting and hiring stronger people.
  2. Convert jobs into careers. Top people, whether active, passive, military vets, or diverse candidates, aren’t the least bit interested in taking lateral transfers unless the upside is clear and obvious. Recruiters need to convincingly make this case on each and every call, from first contact to the final close.

Implementing a 40/40/20 sourcing plan is a necessary step for any company facing a talent scarcity situation, but it’s not sufficient. To pull it off, you also need great jobs, fully-engaged hiring managers, and outstanding recruiters. However, this is just the beginning. It’s how you execute that will separate the winners from the runners-up.