The End of Sourcing is Near… the Remaining Recruiting Challenge is Selling

With the growth of the Internet, social media and employee referral programs, “finding talent” is becoming amazingly easy. In recruiting, we call finding talent “sourcing” and for nearly 3 decades sourcing has been the most important but difficult aspect of recruiting. After all, if you can’t “find” great talent, you certainly can’t interview and hire them. But finding top talent among professionals is now becoming painless to the point where almost any firm can do it successfully. The time is rapidly approaching were nearly every professional and working individual in the developed world can be found by a recruiting function.

“Finding talent” is easy because everyone is now “visible”

Finding talent for recruiting purposes is now quite easy because almost everyone can be found through their “footprint” on some combination of electronic sites. You can be found if you have:

  • A LinkedIn profile
  • A Facebook, Google+ or a similar friends page where you “like” or follow a firm
  • A Twitter account
  • An email address
  • A phone number that appears in a directory or on a profile
  • A blog or personal website
  • Left comments on chat rooms or online forums
  • Photos on a photo page
  • A membership in a professional association
  • A professional license or government registration
  • A subscription to a news, RSS feed or a magazine
  • A signed in visit to knowledge, news and information websites
  • Won an award or have been recognized publicly for your work
  • A credit card or have a mortgage
  • Examples of your writing and work visible online
  • Your resume or bio has been visible online or on a job board

I ask the reader to look at this list and see how many of the 17 items apply to you. It turns out that most professionals meet a majority of the items, so if a corporate recruiter wanted to find you and they had the time… would it really be very difficult?

The loss of privacy is an indicator that nearly everyone is easy to find

It’s hard to read the news without finding a story complaining about “the loss of personal privacy”. Unlike most writers and citizens, recruiters can view this broad loss of privacy is a positive thing for them. There is a direct inverse relationship between the level of privacy and the ease of finding information about someone. In fact the opposite of privacy is “public” which means visible. As the level of privacy is reduced, more of your information is exposed, so recruiters can easily find not only can your name but also critical information that tells them about your skills, interests and experience. Sometimes all that is required to find a professional these days is a simple Google search on their name and a scan through LinkedIn. As more people around the world gain Internet and mobile platform access, finding people and information about them will become proportionally easier. In short, if a company finds you desirable as a potential recruit, there is no way to hide from them. And if you happen to want to be recruited, you will make the finding process even easier by purposely making yourself and your resume highly visible.

What is left of sourcing will not be done by recruiters

A majority of applicants at most firms are “active candidates”, so they “find you” and thus they require no “finding effort” beyond job posting and branding. The remaining recruiting effort is direct sourcing by recruiters or employees. It is my assertion that “finding” top talent will always be important, however eventually it will become so easy, that except in specialized cases, there will be no reason to have it done by highly paid recruiters. This is partially because as the electronic presence of almost everyone in the world increases, the volume of information will become too large to sort through by highly paid professional direct sorcerers. So instead, eventually recruiting will employee Internet web crawlers that will electronically search 24/7 for individuals that fit the desired candidate profile.

Most of the remaining “finding” will be done by your employees through the employee referral program. Employees will continue to find talent (and also assess it for skills and fit) during their interactions with colleagues while they are online, on their mobile phone and when they physically meet prospects at professional meetings and social events. Some advanced referral programs are already reaching 50% of all hires and not only are the employees finding these individuals, they are also making a contribution towards selling them on the firm before they convert them into it a formal referral.

Nobody likes reading about their upcoming doom

Because there are so many individuals, consultants and vendors currently involved in sourcing, they will of course negatively react to this forecast with some degree of passion. But it’s important to remember this was the same reaction and series of denials that also occurred among those that worked on photographic film, that designed newspaper want ads, that occurred among recruiters that crafted Boolean searches and that is currently occurring among those that make a living operating monster job boards (have you seen the drop in their stock price?). Even some executive search firms are suffering because social media and referrals are becoming quite capable of identifying future executives (by law most executives need to be listed in financial reports). The best executive search firms will still survive however because they almost always excel at the remaining important role of selling candidates.

The emphasis in recruiting needs to shift to selling

The process for recruiting individuals is relatively simple, it has 4 basic steps. They are:

Step 1 – Finding / direct sourcing – sourcing, finding or seeking out top quality individual prospects.

Step 2 – Selling them on applying – selling or convincing the identified prospects to apply at the firm.

Step 3 – Candidate assessment – the process of determining which of the applicants to make an offer to.

Step 4 – Selling them on the offer – convincing the final candidate to accept your offer.

Of the basic steps, half are focused on some aspect of selling a prospect or a candidate. Recruiting leaders should begin focusing on these selling aspects because, as previously stated, “finding” is becoming so easy and there is little push for change in candidate assessment because most recruiters and hiring managers are comfortable with the existing process of assessing candidates through interviews. Once you realize that the “selling aspect” of recruiting is almost universally under researched, underfunded and it is almost always executed in an unscripted manner, you’ll see that it’s ripe for significant improvement and change. If you review the recruiting literature you will find very little written about the science of selling and the importance of using data-driven selling approaches within the recruiting function. The pressure is increasing on recruiting leaders to make a decision to shift resources away from sourcing by recruiters and toward the remaining big challenge… selling.

10 unique actions to improve the selling component of recruiting

Unfortunately, despite the obvious importance of selling, many employees, recruiters and most hiring managers are not very good at it. In addition, generally few effective data-driven selling tools are provided to those that have the responsibility for selling prospects and candidates. If you want to improve your selling capability in recruiting, here are some powerful “outside the box” actions to consider.

  1. Provide a selling tool kit – provide employees, recruiters and hiring managers with a “selling toolkit” of simple but proven approaches which they can use to successfully sell prospects and candidates. Also provide recruiters and managers with a compact but effective online sales education site, wikis and forums, where they can find corporate stories, learn, ask questions and share recruiting sales best practices and problems. (Whirlpool has a benchmark model to follow).
  2. Sell during the interview — it’s important to encourage hiring managers and interviewers to spend at least ½ of the time during the interview selling the candidate. Also periodically ask the candidate during the interview process “are we close?” Or “do you see any roadblocks at this point?”
  3. Identify their job acceptance criteria – somewhere early in the recruiting process there should be a formal step for asking the candidate to list their specific “job acceptance criteria”. Once it is provided to recruiters and managers, they can use those criteria to personalize their selling approach. A list of “deal breakers” can also help everyone to avoid driving top talent away.
  4. A side-by-side “company sell sheet” – many managers do a poor job selling the company to potential recruits simply because they don’t have time to keep up with the competitive job market. So an alternative is to provide hiring managers with a side-by-side comparison sheet (like in Consumer Reports). This simple sheet makes it easy for them to highlight the advantages and the compelling features of working at your firm (versus top competitors) when they are talking to a candidate. You can also attach a version of this “company sell sheet” to your hardcopy application form and show it on your application website immediately before the application process begins.
  5. Educate everyone about offer trends — many candidates are lost because of insulting lowball offers that are initially provided. As a result, I recommend that you put together a team to gather data and to educate recruiters, compensation specialists and managers about the most recent offer “trends”, candidate expectations and specifically why recent offers at your firm were accepted or rejected.
  6. Offer them a salary re-opener after 6 months – as previously noted, low salary offers are a major cause for losing candidates that have multiple choices. I have found that you can overcome a situation where the applicant thinks that their value is higher than the company’s offer by formally or informally offering the candidate a salary “re-opener” three or six months after they start. The reason that this works is that neither the hiring manager nor the candidate can really know how good they are until they actually start work. So if after they start working, they turn out to be as good as they believe they are, you can then justify giving them more money. This approach can be a “win” for both sides.
  7. CEO calls – having your CEO or senior executive call the finalist directly and encourage them to accept is a powerful tool for hard to convince key individuals.
  8. Influence the influencers – remember that job decisions are not made alone. It’s important, wherever possible, to influence those that will influence the finalist’s acceptance decision (colleagues, mentors, coworkers and especially references and family members). You can improve your chances of getting support from these individuals by talking to them directly sending them information about the company or even giving them a sample of the company’s products. Focusing on talking to references, the spouse and mentors about the positive aspects of the company and the job are especially high impact steps for improving your acceptance rates.
  9. Targeted sales approaches – the process of selling innovators, top performers, technologists and executives generally have an extremely high failure rate when customized sales approaches are not used. As a result, the recruiting function needs to develop separate protocols or processes for assessing and selling each of these important types of recruiting targets.
  10. A post recruiting survey on what worked – you need to know the root causes of your successes and failures. As a result, survey all new hires during onboarding and a sample of unsuccessful applicants and candidates 3 months later to determine which aspects of the sales pitch worked and didn’t work. Also ask them what could be added to make the overall sales pitch more convincing. Use this information to improve your sourcing, marketing materials, interviews and the offer process.

Final thoughts

Over the last decade, employer branding and direct sourcing have received a great deal of attention and budget support. But the same is not true for the selling components of recruiting. As an illustration, there are several prominent sourcing conventions (i.e. SourceCon) held each year but there is not a single convention focused exclusively on selling as a component of recruiting. I forecast that the time will come when sourcing will be added to the ever-growing list of the many things that social media and the Internet are making obsolete. I urge strategic recruiting leaders to begin shifting resources towards this underfunded but strategically important area of recruiting… selling applicants and candidates.

© Dr. John Sullivan 2/4/13

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

Check Also

Hiring Innovators – The Highest Impact Action In Talent Management (Highlighting the benefits from hiring innovators)

Hiring has the highest bus. impact in HR, and innovators produce the highest impact of …