A Simple “What Worked Survey” Quickly Improves Sourcing / Recruiting (How data-driven sourcing will delay AI)

Recently updated research on sourcing once again shows that it remains the top challenge for TA. And unfortunately, the reappearance of this problem in the research means that weak sourcing has been the top TA problem for at least four years running. Not a pretty picture, and something that simply must change. And fortunately, a simple survey of recent applicants will provide the data needed to power this turnaround.

Applicant Feedback Will Improve Sourcing Performance

Sourcing clearly has the role of direct sourcing (finding prospects that have not applied)). However in most organizations, the highest volume role of the sourcing function is to increase the flow of active job seeker applicants. Because often, more than 70% of corporate job applicants are active job seekers. So when you begin using applicant feedback from active candidates to identify the most effective channels for posting open jobs. Coupled with the use of the most effective attraction factors. You can expect a significant surge in both the number and quality of applicants. 

Yes, Applicant Feedback And Data-Driven Sourcing Will Delay AI Dominance

Because of sourcing’s lingering bad image, compared with the growing positive image of AI. Many recruiting leaders are beginning to realize that their function faces a gradual takeover by AI/Machine Learning tools. And my research has found that the best way that you can slow the incursion of AI into the sourcing function is by shifting to a data-driven decision-making approach. This shift is essential because sourcing must be improved because it has the highest impact of the three phases of recruiting (sourcing, assessment and offering). That high-impact is a result of the fact that the matter how well your hiring process assesses and makes offers. It won’t matter if the most qualified prospects don’t ever become an applicant (because you simply can’t assess or make an offer to someone who didn’t apply because of weak sourcing). 

In addition, be aware that AI tool developers will focus on sourcing simply because we have so much room to improve. Our current approach clearly makes many job posting channel decisions without the use of any effectiveness data. And that won’t be allowed to continue, so many current sourcing choices will be replaced by AI/machine-driven data-supported decision tools. That has been proven to produce superior sourcing results, because the most effective job posting channels will be used much more often. And as a result, recruiting managers not only save time and money, but hiring managers will consistently receive both a higher volume and a higher quality of applicant. 

Why The Best Job Posting Channel For Active Candidates Continues To Be A Mystery

Almost no one that I have ever encountered in corporate sourcing has ever argued that our function excels at collecting and using source effectiveness information. My research into this problem reveals that it has multiple causes. And the road to improvement starts with an underlying foundation principle.

The foundation premise – Applicants are the most accurate provider of sourcing data – is critical that sourcing leaders understand that in most cases. Only the applicant (and not the recruiter) can unequivocally know these critical things. First, what employer brand effectively got the applicant initially interested in exploring this company. Next, on what specific active job seeker channel did they first see our job posting. And third, which attraction factors in your job pitches had the highest impact on convincing them to apply for this job.

Unfortunately, most corporate recruiting/sourcing functions never even seek these three data points. And when they do, they rely on individual sourcers/recruiters for that information. And unfortunately, expecting sourcers to provide this information has six major flaws. They are:

  1. No time for administration – a busy sourcer simply doesn’t have the time to capture and document. What they have found to be the best channels for posting open jobs and what are the most powerful attraction factors. So they often simply ignore any request for this information. 
  2. It is easier to enter the same source every time – in many cases, the recruiter simply checks the first job posting channel that appears at the top of the provided list (i.e. a major job board). Because it’s easy to do and no one is likely to question them for taking this shortcut.
  3. Most sourcers are focused on their own problems, so corporate source information isn’t a priority – most sourcers operate independently. So they only use their own intuition and memory to choose the job posting channel to use. That means that many will have no interest in either building or using accurate corporate data on job search channels. So when a form asks for a job posting channel, they simply ignore it. Because even when sourcing data is collected at the corporate level. It is lumped together so that it is impossible for an individual sourcer to determine what works best for their key open job.
  4. Because the same job posting channels are used over and over, there is little data on the seldom used but highly effective ones – you will find that many recruiters simply use the same extremely limited generic sourcing channels for every job search. And that means that other less popular but more effective job posting channels will not appear high up in the sourcing statistics. And especially in high-volume jobs, where cost per hire is especially relevant. The most effective but higher cost job posting channels will seldom appear in the effectiveness statistics. 
  5. When the channel effectiveness data is collected, it isn’t categorized – everyone knows that it is wise to use different job posting channels for unusual jobs and in cases where you need high-performing hires. However, when most channel effectiveness information is collected, it is unfortunately lumped together. And it is not segmented either by job or the required performance level of the applicant. And that means that your “average sourcing data” won’t be directly applicable when you need guidance from data that was only collected for a specific critical job.
  6. There is no penalty for failing to provide accurate information – since there is little tracking of channel or attraction factor accuracy. And there is no penalty for omitting it or for entering incorrect information. The result is that a painfully high error rate has become the norm.


A Simple Solution – A “What Worked” Survey Of Your Applicants

It is critical that you get all of the “what worked in sourcing” information for this open job 100% correct. So in order to meet that goal, below you will find some of the questions and elements that you should consider including in your applicant survey. 

Part I – There are three major content questions that you should use

There are three areas on which to focus your survey questions. They are: what excited me about the company, what specific information channel made me aware of your open job, and what job attraction factors caused me to actually apply. 

Question #1 – Help us understand the employer branding factors that activated your interest in our company. By answering this questionWhich information source/type had the most influence on your decision to begin seeking out more about our company? (Please rank the top factor with a 1, the next highest with a 2, and the third highest factor with a 3).

  • Online ratings or rankings of the best employers
  • One of your current or former employees recommended it
  • Content that you found browsing this company’s own careers website 
  • Profiles of your executives and employees that I came across
  • Media articles about your company and what it’s like to work there
  • Social media conversations/information about our company
  • Online videos covering what is like to work at our company 
  • Presentations by our company’s leaders and innovators at industry events 
  • Information about our products convinced you that you would like to work here
  • Other (specify)

Question #2– Please help us identify the first job posting channel where you actually found out about this open job. By answering this question. – Where did you first learn about this current job opening? (Select only one source/channel).

  • I found the opening on your company’s own careers website 
  • I saw your job posting on Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor.com, or a similar large job board
  • I saw your job posting on a niche industry/functional job board 
  • A newspaper job ad alerted me
  • I read about this job opening on one of my social media sites
  • I saw the opening at a job fair
  • One of your employees alerted me about the opening (referral)
  • One of your recruiters contacted me directly and they convinced me to apply
  • Other (specify)

Question #3 – Help us understand what attraction factors triggered your decision to apply for this job. By answering this question – Within all of our recruiting pitches that you encountered, which specific job attraction factors had the most influence on your decision to apply? (Rank the top factor with a 1, the next highest with a 2, and the third highest impact factor with a 3).

  • Your compensation package
  • Your benefits
  • Your working conditions 
  • Your opportunities to develop, grow and learn 
  • The chance to make a difference 
  • Your use of technology 
  • The team’s approach to diversity 
  • The team’s work/life balance
  • The team’s job security 
  • The team’s impact on the community
  • The job’s degree of freedom 
  • The commute 
  • Other (specify)


Part II – Details for implementing the “what worked survey”

If you decide to actually implement a survey of your applicants. Here are some action steps to consider.

  • Decide who to survey – first, decide if you have the time and resources to survey all jobs (as opposed to only focusing on high-priority jobs). Also, depending on the number of applicants, decide if you want to survey every applicant or only a sample of them in your target jobs. 
  • Decide which messaging channel to use – depending on what has worked best recently. Either message or email your target applicants (depending on which communications channel has had the highest response rate). Include in your message a link to your website survey that is exclusive to this particular job number. 
  • Explain why you need this information – you will increase the response rate to your survey if you explain to each of the surveyed applicants. Why you need this information and how it will be used to make your future sourcing/recruiting more inclusive and easier on the applicant.
  • Alert them that an accurate response can be a plus factor for the applicant – make it clear to every surveyed applicant that their speedy and accurate response to this survey. May be used as a positive indicator of the applicant’s level of interest in our company and this job.
  • Don’t make the survey anonymous – avoid making the survey anonymous. Because later on, without the applicant’s name. It will be almost impossible to determine which individual sourcing factors had the most impact on your most important candidates (those that appear in your final interview slate and, later, who become offered candidates).

Final Thoughts

Take a minute and think of the sourcing function as an analogy to fishing. In order to be a highly successful fisherperson, you must collect data over time that reveals the best place to fish and what the most attractive bait would be. Likewise, in order to increase the effectiveness of your overall sourcing effort.

First, you must require your sourcers to consistently use the most effective job posting channels. Recruiting leaders will also have to require that those that write job postings and recruiting messages will have to emphasize the most powerful company and job attraction factors. And finally, you will need metrics to keep track of how this simple applicant survey data actually increased your volume of candidates. As well as the quality of your applicants and, eventually, the on-the-job performance of your new hires. And finally, you can learn more about the continuing demise of the human-powered sourcing function here.

Author’s Note 

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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.

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