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Who Knows What Talent Lurks in the Heart of the Web?

Part sleuth, part stalker, sourcers are researchers who use both traditional means to find job candidates and more unconventional ways, such as social media networking.

March 21, 2011

There may not be a magic bullet when it comes to finding talent, but according to some, there is a secret weapon and it's called “sourcing.”

Part sleuth, part stalker, as Kelly Dingee calls herself, sourcers are researchers who use both traditional means to find job candidates and more unconventional ways, such as social media networking, joining online professional groups, researching competitors, scouring staff directories, conference agendas, PowerPoint presentations and other materials.

The traditional approach skims the surface. The other goes much deeper, yielding information such as who has the college degree and skills needed and also lives within five miles of the job site or who is performing the same job for a competitor. These in-depth searches also can help sourcers make more intuitive decisions, such as identifying who might be ready for a career move based on job history. Dingee, who has been sourcing full-time since 1998, prefers to keep mum about her tactics. Good sourcers don't share their secrets, she says.

“Some candidates are stunned when I find them,” says Dingee, manager of strategic recruiting for Staffing Advisors, a Washington-area search firm. She recalls contacting a hard-to-find candidate for a highly skilled software engineer position who “completely flipped out when I reached him at work.” Dingee didn't have his e-mail address but figured it out based on others she had at the company. When she sent the man a message, “he went ballistic,” she says, because he had just started his job there and was afraid she would get him in trouble.

“How did you find me?” is the question Dingee says almost every candidate asks. “I understand it can be disconcerting to get tweeted, e-mailed or called out of the blue, but I always laugh when someone asks me that,” she says. “People just aren't conscious of their online presence. There's a great deal of naïveté out there.” And, perhaps, a little mystery.

While sourcing has always been part of a recruiter's job, the Internet and the growing array of search tools and other technologies have turned it into a more complex and in-demand specialty. Some companies view sourcers as their best-kept secret, according to Dingee, who says her employer asked her not to divulge too much information about what she does.

Sourcing expert, blogger and self-described “searchologist” Jim Stroud says that, traditionally, there has been a stigma around sourcing. “When you think about computer geeks, you think about hackers in a dark room,” says Stroud, social media development manager at EnglishCafe, an online English-language learning service in Brisbane, California. “We say that we can find anyone, but some people wonder, ‘How can you find them if we can't find them?' They see it as something mystical.”

But sourcers do share some of their secrets. Since 2007, a growing number of them have been meeting at an annual conference where they can show off their sleuthing. A highlight of the gathering is a competition—a kind of scavenger hunt—that entails using clues to find a secret code.

Despite suspicions that some sourcers hack computers for information, Stroud says that's unfounded and most get their “inside” knowledge from the Internet. Sourcers are “just people who know how to Google really, really well.”

How employers use sourcers varies. Some outsource the function, but a growing number are developing teams in-house. Typically, a sourcer finds job candidates and passes them on to a recruiter who manages the hiring process.

Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. created a sourcing department in 2006 and has made it an integral part of its recruiting effort. “We have a sourcing organization made up of individuals some of who only harvest names—they search for that needle in a haystack,” says Jerrod Wheeler, global sourcing team lead at the firm. “Others work on résumé generation and are more focused on traditional job boards and other avenues of résumé generation. We also have a team of researchers who develop capabilities for finding candidates with hard-to-fill skill sets.” Wheeler would not say how many sourcers or recruiters the company employs.

Sourcers can save a company money and free up recruiters to better manage the hiring process, says Shally Steckerl, executive vice president of Arbita, a recruitment and technology consulting firm based in Minneapolis. “Say a recruiter gets 10,000 applicants and 9,988 don't meet the criteria. The recruiter has to go through all of those applications and track them, stream them into the process and reject them. A good sourcer might find five qualified candidates for the job” and eliminate the need for a pricey job ad.

“Sourcers can dig around and find out who's who in the industry, who's willing to talk, who's bleeding people, who's opening a new facility or launching a new product,” says Steckerl, who began his sourcing career in 1996 and founded a professional group of sourcers on LinkedIn called Arbita CyberSleuths. “They do lead generation, whether it's by Internet, phone, fax or telegraph. A good sourcer uses any tool available. It's not about stumbling onto a database. It's about digging deep for that vein of gold.”

Workforce Management, February 2011, p. 24 -- Subscribe Now!