“Real Recruiting”: Talent Identification AND Acquisition

As you might be able to tell from the name of my blog, I’m passionate about leveraging information systems for finding candidates. Unless you’re running one-word or title-only queries, you can’t search the Internet, LinkedIn, Twitter, your ATS/CRM, or a job board resume database without using at least the most basic Boolean logic.

When I post links to my search-focused articles in various LinkedIn groups, I often get comments and responses expressing the sentiment that using various sites and technologies to search for candidates isn’t “real recruiting.” I’m always a little saddened and frustrated to see responses like this, because it reflects the fact that there are plenty of people in the recruiting and staffing industry that just don’t “get it.”

Hysteron Proteron

To say that “real recruiting” lies only in the aspects of establishing relationships with and gaining the interest of, selling to, and consultatively closing ”passive” candidates is preposterous – and in most cases, self serving.

You can be the best relationship builder, interest generator, objection overcomer, opportunity seller, and candidate closer in the universe, but you won’t achieve a single hire/placement until you find the right person to build a relationship with and “close.”

Bottom line – you cannot recruit someone you haven’t found in the first place (that’s where the hysteron proteron part comes in). In other words, that would be like putting the cart before the horse. However, it’s worth pointing out that even the worst “recruiter” in the world, with horrible closing and consulting skills, could get a hire if they found the right person at the right time.

Let that one sink in deeply before reading further. It’s important.

Talent Identification AND Acquisition

The recruiting life cycle includes both sourcing (talent identification) and recruiting (talent acquisition). You can’t hire someone you haven’t identified/found. If anyone reading this article has actually accomplished this feat – please let me know.

While I could be politically correct and make some people feel comfortable by saying that the recruiting life cycle is 50% talent identification and 50% talent acquisition, I won’t. I have to be true to what I know from being in the trenches of the recruiting and staffing industry for a little over twelve years (yet I will be the first to tell you that years of experience is meaningless – you can master the craft of recruiting in less than two).

Because you can’t close and hire someone you haven’t found, I’d have to say that the talent identification piece of the recruiting life cycle puzzle is actually bigger than what most people consider to be the “real” part of recruiting – building relationships, overcoming objections, selling and closing. It’s certainly more critical, because in reality, talent acquisition is DEPENDENT upon talent identification.

The Match

Let’s not forget that a significant and highly critical portion of the recruiting life cycle is actually screening, evaluating, matching and selecting potential candidates. Even if you can find candidates to establish relationships with and uncover and address their career “wounds,” you won’t achieve any hires if you can’t accurately and effectively screen, evaluate and match candidates based on their skills, experience, capabilities, and personality to the positions you’re recruiting for.

And before you can effectively screen and evaluate candidates, you have to first have a deep understanding of the position (and department, project, manager, etc.) you’re hiring for.  Good luck performing ”real recruiting” on positions to don’t fully understand with candidates you can’t truly assess and evaluate.

“Real Recruiting” is Actually Quite Easy

Although many proclaim that building relationships with passive job seekers, understanding the needs and desires of potential candidates, and consultatively selling and closing is the mysterious and hard-to-learn “art” of recruiting, I don’t buy it. I’ve never found the “art” of recruiting to be difficult or challenging.

I’ve called plenty of candidates “out of the blue,” with no indication as to what their job search status was – and they had no idea who I was, how I found them, or why I was calling. Talking with potential candidates to discover what’s happening with them, what’s important to them, what they would ideally like to be doing, and matching them with opportunities that closely align with their ideal employment scenario has never been the challenge for me – and I don’t think I’m special or unique in this regard.

If you’re a recruiter and you find talking to and establishing a rapport with people difficult, or if you have a hard time finding out what’s important to people in their career and assisting them with making sound decisions to advance themselves professionally – I’d advise you to make a career change.

Oh…the irony.

E-Sourcing Only SEEMS Easy

Finding and talking with and relating to people isn’t difficult. Finding the right people to talk to has and will always be the real challenge. As I’ve said before – the proverbial haystack is getting larger, exacerbating the issue. Perhaps for this reason alone, sourcing isn’t dead and will never die.

Many of the people who respond to my articles who believe that e-sourcing isn’t a part of “real recruiting” often say that running searches to find people is easy, and that anyone can do it. I agree – running simple and imprecise searches on the Internet, LinkedIn, an ATS/CRM, Monster, etc., is actually quite easy. In fact, deceptively simple.

However, just because you CAN do something, it doesn’t mean you’re any good at it. I can cook, but I’m certainly not a chef. It’s also important to point out that simply having access to something (e.g., the Internet, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) does not imply any level of expertise.

Ever step on a golf course?

Bottom line – finding people is easy. Finding the right people is not.

Article Continues Below

Illusory Competence

Unfortunately, many people are in a state of ignorant bliss when it comes to their e-sourcing skills. I believe one of the major contributors to this phenomenon is the fact that when you search a site or a database, it’s impossible to see the candidates your search didn’t find. Sadly, to most sourcers and recruiters – anyone not retrieved by their searches is assumed to simply not exist. The fact that most people aren’t even aware of this is the crux of the issue.

Also at work here is that most people don’t have any basis of comparison when it comes to running searches on social networking sites, the Internet, and resume databases to find people. That’s similar to someone believing they’re pretty good at golf, yet they’ve never seen anyone else, let alone a top professional, play the game.

Technology is Ever-Changing

The core aspects and best practices of what many believe to be the “real” part of the recruiting life cycle haven’t really changed or evolved over time. Essentially – what worked well twenty years ago will still work beautifully today. And that’s a good thing!

However, in just the past five years we’ve seen advances in Internet search techniques, highly evolved ATS/CRM applications become available, the rise of social media and social networks (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and countless niche job board resume databases spring up. It seems that a new way to find people electronically springs up almost daily.

With each passing moment, more data becomes available for more people somewhere – whether it be a social media profile, a resume submitted to a company, a Tweet, a blog, a press release, etc. While you can not DIRECTLY find everyone online or in a database somewhere today – with each passing day, you can find more and more people through e-sourcing. And you actually CAN indirectly find anyone electronically – but that’s a whole ‘nother article.

Unlike relationship building and consultative selling, technology will continue to rapidly change and evolve, requiring those in the recruiting industry to adapt to and learn how to effectively leverage these sources of talent. Anyone failing to do so will be at a competitive disadvantage, whether they are aware of it or not.

The Secret

I’m going to let you in on a little secret I discovered only a few months into my recruiting career. If you can find the right people, there really isn’t much heavy lifting required in the realm of so-called “real recruiting.” Yes, even for the most ”passive” of candidates.

The recruiting life cycle will always involve establishing a rapport with potential candidates, building relationships, gaining an understanding of what’s important to candidates, and consultatively selling and closing candidates. However – when you are able to find the right person at the right time, by design, you will find you don’t really have to “sell” the opportunity or “close” the candidate. The most satisfying “closes” of my career were actually the ones that “closed” themselves.

In fact, I believe that some people that have to rely heavily on their “real recruiting” skills of closing and selling do so out of necessity – because they lack the ability to find the right person at the right time. If you can’t find a round peg for a round hole, perhaps shaving away the corners of a square peg will facilitate a fit. However, I’ll happily continue to focus my efforts and expertise on finding the round peg in the first place.


“Real” recruiting involves the entire recruiting life cycle: sourcing (aka talent identification), establishing rapport, building relationships, gaining the interest of and uncovering the needs and motivations of potential candidates, candidate screening, matching and selection, as well as consultatively selling and closing to result in hires (aka talent acquisition).

No single step of the recruiting life cycle is any more “real” than another. However, due to the simple fact that you cannot recruit people you can’t find in the first place, talent identification is the most critical step of the recruiting life cycle.

Ideally, one should strive to excel at every aspect of the recruiting life cycle. If your relationship building and consultative selling and closing skills are already well-honed, mastering the critical first step of the recruiting life cycle enables you to find more of the right people more quickly, allowing you to increase your quantity of hires while maintaining, if not improving the quality of your hires.

This article is part of the Boolean Black Belt archives here on SourceCon. You can view the original article here.

With more than 20 years of experience in recruiting, Glen Cathey is a globally recognized sourcing and recruiting leader, blogger (booleanblackbelt.com) and corporate/keynote speaker (9X LinkedIn, 9X SourceCon, 3X Talent42, 2X SOSUEU, Booking.com, PwC, Deloitte, Intel, Booz Allen, Enterprise Holdings, AstraZeneca…).

Glen currently serves as a Global Head of Digital Strategy and Innovation for Randstad, reporting into the Netherlands, focusing on data-driven recruitment, AI and automation.  Over the course of his career, Glen has been responsible for talent acquisition training, process, technology, analytics and innovation strategies for I.T. staffing and RPO firms with over 100,000 hires annually, and he's hired, trained, developed and led large local, national, global and centralized sourcing and recruiting teams, including National Recruiting Centers with over 300 associates.

He has earned a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland at College Park and is passionate about people, process (Lean) data and analytics, AI and automation, strategy and innovation, leadership and performance.



11 Comments on ““Real Recruiting”: Talent Identification AND Acquisition

  1. I certainly agree with most of your points and no one would be able to argue that you couldn’t place a candidate you hadn’t first identified. However, you also can’t place a candidate you haven’t first acquired.
    I’ve spent many years in recruitment, either sourcing candidates myself or in organisations where the sourcing and talent acquisition functions were seperated and I’ve certainly seen many lists of ‘identified candidates’ that were never called by the acquisition team and therefore, could also never be placed.
    Both parts of the equation are just as important as the other.

    I also think you’ve left out one of the most crucial functions of ‘real recruiting’. Sure, if you have an open role, the right candidate at the right time will usually close him or herself.
    But sometimes you have the right candidate at the right time – but no open role and you need to proactively go to market to find them the right company. Your success in this area is based on relationship building and consultative selling and closing skills. Your ability to spot a gap or need in the market and provide the right candidate to fill it.
    This is a skill and an art that many (but not enough) talent acquisition consultants excel at.

    Without this skill – many of those good candidates that sourcers identify may be lost. You can’t always leave it up to ‘good timing’.

  2. you like to use “e-sourcing” … does that mean we should also say “m-sourcing” (for mobile) and “s-sourcing” (for social web sourcing) …. or does it matter?

    help this confused e-recruiterthatknowshowtosourcekindabutdoesnthavereqsanymore

  3. @Andrea – thank you for your comment and your counterpoints. Your point that “you can’t place a candidate you haven’t acquired” is accurate because you can’t even contact and egange a person that you haven’t already found/identified. However, I will still argue that talent discovery is the most important step in the recruiting life cycle, for many reasons, not the least of which is that the rest of the recruiting life cycle is completely dependent on finding the right person in the first place.

    As with any supply chain, if you have no supply or materials (or people/human capital when it comes to recruiting), it doesn’t matter how good you are at assembling/finishing your product – you have no product without the raw materials in the first place. With recruiting, that comes in the form of some kind of information about a person that allows you to identify them as a potential candidate, contact, engage, recruit, and hire the person. You can be the best diamond cutter and polisher in the world, but without a supply of diamonds, you are out of business.

    Also – while many recruiters and organizations attempt to solve the timing challenge by proactively pipelining talent, this is actually a less than ideal solution and is quite wasteful and non-value adding for the people being “pipelined.” It is possible to consistently find, engage, acquire and hire the right people at the right time, without pipelining talent – it’s Just-In-Time Recruiting.

    @jer – Somehow I knew you would call me out on the “e-sourcing” thing. 🙂 I use it only to distinguish from phone sourcing, or any form of sourcing that doesn’t leverage information systems. I’d argue that m-sourcing and s-sourcing (or whatever you want to call them) are both actually e-sourcing, unless somehow you are using mobile devices to find people without using some kind of electronic/digital data to identify people. Searching LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. isn’t “social sourcing” to me because it’s still just information retrieval for the talent discovery and identification phase. Now, when you use social media to message and engage people, you’re in the realm of “social recruiting,” but I dislike that phrase because all recruiting is social – always has been.

    I’ll happily start using an alternative to “e-sourcing” that acurrately describes what it is and is also easy on the eyes/brain (e.g., not “secondary sourcing”). Serious suggestions?

  4. I enjoyed reading this.

    “You cannot recruit those talents that you cannot find or do not even know exist.” Period

    Sourcing is part of the (Recruiting OR “Talent Acquisition” OR whatever anyone wants to call it process).

    I’m keeping it simple and calling it Sourcing full in the knowledge that there are branches to the tree.

  5. I agree most absolutely with you Glen.
    If you don’t have the merchandise on the shelf you can’t sell it.

  6. Okay, here it comes. My vote is both are equal in importance. We absolutely cannot discount the importance of “real recruiting” (or soft skills) by a good recruiter. To put it simply, how many people do you think would want to date you if your soft skills turn them off? Yes, you identified them, yet you still go home, alone. Another way to think of this is, many of us have experienced rejections by a boyfriend or girlfriend (or are divorced) and wished that we had done things a little, or maybe a lot, differently. Only if I had spent more time with him/her, or if I had said the right things, or behaved better, or treated him/her well…whatever – the unimportant ‘soft stuff’, right? Yeah, well it’s the soft stuff (or your soft skills) that convinced her/him to date you, then marry you and then stay with you for all the years. Technology + the human touch goes hand-in-hand in recruiting. Companies have lost top candidates in their final interviewing stage because something the recruiter/employer did/said turned the candidate off. Just like a good idea is never enough, you need someone to execute it well. An identification is not enough, you need a good recruiter to get it done. In my opinion, one is ineffective without the other. 🙂

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *