Which Came First, the Recruiter or the Sourcer?

I have served many roles in the recruitment industry and I have heard this debate time and time again: is there a need for sourcing? I’ve always thought of this question as a redundant one, as many recruiters in the industry simply do not understand the pure art of sourcing.  I was quite surprised by a recent quote in Janine Truitt’s article, the Recruiter vs. the Sourcer in an article in ERE “However, to call a recruiter a sourcer is slightly insulting depending on who you speak to in the industry.” Ouch! If a true recruiter does not source, then how do they find talent?

Since I have a passion for sourcing and hunting purple squirrels, my opinion could be biased. I thought it would be only appropriate to interview a true industry leading sourcer, Matt LeBlanc, a Talent Acquisition Sourcer for ADP® and a true recruiting leader, Matt Lowney, an EVP of Talent and Operations at The Button Group.

When asked if sourcing is an entry level position, Lowney stated: “I really would say it depends on what you are looking for, but I don’t see that a sourcer is somehow junior to a recruiter.  I certainly can see that in some larger organizations that a being a sourcer is its own career track (junior level, senior, manager, etc.).  So, in general, I don’t see being a sourcer as a junior level role.”

According to LeBlanc, “It really depends on what an organization is needing and looking for. If they are looking for someone that can learn recruiting and eventually grow their career into being a recruiter than entry level might be the way to go. For organizations that are looking to add immediate value to their staffing function and want someone that can take finding qualified candidates for hard to fill roles from day one then looking at someone who is more senior level and specializes in sourcing would be the better choice.”

Just about all of us in the industry have different job titles. I have never truly had the job title of a sourcer, yet it has been the primary responsibility for each of my professional stints. I love the chase, and that is why I’m a sourcer. I try not to take the easy way out and never rely on paid sourcers to find talent.

If sourcers only went after active candidates, then all of them would be dipping their hands in the same pot. To me, the best candidates are the ones that doesn’t know of an open position and don’t know a company is hiring, as they aren’t looking. Sourcing is both an art and science. It’s not necessarily using the tools that are readily available; it’s being creative with the resources that one has access to and consistently producing results.

Each talent and acquisition professional will have their own unique definition of a sourcer; however, consistency and creativity were both common in LeBlanc’s and Lowney’s take on sourcing.

According to LeBlanc, “consistently being creative, being able to stay on top of everything that is new and the ability to continually churn out top-tier candidates on very tough reqs are three very challenging aspects of being a sourcer.”

Lowney agrees. “Consistency and creativity, sourcing, as a skill, has become more ubiquitous. Automation will creep in to overtake some of the repetitive tasks. As sourcing automation arises, so does the ability for competitors to use the same tools.”

Living in the digital age, it seems almost unlikely that a candidate wouldn’t find an organization through social recruiting and branding. Additionally, job boards are still flourishing and almost every organization has an applicant tracking system. Yet, there is still a debate that organizations don’t need sourcers.

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“It all goes back to the needs of a company. If recruiters are able to produce top-tier candidates for all of their roles through posting their jobs online or by scratching the surface on job-boards, etc., then a sourcer might not be able to add a tremendous amount of value. But, we all know that 99% of organizations out there do not fall into that category, so yes, there definitely is a need for a sourcing function,” added LeBlanc.

Lowney agrees. “It’s become a specific/specialized skill set that having someone’s full time attention just on that task is a good idea. Again, all depends on the size of the organization and how they have their team structured.”

As the concept of computer generated automation continues to improve, so does that argument that sourcing will be automated. The World Wide Web is an endless treasure trove of information. It still seems highly unlikely that sourcing can truly become automated.

“I’ve been in recruiting for many, many years and it seems as if every six months there is a new technology, website, or app that is going to be the end of recruiters as a whole, and I think you will soon start to see the same thing in sourcing. Until they are able to add in the human touch to technology, sourcing (and recruiting as a whole) is pretty safe,” said LeBlanc.

Added Lowney, “I still feel like there’s an art and natural inquisitiveness a good sourcer needs that can’t simply be automated. However, if a sourcer is simply running repetitive search strings, then most certainly it’s a replaceable skill.”

At this upcoming SourceCon conference I will be examining the role of a sourcer and will be showing strategic shortcuts and time saving techniques for recruiters to source passive talent. With the emergence of social media sites, mobile applications, job boards and search engines, a recruiter’s opportunity to locate candidates is almost endless. Each recruiter offers a unique sourcing strategy, and will use multiple tools. With so many options, juggling the workload and managing each site can become time consuming and overwhelming. This will not be an automation session, but it will be a session for any recruiter or sourcer to develop a strategic sourcing plan and to learn sourcing shortcuts which can help save valuable time throughout the day. After all, in the end, regardless of our view point, we all have the same goal.

Shannon Pritchett is the editor of SourceCon. As a lifelong student in the recruitment industry, Shannon is passionate about improving it. Shannon has a diverse background in training, sourcing, international recruitment, full desk recruiting, coaching, and journalism. Shannon got her start in the recruitment industry at Vanderbilt University and later worked as a Senior Recruiter for Internal Data Resources and Community Health Systems, Social Media Recruitment Ambassador for T-Mobile USA, Director of Recruiting for Moxy, Trainer with AIRS, and last as a Manager of Global Sourcing and Training for ManpowerGroup Solutions RPO.


3 Comments on “Which Came First, the Recruiter or the Sourcer?

  1. Although I do agree to an extent that it depends on the need of the company, I do not agree that sourcers should be seen as entry level position below “recruiters”. Sourcing is exciting, at the forefront of the solution while a “recruiter” is more responsible for admin side of things – releasing contracts, creating headcount etc. A sourcer adds value and in essence provides the solution that Talent acquisition is all about, talent!

    A sourcer can do a Recruiters job in a heartbeat, a Recruiter will struggle to do a sourcing job…

  2. Which Came First, the Recruiter or the Sourcer?

    Every time I read an article such as yours. I know for a
    FACT that I had a great mentor; I know my business inside-out, and I am
    brilliant at my craft. I have been in
    the retained search business for over 33 years, and my skills are getting
    better every day. I understand your question
    thoroughly, and it fact my “much better half” work for one of the BIG 3 public
    search firms as a VP in her discipline who had at her disposal sourcing staff,
    researchers, and a minion of admins who would do anything for her. In addition,
    I use to tease her about whether she was a recruiter. I always let her win, because she is very
    good at her job and very cute. Back to
    your question, I consider myself a total retained search person who has made a
    mark in the industry for a couple of solid reasons. One, I do everything, get the job order, do a
    complete analysis of the open position (regardless if it is an incumbent
    situation or not), look at the staff with whom this position will report to
    (up, down and horizontally), if I am not familiar the client – highly unlikely,
    I will do a complete financial background assessment, also due diligence on the
    company, as a standard rule, we also do an assessment of the personality,
    temperament, character of all parties who are involved with the position. After we get a complete picture of the position and the type of person who has more than a 90% chance of being successful in this position, then we sit down with our client to review all the facts, and to make sure this is what they want, and the position is still the
    same. Now we look at optional target firms, and at the same time find out who the best person who is performing in the same type of position currently in the industry. Then we start to cull down the best 3 to see if they might be a good match for our client.
    Review the information with our client to get a “reading” and their thoughts if this type of person would work for them. Once we have a solid picture and understanding of our clients’ needs, wants and desires at that point we start a recruiting plan to identify the best candidates.

    I would like anyone to name a firm, recruiter, or a sourcer, etc. who would make such a presentation to their client? What would you call me, crazy?

  3. “However, to call a recruiter a sourcer is slightly insulting depending on who you speak to in the industry.” <– Funny how companies today think they can blend the function.

    Only today I saw this over on the Sourcecon LI site:

    Senior Sourcing Recruiter – Liberty Mutual Insurance
    Liberty Mutual Insurance in Boston is looking for a highly driven analytical mind who has a strong passion for recruiting and selling jobs to candidates. This position serves our Corporate Talent Acquisition group, who sources for candidates throughout the Liberty Mutual organization. If you believe you would be a good fit or know someone who might be, please visit the enclosed link.

    All this says to me is companies have some learnin' to do if they think they can put sourcer and recruiter into the same cubicle. This disconnect (misunderstanding) is interesting watching it play out.

    I'm not of the opinion that John Recruit is in this comments string. He (or see) says:

    "A sourcer can do a Recruiters job in a heartbeat, a Recruiter will struggle to do a sourcing job…"

    It's not true. Most sourcers do not want to recruit. I cannot speak absolutely to the other side of the formula but from what I've seen many recruiters don't want to source.

    I hearken back to one of my early formula recommendations for companies who want to make sourcing part of their process: Have 1 sourcer support 2-3 recruiters.

    Keep the functions separate and distinct. Pay all pretty evenly. Allow for no disrespect in the pecking order. As an additional thought they might make bonuses

    based on performance between "teams." The teams themselves might think of creating bonus prizes for their sourcers but that would entail a level of entrepreneurial thinking not usually found in the workforces of companies.

    Forget the idea you're going to get the "sourcing" function as an add-on skill to the recruiters you hire. It's a COMPLETELY different mind set (and personality.)

    Those who CAN do both don't (generally) work for companies. They work for themselves.

    Maureen Sharib

    AcquiPhone Sourcer

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