Yep, Sourcing is Alive and Well

Recently Dr. John Sullivan wrote an article for ERE that has created quite a stir in the recruiting world.

He talks about a couple of issues, but the one that has recruiters steamed about is sourcing. I can see why. He sort of cavalierly throws it under the bus by saying:

With the growth of the Internet, social media, and employee referral programs, finding talent is becoming amazingly easy … (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 sourcers. So instead, eventually recruiting will employee Internet web crawlers that will electronically search 24/7 for individuals who fit the desired candidate profile.”

As you might guess, there were a lot of comments at the end of the article. Most agreed that Dr. John had grossly oversimplified a complex issue.

I am not a recruiter/sourcer but I have worked in Silicon Valley with some of the best. They were “sourcers extraordinaire” — true artistes! I learned to have a deep respect for their skill. To compare them with “Internet scrapers” is like comparing apples to oranges.

What technology gives you

Even if you assume, as Dr. John does, that all the candidates you need can be found online by data scraping — all you end up with is data. A big pile of data. Now what?

You have to have someone sort through it all, make intelligent decisions about it and take appropriate action. Most likely it would be by sourcers who have morphed into data analysts. In other parts of the organization (marketing, sales, operations, etc.), people that analyze “big data” are called “data scientists.” It’s the hottest job in today’s market.

Even the data that is pulled off the Internet may not provide you with the best candidates. People can have almost identical resumes, but some are accepted and some are rejected. And what is it based on? The use of keywords that the matching algorithm in your ATS recognizes as relevant.

Try a little experiment: Take resumes of a handful of your most highly skilled employees and run them through your ATS. See if any of them pop up as acceptable candidates. Don’t be surprised if none do. Here you have employees that are known quantities, highly talented, and absolutely qualified but tossed out of the system because the “buzz words” don’t match.

Programming just isn’t sophisticated enough today to deliver “intelligent” sourcing. And if it did, would companies even know how to use it? The fact is many organizations openly admit today they don’t even utilize all the current capabilities of their ATS.

But even if companies were pushing their ATS to the limit and begging for more, technology couldn’t deliver. Until computers can be taught to think like people, and the artificial intelligence part of software is improved so that it imitates human elements of job search, then perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much from it.

It will come, but it might take awhile. One highly regarded theoretical physicist, Dr. Michio Kaku, says it may not even come in our lifetime.

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What sourcing gives you

Sourcers don’t just work on filling just any job. Sourcers focus on filling jobs that are in high demand and low in supply –niche skill jobs — where there are lots of passive candidates.

These are the jobs that top management is worried about. And they should. The lack of this kind of talent is keeping companies from taking advantage of business opportunities (see page 9 of Bridging the Skills Gap). This is what’s fueling the “war for talent.”

True strategic sourcing is about building a pipeline of talent for current and future needs, gathering intelligence on the competitive market, building long-term relationships with candidates in anticipation of future needs and branding the company as an employer of choice. More and more this is being done on a global level. Most importantly, strategic sourcing is closely tied to company long-term business goals.

Sourcing is alive and well

For the time being maybe we should keep sourcers around. They may end up being called something different in the future, but their basic responsibilities will remain the same.

Sourcing is not near the end — it’s alive and well and just getting its second wind. The next phase is just now beginning.

So readers, what do you think?

Jacque Vilet, president of Vilet International, has more than 20 years’ experience in international human resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor, and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. She has also been a speaker in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications. Contact her at


8 Comments on “Yep, Sourcing is Alive and Well

  1. Excellent article. In the ever inreasing competive nature of finding and retaing talent traditional venues are not going to cut it.

  2. I think that people don’t understand the difference between “recruiters” and “sourcers”. And that to me is sadly because most companies don’t have “sourcers”. When their recruiters can’t find candidates they pay outside firms to find them. Reason? They are too busy finding candidates to fill core jobs that a lot of people apply for. And they just don’t have the skills to find passive candidates.
    I don’t denigrate recruiters — but let’s face it — they are not in the same category as sourcers. Maybe because I worked in high tech all my career, I KNOW what sourcers are.

  3. Hi Glen —- I am sending you a link to my post on TLNT regarding data scientist. It is a job that is pretty well known. Here’s the link: . As far as Dr. Michio Kaku, I didn’t source your post as I should have but went straight to his video. I was afraid people wouldn’t read down through your post and find the reference. Your article is long!
    I hope this clears things up in your mind.
    BTW I LOVE your post on Sourcecon. Read down the comments section and see my comments about getting you wider exposure. I have even emailed John Hollon about the possibility of having you do something more than just a 1 hour presentation at a TLNT conference. If this offends you in any way I’m sorry. I just think there are SO MANY people out there that don’t know the difference between “recruiter” and “sourcer”.

  4. BTW I had a sourcer guru friend of mine read your post and he said “I can’t add anything to this.” High praise from him. BTW I worked with Kevin Wheeler at Nat Semi back in the old days when he was an unknown. My friend’s name is Bill Prince in case you might know him. Big in telecom niche

  5. As Bryan said below… a big part is in how you define Sourcing.

    If your mode of operation is just ‘Identify and Hand Off to Someone Else’ you will find your opportunities as a Sourcer narrowing.

    If you add additional value as someone who effectively manages the fire-hose torrent of data you will have a greater range of opportunities.

    If you also add Attracting and Engagement of Prospects then you start to add tremendous value.

    What really creates a positive feedback loop is that the same kind of data management aptitude required to sort through ‘ID Data’ is also required to manage outreach campaigns (email AND phone), testing to see what works (what cuts through the clutter) and then making appropriate adjustments.

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