What is Sourcing?

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What is Sourcing, Anyway?

I’m often asked what exactly a Sourcer is – at networking events and conferences, and whenever small talk turns to what we all do. I’ve gotten all sorts of reactions about it, too, running the gamut from “are you actually a cyber stalker?” to my favorite, “wait, did you just say you’re a sorcerer?”

And while sometimes it does feel a little magical to find the perfect candidate who’s ready to talk about new opportunities, that isn’t quite it. I was lucky enough to attend my very first SourceCon this fall, and meeting hundreds of other sourcers pushed me to think more critically about, and eventually clarify, my definition.

There are some good definitions out there.

The Society for Human Resource Management says that sourcing is the proactive searching for qualified job candidates for current or planned open positions. Glen Cathey, the Boolean Black Belt himself, says that sourcing is simply outbound recruiting. Ben Solomon, Director of Research at Objective Paradigm, defines sourcing as any work done to identify and contact candidates that is active instead of passive, involves hunting instead of farming, and results in any form of actionable information – not necessarily always an actual resume.

Those are all solid definitions, and they’re certainly not wrong. However, they don’t quite hit the nail on the head. For me, sourcing is constantly answering the question “Where can I find good prospective employees?” differently every single day, all while adding value wherever I can along the way.


What is sourcing quote OP blog


Sourcing involves juggling a lot of different moving pieces. We need to be able to write a solid Boolean string, and know what sorts of technologies go together, but we also need to know where we can leverage that search string – and not all databases are created equal.

We need to know when it’s best to roll up our sleeves and dive deeply into a search for a purple squirrel, and when we should push back against our hiring managers to remind them when a technology has only been around for a few years that they aren’t going to find a candidate who has used it for a decade.

As professional researchers, sourcers often provide extra brain power to their teams.

As Monali Parmar and Glenn Gutmacher reminded us at SourceCon, our competitive advantage is often the quality of the competitive intelligence we can gather. Sometimes this entails simple research we do at the start of any search, like identifying the major competitors in our clients’ spaces, and knowing which companies use similar technology stacks even if they aren’t direct competitors.

Sometimes we get to go even further – we research standard salaries and benefits, and advise our candidates and our clients whenever they’re asking for something that’s way off base. We also need to stay on top of industry news: we need to be the first to know when companies start restructuring, or lay off their technologists, or get acquired, so we can advise our recruiting partners to target their teams.

Sourcers are often the first touch point prospective employees have with our brands and with our clients’ brands, and we have a responsibility to them to know and convey their values and expertise.

I was surprised at first at the amount of time we spent talking about employer branding at a Sourcing conference, but I came away with the impression that branding – or at the very least, brand awareness – was key.

Objective Paradigm is primarily a services firm – we don’t build a product, but instead we work to be the best-respected firm for our clients and candidates. It’s niche. If you haven’t worked directly with us – either as a candidate or a client – there’s a good chance the first time you’ll read our name is within a cold email or inmail. Because Sourcers are so often that first introduction to our brand, it’s critical that we seem both prepared and well-informed.

Here’s where our role as researchers comes in:

We need to be able to look at a profile or résumé, distill it to its component parts, and write a personalized message that isn’t full of meaningless jargon. Every time we reach out, we need to remember that we are building our network and representing our brand – we should never focus on the “right now.”

It never hurts to (responsibly) share some of the competitive intelligence we’ve gathered for our clients, too. Can we shed some light on industry-wide trends? Do we know that our clients are leading their competitors across specific key metrics? We can make sure our candidates know that information and hope that that might spur them to open our next email, too, regardless of whether or not they’re looking to make a move.

At the end of the day, sourcers are researchers. We ask and answer a new series of questions every day:

  • Who might be a good fit for my company?
  • Where can I find them?
  • How should I contact them?
  • Why will they want to respond to me?
  • And most importantly – What can I do to add value?

Sarah Goldberg

Sarah Goldberg, Senior Sourcing & Research Specialist at Objective Paradigm, thrives on leveraging data, research, and a little bit of magic to find the right candidates, processes, and tools for her clients. For more from Sarah and the SourceOps Team at OP, follow SourceOps – Talent Sourcing & Research.


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