3 Things Agency & In-house Sourcers Can learn From Each Other

UK Sourcers meetup - July 2013

I’ll be honest, when I first started writing this post I was pretty sure it was a good opportunity to show the clear divide between agency and in-house sourcing professionals and the very distinct opportunities each party had to learn from the other. As I got writing I became less sure. This was compounded when I went to Katharine’s recent UK Sourcers’ Meetup which had a fair split from each party and, guess what… There was no big divide in the room, just similar challenges and the sharing of ideas.

So, what things are exclusive to the domain of each group that can act as a learning opportunity?

Always Be Learning

If you want to learn, and get better at what you do, you need to understand that good ideas can come from anywhere – so always be open to learning. This holds true for both parties but… Sometimes this is easier for the agency sourcer. Why? Well, a roundtable like a UK Sourcers’ Meetup, an event like a Tru unconference and, I’d wager, the average viewer of a SocialTalent or South African Recruiters’ webinar is more often than not an agency recruiter. Typically they have a little more control over their day than an in-house recruiter!

The Brand – A Mixed Blessing?

This is the biggie, but not in the way that you might be thinking. Typically, when someone talks to me about moving from agency sourcing to in-house, they want a different career structure, one client, and often to work with/for “a brand”. Imagine how much easier life will be with that name behind you? Well I tend to disagree.

There can be a honeymoon period for a sourcer, when you first move in-house, around brand but it tends to be formed by your own confidence in it and in the newly found pride you get from a new role. What I actually find tends to happen, a few months down the line, is that in-house sourcers start talking about their frustration with potential candidates around the brand. This doesn’t hold for all and if your brand is loved congratulations but… If you are seeking, as most are in the current market, experienced professionals from direct competitors (as is everyone else for that matter) they will already have a perception of your brand. If that person has been working for 10-20 years in a direct competitor that perception may well be negative and will certainly not be the same EVP that your brand ambassador demands you take to the market!

So, after a while a great in-house sourcer tends to do one thing well. Create a style of approach (either in writing or over the phone) that is personalised, driven by the opportunity not the employer, and hangs the employer on in the background as an additional benefit but not the be all and end all.

It’s not you, it’s me

So this is the point in sourcing to my mind where things get very different, letting down the candidate and to date this is something that seems to weigh heavily in favour of the agency sourcer or recruiter, so what can the in-house sourcer learn? The “break-up” is a very difficult scenario for those working in-house, after a candidate has been ruled out for a role, there’s no place to go. While corporately there should/might be a talent pool, the reality for all the in-house sourcers and recruiters we train is that they say they have little time or capacity to deal with any genuine aftercare or ongoing communication, yet this is often where the agency sourcer comes into their own. For the agency sourcer there might always be that other opportunity, therefore a reason to keep open the conversation for both parties and to stay in touch.

But is there anything here that the in-house sourcer can learn from their agency counterparts? Well firstly, it’s time dependent (and to a certain extent budget dependent which you may not control/have access to).

Three Lessons Learned

One: First tip for in-house sourcers (and agency if necessary); find time to learn online and research your role!

Typically your working structure can be more prescribed than your agency counter-parts but if you can make time at work, or on your journey, get in front of some good webinars and implement what you can.

Two: First tip for agency recruiters. Do not be put off or believe your candidates will be put off by your agency brand or the lack of employer brand.

You need to create your own style and engagement in an approach that is personal to you and the service that they can expect from you as an individual.

How do you do this?

  • Don’t send a generic InMail – “want a job”, “I’m working this job”, “I want to talk to you about a job”. I know this sounds obvious, but I’ve seen some horrors!
  • Do seek to engage – Explain why you have chosen to make contact, give clear avenues to communicate back at a time that will suit them and play to your strengths. This is the start of your conversation with this potential candidate and you should be looking beyond this single opportunity, something your in-house peer cannot always do.
  • I’m aware these tips should work for both parties, and often approaches are too bland, but I think too often the agency sourcer lacks the confidence to support their approaches appropriately.

Three: Finding a way to stay in touch is important if your role is to build a “talent” pipeline, community or whatever other phrase your firm has come up with and this is where you need to be a bit clever.

For it to work and become a potential source of further candidates beyond your original intro it needs to become about more than jobs and about what the candidate pool delivers.

Here’s some things I’ve heard people doing recently that might work for you;

  • Offering webinars with your business leaders/technical geniuses/brand advocates on a topic of interes
    • While we’re on this point, do avoid the obvious here; for instance suddenly thinking about doing something on D&I to offer directly to D&I potential candidates and show what your business is doing in the field may be futile. It’s something everyone is trying to do and much as with random poorly planned initial approaches if there’s too much of something it becomes spam! Instead maybe think of someone who in your organisation demonstrates the success of D&I but get them to speak about what they do day to day or what makes them brilliant for your firm, that wider engagement will be far more interesting for a far bigger pool than making it a single issue event.
  • Can you offer any kind of check in service?
    • Again this is something we see discussed in theory for recruiters/sourcers and in our training but time is an issue. That said you can sometimes do something relevant, potentially make use of a spare hour for an online Q&A to which you invite former candidates; if you want to think about what might work talk to your colleagues in graduate recruiting, particularly if they have a good alumni network and see what works for them. This is something the US tends to be great at but over here we’ve still got some way to go.


I’d suggest that the biggest thing any sourcer can learn, wherever they work and whoever their employer is, is to listen and then implement what they think will work for them. Sound basic? Maybe, but too often sourcing is focused on being in the back room and being a transactional service, focused on solving yesterday’s problem of a candidate shortage in-house or in an agency.

Get your head up, watch and listen to people who are good at what they do and then work to personalise and implement that in your own world. Agency and in-house sourcers aren’t so different, most started in one world and ended up in another, what stands out about the good ones is their ability to learn and then take those new founds skills and competencies and put them into a personalised framework of their own.

The Sourcing Jigsaw

Studying the puzzle by Liza

I was having a conversation recently with a colleague and one of the things that really stuck out in my mind is that they said that I probably know more about the organisation than they do. Of course, being bashful, I brushed the comment off and just grinned. However, upon reflection there might be some truth in that statement.

I began to think about it and began to make the connections between recruiters and their stakeholder groups. If you think about it, usually recruiters have a set group of Business Units (BUs) that they service. As a result, they become very focused on specific skill sets. So how are sourcers different? Well, as a sourcer your portfolio of work is totally variable, you can expect to jump regularly from project to project all differing in BU’s, regions and specialisms.

Where does the skill factor come into play? Speaking to different BUs, you need to quickly get to grips with how they operate within the business/ greater market, how do they fit, whom are they dependant on and what intricacies are unique to your business unit that might not necessarily be reflective of the greater market? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can intelligently have conversations with the Line Manager/Recruiters about where to look and how to find these candidates. Never assume that recruiters and line managers are bad at candidate generation, but assume they are time “poor” and explore with them the avenues that they have not been able to cover. This involvement is crucial as they know their markets and can offer insight through their experience that otherwise means you might chase dead ends.

The skilled sourcer; aside from the actual candidate finding skills, needs a thorough understanding of levels and organisation structures and how they relate to their own business. This jigsaw can be very difficult to put together, especially if you do not know how everything within your own company fits. How could you possibly try to decipher another firm’s structure without a solid base of intelligence/knowledge?

This clarity will reap great benefits, especially once you are sourcing and identifying candidates. You can then visualise where they sit in other organisations and make educated assumptions. If you can’t answer basic questions about where people sit in a company, it usually means that they are not relevant. I have an example of this; I was doing a search for a specific type of actuary, however in all my searches a specific term kept coming up. I wrote an email to the Line manager and asked him what and where this term would normally be found. He explained to me that although I was on the right track, this term typically was related to a specific type of insurance that was not of particular interest for us. It was in fact a crossroads situation where actuaries chose to specialise more in one skill than the other. The point I am trying to make, is that I learned and identified an irrelevant skillset that would have skewed my results and ultimately wasted time.

On the flip side, this intelligence is not particularly useful to our recruiter as it is not part of the BU they are covering. It will go into my memory banks though, in case we ever need one of those special actuaries to fill in another piece of the bigger picture puzzle.

The Sourcing Function – A Journey

Ralph MeyerThis week we have another guest post from Ralph Meyer for you.

As an experienced Sourcer there are a few recurring topics that seem to keep coming up when meeting with senior leaders and stakeholders who are not familiar with the intricacies of the role. Let me take you through a journey of what a new sourcing function in an organisation can expect to encounter. I speak from professional experiences and observations and hope that some of this sounds familiar and that you can identify with it.

Day 1: The ‘I’m not an administrator “sell”.’

Typically in the world of recruiting you start as a Resourcer/Researcher and begin to learn the “How To”s of a particular industry. Generally you are at the beck and call of a Recruiter ordering and demanding certain amounts of CV’s and pieces of research……sound familiar?

With an in-house sourcing function some of the above may apply, however it does not really take advantage of the benefits that a sourcing function can offer. As a Sourcer your first challenge is to convince management and colleagues that your skills are equal to that of the recruiter; and that your knowledge and methodologies are sound and effective. The way we went about it was to demonstrate methodology and understanding of the different markets that we operate in.

Recruiters in general are not interested in complex searches as it is time consuming and they are unable to invest the time required to learn the complexities of these searches. Sourcers can therefore prove their worth by working on these types of positions and generate good candidates for difficult roles. Usually this “wow” factor speaks volumes as it makes the recruiter and stakeholders happy when they get a filled position.

We developed a guide model by which we can calculate the probability of a hire by understanding from a workflow point of view how much resource needs to be allocated to it.


For 1 Hire we need 3 final interviews, 6 Hiring Manger interviews, 12 recruiter interviews, and we need to approach 200 candidates in order to get 20 interested parties. (200 * 10% = 20 candidates).

We found that this education and demonstration of skills took about 4 – 6 months to digest and make a real impact on leaders and stakeholders.

Month 6: What’s next? Value Added Information for your Stakeholders

How do we add value to the process? This is an easy one, there are a number of key areas where Sourcers can help organisations attract the right type of talent. Once we had the production model in place and working to a degree of consistency we moved focus on additional benefits that we could control.

Brand Management
Sourcers are your brand ambassadors, so we needed to get our communications right. Job Descriptions were redesigned to reflect the company branding. Literature was tidied up to comply with the Brand and also to ensure that from a Social Media point of view we could begin to build an image that spoke and added value to our candidate populations by making the organisation accessible and easy to talk to. Don’t forget, Sourcers are constantly sending messages so the better it looks, the better the candidate expectations and experience.

Market Intelligence – Salary information, competitor intelligence, benchmarking.
We took a conscience decision to record these as we were speaking to hundreds of different potential candidates monthly and it seemed wasteful that we were not collating this and putting it into a useful format.

Talent Pooling
Get to know the movers and shakers in your market. Companies always say that they want to hire the “best”, but often they don’t know who the best is and how much they cost. This activity gives your leadership a reality check in terms of who and what you are recruiting versus what the reality is.

Talent Mapping
If you are going fishing, make sure you go to a pond with fish. Sounds obvious, but many organisations don’t know where the talent actually is or cultivated (trained and developed). We had a situation where we needed a Consultant who had to have all the bells and whistles, but could only find consultants with the wrong skills. This usually means that we are fishing in the wrong pond. Get to know where to find the right candidates.

Year 1: Measurement – now the fun starts!

I am not a fan of this; however I recognise the necessity of evaluation for management. So from a measurement point of view how do you make sure the sourcers are doing their jobs? And how do you know who is doing their job better than the rest? And what actually makes a good Sourcer?

So, here are a few things that we experimented with:

CV pass-through rates (ie. 10 candidate generated per week for the recruiters)
The results varied widely, some could produce only 6 and others could do 15. We reshuffled the sourcers with the effect that their productivity reflected the role and territory that they were working on. So this is a no runner really.

Hiring manager (HM) pass-through rates
This is the relationship between how many candidates were passed to the recruiters and then in turn passed to the HM. We came out with the ratio of 2:3, ie: 60% as a guide.

This seems to have fared better, because at this point we could see how “tuned” the Sourcer’s eye was for finding the right talent and matching the profile. Also this saved the recruiter a whole bunch of time as they were speaking to relevant and qualified candidates that had a healthy chance of getting hired.

A conscious decision was made not to include Hired candidates into the sourcing metrics.
As they only have a small touch point in the recruitment process, this is outweighed by about 80% to the rest of the process.

Month 18: How do we develop Sourcers and what curriculuum do we offer them?

This is a very difficult topic to broach. Sourcers differ from Recruiters in the way that they operate on a more transactional and technical basis. They don’t necessarily commit to relationships in the same way that recruiters do, where they have a fairly consistent stakeholder network.

Secondly, what skills do you develop in a sourcer? Here are a few ideas:

LinkedIn – Sourcers REALLY need to know this tool, LinkedIn offers training videos etc so use them. This is currently the best tool for sourcers.

Advanced Boolean Search – Yes, we can all Google stuff. What I am talking about is the next level. So things like Website X-Raying, Timeline searches, manipulating results on Search engines, Webcrawlers and so on.

Social Media – This is not solely a Sourcers initiative, however from a talent acquisition point of view it is usually led by them as they get instant benefits from pouring energy into this. So invest in your sourcers by allowing them to interact with social medias as well as allowing them to experiment and use these channels. Social media is still a disruptive technology and is in its infancy so there is a lot of trial and error attached, especially if you want to be ahead of the pack.

Business Intelligence – Leadership are always keen to have current information to ensure that they can effectively plan initiatives etc. Those that form the sourcing function are privy to a wealth of market and competitor info that, if collated and managed correctly, can arm leaders with really powerful information that may contradict more general information in the market.

This is my experience so far and I guess a few ideas that we have had to try and implement. I am happy to have a chat or discussion with anyone that has any questions on how we overcame certain issues and I would love to find out if this was a similar experience to other sourcing functions.

You might also like to read Letting Recruiters And Sourcers Play To Their Strengths by Ralph.

Letting Recruiters And Sourcers Play To Their Strengths

Ralph MeyerWe have a guest blogger for you today! Ralph Meyer, one of the few sourcers I’ve met that are not expected to “one day grow up and become a real recruiter”, gives us the first in a series of posts from his view at an organisation that sees the value of sourcing as a separate discipline. 

I was having a discussion with Katharine not too long ago, we were discussing a few of the things that I was working on and she kindly asked if I could share some of my thoughts and practices that we have adopted. How could I refuse?

So, here it goes, at the current organisation that I work we have split the recruitment function into 2 main elements; Sourcing and Recruitment.

We recognised that recruiters are talented relationship managers that build trust and confidence in their client groups. Whereas the sourcers differ in skill set; they are more transactional, technical, agile and information hungry.

How does our model work?

Well first step, we operate a direct sourcing model where we approach candidates directly in the market that are of interest to us. I would say about 40% of our hires are generated through this method.

Recruiters still operate the same as in any scenario, they source, have conversations, meet with stakeholders etc…..but the main point is they stay fairly rigid in terms of the business units that they cover. This provides the business unit with a designated contact within recruitment that the stakeholders know and trust.

The sourcers however are more agile in nature; their work load is prioritised according to business needs and is a mixture of difficult to fill roles vs. aging vacancies. They support the recruiters (but don’t report to) in building pipelines etc. The benefits of this have been phenomenal.

Currently we are experiencing:

  • Record low agency usage,
  • Great stakeholder engagement; happy stakeholder’s means happy recruiters.
  • Buy in from other parts of the business that require information that the sourcing function have access to.
  • A Truly agile model where resource can be flexibly allocated to ensure recruitment spikes are dampened; without compromising on stakeholder relationships.
  • Comps and Bens are keen to use some of the sourcer information to assess how well placed we are in the market in terms of you remuneration packages.
  • Quality of hires are going up; contributing to retention and performance of staff.

What is a Sourcer?

Typically within organisations the sourcing position is seen as a training role where you learn how to recruit and then move on to a recruiter’s role. In my opinion this is something that will need to change within the industry as a whole. The reason for this is the Time and Complexity factor.

Recruitment and the recruiter’s roles have become more complex, and this is evident by using things Linkedin, advertising roles, job boards, social media, managing internal ATS systems, headhunting and still finding time to do the relationship piece. This in the future will just not be a viable model as it takes a lot of time and specialties to master any of these.

This is what sourcers do, and they enjoy it. They are familiar with Google Analytics, market mapping, Twitter, LinkedIn and social media. They are creative in discovering different ways of sourcing that untrained users are not used to. This skill set requires constant reflection, tweaking and improvement to ensure that you are on top of you game.

In addition to this, sourcers start to spot trends in the employment market before they are released to the press or are common knowledge. So, if departments are being made redundant at a competitor, the business intelligence department is usually very keen to hear this news.

Sourcers also have to wear a branding and marketing hat; how does you company differ from all the others? What materials do you use? How do you get people to buy into your brand as an employer? This is something that is actively dealt with as part of the day to day for a sourcer.

What does the future of in-house recruitment look like?

I don’t think the model will evolve that much as the essence of the task is a simple one – find and hire good candidates. However, the volume of work that is included in attaining this is on the increase as there are more sources of candidates, direct sourcing is on the rise and organisations will need to really think how are they going to plan their attraction strategies in the war for talent. This is where the model will perhaps shift to more of a attraction model and information.

Any thoughts are welcome.