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How to Crush Candidate Sourcing

How to Crush Candidate Sourcing

Intellerati regularly steps in to help companies with candidate sourcing and executive search research. Clients often come to us when their internal candidate sourcing teams have not yet surfaced the winning candidate. Usually, those candidate sourcing teams have been working their tails off. They simply have too many openings and too little time. In most cases, it is not the sourcing team’s fault.

Employers also contact us when retained executive search firms fail to produce a hire. We suspect that’s because their approach to executive search research really hasn’t changed much in the past half a century. Just take a look at the diagram on the AESC website, the website for the Association of Executive Search and Leadership Consultants (AESC).

Crushing candidate sourcing how you win at executive search. Because research is the execution engine of search, when the candidate research hits the wall, so too does the executive search. Hiring executives start to get cranky. Sourcing teams get frustrated. And Intellerati gets the call.

The Executive Search Research Handoff

At the start of every executive search research engagement, we request that Intellerati clients hand over their existing list of potential candidates. Next, we get our client’s list of profiles into our database, tagging the information as client-owned. We do it to avoid duplicating existing research, to understand the ground that corporate sourcers have covered, and to set our research strategy.

Frequently, the lists that clients give us are hundreds of candidates long. Still, we take the time to examine the existing executive search research. We do it to understand how best to help our clients.

In other words, for years we have had the opportunity to scrutinize executive search research that did not deliver. Those candidate lists tend to have one thing in common: you cannot tell from the research what the research strategy actually was. The lists seem completely random. To prevent that very problem from recurring, we’ve compiled a list of 5 steps to help you crush candidate sourcing.

1. Avoid Random Candidate Sourcing

Random candidate sourcing is at the root of most sourcing efforts that come up short. A database search here, a Google search there, a LinkedIn query or two, and pretty soon anyone who fancies himself a candidate sourcer or executive recruiter can assemble a list of potential candidates.

However, the last thing you want is a list that looks as though you threw names against the wall to see what would stick. That high-risk approach is like rolling the dice on every search. Yes, you will fill some of the searches some of the time. But the odds are not in your favor. You are not doing the precise research required to deliver consistent, quality hires.

Of course, we completely understand the impulse to hammer away at Internet searches and LinkedIn queries to develop a rapid-fire list of potential candidates. Bosses high-five candidate sourcers for a fast turnaround when generating a list of names. In fact, at first glance, random candidate lists can be deceiving. The levels and keywords in the titles seem to make sense. It looks right.

But you still have to recruit the prospects on the list. You still have to convert those names into viable candidates. And that’s the point when things quickly get dicey. Suddenly, it becomes painfully apparent that the executives on the list are not the candidates you want.

2. Helicopter Up for Talent Intelligence

Whenever you conduct executive search research, we recommend that you first helicopter up to get the lay of the land. Many candidate sourcers skip this step, preferring immediately to get down into the weeds and scurry down rabbit holes. After all, it is what we research nerds like doing. Our strength is attention to detail. A recruiting researcher’s ability to hyperfocus is usually an advantage (and often a sign of neurodivergence and ADD — but I digress.) However, we must temper that proclivity with additional discipline. If we are not careful, our greatest strength may turn out to be our greatest weakness.

We must stop to learn more about the talent ecosystem in which we are recruiting — the industry, sector, and businesses. Sourcers benefit from developing the ability to do serious business research at the macro level. Failing to get that perspective sets candidate researchers up for failure. You can easily head off in the wrong direction, go after the wrong candidates, and waste precious time. Getting the lay of the talent ecosystem is an important first step to crush candidate sourcing.

So before you start searching for potential candidates, dig into the latest news about the industry, the sector, the locations, and the trends affecting the talent you are seeking. Check for similar openings at the competition. If you are going head-to-head against your competition for the same talent, setting the right strategy is critically important. You need to get a clear sense of what they are doing, what they are offering in enhanced benefits, and how their employer value proposition (EVP) stacks up against yours. Using all those insights, we must set an executive search research strategy. We must analyze all the breadcrumbs we gather in our work. In other words, we must always connect the dots.

(For important searches, hard-to-fill openings, and executive searches for brand new positions, we recommend studying the industry and talent ecosystem, and conducting talent mapping research to ensure executive search success.)

3. Select the Right Target Companies

Next, you want to conduct executive search research focused on specific target companies. When you source candidates from any company, you get sourcing sausage. You end up with low-quality candidates.

That is why it is so important to select the right target companies. Avoid going into the usual companies that may (or may not) be right. Instead, determine what employers are growing the kind of experience you need in a candidate. Go there.

Sometimes You Go Big or Go Home

If you are looking for an executive capable of leading a team of 250 people, a small business does not grow the skills necessary to do the job. Of course, you might want to check pre-IPO VC-backed startups to see whether they have an executive who previously worked at a Fortune 500 company. However, in most cases, when you need big-company managerial skills, you should focus on recruiting from large corporations.

Sometimes Smaller Is Better

Conversely, if you are seeking an executive or technologist with a greater breadth of skills, small and medium-sized companies are usually the places to look. The larger corporations become, the more they limit the scope of certain jobs. Major corporations have the volume to support that subdivision of labor. So if you need someone capable of wearing many hats or with a broader set of abilities, a large company is not the best place to look.

Sometimes Other Rules Apply

To crush candidate sourcing, you may want to apply other target company selection rules:

  • Look for companies whose cultures are similar to your company culture. Look at the backgrounds of your own executives to see whether there are clusters of employees from the same former employer. Go there.
  • Look for companies with the same technology stack. For engineering searches, you want to target companies that use the technologies your company uses.
  • Look for companies experiencing disruption such as M&A, downsizing, and restructuring. The talent at those organizations is more poachable.
  • Look for companies that have delayed their IPOs or that are post-IPO where the public offering did not go as well as planned. In the run-up to an IPO, companies hire marquis-name talent to boost their valuations. Postponed and underwhelming IPOs offer the opportunity to acquire impressive executives.

4. When Sourcing Candidates, Lay It Down, Brick by Brick

Expert candidate researchers lay down a level of due diligence. They build their research, brick by brick. To avoid missing viable candidates, we recommend building org charts as you go. To do that, start with the CEO. Map the executive team. Read senior executive biographies to determine who is in charge of what. Your goal is to determine what executive or executives are responsible for the kind of talent you are seeking. Work your way down that branch of the company’s org chart to the teams the hold ideal candidates. Identify all of the candidates on those teams. Brick by brick, that’s how you lay it down.

Laying It Down Requires Expert Research

Laying it down raises the candidate sourcing bar. It demands much more of your executive recruiting sourcing team. In fact, it involves more work on the front end. But starting with the CEO and working your way down through layers of leadership to get to the talent you need is not busy work. It provides powerful competitive intelligence that supercharges your work. Trust me. It works. It is how you find candidates others miss.

In other words, that extra effort on the front end has its advantages. It accelerates results on the back end. It does so by giving you insights that few, if any other, recruiters have. Now you know exactly where the talent lies. You know whether a target company has the kind of talent you are seeking. And you know how many potential candidates each target has to offer. That knowledge is power. It enables precision recruiting.

Can You Defend the Research?

To determine whether your candidate sourcing team is operating at the level needed to do this, ask your team, ‘Can you defend your research?'”

For example, if a hiring executive looks at us and asks, “Do we have every possible candidate at Company X?”, as soucers, we should be able to answer that question. We should be able to describe a candidate sourcing strategy informed by market intelligence. You should be able to tell the hiring executive what companies we are targeting and why. Then for each target company, we should be able to describe the following:

  • What teams have the kind of talent we are seeking
  • Where those teams are located
  • Who heads those teams
  • How many people on those teams are potential candidates

Of course, there will be times when the timeline is so short, the target list is so long, or a company is so massive that you may not find every team or every viable candidate. But given the proper research framework, you should be able to describe the ground you have covered and what’s left to do.

5. Request Hiring Executive Feedback on Candidate Research

Often, what hiring managers want shifts as they review profiles and interview candidates. So, to crush candidate sourcing, it is critically important that hiring managers give frequent feedback on your list of prospective candidates.

Crush Candidate Sourcing to Avoid Getting Crushed

We understand hiring executives are busy. Sometimes, they don’t want to be bothered by recruiting research associates or recruiters. They just want a candidate. We get that. Some hiring executives go into the process believing sourcers and recruiters could not possibly understand what leaders need. In their eyes, candidate researchers and recruiter couldn’t grasp all the nuances of the hiring leader’s function. That’s why laying down a level of intense research is critically important. Learn as much as you can about their work and remain curious about all that they do. Ask pertinent questions. That level of interest will earn their respect.

In so many ways, intense research makes your team smarter. You go into meetings with the hiring executive fully prepared. You have strategic insights to offer and talent intelligence to share. Hiring executives can see that you’ve done your homework. Laying it down leads to greater trust, collaboration, and success.

To get hiring executive feedback, we suggest that they review your work. We give hiring executives an Adobe Acrobat PDF document or Excel Spreadsheet and invite them to insert comments. All they need to do is rate each candidate (yes, no, maybe) and say what they do and don’t like. A few words will do.

Requesting Feedback Improves Your Results

Requesting the hiring executive feedback on sourcing research does the following:

  • It shows that you care enough about the hiring executives to ask what they think.
  • It offers transparency and builds trust. You are proud to show your work.
  • It develops buy-in from the hiring executive on the research and recruiting process.
  • It helps candidate researchers focus on sweet-spot preferences.
  • It enables sourcing teams to prioritize outreach to top prospects.
  • It enables researchers to share intelligence with hiring executives to inform strategy.

If what we describe sounds hard, it can be — especially for the uninitiated. However, n the long run, random candidate sourcing is far more difficult. Random sourcing is a leading cause of searches that last too long. The ripple effects of random candidate sourcing are often felt in lost opportunities, employee burnout, and damaged morale. Delayed hires of sales executives destroy cash flow. Delayed engineering hires slow a product’s time to market. Openings that languish unfilled exhaust existing workers doing their own job and that of the candidate you’ve yet to find.

Like rolling the dice, random research and random candidate sourcing leaves your process up to chance. Only with dice, there is an underlying statistical probability of certain outcomes. With haphazard, catch-as-catch-can sourcing, there is no such logic. In other words, it is illogical. But it is what recruiting teams do every day.

Of course, we believe we all are so much better than this. We believe hiring executives deserve better. So we figured it out. We now know how to crush candidate sourcing — and if you’ve read this far, now you do too.

For more check out Jobsian Candidate Sourcing: Less is More.

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Krista Bradford

Krista Bradford

Founder and CEO of Intellerati | The Good Search. Retained executive search headhunter. Former investigative journalist. Wife of saxman. Mama of MD. Co-worker of Hamlet the Corgi. TikTok addict.View Author posts

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