How to Crush Candidate Sourcing
Intellerati regularly steps in to help companies with executive candidate sourcing. 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.
Far too many critical executive openings languish unfilled. Naturally, hiring executives start to get cranky. Sourcing teams get frustrated. And that’s when Intellerati gets the call.
The Executive Search Research Handoff
At the start of every engagement, we request that our clients hand over their existing list of potential candidates. We go to the trouble of getting our client’s list of profiles into our database as a first step. We do it to avoid duplicating existing research, to understand the ground client sourcers have covered, and to set our research strategy.
Frequently, those client lists are hundreds of candidates long. Still, we take the time to review 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: Try as you might, you cannot tell from the research what the research strategy was. The lists seem completely random.
1. Avoid Random Candidate Sourcing
Random sourcing is the root of most candidate 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 searches. But the odds are not in your favor. You are not doing the precise research required to deliver consistent 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 fast turnaround on generating a list of names. In fact, random candidate lists often look about right. The levels and keywords in the titles seem to make sense.
But you still have to recruit the prospects in 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 or technologists on the list are not the candidates you want.
2. Helicopter Up for State-of-the-Market Talent Intelligence
Whenever you conduct executive search research, you first need to helicopter up to get the lay of the land. Usually, candidate sourcers skip this step, preferring to go down rabbit holes and to stay down in the weeds. A sourcer’s ability to hyperfocus and obsess about details is usually a strength. But sourcers also need 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.
So before you start searching for potential candidates, dig into the latest news about the industry, the sector, the locations, and the trends affecting 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.
(For important searches, hard-to-fill openings, and executive searches for brand new positions, we recommend a State-of-the-Market Talent Intelligence Report before launching an executive search.)
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
Of course, you may want to apply other target company selection rules:
- Look for companies whose cultures are a match with your company culture. Look at the backgrounds of your own workers to see whether there are clusters of employees from the same former employer. Go there.
- Look for companies with the same kind of technology stack. For engineering searches, you want to target companies who 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 amazing executives.
4. When Sourcing Candidates, Lay It Down, Brick by Brick
Expert candidate researchers lay it down, brick by brick. To do that, you must start at the top. 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.
Next, you map the teams reporting into the relevant senior executives. Then, you find the people seated in those teams. Methodically, you work your way down the relevant branches of the org chart, identifying the direct reports of direct reports, level by level. Brick by brick. That’s how you lay it down.
Laying It Down Requires More Robust Research
Laying it down raises the candidate sourcing bar. It requires more robust research by more expert researchers. When sourcers lay it down, they are not simply identifying potential candidates. Remember, they are identifying the direct superiors of every potential candidate — and the direct superiors of the direct superiors — on up to the CEO. Initially, it seems like extra work, and it is. You are asking your researchers to piece together a branch of the org chart that houses your potential candidates.
But 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.
To determine whether your candidate sourcing team is operating at the expert level, ask your team, ‘Can you defend the research?'”
For example, if a hiring executive looks at you and asks, “Do we have every possible candidate at Company X?”, you should be able to answer that question. You should be able to describe a candidate sourcing strategy informed by market intelligence. You should be able to tell the hiring executive what companies you are targeting and why. Then for each target company, you should be able to describe the following:
- What teams have the kind of talent you 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. 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 Frequent Hiring Executive Feedback on Candidate Research
Often, what hiring managers want shifts as they review profiles and interview candidates. That is why it is critically important to request that they give frequent feedback on your list of prospective candidates.
We understand hiring executives are busy. Sometimes, they don’t want to be bothered by sourcers 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 they need: They lack the expertise. That’s why laying down a level of research due diligence is critically important.
The 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 zip through an Adobe Acrobat PDF document or Excel Spreadsheet and 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 the hiring executive feedback on sourcing research does the following:
- It shows that you care enough about the hiring executive 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 the sweet-spot preferences.
- It enables sourcing teams to prioritize outreach to top prospects.
- It enables researchers to push talent intelligence to hiring executives to inform and adjust strategy.
If what we describe sounds hard, random sourcing is harder. Random sourcing is a leading cause of searches that last too long. The ripple effects of random sourcing are often felt in lost opportunities, employee burnout, and damaged morale. Delayed sales hires yield lost revenues. 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 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.
We are better than this.
For more check out Jobsian Candidate Sourcing: Less is More.
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