In the grand scheme of things, Sourcing (as it relates to Talent Acquisition) is a new, shiny field... so much so, that if you happen to ask a Sourcer what he or she does, you'll likely get a myriad of different answers.  The industry is marked by lots of opinions and very little consensus.


Some people say Sourcing is only done over the phone by trying to uncover names and titles from a receptionist (or some other unknowing, unwitting employee) willing to hand over the goods.  Others say that Sourcing is finding candidates through entering Boolean strings into search engines like Google or Yahoo.  Each method is effective in its own right, depending on industry and sector.  There is one thing we know for sure, however - more and more (and more) information is now online and the Internet is more a part of our lives than it's ever been.  In North America, mobile is about to catch up to the rest of the world (as if we're not already connected enough as it is!)  And in that
vein, the bottom line is that the most effective and efficient Sourcing is today about finding information through technology (no pun intended, of course).


At the same time, the last couple years in Sourcing have been sold as a race for the perfect Boolean string.  Boolean training has become quite the cash cow, to say the least.  Nearly ever Sourcing conference we can currently attend has more than its fair share of learning of how to type in a longer, stronger Boolean string (with better keywords, aka "Booleagra meets Booleialis").  And on that note, I'd like to offer a few thoughts about the evolution of Sourcing:


  • When it comes to finding information on the Web, keyword searching (Boolean) is not the end of the road.  It can't be - history tells us so.


We'd be foolish to imagine Sourcing innovation to simply end with keyword searching.  Frankly, it's surprising to see the level of debate this premise leads to - in fact, the better part of me has to admit feeling as if semantic (concept searching) is literally being resisted as the next evolution in finding information on talent.  Is it possible we have regressed from an innovation standpoint?  The first Sourcecon celebrated semantic search as the future - Dave Copps "Brilliant!" presentation was a high point of the event for many of us.  This latest Sourcecon seemed somewhat closed off to semantic search, however - the keynote itself spoke to semantic search as it was 10 years ago, as if Sourcecon #1 never happened.  In short, semantic search has come a long way since its "black box" days - PureDiscovery, for example, is able to search the entire open-web, real-time, identifying non-obvious relationships in seconds.  Perhaps next year's Sourcecon event will have a more balanced agenda ("No Boolean taxation without Semantic representation!").

Innovation(2)

The majority of us active in social media "get it" that Semantic search is highly disruptive to the Boolean-training cash cow . . . but will the rest of the industry fall in, lock step, and also resist the value proposition of conceptual searching?  If other industries have moved beyond keyword searching, why would Sourcing remain 10 years in the past?  Or, could it be possible that our human psychology itself wants reassurance that a machine could never 'learn' the way that we could?  Are we potentially clinging to our version of "guns and bibles"; the notion that "the machines will never take over", when we know deep within ourselves that we're really not discussing a robotic takeover, but moreover nothing more than tools to make us better Sourcers and Recruiters?


The best justification I can think of is pretty simple: Would you rather our intelligence agencies utilize keyword searching or conceptual searching in an effort to protect us from terrorist attacks?  I just can't imagine a CIA Intel Analyst, "Ok, Boss.  We're safe -- 'Bin Laden' didn't show up in any keyword searches, so I'm leaving early for the day."


  • Sourcing is about so much more than purely research.  It's about intelligence.


The best Sourcers I know are much more than researchers.  Sourcers have an incredible ability to take in volumes of information from the open-web, in real-time, and point out nuggets of insight among the traffic spikes and ambient, non-discernible chatter.  Some of this information is Talent Acquisition related, some of it isn't.  The best of the best have a knack for identifying which of this information is valuable, at which point they pass it on to appropriate parties (be it Sales, Marketing, Product Development, Operations, etc.). In that way, Sourcing is not just backward-looking research (i.e. what candidates updated their LinkedIn profiles over the last few months), but also real-time analysis.  Some information is worthless, but some is intelligence to be
passed on.  The best of the best Sourcers do this - in fact, it's fundamental to their relationship building with Hiring Managers.  When you can provide intelligence beyond candidates, you're ahead of the curve.


My question today is about more than innovation and evolution of Sourcing as a new field.  It's about when Sourcing, from a pragmatic market standpoint, is going to catch up with what the best of the best are already doing right now.  See, you can't keep super-performers in a silo for long - it's part of the reason why they're great . . . they break chains, they smash silos, they make (real) connections, they become indispensable, they move needles, they innovate, they evolve . . . and then they do it again.

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Interesting Post Joshua .... I feel it necessary to add that The Best Recruiters have been "sourcing" for a very long time, the only difference between what we were doing 15 - 25 years ago and now are the tools ... I still feel that the Best Recruiters are the ones that are trained to break into a company cold and acquire that difficult targeted candidate on a cell phone still on his/her vacation sipping a Martini from the pool bar ...( Lets assume a difficult requirement like (Technical SAP FICO HR Implementation Professional with a CA designation that is not contracting yes tough and @ $150k base he/she is happy and not looking surprised you got him/her though!!)

That takes unique rare talent combine that with strong surfer web skills then you have a Killer Recruiter. I will also say that the Killer Recruiter will hands down out Recruit the Online Sourcing Recruiter any day of the week for "Difficult Roles" ... This is why we still work in the profession after so many years - outside of the Killer Incomes and the rush of being told from potential clients you can't deliver what we need .... A dying breed the Killer Recruiter...we are still needed!
You are very right, Paul. It is odd/interesting to see how the definition has changed over time, right? Between you and me, people can source all day . . . but there's nothing like being niched (and having developed enough trust in that niche) to simply pick up the phone and talk with your key players for potential referrals. When you're the "known entity" in your niche, you don't need to play a Generalist's game - and in doing so, you get done in an hour what might normally otherwise take a week.

Paul Alfred said:
Interesting Post Joshua .... I feel it necessary to add that The Best Recruiters have been "sourcing" for a very long time, the only difference between what we were doing 15 - 25 years ago and now are the tools ... I still feel that the Best Recruiters are the ones that are trained to break into a company cold and acquire that difficult targeted candidate on a cell phone still on his/her vacation sipping a Martini from the pool bar ...( Lets assume a difficult requirement like (Technical SAP FICO HR Implementation Professional with a CA designation that is not contracting yes tough and @ $150k base he/she is happy and not looking surprised you got him/her though!!)

That takes unique rare talent combine that with strong surfer web skills then you have a Killer Recruiter. I will also say that the Killer Recruiter will hands down out Recruit the Online Sourcing Recruiter any day of the week for "Difficult Roles" ... This is why we still work in the profession after so many years - outside of the Killer Incomes and the rush of being told from potential clients you can't deliver what we need .... A dying breed the Killer Recruiter...we are still needed!
Josh,
I originally responded to this post/your content over on Fistful of Talent and , but thought I would also add my response here as well.

I love your critical and contrarian thought process. However, I have to say I must not have done a very good job on my presentation or my delivery of the content. I say this because the ideal solution I tried to detail at the end was/is a mix of "man and machine," combining a system with AI/semantic search (autopilot) with a "manual override" ability to search full text and contextual data with simple Boolean logic. It's the best of both worlds IMHO.

I am not sure how you walked away from my presentation thinking I am anti-semantic search. I actually love it - it's just that no one has a solution that holds water and can do exactly what an intelligent and creative sourcer can do with basic search logic. I plan on keeping vendors honest, educating consumers, and advising people on the gaps that exist in their solutions so we can move the ball forward in the semantic search space.

Also - I can sense you and some other people want to get away from the term Boolean, but there is no escaping it, no matter how hard anyone tries. Not because I love it or that I am clinging to it, but because George Boole was brilliant do simplify decision logic down to the essence of #1 I need these things (AND), #2 I'd like at least one of these things (OR), and #3 I don't want this/these things (NOT).

Even applications like AutoSearch that claim "no strings attached" (nice catch phrase, BTW AutoSearch folks) are simply giving users an interface to enter terms that are, behind the scenes, interpreted and executed with Boolean logic. And I like those interfaces - provided they allow users enough flexibility to express exactly what they need from the database/system - I'm not stuck on typing ANDs and ORs. :-) I just want the exact people I need quickly and painlessly.

Retrieving data requires queries, and trying to eliminate "Boolean" from the search/retrieval process is futile, although if it makes people feel like we're moving forward we can stop using the term. But the joke would be on them, because it's the most basic logic in existence, and it's also what ALL computers, applications, and appliances (yes, even precious mobile devices) use to process information and/or simply operate (AFAIK).

My issue with semantic search vendors (and BTW - you do know they are SELLING a product, whereas I am not - I don't have a cash cow) is that there are limitations with the technology and the techniques they use (yes, even PureDiscovery - which I have used). I think people need to know that semantic/concept searching has limitations, including some of the latest and greatest solutions like TalentSpring (which I really like).

The danger comes from having people who don't even understand basic search to begin with being SOLD on the idea of pushing a button and they will automatically be given all of the best candidates. I detailed very specifically in my presentation why that just simply isn't the case. Plus, let's not forget that candidates can suffer from an over-reliance on technology to identify talent - is it really fair to let an application exclude or bury great candidates because it didn't "think" they were a good match (when they really were)?

I love your analogies, so I will see yours and raise you this one:

Do you really think our All Source Analysts at the NSA (and elsewhere - I've placed a few) sit back and rely 100% on software applications to filter and analyze signals, data and information to protect our nation from terrorist attacks?

"Well, we're safe today because I pushed the search/analyze button and the application said there aren't any threats..."

No - they use advanced technologies/apps IN CONJUNCTION WITH very intelligent people performing their own analyses. There's a reason why the NSA and other agencies specifically recruit the top minds - because it takes a human brain to do what even the most advanced computers and applications cannot.

You cannot remove the human element from information/data analysis - we should stop trying. It's not an either/or scenario.

As always, I love the professional debate - I can feel the ball moving forward!

Thanks Josh!

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