What You Need to Know About Sourcing: Q&A with Carmen Hudson

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She was finding candidates online in 1997. Get ready to take notes: Carmen Hudson is about to offer you some seriously-experienced sourcing guidance.

Carmen Hudson, sourcing expert, consultant and trainer

Carmen Hudson (Courtesy: Carmen Hudson)

Carmen Hudson is a highly-sought sourcing expert, consultant, and trainer. As a principal at Recruiting Toolbox, she draws from two decades in recruitment and leadership experience at Starbucks, Yahoo!, and Amazon to help organizations find and recruit top talent. Carmen is also a co-founder of Talent42, a national tech recruiting conference, and the founder of RecruiterHunt, a tool curation site for recruiters.

We got on the phone to talk (yep, you guessed right) sourcing: the first thing she teaches new sourcers, which metrics matter the most, common sourcing-strategy mistakes, how to choose the right software tools.

“All the tools in the world won’t make you a better sourcer if you don’t understand the target candidate profile.”

How did you get into candidate sourcing?

It was the mid-90s. I was working at a consulting firm as a coordinator and doing research. Suddenly, we were given access to the internet. It seemed so miraculous. I fell in love with it and decided that whatever I was going to do with my life, it was going to involve the internet.

I got a call from a friend who worked at an executive search firm. She said, “Hey, do you wanna come do research for us?” My immediate response was, “Will I be able to play on the internet?” “All day, every day,” she replied. So, of course, I said, “Sign me up.” But I had no idea what executive search was. [Laughs]

So, I joined the firm. We filled senior executive positions. My role as a researcher was to find 100 people who fit the profile and work backward from there with the search consultant. I just loved it, figuring out how to get to the right information.

That was my first job in recruiting. From there I ended up moving to Seattle. I was the first sourcer at Capital One and one of the first sourcers at Amazon. I worked in-house at Microsoft, Starbucks, and Yahoo! before hanging up my corporate hat to become a consultant.

When you deliver training, what is the very first thing you teach to newbie sourcers?

The first thing I stress is that when you’re sourcing, you don’t have to boil the ocean. New sourcers sometimes blow a search up larger than they need to. You need to find 20 to 25 solid candidate leads. Not 100, not 200.

The second thing I stress: if you don’t deeply understand the position, you’ll never be able to source for it. So, we spend a lot of time talking about how to understand the position.

What’s a technique you suggest for understanding the role you’re working on?

First, you need the desire to learn about the subject. If you’re filling a tech role, then you should have some interest in technology and want to know more about it. Otherwise, if you think technology is boring, or you hate it, you’ll never succeed at finding the best candidates.

Then, you need to break the role down into smaller parts. I teach a way of doing that so you can digest the information, understand and articulate it. Then, when you have a conversation with the hiring manager, you can say, “Here’s my understanding of what this role is – are we aligned?” It allows them to validate what you’ve learned.

By starting your search this way, you’ll move faster, with better accuracy, and avoid sourcing profiles that don’t match.

Should hiring managers learn to source?

That would be great, but I don’t expect it. Hiring managers just don’t think in the same way we do, about candidate leads and talent markets. We have to guide them. I strongly believe it’s my job, as a sourcer or recruiter, to do the research, make some calculated guesses, and refine as you go along.

That’s something I cover in our sourcing training: you have to takes some risks, and you have to experiment. You need to let yourself be vulnerable so that you can learn. Sourcing is iterative; you become more efficient as you go. You might start by partially understanding the position – getting it 50 percent right. As you try different things and learn different lessons, you get to 70 percent, then 90 percent.

Should recruiters do their own sourcing, or should sourcing be its own separate function?

It’s situational and depends on the resources at your disposal. But I do believe that every recruiter should be able to source. Do you need super-advanced skills? No, but you do need to know the basics. You do need to feel as if, no matter what the position is, you have the tools to go out and find candidates that you need. And if your usual sources aren’t paying off, you have a couple of other tricks up your sleeve.

Which sourcing metrics matter most?

On an individual level, the metric I always pay the most attention to is the submittals ratio: the number of candidates I’ve submitted compared to the number of candidates accepted by the hiring manager. Ideally, you want a one-to-one ratio: you share a resume, and the hiring manager agrees the person makes a good candidate. This metric highlights whether or not you’re aligned on the position profile. The better you are at identifying the right talent, the faster sourcing goes.

What are the biggest mistakes you see employers making with their sourcing strategies?

Often, when first establishing their sourcing team, employers expect a massive payoff in a short amount of time. Then, when the payoff doesn’t happen right away, they’re deemed unsuccessful. My experience is that it takes a lot longer than you’d imagine for sourcing teams to find what works, find their groove, and achieve success.

Sourcers love trying and talking about new tools. But are sourcers doing themselves a disservice? Are they underselling their skills and overselling the tools employers could use to automate sourcing altogether?

I am as much of a tool freak as anyone! We’re in an amazing time, in which apps make our lives easier. But all the tools in the world won’t make you a better sourcer if you don’t understand the target candidate profile.

If you’re going after the wrong profile, or if you haven’t discovered the keywords, domains, and target companies where your candidates can be found, you’re still just shooting in the dark no matter which extensions and software subscriptions are at your disposal. I 100 percent agree, shiny new objects sometimes overshadow the fundamentals of sourcing well. But tools can mask poor, inefficient recruiting. You might spend 20 minutes using a Chrome extension trying to find a phone number when you could spend 5 minutes calling the main corporate line to ask for it.

Sourcers have to be very careful that we’re not just giving our jobs over to software without doing the foundational work. That said, there are a lot of cool tools out there that can help us be more productive. I even created a little website called RecruiterHunt so I could track them.

“New sourcers sometimes blow a search up larger than they need to.”

There are so many recruiting tools out there. How do you decide which ones to spend your limited budget on?

Know what problem you’re trying to solve. Then, get product vendors on the phone. Find out what problems they intend to solve, and if that matches your need. Get them to give you the tool for free, for long enough that you can assess the impact it has on your process. Also, understand that it’ll take your folks a while to get used to using a tool, which comes at a cost. Integration with your other systems is also worth figuring out.

So it’s important to spend time experimenting. Never invest without a lengthy free-trial period!

What is one piece of advice you’d offer to talent acquisition professionals?

Develop your leadership skills. I’d like to see more talent acquisition professionals transition from individual contributors into business leaders. We have a unique viewpoint on markets, one that can contribute to business success in broader ways.

Check out the details for this year’s Talent42 tech recruiting conference and explore the many (many!) sourcing tools listed on RecruiterHunt.

Christian De Pape, Head of Brand and Operations at Recruiting Social; employer branding and recruitment marketing expert; design thinking and service designer.
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand and operations at Recruiting Social. He is an expert in user-centered branding, communications, and content for recruitment. Connect with Christian on LinkedIn.

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