How to Create a Sourcing Function that Makes a Lasting Impact

By: Roy Maurer, 7 March 2019 for SHRM.  (Read the original article here.)

Talent acquisition experts preach that true hiring success comes not from reactive recruiting practices like scanning resumes and applications, but from proactively finding and engaging potential candidates.  

But creating a sourcing function—which identifies, attracts and nurtures passive talent—from scratch can be a complex and difficult endeavor. How do you get started?

Rebecca Fouts, sourcing lead at enterprise sales and marketing technology company Salesforce, spoke with SHRM Online about what she’s learned building a sourcing function, putting together a quality team and pitfalls to avoid.

SHRM Online: Why does an organization need a sourcing function?

Fouts: In our current talent-driven market, the traditional methods of recruitment, such as advertising on job boards and careers sites, mining applicant tracking systems and creating recruiting events, will likely not be enough to get the right people into your company. The standard response to this talent deficiency is to spend money on agencies or increase recruiting staff, but that will not solve the underlying issue because the talent gap is based on engagement. 
The candidate life cycle does not begin when a person applies for a job but rather the first time the person comes into contact with your brand. Rather than pay an external third party to frame your brand by engaging those leads, a sourcing function constantly focuses on the top of the funnel [the early stages of the hiring process]. Sourcers drive positive interactions with your brand, all while creating, maintaining, updating and nurturing your company’s candidate prospects. Unlike recruiting, which focuses on just-in-time placements, a sourcing function creates and builds fundamental relationships. Sourcers create pipelines of the right talent. When a role aligns with someone in their pipeline, they make a match. As your sourcing function becomes more mature, this will reduce time-to-fill, increase candidate quantity, reduce agency spending, and make spikes in staffing needs controlled and scalable.

SHRM Online: How do you begin building a team?

Fouts: How you build the team will depend on your budget, company culture and size, and what business problems you are trying to solve. Start small with a proven set of performers, and get larger as you become more effective. Since you are starting a function from scratch, you want totally committed, productive and promotable people on your team. I recommend starting with a focused set of traditional sourcers to build your team, and then add pipeline builders [who specialize in loading up talent] or researchers [who mine data for leads] as you become more developed. Traditional sourcers engage the appropriate talent through e-mail and InMail and by phone and text, and speak with them to determine if they are qualified, interested and available.

You might consider initiating an RPO [recruitment process outsourcing] firm as an addition to your sourcing function. RPOs provide value quickly, can ebb and flow with the business need, and, if trained with the remainder of your team, can mimic the process and behavior of an internal contractor or employee. I paid a flat fee per person per month and decided the support level and direction on a weekly basis, so using an RPO was cost-effective and allowed for a nimble sourcing function.

SHRM Online: Do you have any tips for attracting, interviewing or selecting sourcers?

Fouts: We all know that you should begin with the requirements of a role before you start the attraction process. In a recent article I wrote with my manager, Ryan Rowe, we laid out the skills and attributes you ideally should be seeking in your next sourcer. Once you have homed in on what is most important given your business and current situation, you are ready to start attracting, interviewing and selecting sourcers. 
Keep in mind that hiring people who excel in different areas will not only ensure that your team is successful, but it will be an integral part of the attraction process. People want to work with great people and those they have something to learn from. I think starting with high performers will attract the right future talent. We all can work anywhere we want, so it’s up to you, as the manager, to create an environment that appeals to and retains top talent. 
I would begin with someone you know is a high performer or asset or someone you’ve had positive past performance with. If you don’t know of someone ideal, I would then ask experts in the field about who they might know, or attend conferences like SourceCon to further expose yourself to top talent. Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few candidates, create a small project to test their skills. For example, pick a hard-to-fill role and ask that the sourcer create a sourcing strategy for that requisition.

In interviews, I ask behavior-based questions related to drive, problem-solving, learning on the fly and creativity. I think a great [activity] is for a candidate to pitch me on joining their company or perhaps ours. Boolean search is a fundamental skill set of sourcing, so definitely have them showcase their skills by asking a series of questions related to that.

SHRM Online: What are some of the biggest pitfalls in building a sourcing function, and how do you get over them?

Fouts: Create and foster a support team at the outset if possible. On this journey, you’re going to need cheerleaders. [They] could be your hiring managers, peers or other managers in HR or talent acquisition. I would suggest creating an opportunity where you partner with them to help them reach their goals. Approaching problems from a win-win mindset will allow you to pair your efforts toward one unifying goal. From my experience, going to peers for review of my work will help me understand their objections before submitting an idea, project or plan.

Don’t be afraid to fail. You are creating something from scratch and should embrace your successes. Announce your plan and make the road map visible to all of your stakeholders. I call them my “want goals.” By publishing your plan, you are owning your ability to be successful, as you are defining what success looks like. Be sure to notify stakeholders when you run into issues. You don’t want to have to respond to an issue with apologies; rather, stay far ahead of problems.

I would recommend setting specific times for [receiving] feedback from stakeholders, or hold after-action reviews after every month or project milestone. These are comparisons of what was intended versus the actual results achieved. Should there be an issue, you can discuss potential remediations sooner rather than later. In other words, always mind the gap.

Finally, don’t be afraid to move forward with the best idea or path given the circumstances. Sourcing is a relatively new segmentation within talent acquisition, and there isn’t a lot of information on how to develop a sourcing function from scratch. Your year-one goal is to build the structure and team and be agile and open-minded, because you may not get it right the first time. In fact, it’s highly likely you aren’t going to get it right the first time. You may need to pivot midcourse, and you should not only be OK with that but expect it.


By Roy Maurer
Roy Maurer