Sourcing or Head Hunting – That is the question!

I am a proud certified Global Sourcer, constantly being mistaken for a Global Head Hunter.

Since I have to deal with this almost on a daily basis, I’ve decided it’s time to try and make a clear distinction between a “Head Hunter” and a “Talent Sourcer”.

I will have to say up front… It’s a subtle and blurry differenceindeed….Hiring either has its advantages and dis-advantages.

I started asking around – When would you hire a sourcer and when would you hire a head hunter? The first reaction was actually a baffled one, not too many gave a thought to this issue…boundaries weren’t clear. As if the dilemma between recruiter and sourcer wasn’t enough…

Then I encountered lots of, what I regard, as generalizations and misconceptions about sourcing: Sourcers are not for senior executive searches, it’s more “respectable” to use an executive search firm, sourcing is only for the first stages of the search, Sourcers are good at the search but not about getting the potential candidates to answer, Sourcers are mostly good for talent mapping, Sourcing will not be a stand alone practice as employers prefer e2e solutions, Head Hunters are for discrete searches (independent Sourcers are too!) Sourcers only provide CVs thus are paid only for hours invested in searches and more.

This is my personal interpretation of this topic. Don’t kill the messenger!

Head Hunters
A Head Hunter, is basically a “solo placement company”. Usually, he earns his reputation in a specific industry and establishes himself as an expert in that market.
Their first action would be to try and match their existing candidates with the roles. It may happen that they will send the same candidate to several companies (if they think they fit the role).
In principal, they are supposed to know their candidates personally or at least conducted in-depth phone conversations with them.
If a HH doesn’t have anyone in his database that matches that role, he will activate his network, pick up the phone and start looking for great referrals –“social engineering” (to quote Yuval Doron, a reputable HH). The sourcing they do do, is mostly to enrich their pipeline of candidates. The headhunters I know (don’t kick and scream if you are different…) are typically not always very versed in the latest searching softwares and methodologies and are mostly “non-technologically inclined”.

The upside of hiring a HH –
1.  The Head Hunter may already have someone in his DB he can approach for
the role – placement may be quicker
2.  The company does not have to pay for any services rendered unless there is a
3.  Insurance – If it turns out to be the wrong candidate – for whatever reason
– They will either be credited for their money or get another candidate.
4.  E2E process – will also assist in the salary negotiations, for example.

The downside of working with a HH –
1.  Very expensive 20%-40% of the annual salary of the candidate (Models differ
per countries)
2.  The Head Hunter will always firstly try to promote existing candidates and
those will not always be the exact right fit for the role.
3.  Since payment is only upon completion of a placement – Better opportunities,
ie, higher paid positions, may grasp their attention and energy first.

We Sourcers, don’t have our own talent pool of candidates.  Yes, we are connected to them on Linkedin, but our projects take place in a wider range of industries – So rarely do we source for the same candidates. As global Sourcers, this is even more so.
Once we are familiar with the role and the business, we launch a “research project”. This means we spend time on talent mapping, choosing keywords and write complicated boolean strings (automated these days) so search engines of any kind can get us to the info we are looking for. We implement every “kosher” and “less kosher” (some competitive intelligence techniques) search methodologies and applications, new technologies and everything the cyber world can offer us to get us the information we need. 

We mostly conduct our searches via the internet and it is mostly through the internet that we contact our potential candidates (some of us do phone sourcing as well). If they leave a “web print” of any kind, presented in a conference somewhere, wrote an article, raised a question in Quora, pinned a photo on Pinterest, appeared in a list of members in a  professional organization or Meetup, tweeted or even blogged on a totally different subject, we will find them… Hell! We will find them even if they deleted their information on Google, because we can search in the “Google graveyard”….
The candidates we submit can only be exactly what the company is looking for, to the last detail – the right background, the relevant companies, years in the industry and more. We conduct initial phone calls to better understand the potential candidate, set expectations and try to establish an initial cultural fit (with the aid of innovative predictive tools such as Crystal Knows).
Some of my distinguished colleagues feel that Sourcers mostly only generate CVs and the recruiters take it from there to completion – However, I had  both experiences – If a trusting working relationship is established or if it’s a small startup and there’s only an HR role, we are given the option to follow up on the process within the company, set the interviews, make sure it’s a timely process and a great candidate experience.

The upside of hiring a sourcer – 
1.  It’s much cheaper than placement companies, particularly if you have an in-
house Sourcer.
2.  Usage of tools and technologies that can expand and widen the human
capability of searching – Based on AI and Big Data capabilities
3.  A professional sourcer is flexible in his delivery – From creating a
pipeline, to searching and delivering CVs, to following up and more.
4.  A sourcer intergrates the company’s values and marketing messages into his
outreach (and by that assisting the branding efforts), as well integrate lots of
creativity to emphasize the uniqueness of the company and stand out from
the crowd.

The downside of hiring a sourcer 
1.  The process may take longer – Getting them to answer our emails may require
several attempts.
2.  We contact people who are working in what some of them may think is their
dream job. We open their eyes to other possibilities – it’s a process that may
take some time for them to agree. It’s all about establishing a relationship,
3.  As we deal with “passive” candidates – Speed is of the essence. Companies
that are not “sourcing-ready” can hinder the success of the sourcing efforts.
4.  Sourcers are less E2E.

To summarize- Both Head Hunters and (independent, freelance, outsourcing) Sourcers can be hired when you need a discrete search. Both will try to bring tailored, top quality candidates, both can search for and contact top senior executives (not entry level Sourcers). The main differences are in the costs, the search methodologies and the pricing models.
Maybe I can agree to “Cyber Head Hunter”?…Need to think about it…

This is still work in progress, perhaps with your comments and insights we can update this list to better reflect the advantages and disadvantages of both.

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