Has sourcing changed much since 1996?

I started in recruitment in June 1996 (WOW 20 years ago).
Like most, I fell into recruitment, which seemed like a good thing at the time. This was after 10+ years working for International Computers Limited, an English computer company, as a Systems Programmer on large mainframe computers. I joined a very successful and progressive IT Recruitment company based in Melbourne called Tristar, which was later acquired by Robert Walters.
Back then recruitment wasn’t a career like today, more a role someone did hidden in the basement. Coming from a technical background I thought I could be a reasonable IT Recruiter. It also helped that I had friends in the industry, so it seemed something worth doing.
In a very short time as a recruiter, I learnt very quickly some key things:
[bctt tweet=”.@MartinWarren talks ’96 and wonders if sourcing changed much since.” username=”ATCevent”]

You need to listen

Your ears are there for a reason. I had to teach myself to listen as coming from a technical background, my environment (or users of the systems) had trained me not to listen. I used to spend my days buried in Hexadecimal system dumps as thick as two phone books trying to debug faulty computer systems and there was hardly any need for me to interact with my colleagues. All these changed the moment I became a recruiter.

Quality of your questions will determine the quality of your answers
Hiring Managers liked to talk to me as I and seemed to talk the same language. I understood the technical requirements of the role and could ask technical questions to uncover more detail (I was good at faking it when I had no clue!). Other recruiters would often take me on their client calls as I was able to decode what the hiring managers were saying and help the recruiters ask their way to finding suitable candidates. This gave everyone confidence the role would be filled.
However, recruiting was not as easy as I thought. I had to develop skills in many areas that I had never or rarely applied in my previous role as a Systems Programmer, such as the aforementioned listening skills. The one key advantage I had was the innate ability to understand and fill those difficult and often very technical IT roles that many recruiters struggled with. I guess this is where my interest came and eventually led to my focus on sourcing.

Welcome to recruitment!

I remember the first role I worked on, my first placement (as I’m sure most recruiters do). I had to source a Payroll Business Analyst, someone who had a business and technical payroll background who could run a significant sized payroll system end to end. To make this assignment even harder they were offering only a 12-month contract.
shutterstock_280531229So I came up with a sourcing plan and executed it systematically. It would seem my structured and detailed approach to work from my IT days had served me well as I narrowed down my search quickly down to the people I knew.
Note: No job boards or LinkedIn existed back then!
Back when I was working at ICL where one of my clients was a large local government site, I was the Systems Programmer that looked after their mainframe that ran the Payroll, Rates & Property, and Finance systems. I basically knew everyone in the payroll department and their skills and capabilities. One of the team members (Stuart) was a real go getter, smart and up for a challenge. I called Stuart, talk to him about the role requirements and how this could potentially change his career direction but at the same time highlighted the risks being a 12-month contract with no guarantees.
Stuart went for the interview with the client, performed really well, was up for the challenge and accepted the role. To Stuart’s credit, he became an overnight sensation (little dramatic but I’m reminiscing my first sourcing placement) and had a very successful career.
I recall my manager saying this person doesn’t exist when we took on this assignment and he couldn’t believe it when I filled the role.
I wonder, was my first placement the result of good sourcing or beginner’s luck?

The rise of Internet sourcing

In 1999 I convinced (some say con) my manager at Robert Walters to send me to USA (San Francisco) at the peak of the .com era as I had read up on the rise of the Internet and how recruiters in the US were using the Internet to source and place candidates. I did three days of intensive Internet hands-on training with Barbara Ling and AIRS who were at the forefront for Internet recruitment in 1999.
To me this seemed like a logical evolution in recruitment given the significant change that was starting to happen with technology and the Internet. Search Engines in 1999 were AltVistaAllTheWebAsk JeevesDogpile and a few others. I couldn’t believe my eyes how easy it was to find IT candidates on the Internet who had freely shared their details hoping to be found by a recruiter. LinkedIn, Facebook and many other sourcing channels and platforms we use today didn’t exist.
Maybe that was a good thing.
[bctt tweet=”The Internet has made sourcing more complicated – for better or worse?” username=”ATCevent”]

Should we spend more time sharpening the axe?

Fast forward to today!
With technology, the many channels and platforms we all have access to have changed the way we find candidates compared to the mid to late 90s.
I wonder because we have so many options available to us today, has sourcing become way too complicated, do we get caught up in all the hype, the next game changer we hear every other day and overlook the sourcing tactics we used in 1996?
Sourcing to me is about understanding the role, your desktop research, market knowledge, creating a sourcing plan with multiple options rather than relying on a single tactic (e.g. LinkedIn) and the execution of your plan in a systematic way, leaving no stone un-turned.
Your competitive edge is YOU – how you plan and execute your search the way other sourcers don’t, can’t or won’t is key to success. It is not the technology, tools or channels you use.
As Abraham Lincoln said “give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”.
As sourcing moves to becoming more and more automated with sophisticated algorithms and the rise of artificial intelligence (check out RAI), just maybe, from time to time do we need to go back to 1996 and spend more time sharpening the axe before we chop down the tree?
Happy sourcing!

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