Whenever you start a new assignment or search for passive candidates – even in a field that you are familiar with – it is worth making sure that you have your preparation and search strategy down to a “T”. I always like to think that preparation is half the battle, so in this first article, I would like to share with you some Sourcing-101 tips on how to get started with a solid yet flexible headhunting strategy in 3 simple steps.
- Do an in-take meeting with the hiring manager
- Work on your market mapping and target list
- Create the perfect pitch and get strategy sign-off
Why is preparation so important?That answer is quite simple: because if you are able to come up with a well thought-through strategy which is validated by your hiring manager, you feel more comfortable about the direction you are taking. It also allows you to set specific milestones and make sure you stay on track of deliverables
STEP 1: Schedule an In-Take Meeting with the Hiring Manager
At Facebook we call it the in-take or kick-off meeting, at Amazon we called it the briefing meeting. But in any case, the idea is to meet with the hiring manager to get insights on the assignment and remove as many assumptions as possible about the role.
You might have hired [insert role here] before (and probably very successfully), but you don’t want take the rookie mistake of going straight to LinkedIn or to your little black book before checking some basics.
But is your idea of the role really the same as the hiring managers’? If you hired this role for this specific hiring manager before, has anything changed? Is the team still the same? What can we do better/different from last time, etc.
HINT: schedule some time even though you are 100% confidentHiring Managers will appreciate you taking the time to check-in with them and if they really feel confident in your abilities because you have partnered before they’ll just let you run.
Some basics you will want to cover could be along the lines of:
- Basic role qualifications: Cover the usual basics such as title, years of experience, internal level, specific skill-set (both technical- and soft-skills), team set-up and how the role fits into it, its specific mission, etc… But also:
- What would a successful candidate have achieved within a year from joining?
- You will want to discuss requirements and tradeoffs here. Your Hiring Manager might have a looong shopping list of requirements. Try to prioritize them into a Nice-To-Have and Must-Have matrix, and challenge your Hiring Manager to think about trade offs (ie. maybe it’s OK that the candidate doesn’t have consulting background if somewhere in his/her career s/he built a product or service from scratch).
- Research strategy:
- Where would they be looking for the ideal candidate?
- What keywords and experience would they like to see on a CV?
- Which companies or industries should we be targeting according to them? (Note: they are essentially looking up to you fore answers here, but always good to check if they have an inkling of an idea)
- Have they hired/interviewed someone similar before? If yes, who were they and what made them special?
- Pitch elements:
- How would they describe the role and the team?
- What makes this role special on the team? What potential for growth is there in this position?
- My favorite question which I shamelessly copied from an excellent ex-manager of mine (who is now Director of Recruiting at Amazon) will forever remain etched in my in-take template. Quite simply put, I like to ask “What makes this role sexy?”. This helps
- Next steps: in other words, set expectations around the recruiter/hiring manager relationship you will be having.
- How involved is your Hiring Manager willing to be?
- What is their preferred method of communication (e-mail, chat, recurring meeting – or a combination?)
- How will the recruiting process be structured (in case you are allowed to deviate) ?
- How does your hiring manager like her/his updates on the pipeline?
Of course, don’t expect the hiring manager to have all the answers ready on a silver platter. Sometimes, depending on the hiring manager’s personality or seniority, they might have a very set idea of the role (which you should challenge respectfully if appropriate), or they might be looking up to you for guidance and industry expertise.
In any case, it is always good to share your perspective on the role and potential challenges as early on as during the in-take meeting – as long as you do it respectfully. For example, it’s always better to say “I will try to find people with this specific niche background, although from experience, we might need to broaden the search if that doesn’t work out” rather flat-out turning down the hiring manager’s suggestion.
Be prepared to fight for this meeting!
This is often one of the most underestimated meetings by sourcers and recruiters and the most missed and “declined” meeting by Hiring Managers. I have often had Hiring Managers (especially junior ones) push back on having this alignment meeting, and I needed to re-iterate several times that its value is phenomenal and crucial to a successful placement.
Schedule 30 minutes on average (you can always give time back if you are able to cover things in less time), but consider more time for more complex roles. As an example: when I was a leadership recruiter working on recruiting leaders for new markets and domains, some of my most productive in-take meetings could easily take an hour. Because as I said, the more experienced the hiring manager and the more critical the hire, the more time they will invest.
STEP 2: Map your Market and List your Targets
Feel like you have quite a lot of information to work with? Sounds about right about 50% of your strategy and 50% of your e-mail and phone pitch should be ready by now. But now the fun detective work starts!
Do additional internal fact checking:
- Systems search: is there any data available on previous similar searches? Who have we hired or interviewed before and did previous candidates have any commonalities in their resume or feedback? Any companies that we like to hire from specifically for this role?
- Tribal knowledge gathering: Some stuff is obviously not on the systems. Can you ask other hiring managers or recruiters for things you don’t know you need to know? Talk to them regarding both pitch- and profile-related things. And my personal favorite: talk to employees who are currently in the same role (provided there are no confidentiality issues) and get their perspective on what their day-to-day looks like and what they think it takes to be successful in the role. Don’t just suck info out of them: make sure to involve them a la “help me help you” by saying: “I am tasked with hiring your colleague – what is important to you in a future co-worker?”\
Map the market
- Find the most appropriate domains and their parallel worlds. So maybe you are looking for someone with expertise in cryptocurrency. But what other domains can you think of that are adjacent and still highly relevant? What about banking, cybersecurity etc?
- Find the industry’s who’s who. By now you have a myriad of keywords – use them to find our relevant domain intel: are they special conferences hosted in that domain? Who are the speakers, which companies do they come from? Is there a specialized industry-press or website you could look into to find domain-headlines?
- Don’t reinvent the wheel – use Lumascapes. I love searching for Lumascapes (which you can Google as is in Google Images, or use the keyword “Landscape” – ie. “Digital Marketing Landscape”). They are essentially visual cloud groupings of company within a specific domain (or at least the movers and shakers). Some of them are sponsored, so take them with a grain of salt, but they’re still legit resources. Also, they are being re-edited yearly, so make sure you get the most up-to-date version.
- Get an idea of nomenclature. Now that you know which companies and fields you want to look into – what can you find out about levels and title nomenclature? Maybe some companies will call their “Data Scientist” a “Machine Learning Engineer” or “Algorithm Engineer”. That sort of equivalence intel will be very valuable to your Boolean-string building later on.
List the Target (Companies)
This basically consists in opening a spreadsheet or a simple word document and listing all the companies you want to go after. You can strategize your research by dividing the companies into the domains you researched or assign them a rating, which I like to call “tiering”. For example, you can use the label A-List Companies, B-List Companies; or Tier 1, Tier 2 etc.).
Ever since my early days of executive recruiting, this has been my favorite tool to work with and, again: one of the most under-estimated resources by fellow sourcers and recruiters.
Why do I like it that much? Because essentially I won’t do (aka: search) anywhere without it. It is my guiding point and my to-do list at the same time. This is by far the best method for targeted and milestone-based sourcing, because you can simply set the KPI of ticking off a definite amount of companies by day/week/etc.
It is also the perfect guide for collaborative sourcing. In other words, if you are working with another person on the same role, it makes it easy to divide the work. That doesn’t mean you can’t do free-style sourcing from time to time (which I believe can give you some great out-of-the-box ideas), but it’s helpful to start in a more structured way.
HINT: Open this resource as a shared document.Involve your Hiring Manager with the tiering and prioritization process. Let them mark the companies they find the most interesting to go after. Also, it is a living document: add new companies as you source and research.
STEP 3: Perfect Your Pitch and Get Sign-Off
The last but not the least step is to work on your outreach message and pitch. This is a subject of its own and I will make sure to link back to a more detailed article on this topic later on.
But the idea here is to prepare what you are going to tell a candidate in writing and when you get them on the phone. This must involve the answers to questions “Why did I reach out to you?” and “What is in it for you.” Of course, the answer to these questions will always be “Because they are industry experts and because this opportunity is amazing”. But having done your background research, you can actually now better speak about the market, the specific skill set it requires, and emphasize how your candidate can be distinguished from others, and how your opportunity is a special one in the market.
But before doing any reach outs to top tier candidates, I highly suggest circling back with the hiring manager on wording and positioning, and most importantly on the recruiting strategy (aka the target list). And at the same time, this is a great opportunity to share back your additional findings since the in-take meeting.
- Confirm the hiring manager’s ideas.
- Don’t be scared to challenge less appropriate ideas with data.
- Be encouraged to add new options and out-of-the-box ideas to the table.
In essence: just make sure you follow a path that suits the both of you and sets you up for the quick wins and low-hanging fruits.
May the source be with you!