With the rise of big data in the 21st century, recruitment (like so many industries) has changed. Social media sourcing has allowed recruiters to quickly tap into networks of candidates that would otherwise be more difficult to contact for open roles. And recruitment firms are collecting and advertising large databases of candidate profiles, selling this as a competitive advantage over other recruitment firms. Many clients are quick to ask about the size of a recruitment firm’s database as a quantifiable measure of that firm’s access to talent.
But the fact is, the size of a recruitment company’s database of candidates says very little about the most important factor in terms of their ability to source the best talent for companies: and that’s their ability to cultivate ongoing relationships with the best candidates over a long span of time. That’s why we wanted to write this post to talk a little bit about the differences in these two recruiting approaches, and to stake a claim for the ongoing importance of relationship building over the maintenance of a large, impersonal database of candidates.
At Argentus, we maintain an up-to-date database of qualified candidates in our area of specialty (Supply Chain Management and Procurement) which we can tap when a client contacts us with a new role. However, in practical terms, when a call comes from a client with a new role our first move isn’t “consult the database!” but rather, “who do we know?”
It’s a quite literal discussion that takes place, with members of our team bandying about names of individuals we’ve placed before, or who we’ve been in ongoing conversations with, whether it’s over social media or phone or in person, or people we’ve known for years and years – because that’s how deep some of the roots in our network go.
Our feeling is that, at agencies that are more database-driven (which are often also more generalist agencies), this conversation just doesn’t take place. Instead, searching the database for candidates is the first move. There are some distinct disadvantages to this approach:
Databases go out of date.
Recruitment agency databases depend on candidates submitting their information (resumes, contact information, skills profiles). But candidates are people, and their careers progress, often without them contacting a recruiter to update their information. New jobs, new phone numbers, and new skills are all often left unrecorded in a large database. The larger the database of candidates that a recruiter has, the harder it is to keep it up to date – meaning that, paradoxically, recruiters advertising the largest database might have the most inaccurate data. If candidate data is allowed to lapse into inaccuracy, recruiters within a company are less likely to use it – a vicious cycle. So recruitment agencies might end up advertising a massive database of candidates that’s borderline unusable.
Databases are impersonal.
Recruiting works best when the recruiter takes a personal stake and interest in all aspects of the process. It’s a blessed thing when a recruiter fills a position because recruiter, candidate and client are all happy. So the building of relationships lets recruiters understand what candidates really want out of their careers. This doesn’t just make for a more exciting career for recruiters – it pays off. It allows recruiters to better match candidates with opportunities than an impersonal database that sees the candidate as a disembodied pile of keywords.
When it comes to sourcing talent, the use of a database of candidates is slower than a solid network of relationships.
This ties into the first point above. Even though a massive database purports to provide access to thousands of candidates, there are lots of inefficiencies. It depends on the skill of the recruiter / researcher searching the database (often a junior employee at large firms), and their ability to sort through inaccurate and outdated information to find candidate profiles. Then there’s inefficiency when the recruiter contacts that candidate: if they’ve been sitting in a database for months, they might need to be reminded who the agency is. They might have the same interest in new roles as when they originally went into the database. They might have a different email address. They might be retired. The strength of building ongoing relationships and referral networks is that it gives recruiters up-to-date snapshots of the market; the movers, the shakers, who’s going into a new role, who’s looking but will be snatched up soon. In a narrow vertical (like Supply Chain) this is invaluable for companies looking to hire.
We know lots of recruiters talk a good game about the importance of relationships – and we don’t mean to be overly self-congratulatory. We can always improve in terms of our relationship-building skills. And don’t get us wrong, we do value our database as a source of candidates who don’t spring to mind immediately.
But it’s important to note: candidates aren’t data. They’re people. And a purely or mostly data-driven approach to sourcing leaves candidates underserved – but more than that, it leaves companies looking to hire underserved because querying a database isn’t the most effective way to source the right candidates for open positions.
Let’s face it: recruitment has always been about relationships, and the ability to cultivate deep networks of talent on an interpersonal level. And in this new era of massive databases of candidates and social media sourcing, the recruiters who will succeed are those who are best able to cultivate long-term, human professional networks and connections – just as it’s always been.