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Keyword Search: How to Sound Like A Sourcer.

Most sourcing professionals would disagree with the overarching thesis that they could effectively be replaced by pretty much any preteen, or anyone who's ever seen a couple episodes of Catfish, but that's because they don't want anyone to know that finding people online has never been particularly challenging.

The hard part of the sourcing process, in fact, is turning passive profiles, effectively, into active applicants. This doesn't require building a pipeline; it requires building relationships and trust, first.

Of course, that's anathema for most dedicated talent sourcing professionals, who, for reasons still unknown to me, largely have little to do with developing the candidates they find.


That, rather, is the job of the recruiters they support; sourcing generates leads, and recruiting, in bifurcated functions, not only nurtures those leads, but also qualifies, closes and converts those leads into actual hires. Yeah, I don't get how that division of labor is actually equitable, either.

If we're being honest with ourselves, sourcing is probably the most immediate candidate for complete replacement by automation in talent acquisition.

That it hasn't already - the tech exists, and has for a while - is testament not to the fact that dedicated sourcing teams serve a strategic or business imperative, but instead, to the glacial rate of progress and technology adoption within the talent function. 

Where's the lie, though? 

Sourcing & Self Preservation. 

The thing about sourcing today is that we've done a good job of making an incredibly simple concept incredibly complicated. "Natural Language Processing" is a concept vendors love to talk about, only because, well, it's completely unnatural and largely meaningless, and makes them sound smart.

Sourcing is a great example that NLP doesn't need to be restricted to machine learning.

After all, if you really want to tell how good at sourcing someone really is, the first task to assign them should be to find a recent, relevant and comprehensive guide to sourcing-related terms and terminology.

That’s because, well, even in a discipline driven by esoteric buzzwords and omnipresent acronyms, there’s little understanding, or even consensus, as to what, exactly, the sourcing function even entails – and, consequently, how to define what’s often seen as the dark art of talent acquisition.

And that goes for the thought leaders and innovators who are at the cutting edge of this nebulous, but emerging, area of talent acquisition expertise. 

So if they can’t seem to come to a consensus on what, exactly, sourcing itself means, then the baseline (and barriers for entry) for this critical recruitment function are almost always lost in translation for the rest of us.

Unnatural Language Search.


Furthermore, if human capital is, as surveys and clichés both suggest, truly the biggest competitive advantage organizations have, then there’s no more important function in business. Which, no matter how you define it, is pretty cool.

Although the terminology related to sourcing seems more complex than building a "basic" 28 modifier Boolean String, the good news is that, as every sourcer already inherently knows, finding the right match almost always comes down to keywords.

And while your average sourcing specialist probably can’t diagnose a disease, write a code, or balance the books at month end, they’ve got to at least know the lingua franca of every search to ensure they’re targeting the right talent – no matter what industry, function or segment they’re looking for.

Sourcing is no exception – and for those who are just starting out in sourcing, or looking to build out their recruiting capabilities, playing the part means sounding somewhat convincing when speaking with customers, clients, and colleagues.

15 Common Sourcing Terms, Defined. 


For those sourcers who are either neophytes or, more commonly, Luddites, the good news is, there’s hope when it comes to learning the ropes.

Here, then, is a handy cheat sheet (or hack) for sounding like a rock star sourcing guru (tip one: the more buzzwords, the better).

  1. Boolean Search (n): Usage:“A well constructed Boolean search is key to relevant results.”Definition: The usage of unnecessary modifiers on Google to validate the fact that, indeed, the average recruiting professional is smarter than the world’s most complex algorithm.
  2. Passive Candidate (n):Usage: “Anyone can post and pray – it’s all about finding passive talent.”Definition: A potentially viable candidate for whom employers do not have a current resume on file.
  3. Active Candidate (n):Usage:“Start with active candidates – they’re low hanging fruit.”Definition: A candidate who, because they’re actually interested in your opportunity, must have something wrong with them, rendering them unfit to advance in the hiring process.
  4. Social Recruiting (v):Usage:“Social recruiting is a great way to engage with top talent.”Definition: Using various platforms like Twitter and Facebook to blast automated job openings; using LinkedIn’s profile database to try to obtain resumes by sending InMails; building a "community" of people who really don't care.
  5. Phone Screen(n):Usage: “I’d like to set up a brief, exploratory phone screen.” Definition: The conversation by which sourcers ascertain whether or not the candidate requires sponsorship, how much they're looking for and whether they're articulate enough to pass along to the recruiter for the  actual interview.
  6. Post and Pray(v):Usage: “Post and pray just doesn’t work when it comes to effectively finding the candidates companies need for today – and tomorrow.” Definition: A process generally associated with paid job boards that has been generally been replaced with the exact same saturation of recruitment advertising on unpaid sites and social networks (see: social recruiting).
  7. Purple Squirrels(n):Usage: “The most effective sourcers know how to find, attract, and engage purple squirrels.” Definition: Candidates whose background and experience most closely conform to the stated minimum requirements for an advertised position whose job skills and requirements are, in fact, impossible to find on the market, despite the objections of a hiring manager/client.
  8. Pipeline (n):Usage:“Sourcing isn’t just about just-in-time hiring today – it’s about building a pipeline of talent for future openings.” Definition: The funneling of resumes into an applicant tracking system where they shall sit untouched for perpetuity.
  9. Talent Network (n):Usage:“A talent network is the best way to keep candidates informed and engaged about opportunities for which they might be a good fit.” Definition: A list of e-mail addresses used to blast open jobs after a candidate accidentally opts in during the registration process.
  10. Talent Community (n):Usage:“Building a talent community is a great way to show candidates about what it’s really like to work at a company by going beyond a job description and creating engagement around an employer brand.” Definition: A branded social network page or account populated primarily with press releases and job descriptions which functions primarily as a way to make it seem like you’re actually using social media for sourcing.
  11. Federated Search (n):Usage:“With federated search, you can review and rank candidates from across all networks and databases simultaneously.” Definition: A paid point solution which scrapes profiles that are already publicly available, negating the need to actually learn how to build search strings.
  12. Candidate Experience (n):Usage:“There’s nothing more important when establishing yourself as an employer of choice than creating a positive candidate experience.”  Definition: A process in which unqualified applicants and non-viable candidates are separated from potential hires to ensure that recruiter’s time is being properly allocated to only those candidates who actually stand a chance at getting hired.
  13. Diverse (n):Usage:“Building a diverse slate of candidates is essential for ensuring inclusion, and innovation, within an organization.” Definition: Finding candidates to ensure compliance with hiring laws and preempt law-suits and/or audits as a way of explaining why so many white dudes work at an organization.
  14. Source of Hire (n):Usage:“Knowing source of hire is key in determining the efficacy and return on your sourcing investment.” Definition: Ensuring candidates self-select any source other than paid job ads, or entering resumes found on sites like LinkedIn or Indeed as “direct sourced” to prove that sourcers are actually doing something other than just posting jobs and reviewing resumes.
  15. Next Steps (n):Usage:“I’ll review your resume and background with my hiring manager and be in touch with next steps.” Definition:  The way sourcers convey to candidates the fact that they, in fact, have almost no say on whom advances in the process, and that anyone selected for an actual interview will be referred to someone who is actually entrusted to make hiring decisions.

Most of these definitions can be manipulated and messaged as necessary in order to build the buzzwords necessary to hide the fact that, at the end of the day, sourcing is basically online research, and is, in fact, a viable and specialized function.  And the truth of the matter is, done properly, sourcing is not only the foundation of recruiting, but as the first step in the process, arguably the most important.

But since it’s hard to convince many of the intrinsic value of a holistic, and effective, sourcing strategy, make sure to judiciously use these terms so that you can at least sound like you know what the heck it is you’re actually talking about.

Because in the new world of search, after all, it's all about natural language processing. 

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    With a unique background that includes HR, blogging and social media, Matt Charney is a key influencer in recruiting and a self-described “kick-butt marketing and communications professional.” Matt also serves as partner and executive editor for Recruiting Daily. Matt's blog, Snark Attack, was named one of the top 15 business blogs officially recommended by WordPress, the only HR-related blog with that distinction. Recognized as an "HR Gamechanger" by HR Magazine, a "Analyst Superstar" by HRO Today and a "Top Recruiting Influencer" by Huffington Post, Glassdoor, LinkedIn and Forbes, Matt has also spoken about talent topics at events such as South by Southwest Interactive, BlackHat, Reconverse and DefCon. He also serves on the advisory boards of several HR tech startups, including Rolepoint, Universum Global, HiQ Labs, Textio, Clinch, AdRecruit, NextWave HR, TextRecruit, TrustSphere, and Human Predictions. Matt was the chief content officer and global thought leadership head for AGS. Matt moved on from AGS in 2020.