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What is the Difference Between Sourcing and Recruiting?

Unless you live and breathe Talent Acquisition (TA) there may be some confusion around what sourcing is, how it slightly differs from recruitment, and why it is so valuable to hiring great people. Let's talk shop, shall we? 


Sourcing vs. Recruiting


Let’s start with sourcing. Sourcing is the act of proactively searching for and reaching out to potential candidates. It's not just about sliding into someone's DMs on LinkedIn (although, let's be real, that’s part of it). In the sourcing process, individuals use tools like LinkedIn Recruiter, job boards, networking, etc. to search for candidates who have specific skill sets. Then, they will reach out to those individuals and pitch the company and position to see if the person is interested in the role. Sourcers, and sourcing, are the masterminds behind expanding the talent pool beyond the usual suspects who apply.


Before we jump into recruiting, let's clear the air on something that grinds our gears: when companies confuse the full scope and demands of recruiting with simply posting jobs and scrolling through applications received. Seriously, folks, that's like saying a microwave is a chef because it can reheat leftovers. 


Recruiting? It's a whole production. Recruiting is a process that includes partnering with a hiring manager, consulting on market intelligence, reviewing applicants that come through job postings, completing pre-screen interviews with candidates, managing the offer and pre-employment processes. This role can, and should, include sourcing. Job titles usually seen in this function include Talent Acquisition Partner, Recruiter, or in some cases, Talent Acquisition Manager.

Venn Diagram showing Sourcers in the left quadrant, Recruiters in the right quadrant, and in the center: proactively searching for talent

Why have a dedicated Sourcer if a recruiter can do both? Sourcing candidates is incredibly time consuming, and to do it really well is a full time job in itself. By expanding the recruitment function and adding a Sourcer, it takes the bulk of sourcing responsibilities off of the recruiter, which allows the recruiter to focus on in-process candidates and working with their hiring managers. Additionally, sourcers can build a robust candidate pipeline, full of warm-leads who already know of and may be interested in working with your company.



Organizational Structure 

Talent Acquisition is a function that includes planning & strategy, compliance, recruitment marketing, employer branding, recruitment tools and technology, talent analytics, talent pipelining, university recruitment, referral programs, and of course, sourcing and recruitment– whether it be managed in-house or outsourced. A Talent Acquisition team’s composition is dependent on the size and structure of the company. These teams can range from a single recruiter, to one a larger team that includes multiple Managers, Recruiters, Sourcers, and/or Coordinators. Now, how does it all come together? Well, it depends on the structure and goals of the talent acquisition function.


If a company is large enough to warrant having both Recruiters and Sourcers, it’s common to see them operate, and be compensated, like peers. Recruiters and Sourcers will share a few common goals, like an average time to hire. Where the roles differ is that a Recruiter may also be goaled on the number of hires, and a Sourcer may be goaled on the submit to 1st interview conversion ratio. Whatever the metrics, take care in what is used to motivate Recruiters and Sourcers because the only way they will hire quality employees is through close collaboration and teamwork.  


On the other hand, if your company is running lean and mean with only Recruiters on deck, fear not. These individuals are like the Swiss Army knives of talent acquisition— and if needed can manage everything from sourcing to sealing the deal. Talk about wearing multiple hats! For these rockstars, it’s best to give them the tools and dedicated time to source talent. We recommend a minimum of 1 hour per day. Not sure how to free up more time to source? It may be time to optimize your recruitment function. To an outsider, it may appear as though Recruiters are “just sitting at their desk” but trust us, sourcing talent is the ticket to setting you free from poor-quality applicant pools. 


Here are a couple of sample org structures, depending on your company size and recruiter bandwidth:




Two examples of a TA org chart, the left showing a recruiting manager who has 5 recruiters reporting into them, and a sourcing manager who has 4 sourcers reporting into them. The other org chart shows one TA department with 3 recruiters only.

Understanding and balancing the dynamics between sourcing and recruiting is essential to optimize talent acquisition efforts. Together, these functions form the backbone of Talent Acquisition, a strategic imperative for organizations aiming to secure top-tier talent. Whether your team boasts dedicated sourcers, recruiters, or versatile professionals wearing multiple hats, fostering collaboration and providing the necessary tools are paramount for success. By recognizing the distinct yet complementary roles of sourcing and recruiting, businesses can unlock their potential to attract and retain high-caliber employees, ultimately driving organizational growth and success.


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