Shally Steckerl: What I've Learned
A conversation with the sourcing pioneer about what he's learned during two decades in the industry and what he's most looking forward to at Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech.
By Andrew R. McIlvaine
When it comes to sourcing candidates, it's safe to say that Shally Steckerl has probably forgotten more than what most people will ever know. With over 21 years under his belt as a sourcer, Steckerl is founder and president of The Sourcing Institute and has served as a recruiting consultant to dozens of well-known companies like G.E. Boeing, Netflix, Hewlett Packard and Johnson Controls. He's spent decades building sourcing solutions for clients and is considered one of the pioneers in recruitment search. He's also author of of The Talent Sourcing and Recruitment Handbook and a sought-after speaker at recruiting events around the world. At this year's Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference on Nov. 28 through 30 at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in Florida, Steckerl will be co-presenting the Sourcing Lab, which will feature breakout sessions designed to give attendees hands-on experience in the latest sourcing techniques. He'll also be presenting pre-conference workshops during the morning and afternoon of Nov. 28 to teach attendees about the latest and most-efficient sourcing strategies. We recently spoke with Steckerl about the things he's learned over his career, where he sees the recruitment industry going and what it truly takes to be an effective sourcer.
You've been doing this line of work for a fairly long time. What do you enjoy most about it, and what would you say have been some of the most important things you've learned?
I do two things: I recruit people for clients and I train and educate recruiters. When I do the job of recruiting, my greatest satisfaction comes from when I talk with someone who had no idea this job opportunity even existed but, as a result of me not just finding them but in reaching out to them, I helped them get a job they find a lot more satisfying and challenging than the one they previously had. All recruiters do that, but not all recruiters do that with passive candidates. What's really special for me is when I get that very sincere "I never knew about this job, I would never have known to apply!" I once got a Georgia Tech grad a job. He was a games developer who'd moved out west for new opportunities but had no idea there was this company here in Atlanta that was developing games. The cost of living was very high out in California where he was, he had family here and wanted to come back, but it didn't even occur to him that gaming developers have opportunities here. He ended up receiving the same pay for a similar job here, in a much lower-cost of living area where he really wanted to live. That's very satisfying. The other really satisfying part of my job is when I'm teaching and I see the lightbulb go on over someone's head, when they realize "Wow, I can do this and now my job will be so much easier." It's a fantastic feeling, and is a real motivator for teaching.
As for the most important things I've learned over my career, the No. 1 thing -- by a large margin -- is that technology is an enabler but it won't replace your job. In other words, we're in an industry where there's lots of disruption and disintermediation but that's happening with other industries too, and they've benefited greatly. But in our industry, there's always been this belief that someday, whatever the flavor of the month there happens to be is going to replace recruiting. "Oh, Monster is going to replace recruiters, CareerBuilder is going to replace recruiters, LinkedIn is going to replace recruiters," and so on. Yet there are more recruiters working today than ever before in history. This is one of the most in-demand, sought-after jobs in America. Recruiters are the No. 5 most difficult to fill job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why? Obviously because technology is not replacing us. I'm an avid fan of tech and love to use all the tools, but our job has much more humanity in it than a lot of other roles that have been very easily disintermediated by tech. We should leverage it better, but this is a job that is not ever going to be replaced by a robot or a machine. The second most important lesson I've learned is that recruiters always seem to become addicted to whatever the hot new tool or technology is, whether it's Monster back in the day or LinkedIn more recently, not realizing there is no one-stop-shop or silver bullet that will satisfy your every need and there's never going to be. But they continue to be duped into thinking this one new thing is going to be the answer for all recruiters. But it's not. In fact, the more dependent you are on one solution, the less competitive you are in your profession. You need to use a variety of tools and sources.
As you know, it's becoming more of a candidate's market each year. Based on what you're seeing, what kind of impact does this appear to have had on candidates themselves -- has it made it harder to get them to respond, for example?
It's much harder to get candidates to respond when you're using canned rhetoric as a pitch. Candidates today want personalization. The canned messaging doesn't work. So yes, response rates are declining when you use the same old methods. But if you personalize it, and approach people in their native ecosystem, you'll get better respose rates. Don't assume everyone's on LinkedIn, for example. If someone's more likely to be on Facebook, you should reach out to them on Facebook. Find out where candidates are active and reach them there. It goes back to Advertising 101: The world's best billboard will do you absolutely no good if it's in the middle of a desert. The other thing I'm noticing is when I talk to candidates on the phone, they've already done their basic research. I no longer have to explain what the company I'm representing does. I may need to clarify and provide some context and detail about the job itself and how it fits with the company, but by the time I talk to them they've already learned the big picture. That's a big change from before, and it means I don't have to repeat the same basic pitch over and over again. It makes my job more fun, interesting and challenging.
Can you tell me a bit about the preconference workshop you're presenting, "So Now You Found Them … Now What?" Where do most sourcers tend to fall short in terms of establishing and maintaining contact with passive candidates?
They tend to fall short in two big areas: No. 1, they completely forget about message deliverability, as in, is it actually reaching its intended person? There's lots of talk about writing compelling messages, but where they fall short is in overlooking or not realizing that one reason their response rates are so low is because the recipient never actually got the message. It can happen with emails, texts and LinkedIn messages: You can have a message with a great subject line but if it doesn't make it to the intended recipient's inbox, it's worthless. So that's something we're going to address in the workshop: deliverability and how to test for it. The other part is, sourcers are not using enough delivery methods. A lot of people will just send out emails or Inmails, but the good ones will reach out via three or four different channels. I'll talk about using seven different channels. Send out seven messages using seven different approaches and personalizing each one to get that higher response rate. If only 30 percent of your recipients are responding to your outreach, that's 70 percent of your work that's going to waste.
What would you say are the most important personal qualities for a sourcer to have?
The most important personal qualities include problem-solving skills and tenacity. And by tenacity I don't mean the tenacity you'd need in sales because you hear "no" a lot, but more along the lines of not giving up, because you know the answer is out there and if you try something that doesn't work, you keep trying and changing your approach until it does work. This is not the kind of job where you can get away with "one and done." You also need curiosity, an appetite not just for information but for learning. It's a job where continuous learning is necessary.
What do you think of Facebook's push into the recruitment marketplace -- what impact do you see them having on Linkedin, for example?
It's going to erode LinkedIn's dominance because Facebook has such a large population. The other thing is, Facebook is a little more private than LinkedIn; it's got more walls around it. I don't know if those walls are going to continue to exist, but people have more confidence in their ability to stay private on Facebook than they do on LinkedIn, which is seen as kind of public. Also, conversations tend to occur more frequently on Facebook than on LinkedIn, so there's more opportunity for engaging people.
What are you most looking forward to about attending the Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech conference in West Palm Beach this year?
I'm really looking forward to getting together with my industry colleagues whom I don't get to see very often from all over the country. I also really want to get an idea of what the technology looks like from the vendors in the Expo hall. I want to look around, kick the tires on some of their new offerings and see what's hot, what people are responding to. And I'm also looking to do some learning from some of the other presenters who will be at the conference. But the most important reason is to connect with people whom I'm too busy to see the rest of the year.
Learn more about the Recruiting Trends & Talent Tech Conference and its PreConference sessions, which will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 28, at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in Florida.