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Who’s in your tribe?

Credit: Flavia Brandi, Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Recently, I attended a seminar by Shally Steckerl, who is the president of The Sourcing Institute, a company that specializes in training human resources (HR) and recruiting staff. Steckerl trains “sourcers”—shorthand for “talent sourcing associate.” Sourcers are people who work in the recruiting trenches, at companies and in recruiting firms, finding and identifying prospects so that others can swoop in and hire them.

Sourcers, in other words, help companies locate talent. That’s important because—ironically—the more talent there is in the market, the harder it becomes to find exactly the right candidate. And right now, there’s a lot of talent in the market. Consequently, each day there’s an immense amount of material to review. This is where sourcers shine.

The trend is to disconnect, unfollow, and then be very selective about what they join.

I learned from Steckerl’s lecture that sourcers are changing how they work. Networks—online and real world—have always been critical to associates’ success, but now those people are narrowing those networks. Apparently, for sourcers at least, the days when it was considered beneficial to be on hundreds of social networking websites, or to advertise on gigantic nationwide job boards, have passed. Today’s sourcers seek tighter, sleeker, better-targeted networks. Why? Because a more focused network is a more efficient way of locating talent.

And what they do is the mirror image of what you should do: Make efficient connections with people who can help you find a job and a career—or, looked at slightly differently, make connections that will allow you to be found by those who are seeking someone like you. Because of these changes in the way sourcers work, you should consider making similar changes to your own networks.

Social media is changing

Until recently, sourcing associates couldn’t get enough social media. Talent specialists employed by companies large and small were in the habit of signing up for every new network; apparently there are now some 600 different social media websites. I wouldn’t want to be an investor in the bottom 550 because today, people—including sourcers and other players in the hiring game—are dropping out. The trend is to disconnect, unfollow, and then be very selective about what they join. Hiring managers, recruiters, and candidates are moving toward trimming their networks into tight groupings. Steckerl describes this trend as “un-networking.”

I didn’t get the memo, but it makes sense. Third-tier friend Tom’s views on why pink grapefruit is superior to white don’t aid productivity; in fact, Tom’s posts distract you from your job-seeking mission—or, alternatively, from time spent with friends or family. The same is true of much of the tweeting, posting, friending, and connecting action all across the Internet. Social media can be a great asset for job seekers, but it can also be a major time sink.

These days, people want to associate with people with the same or similar interests. They want to belong to what sourcing associates call a “tribe.” Some gardeners say that a flower in the wrong place is a weed; similarly, too much stuff from other tribes is, basically, spam.


You’re probably still on Facebook and still following your crowd on Twitter. Your LinkedIn profile is—hopefully—still intact. If you fit the standard demographic profile, that’s not likely to change soon (although you may already have unfollowed people like Tom and the other big distractors on those websites).

When it comes to seeking candidates for open jobs, big and broad networks are passé (LinkedIn is an exception: Because of how LinkedIn is designed, the more contacts you have there, the more names you can “see” in your field of interest.) Similarly, huge national job boards aren’t getting the attention they’re used to, and job descriptions no longer flow out to every social media outlet the HR department can find.

Instead, the best practice today is to find a tribe and work within it. If a firm works with industrial fermentation processes, its sourcer will deal only with that tribe, pulling names from websites, blogs, and lists in this topic area. That associate is likely to study attendance lists from meetings of the Society of Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology or American Chemical Society, to read the blogs of dozens of scientists who come from that sector, and to participate in narrowly focused LinkedIn groups. Sourcers no longer waste time on—or by joining Jobfox or Zerply.

Find your tribe

This new approach bears a close resemblance to the kind of in-person networking people have practiced for decades. You may have five close professional contacts or you may have 100; either way, you’ve built that group up around common interests, since graduate school if not before. Now it’s time to take that approach, expand it online, and take it up a notch. It may also be time to trim those online networks so that each connection offers real value. The goal is to be a visible member of a tribe of people with the same professional interests. That will make it easier for you to find opportunities and to (hopefully) be found. Here is some specific advice:

  • Don’t worry about detailed lists of networking do’s and don’ts—even mine. Just get out and circulate among people who do what you do and who are interested in the same things you are interested in. You can fine-tune your approach after you make this a habit.
  • Find out what your tribe members read (like a small but interesting blog) and where they hang out (in a subgroup of a major website or down the street at the corner pub, where the local analytical chemistry group meets once a month for a beer to discuss the latest HPLC methods). The offline part is important: Sourcers I know recommend spending at least 30% of your networking time in the real world.
  • Pare down your online communities. Who can you unfollow to save time? Do you really need to belong to all those web forums and LinkedIn groups that send out daily or weekly recaps? If they aren’t productive, drop them.

They’re looking for you. You’re looking for them.

A company out there somewhere needs someone just like you, right now, for a currently open position. It is going through the same process as you are, in what amounts to a mirror image: It needs to find the right person, and you need to get found. When that hiring manager starts looking, what’s the first thing she’s likely to do? She’ll call acquaintances from her tribe—someone she did a postdoc with perhaps—or she’ll ask the HR department to make an announcement on a small website that deals with her area of interest. Maybe she’ll even show up at the corner bar. So be there and be visible.

These days, being a part of a small, close-knit tribe is much more important than spending lots of time and energy maintaining a large, unfocused network. So go out and find your tribe!

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