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It’s Sheep We’re Up Against

When I want a big fat juicy steak I go down to Casey’s in little old Western Springs. They’ve been butchering for like a gazillion years and they know what’s up. They’ll slice it and dice it any way you want it. They are specialists. When I want a nice bottle of wine, I head over to a joint called Mainstreet: fantastic selection, all regions, all varietals. They know their wines; they are specialists. When I want a primo cigar, there are a number of places I hit – my favorite right now is a little place called Jack Schwartz on the ground floor of the Chicago Board of Trade building. They know their tobacco and how to burn it. Yes, they are specialists.

When you want something really good and really right you go to the specialists. You go to the place where the experts hang…where the connoisseurs commune. But first you have to find that place. And as the big-box gets bigger, it has become even harder to find the purveyor who has deliberately carved out their niche, focused on it, and stuck with it.

The world of recruiting and sourcing and job boards and social networking is one huge freaking box. I love Monster for what they are…but what they are is a big box. The same can be said about Career Builder, Branch Out, LinkedIn, The Ladders, [insert favorite job board here]. These guys play a role in your sourcing strategy…an important one. They scale. They speak to your immense and diverse requirements. But every now and then don’t you need a candidate who is just a bit more unique or specialized than what you can find amongst the masses? Sure you do. Where do you go? You probably go to a headhunter and you’re just fine paying the 20-35% just because you don’t want to deal with it. Stupid. Lazy. Stupid.

I ran into a pretty cool company a couple of weeks ago at the 2011 Annual SHRM Conference & Expo in Las Vegas. Stack Overflow has ignored the big-box, stuck to its guns and built a community by and for programmers only. And then they went and opened up that community to the realm of talent acquisition. With 29K passive candidates and 3.5K active candidates – each of whom are in fact programmers – Stack Overflow Careers 2.0 conjures this image of a bunch of geeked-out technologists hanging out down at the local coffee house talking shop while plotting world domination. They’ve created a venue for the best and brightest in this highly specialized world of programming to chat, share knowledge, and to actually solve wacked out programming problems together. And while they’re doing so, they might as well put themselves out there as a free agent. But here’s the deal: because they’re actively (and visibly) engaged in this professional dialog, candidates don’t just post their resume, cross their fingers, and wait; they strut their stuff. Prospective employers watch it, vet it, and screen it. I love it. No longer am I just looking at some static and overly staged candidate c.v. I can actually see how that living, breathing candidate rolls with their specialty and with other specialists.

Check it out: as you build your sourcing strategy, don’t just follow the sheep. Baaaaaahhh. If you’re only pulling candidates from the same (large) field everyone else is pulling from, how the hell are you really differentiating your company? You aren’t! Your guy/gal looks just like their guy/gal. So ditch your shepherd and figure out which pasture the specialists are grazing in. Then go hit that field up…hard. And if it’s programmers you’re looking for, it seems they’re all grazin’ down in the Stack Overflow Careers 2.0 pasture.

Baaaaaahhh.

Image Credit: Edwardo Amorim

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