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As it has changed so many other industries in the 21st century, big data has altered recruiting. Social media sourcing has allowed recruiters to quickly tap into networks of candidates that would otherwise be more difficult to contact for open roles, and recruitment firms now create and advertise large databases of candidate profiles, selling them as competitive advantages over other firms. Nowadays, many clients are quick to ask about the size of a recruitment firm’s database, seeing it as a quantifiable measure of that firm’s access to talent.

But the fact is the size of a recruitment company’s database says very little about the most important factor in a recruitment firm’s success: the firm’s ability to cultivate ongoing relationships with the best candidates over long periods of time.

At Argentus, we believe that relationship-building is far more important than the maintenance of large, impersonal candidate databases. When a client calls us with a new role to fill, our first move isn’t to consult the database – it’s to talk about who we know that might fit the role.

It’s a quite literal discussion that takes place, with members of the team bandying about names of individuals we’ve placed before, or people we’ve been in conversation with, or people we’ve known for years.

Our feeling is that, at agencies that are more database-driven, this conversation just doesn’t take place. Instead, searching the database for candidates is the first move.

We feel there are some distinct advantages to the relationship-building approach. For example, agency databases depend on candidates submitting their information – but candidates are people, and their careers often progress without them ever contacting a recruiter or submitting their information to a database.

Furthermore, the larger the database of candidates that a recruiter has, the harder it is to keep it up-to-date – meaning that, paradoxically, recruiters advertising the largest databases might also be the recruiters with the most inaccurate data. If candidate data lapses, recruiters within a company are less likely to use the database, which produces a vicious cycle: Because the database is outdated, recruiters don’t use it, which means it never gets updated, which means it becomes entirely useless.

Palm TreeRecruiting works best when the recruiter takes a personal stake and interest in all aspects of the process. The building of relationships lets recruiters understand what candidates really want out of their careers. This doesn’t just make for a more exciting career for recruiters – it pays off in the form of better matches between candidates and opportunities. An impersonal database that sees candidates as sets of keywords, rather than as people with dreams and aspirations, could never make such matches.

This ties into something I mentioned above: Even though a massive database purports to provide access to thousands of candidates, there reality is that databases are terribly inefficient. The amount of value one gets out of a database will depend on the skill of the recruiter searching the database and their ability to sort through inaccurate and outdated information to find accurate, relevant candidate profiles.

Then, there’s even more inefficiency when the recruiter contacts that candidate. If they candidate has been sitting in a database for months, they might need to be reminded who the agency is. They might no longer be interested in the same sorts of roles as they were when they entered the database. Their contact information may have changed. They may have retired.

When you build relationships with candidates, on the other hand, you tend to have more access to more accurate information. Candidates will keep you updated on their careers and lives, which means you’re never working with outdated information.

I know a lot of recruiters talk a good game about the importance of relationships – and I don’t mean to be self-congratulatory. We’re not perfect at Argentus – there’s always room for improvement. And don’t get me wrong: We do maintain a candidate database, and we do value it as a source of candidates.

But it’s important to note that candidates aren’t data. They’re people, and a sourcing process that leans too heavily on data will leave these people underserved. More than that, it also leaves companies and clients underserved. Querying a database isn’t the most effective way to source the right candidates for the right positions.

Let’s face it: Recruitment has always been about relationships and the ability to cultivate deep networks of talent on an interpersonal level. Even in this new era of massive candidate databases and social media sourcing, the recruiters who will succeed will be those who are able to build and maintain long-term personal connections with candidates – just as it has always been.

A version of this article originally appeared on the Argentus blog.


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