Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

What Do Researchers Do – Part II
October 9, 2009, 7:00 am
Filed under: Recruiting, Research

I was going through some of my old blog posts when I stumbled across one of the very first series of articles that I wrote, discussing the role researchers and sourcers play in their companies. I have decided to update and re-post them over the next few weeks. This week, the article is about some of the skills a good researcher/sourcer should possess and some ways to determine a good researcher in an interview. Hope you enjoy!

One of the most common questions I get asked by recruiting firm owners is “What should I look for when I want to hire a researcher?” As I outlined in my first post, I would like to go through some details of what I believe to be good qualities an excellent researcher might have. This will not be a complete list, however I think that as you conduct your search, you will find that your most qualified candidates will possess several of these particular skills.

Before I get into this, I would like to first give you a couple of examples of the kind of value that can be derived from hiring a researcher into your office:

  • Many recruiting offices have accounted for between $200,000 – $800,000 in placements in a given year from candidates sourced through research
  • Researchers I have spoken with have told me that their total billing dollars made up between 20% – 60% of their total office billings.

In 2005, I myself was responsible for over $400,000 in billings for my office at the time which was about 33% of our total office billings, so you can see the value that can be brought to your office by having a full time researcher. Keep in mind these numbers do not even reflect the billings that come about from 2nd and 3rd degree candidates which could account for millions more. Please keep this in mind as you’re considering bringing on a full time, dedicated researcher.

On to the meat and potatoes: What should you look for when screening potential sourcers? Everyone has their own opinion on what makes a good researcher; these are simply what I have seen as common qualities in the good researchers whom I know.

  1. Paralegal or Library Science background. I have found that some of the best researchers have these kind of backgrounds – why is that? Well a colleague of mine is a graduate of Dominican University’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science. I looked at some of the courses offered in this program, and they include such things as ‘Organization of Knowledge’, ‘Reference and Online Services’, ‘Subject Analysis’, ‘Online Information Systems’, ‘Searching Electronic Databases’, ‘Collection Management’, ‘Research Methods’, and the list goes on and on. In my opinion anyone who has studied the Organization of Knowledge at the collegiate level would probably make a good researcher. From a paralegal perspective, you’ve got to know how to research and be thorough to be a good paralegal; both qualities carry over into becoming a good researcher.
  2. Speed reader. I don’t necessarily think that ‘speed reading’ is the important factor here, but someone who can scan and summarize an article quickly would make a great researcher. What I do all day long is….read. So in order to maximize my efficiency, I must read quickly without missing important information. Bottom line – a good researcher scans quickly but knows what buzzwords to look for.
  3. Addicted to information. Almost all good researchers that I’ve talked to have RSS feeds that they read on a daily basis. Someone who loves to learn and loves information will certainly excel as a researcher. RSS feeds have made it easy for us addicts to get our daily fix without spending all day looking at blogs, news releases, and article reviews. A person who likes to read books in their spare time would also be included in this category. I’m not talking about Danielle Steele novels here – I’m talking about industry related reading, success principles, history, technology, etc. Constantly in the learning mode. One of my favorite quotes is “If you’re not green and growing, then you are red and rotting.”
  4. Can “connect the dots”. I also like to call this ‘following the White Rabbit’. Sometimes as a researcher you will be given incomplete information. A good researcher will be able to take the bits and pieces they have been given and create a complete picture from it.
  5. “Outside of the box” thinker. Yes, incredibly cliché, I know. But, when you consider that researchers will have to rely sometimes on crumbs of clues to find the perfect candidate, they must have creative minds in order to find what they need. Let’s take a look at the definition of “outside the box”: according to Webster’s New Millennium™ Dictionary of English, the definition is ‘beyond conventional thought or practice; creative and unorthodox in thought or practice’. We are an odd bunch, aren’t we? But that’s what makes us excellent at what we do – we can look at a resource and see things that others cannot.
  6. Familiarity with current technology, especially technology pertinent to recruiting and/or sourcing. Good research candidates will not look at you like a cow looking at a new gate if you mention the words LinkedIn, social networking, blogosphere, technorati, etc. Let’s face it, everyone is familiar with Google, so if you ask anyone if they know how to ‘Google’, they will say yes. They will tell you that they typed in a word in Google once and ‘conducted research’. WRONG!! I made the mistake of asking this in an interview, and after the lady got hired I had to show her how to bring up Google in a web browser. Needless to say, she did not last long.
  7. Well networked. Good researchers know everybody. They have a friend who mountain bikes with this guy who works at a company that manufactures XYZ and he reports to…you get the picture. Not only do they know everybody, but those they don’t know, they know where to look to find them. Using public records, white pages, Zoom Info and similar resources, or simply going to Yahoo, they can find the unfindable people. These folks will typically have over 200 people in their cell phone as well.
  8. Good data entry skills. I look forward to the day when misinterpretation of research responsibilities is squashed forever. Even though, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t believe that it is the sole responsibility of a researcher to do data entry, this is a skill that needs to be present. It would behoove a researcher to have better keyboarding skills than the classic “hunt and peck” method.
  9. Prior experience in recruiting OR human resources. Not at the top of my list, but I think a potential candidate should get a couple brownie points for having prior experience. This was not the case for me of course: the job I held right before I began researching, believe it or not, was waiting tables. I always considered the ‘must have experience’ clause in a job description to be a bit of a Catch-22 – how am I supposed to gain experience if no one will give me the opportunity to earn it? But if your candidate has been in a recruiting environment or has worked in human resources before, they at least know how the operation works.
  10. Specific certifications and/or training. AIRS has a ‘Certified Internet Recruiter’ designation. Anyone who has taken this certification course should have a good beginning foundation for becoming a researcher (however, experience speaks louder than a certification!). If anyone else knows of other specific research-geared certifications, I’d love to know about them!

A lot of you at this point are thinking “Well this is all great stuff, but how do you find out in an interview if a candidate possesses these skills?” Here are a couple of quick suggestions I can offer for some good screening techniques:

  1. Ask for specific examples of information they stay current with – what interests them, what they enjoy reading (if they like to read, that is!), etc.
  2. In talking with a fellow researcher while writing this, we came up with a great test to give potential research candidates: give an article, maybe two pages in length, and set a time limit in which it must be read, and then ask the candidate to summarize. The catch in this exercise would be to put a vital piece of information buried in the middle, and perhaps another at the very end, so that someone who could scan quickly yet pick up important details would see it.
  3. Give them a simple search task. Either ask them to verbally walk you through their course of action, or give it to them to complete while they are there, or as a ‘homework assignment’.
  4. Ask them what they think would be the most interesting aspect of conducting internet research.
  5. Find out what the breadth of their social media presence is – what networks are they part of, and how active are they in online communities.
  6. A fun screening technique: Rob McIntosh and Jim Stroud each put out a challenge for sourcers to “find their dog”. I know that Rob used his puzzle back in 2005 to help identify potential sourcing candidates for his company. (by the way, I did find Jim’s dog, and no, I won’t tell you how J)

I speak from experience here: finding the right candidate to be a researcher can be a daunting task. I’ve had to interview potential research candidates in the past and there’s no one “cookie cutter” type of candidate you can look for. These listed skills however should help you in looking for the right mix of skill and experience that will work within your office. Just keep in mind that as researchers, we don’t really carry a ‘book of business’ or have a set educational path or really even a universal job description, so it may be tough to gauge from just one interview if your candidate would work. You may even consider asking someone you know who already employs a researcher if you could borrow that person for a telephone interview.

Regardless, for those of you out there who have been teetering on the fence about whether or not to hire a researcher, I hope you will consider it more now. A dedicated researcher can bring a lot of revenue to your office – you just have to know what to look for!

In my next post, I would like to walk you through a typical day of a typical researcher (if one were to exist!). I will do my best to tackle the job description aspect of internet research – we don’t just stare at our computer screens all day like a lot of people think. Honest!


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great article! As a health sciences librarian, I have most of these skills. While I have not worked in a recruiting agency, I have participated on recruiting teams and have been asked to find information relevant to our searches. Many librarians bring their research skills sets to the job and are able to learn the subject matter on the job. I know I have.

Comment by Rachel Resnick

Another great post Amybeth and one I can see could be very helpful to those hiring a researcher/ sourcer. I would add that a researcher to have all of these qualities is rare. The hiring manager has to know which ones are important to them to be able to hire the right fit. One thing that is implied but not spelled out is needing to be a good communicator. Being able to keep the team informed by documenting progress (or lack thereof) and then sharing it makes for that collaborative spirit that is so needed to get the turnaround you need. This includes making sure recruiters act on your research and understanding how they are using it.

Comment by Dorothy Beach, CIR PHR

Thank you for the re-posts…we have a person identified for this type of role and she will be working in tandem with the recruitment, HR and Marketing functions of our organization and I’ve included your blog in her RSS feeds. Do you know of other sourcers that you can recommend for a junior researcher? We have decided to use a couple of social networking communities too. Growing networks slowly and strategically. We aren’t sure where this is going yet but over time we hope it will work in the way it is intended. We decided to separate the recruitment social networking and the business development side and see where it goes.

Comment by Kathy Narvaez

[…] make $50 to over $100 an hour, and they are worth every penny for the competitive advantage  and value they provide to the organizations they […]

Pingback by The Two Levels of Candidate Sourcing

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