Headhunting or sourcing: definitions, differences and methodologies

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According to the Banque de France, 44% of companies today have difficulty recruiting, despite a high unemployment rate. The main cause? A mismatch between the job offer and the available workforce. This is not surprising: in a world of rapid technological change, skills and professions are changing just as fast. 

To attract the talent they need to grow, more and more companies are using headhunting or sourcing. In this article, we explain the difference between these two professions. 

Headhunting or sourcing: definitions

Depending on whether you are a headhunter or a sourcer, you are basically doing the same job. In other words, we try to meet the recruitment needs of a company. However, there are a few differences. 


Like talent hunting, sourcing (also known as “talent scouting”) is an active search process. In other words, it consists of searching for the ideal candidate on one’s own. Rather than simply waiting to receive applications after posting one or more job offers. This is a proactive approach in essence.

Sourcing VS digital sourcing: what is the difference? 

As its name suggests, digital sourcing means using digital tools exclusively to find potential candidates to contact. A few examples of tools: ATS (Applicant Tracking System) such as Job Affinity, which allows to browse through a large CV library, job boards, professional social networks such as LinkedIn, Stack Overflow, Github… To find the rare pearl among a mass of people, the sourcer performs targeted searches thanks to precise keywords and filters. 

The hunt

In the same spirit as sourcing, however, hunting is distinguished by its highly specialized nature. Like the sourcer, the hunter begins an active search for talent. The only difference is that it is a very high-level recruitment method. Which targets particularly qualified profiles, considered as “stars” in their field (always executives, systematically in place because they are particularly rare). 

As the term “headhunter” suggests, this recruitment professional must identify “targets” that could constitute potential candidates, even though they are “invisible” because they are not available. In other words, the headhunter’s mission is to arouse the interest of people who would never have thought of applying on their own. 

Headhunting or sourcing: what are the differences? 

While headhunting and sourcing perform the same function, they do not use the same strategies and methods to achieve their goals. 

A qualitative/quantitative approach

The headhunter often intervenes on particularly difficult and demanding recruitments. Their mission: to find THE rare pearl that will fill a highly strategic need – often directors, top managers, profiles with rare skills… His approach is specialized because it requires him to detect certain key skills in potential candidates before even contacting them… A headhunter generally only works on one recruitment at a time. 

For his part, the source can seek to fill several needs simultaneously. He can look for various profiles: senior experts, high potential juniors, atypical candidates, etc.

A different kind of research work 

More than anything else, hunters and sources are differentiated by their methods. 

Hunting is a direct approach to candidates. As the profiles hunted are already in place, the hunter must use his network to investigate within the companies and find the rare pearls potentially listening to the market.  

On the other hand, the sourcer can be satisfied with finding talent through more traditional channels (professional social networks, company events, CV libraries, etc.). After having built a pool of potential candidates, the sourcer submits this panel to the recruiting company. The latter then refines the selection and chooses the candidates it wishes to meet. 

A more or less vast field of action

Unlike the hunter, the source person is mainly involved in the search for and identification of talent (or even the hiring of talent). They are therefore involved at the very beginning of the recruitment process – their mission ends when the interviews begin. On the other hand, the hunter may be required to conduct interviews in order to guide the company in its final choice.  

The way of working

The headhunter is almost always an external help to the company (headhunting firm, independent headhunter…). While the sourcer can be integrated to a company and be dedicated to the sourcing of future recruits. 

💡 Taking the need, an indispensable step

Whether you’re hunting for a high-flying profile or sourcing candidates, there are certain essential steps to follow – like identifying the need, of course. Conducting a proactive and personalized talent search for a specific position necessarily involves understanding the needs and issues behind the job offer. 

Why use sourcing? 

It’s a fact: the better the employer brand, the more qualified applications a company will receive. And the reverse is also true! Not every application a company receives is qualified – especially when its employer brand is weak.

Sourcing is therefore an ideal method for a company that has difficulty attracting the best profiles spontaneously. This recruitment method is also useful when you want to build a solid pool of potential candidates. Indeed, over the years, sourcers build up a pool of high potential candidates.

Why use headhunting?

Some positions require very specific skills or rare profiles. This is the case for some strategic or in-demand positions, such as web developers, data analysts, system administrators, etc. 

Here’s where it gets complicated: the best talents are not necessarily available on the market… Hence the interest in “canvassing” them with the help of a headhunter, who will then have to compete with creativity to reach them. 

Entrusting difficult recruitments to a headhunter saves time! In addition, this recruitment professional guarantees confidentiality and discretion to his clients (useful when you want to poach a talent from the competition). 

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