Q&A with Nicole Cain

Nicole Cain’s early career was spent as a corporate librarian, followed by business research for firms like Ernst & Young, McKinsey, Cap Gemini & Deutsche Bank, before she made the shift to finding people in the executive search sector. She shared how her past experiences as a librarian and knowledge manager has shaped her approach to sourcing. Nicole will talk about best-practice referral sourcing at the Sourcing Summit.

Q. Can you shed some light on your background and how you stumbled into sourcing?
I’ve always had a passion for learning, sharing knowledge and a desire to help people so a career in librarianship and information management was a natural fit. I knew I wanted to apply my skills in a business context and access the latest tools and technologies so I spent the earlier part of my career honing my skills as a researcher supporting client-facing teams within professional services and management consulting firms. Seeking a change in direction and wanting to be closer to the coalface I made the transition to a research role within executive search four years ago. It was then I discovered that sourcing was developing as a viable and rewarding profession.

Q. How has your past experience as a librarian affected how you approach sourcing? Are there lessons we can learn?
My experience as a librarian has certainly influenced how I approach sourcing. Whilst my training was in librarianship and information management I chose to work initially in corporate libraries and later as part of a business research teams within large global businesses. When I started out corporate libraries were going through significant change and were shifting to a more proactive service offering with researchers starting to sit directly in the business and work more closely with client service teams.

In terms of past experience I’ve found that having a sound discipline around the research process and combining that with a broad knowledge of relevant sources has been of value when planning any search. Knowing where to go to find the information you need so you’re maximising time spent and then ensuring that you’re managing the capture and storage of that information also plays a critical part in how effective you are as a researcher. Understanding the information needs of clients and being in a position where I’ve been able to exercise judgment has also affected how I approach sourcing.

I think the main change has been that previously I was searching public and subscriber-based sources of news and business information and now I’m in a position where I can complement that by leveraging new media and engaging directly with people in the market to gain real insight and that is where I find both the challenge and the satisfaction.

Q. As a researcher in executive search how have you seen the growth of sourcing, in particular Internet research, affect research practices?
The growth in sourcing as a profession has followed the growth of the Internet, which has accelerated even further through shifts towards more user-generated content and rapid uptake of new technologies. From a research perspective the internet has put the world at our fingertips, fast-tracking the name generation process and in many instances granting us direct access to what was once considered hidden or hard to find talent. It’s important to remember however that Internet research can only take you so far. Qualified referrals continue to be one of the most effective sourcing channels as they provide greater context to potential candidates’ backgrounds. Recruitment remains a relationship driven business and the ability to engage confidently with talent and form long term relationships is key to becoming a successful researcher or sourcing specialist.

Q. What will you speak about at the Sourcing Summit?
I will be speaking about how referrals are a critical part of any sourcing strategy. I’ll also be sharing best practice on establishing networks and developing trusted relationships to source referrals.