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Candidate sourcing is sometimes the best way to fill an open position.

However, discovering and engaging new candidates can be one of the toughest challenges in the recruitment process.

Here are a few tips and tricks from someone who has tested a myriad of candidate sourcing tools and methods.

Let's dive in.

What Is Candidate Sourcing?

In the world of recruitment, candidate sourcing is the art and science of finding and engaging quality candidates. It forms an essential part of any recruitment process, as it means you're not just waiting for the right candidates to apply for a role.

To highlight the potential of sourcing, according to LinkedIn, around 36% of candidates are actively looking at one time. But 90% are willing to hear about new opportunities.

Some companies employ professional sourcers, but anyone in your organization can help out. For example, employee referral programs are an excellent way to get fresh candidates in your talent pipeline.

Candidate Sourcing Process

Now I’ll take you through the methods and tactics I use when it’s time to dip into the market and source the best candidates.

Stage one: define your search criteria

Before thinking about the sources of qualified candidates, it’s important to first be clear about the skills and experience required.

For this, it’s useful to start with a breakdown of the role and the skills.

A good idea is to make a table in Excel, Sheets, or Notion where all the sourcing information goes and keep it with the rest of the role information.

Something like this:

Candidate Sourcing Framework

Creating such a framework helps you quickly decide whether to add someone to your longlist or not.

Depending on the org, the sourcers might be separate from the recruiters and only handle outreach and maybe screening.

If the sourcer is separate, then they have to make sure that they’re still fully aligned not just with the hiring manager but also with the recruiter. 

They need to be totally in sync to give the candidate consistent and great experience and also for the recruiter to have all the information they need to close the candidate eventually. 

The best way to get that is to regularly discuss the talent market, the pipeline, and the status and motivations of each candidate.

The sourcer should also, in my opinion, be in every conversation with the hiring manager to understand the needs of the team and what the manager is looking for beyond what is passed on by the recruiter. 

Stage two: finding candidates

Not you have your ideal candidate it’s time to find them.

There are many sourcing channels you can utilize to find candidates—from social media to CV libraries and job boards.

You can go into the wider market to find new people, or try to reengage those you’ve saved in your applicant tracking system (ATS) or recruitment CRM.

When going out to the wider market, I normally start by going through a list of companies as targets for my sourcing. Perhaps companies in the same space as you, or competitors/companies with the same tech stack.

If there are a lot of companies/search results, invite the team over and divide and conquer companies and areas of focus. That way several people can spend 30 minutes or so reviewing the same amount of candidates it would have taken several hours otherwise.

A good tool to have in your arsenal is a boolean search. Many platforms have it built into their search, but it is always good to have an understanding of how it works.

Operators for Boolean searching

  1. AND—includes both (or all) of the keywords. The search terms that follow the AND must appear in the search results.
  2. OR—either terms. All combination possibilities will come up.
  3. NOT—so specific search terms do not appear in the results. This will prevent the terms from coming up.
  4. Quotation marks “”—when users want to search for an exact phrase, they use quotation marks around that phrase.
  5. Parentheses (): placing parentheses allows separation of the terms and preference to be given to specified ones.

Here is an example of how a search above may work. (Software AND (engineer OR developer)) AND (React OR Typescript)

Now I’ll go through some of the more popular places for sourcing candidates.

Your personal talent pool

If your company has been recruiting for a while, chances are you’ll have already a database of potential candidates. These are people who’ve previously submitted resumes or dropped out at some point along your hiring process.


This is a very good general social media platform for all kinds of roles and also to research companies you would like to target. 

If you have a LinkedIn Recruiter license you get to see the full list of people. With Premium, you get to see 3rd-degree connections and with a Regular account only 2nd-degree connections. 

If you do not have access to a recruiter license, a well-placed boolean search in the Regular offering. LinkedIn search box can help!

X-Ray searching

X-Ray searching is the application of Boolean searching in a Google search engine. 

If you really want to go a lot deeper you can program your own search engine here using Google’s step-by-step guide, so you can specify results in only specific sites. is another resource that is already programmed for LinkedIn and Dribbble.

Caution should be used when creating X-ray searches, they’re not suitable for all roles and may end up wasting time.

A prime example is if you are searching for a common junior position e.g. Sales Development Representative (SDR).

Because an X-ray search is difficult to program for current roles only, the results of more senior candidates may appear because they started as SDRs.

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Specialized job boards

There are heaps of jobs boards out there for specific niches:

  • Creatives. You can use places like Dribbble or Behance. You can both browse profiles and post your roles on them.
  • Startups. AngelList is a good resource.
  • Remote. Places like RemoteOK have both job boards and also a candidate discovery and message board.
  • Diversity-specific platforms. Places like RemoteWoman, She Can Code, or RemotePOC to name just a few.

Specialized sourcing tools

Since sourcing is such a specialized area, it’s no wonder an abundance of specialized recruiting tools have popped up to help with that—be it through artificial intelligence (AI) or a meta-base approach.

AI tools have been popping up quite a bit. Some help personalize your outreach messages.

Some are aggregate tools (metabases) that try to find you the right candidates using filters that vary in sophistication e.g. Amazing Hiring and Fetcher AI. 

They usually use sources like Linkedin, Github and Twitter to gather candidate information and collate it to get you the most detailed information about a candidate and give you an idea of whether to approach them. 

When using metabases, look at their GDPR compliance, they should display where they get the candidate’s emails.

A while ago a lot of email scraper tools we used to use in recruitment had to be scrapped because of the rules on privacy and GDPR.

I am based in a jurisdiction where data privacy laws are very strict, so I can’t recommend those. Many people are mindful of their data these days, so be mindful that an approach over email can be considered too aggressive.

The most common tool approach nowadays is to create a community and a platform for companies to access candidates—active and passive in this community. 

This is how places like Hackajob, Hired, Cord,, and Otta operate—somewhere between a community and a marketplace model.

Time to get unconventional

Here are a few ideas of some slightly less conventional places to find candidates:

  • Utilize your team’s network—It is so often overlooked to just ask people to reach out to their network, or post things on their own social media, about the roles you have. Referrals are a great source of candidates—and a source of referral bonuses for current employees!
  • Reddit—Great for finding people who are engaged in their area of expertise, although they tend to be the most passive candidates. For developers and techies, Github or Stack Overflow are similar communities.
  • Slack/Discord communities—especially good for connecting with specialists in the area and also for posting roles. Many have specific channels for job posts.
  • Short skill challenges/Hackathons—organizing meetups, events, and competitions.
  • Hosting Events and webinars—highlight the expertise of your team by hosting an event where you can share knowledge and use it as a networking opportunity. These can be in-person or virtual.
  • Create content—could be a thought piece, could be a story about your work. Highlight what you do, your expertise, and what people can learn working with you.

When using specific spaces and communities, please make sure you read the rules or get in touch with the organizers of each community so that you understand whether you can join.

Some communities discourage recruiters from joining because it can dilute the pool of participants in the community (e.g. engineers in a specific language). Others may want specific demographic—e.g. women or people of colour.

Stage three: engaging candidates

Once you have found the candidates you’d like to approach, it’s time to think about messaging them.

A word of caution when approaching candidates—it’s always good to strive for balance. You don’t want to become a stalker! 

Often, at sourcing conventions and gatherings of sourcing specialists, the zeal to find new and creative ways to discover candidates can lead to an overbearing approach. 

For example, I once heard someone advise to contact candidates 8 times and find them on Facebook or Instagram. That’s far too invasive!

Going for the more official channels like LinkedIn and other recruitment platforms is always a safe approach. People expect to be approached for a legitimate job opportunity via those methods.

While job advertisement on Instagram or TikTok is becoming more prevalent, actively approaching someone there is still likely to be met with distrust.

The outreach message

Outreach—it’s all about the message!

All the advice out there will say that personalizing the message is the key. But before we get onto that, I want to make the case for the informative message.

The informative outreach message

It may seem like a basic thing, but make sure that your message not only “sells” but also informs on the opportunity. It should give people the chance to discover more about your company and why the role is important. 

A great way of ensuring this is by including links to the job description, careers pages, or a video or article on your company.

While a call to action, e.g. “book in a time to chat”, is a great technique borrowed from sales, don’t make the entire message about just that. Let people discover information on their own too.

After this, we can talk about personalization.

Personalized outreach message

If you’re messaging people on a large scale (e.g. you have multiple roles to fill) you can either break them down into smaller batches or create groups of people you want to message. 

A good practice is to create a tagging/notes system to keep track on LinkedIn or your ATS on what message you want to send to each person.

For example, if you have a few people with similar experiences, message them one type of message acknowledging that experience. 

If you have a few people who have signified they are open to work, group them together and message them based on that.

Monitor your open and engagement rate metrics and optimize as you go.

Some new, more engaging ways I have found is to send a Loom/video link to a message you or the hiring manager has recorded about the role and/or the company. 

Even more exclusive, if you want to truly engage a specific person, send them a personalized video!

Be authentic

Authenticity is key—highlight your employer brand!

Many candidates get approached by a lot of recruiters for job opportunities on a daily basis, so it can understandably be overwhelming for some. You don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. 

Being quirky can be great but can also backfire or be quite exclusionary e.g. if you start with a culture-specific joke or pun. There are ways to show you and your company’s personality without excluding people who may not understand or engage with that.

Make sure you put on display all the great things about your team and company but also highlight that you are curious about them as a person and their accomplishments so far.


Hi [Name],

Noticed that you’re open to new opportunities so I thought I’d highlight our role to you!

We’re looking for a Head of Marketing to help us build out our marketing function, level up the brand, and help us [insert company vision].

Our mission is to…

Over the last few years, we’ve raised X and grown from X to Z team members! This role is critical because…

Some more information about the role and our mission:

  1. Link
  2. Link
  3. Link

Let me know if this is of interest, would love to catch up in more detail!



Follow-up messages

You may want to create a follow-up message structure. Make sure that:

  • You're adding something new to your follow-up messages not just saying, “Hey are you ignoring me?”
  • You space the messages apart by at least 3 days to start with and, if you send a third message, send it a week after the second.
  • You vary your approach. If they have not responded to your email, send them an invite on LinkedIn. That should count as your second approach.

Candidate Sourcing Metrics

It’s important to track what’s working and what isn’t. While response rate is important, I like to split it into two categories: source and content.


Nowadays we have many platforms to potentially reach candidates - Cord, Hired, LinkedIn, etc. However, not every platform will work for every role. 

Things to pay attention to are:

  • Volume of candidates (ideally over a 3-4 weeks period to see how many new candidates there are and if there is a turnover).
  • Engagement of candidates: Are you getting responses or are these candidates that registered a long time ago and just didn’t log back into that platform again.

If you’re getting good candidates from one platform check if you can double-down on it, and maybe partner with them to see if your company can get featured.


I always keep track of version control for every message I send. If you’re not getting responses, before moving off of the platform you’ve chosen, try rewriting your message, and making it more engaging. Don’t forget to mention something specific to each candidate. 

It might help to paste the message you write in ChatGPT and see if that gives you some ideas of what else you can change. 

Sometimes it takes a bit of time for the right message to hit the right people in the right way so keep A/B testing. Pro tip: I always write [Position] V1, [Position] V2 etc.

Some platforms offer guidance on what’s good on their platforms. For example, on LinkedIn depending on the role it can be as low as 20%.

If it’s less than that, try something new.

How To Make Candidate Sourcing Easier

Sourcing candidates will not be easy. Both finding the right people and getting them to respond will be tough.

Finding the right people

  • Start with other companies. Sometimes it’s helpful if you start with the companies you want to target and go through their teams, especially if the teams call their employees by unique titles that you may have not thought of.
  • Look at people’s past titles. Don’t forget to look for people’s past titles, it can help with seeing how have progressed in their careers even if their current title is unique. 
  • Diversify platforms. Don’t just stick to one platform. Depending on the role there may be specialized groups, websites, or newsletters you may want to be a part of.

Increasing response rate

  • Invest in a strong employer brand. The more people who recognize you the more likey they are to respond. 
  • Invest in good candidate material. This can include a careers page, an external-facing Wiki, or great job description—anything that can help candidates find out more about you and learn without necessarily speaking to you.

Decreasing the barrier to you being discoverable as an employer will be very important to getting more responses. 

Candidate Sourcing Is About Momentum And Authenticity

Sourcing can be a lot of fun. You can often find yourself spending hours finding more and more candidates and one leads to another leads to a third.

It’s important to distance engagement from stalking, and an authentic approach from aggressive salesmanship.

For more advice, find me in the People Managing People Community, a supportive community of HR and business leaders sharing knowledge to help you progress in your career and make greater impact in your org.

Candidate Sourcing FAQs

What is the best place to source candidates?

There is no single place; it really depends on the role, organization and location. 

For example, for many roles in a place like the US or the UK, Otta and LinkedIn are standard. 

However, for engineering, specialized platforms like Hired or Cord may be a better bet. For startups it’s Wellfound, for EdTech it’s EdTech hub. 

Get to know your industry and try to diversify initially until you find a few go-to places that work, plus keep an eye out for new entrants. Sourcing is an ever-evolving field! 

Which are the best candidate sourcing strategies?

Similar to above there is no silver bullet, but the one thing I can recommend is to just not forget the basics:

  • Don’t call the candidate by the wrong name
  • Don’t send ridiculous offers to candidates (e.g. sending a BDR role to a Director of Sales)
  • Try to show you’ve read their profile.

How much time should you spend sourcing candidates?

You should spend as much as it takes to find the right person! 

Personally, I won’t stop until I have a candidate we’re ready to make an offer to.

Here I pause for a bit because I don’t want to lead people on, but don’t stop properly until the candidate has accepted an offer. 

Sourcing can take a fair bit of time—sometimes as long as you’re spending on candidate screening if not more! 

Why is sourcing important for Small to Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs)?

Sourcing will be the main way you will be able to shine and attract the best candidates. 

You likely won’t have the same employer market presence as the big companies out there, but you still need to find that top talent they want (even more so as each person makes such a big difference in SMEs).

Don’t rely on people to find you by being a wallflower, that only works in films. Go out there and find people instead! 

What is the difference between sourcing and recruiting?

Practically speaking, sourcing is an integral part of the recruiting process. It’s often run alongside screening direct applicants and it’s not magic, not matter how close sourcing and sorcery sound.

By Mariya Hristova

Mariya is a talent acquisition professional turned HR leader with experience in large corporates and start-ups. She has 10+ years of experience recruiting all over the world across many different industries, specialising in market entries, expansion, or scaling projects. She is of the firm belief that great candidate and empoyee experiences are not just a luxury, but a must. Currently she is the People Lead at Focaldata.