Unless your employer brand is particularly strong, candidate sourcing is often the only way to find the right candidates for your roles.
But 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 tools and methods.
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 strategy, as it means you are 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 strategies
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.
Setting up the flywheel
The first step in my candidate sourcing process is setting up the flywheel—a term I co-opted to define the structured, sequential, scalable, and replicable approach to sourcing:
Create searching criteria
Define the starting hunting grounds
Find the candidates and execute the outreach
Review search criteria, expand if needs be, and go through the steps again.
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:
Doing this creates a good framework you can use to quickly decide whether to add someone to your longlist or not.
Setting up the flywheel will be easier after that.
Where to find candidates
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 away 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
AND—includes both (or all) of the keywords. The search terms that follow the AND must appear in the search results.
OR—either terms. All combination possibilities will come up.
NOT—so specific search terms do not appear in the results. This will prevent the terms from coming up.
Quotation marks “”—when users want to search for an exact phrase, they use quotation marks around that phrase.
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 is the application of Boolean searching in a Google search engine.
Since sourcing is such a specialized area, it’s no wonder an abundance of tools have popped up to help with that—be it through artificial intelligence (AI) or a meta-base approach.
I am yet to see an AI tool that can weigh the important things for every role, so use them with caution. But they are fun to try when you have time.
Meta bases like AmazingHiring can be a great tool to search across multiple sources and, for GDPR compliance, they can even 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, Talent.io, 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.
Caution about using the 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.
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 are not looking to become a stalker!
Often in 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 is 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 are 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 personalised video!
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.
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:
Let me know if this is of interest, would love to catch up in more detail!
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.
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 is important to be able to distance engagement from stalking, and an authentic approach from aggressive salesmanship.
Some further reading to help you with attracting and hiring top candidates: