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July 17, 2019

Candidate Sourcing: DIY Your Perfect-Fit Strategy for a Steady Stream of Top-Notch Talent

candidate sourcing strategy

There's nothing like the disappointment of digging through an avalanche of applications, only to end up with a mere handful of candidates that could actually be a fit.

Let's face it. In today's candidate-driven market, quality hires are the make-or-break for your business. 

In 2018, the Labor Department reported a record high of 6.6 million job openings. And some 72.8% employers say they're having a heck of a time finding skilled candidates.

The struggle for skilled talent is real.

A survey by ManpowerGroup even called it "the most acute talent shortage since 2006". Ouch.

So how can you beat the odds and build a talent pipeline full of awesomely-skilled people you'd actually want to work with? Two words: Candidate sourcing.

Consider this your complete guide to DIY-ing your own candidate sourcing strategy—one that meets your unique headcount needs today, and in the future.

Table of contents

  1. Candidate Sourcing: What exactly is it?
  2. What should your candidate sourcing strategy look like?
  3. 8 candidate sourcing strategies to inspire your own

Candidate Sourcing: What exactly is it?

Candidate sourcing is about actively pursuing the talent you want—even if you don't have an open position to fill.

Think of it this way.

Rather than waiting for a position to open up, posting it on all your favorite job boards, then crossing your fingers—candidate sourcing lets you access the 90% of the workforce who may not be job-hunting right now, but are at least open to chatting and learning more.

And that's important because:

  • 60% of employers across industries say it takes longer to fill positions due to the tough hiring environment.
  • 47% of small businesses report few or no qualified applicants for their open positions
  • 74% of companies who admit they've hired the wrong person lost an average of $14,900 for each bad hire

These days, you just can't rely on the same ol' recruitment channels. After all, the more people use them, the more competitive they become.

By going outside your usual recruitment avenues, you can diversify your talent sources and take back control of your pipeline. Instead of sitting back and praying for the right person to land in your inbox, now you decide which of a few great options gets to grace your interview table.

The only question is....

What should your candidate sourcing strategy look like?

In hiring, as in all things business, there's a very real urge to either:

  1. Keep doing the stuff that sorta worked in the past
  2. Blindly follow what someone else is doing

But in the words of one of our all-time favorite HR veterans Tim Sackett: 

"It doesn’t matter how you design it if it works for your organization, and, this is key, it’s replicable no matter who you have in the role."

At some companies, you might see sourcers handing talent to recruiters for screening before sending them on to the HR department and/or hiring manager. At others, you might see sourcers doing the sourcing and the screening.

And if you're still in the small(ish) and more importantly, scrappy, phase, you might have someone on your team who has to fill the company's need for quality talent by any means possible.

Doing things like connecting to your employees' networks, engaging passive candidates and building relationships with your current talent pool are all awesome ways to build a candidate sourcing strategy—but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the right tactics for you.

8 candidate sourcing strategies to inspire your own

Your strategy will always depend on the types of candidates you're sourcing.

But luckily, there are a few proven tactics that—when adapted to your unique business and hiring goals—can mean the difference between a healthy or ailing talent pipeline.

1.) Cozy up to your hiring manager

If you've ever spent five minutes in any recruiters' Facebook group, you know all about the age-old drama between recruiters and hiring managers.

The classic dilemma goes something like this: Hiring manager gives recruiter a laundry list of impossible must-haves, recruiter or talent ops pro finds a perfect (or near-perfect) candidate, hiring manager won't even interview them. 😞

But the truth is, the person doing the sourcing and the person doing the hiring are the yin and yang to any effective talent strategy. You must be able to complement each other's strengths and willing to question each other's blind spots if you really want a quality talent pipeline for your company.

And that's a whole lot easier to do when you're on the same page.

  • Discuss what a strong candidate looks like
  • Modify job criteria based on the team’s feedback on must-haves vs. nice-to-haves
  • Do a joint walk-through to browse candidate profiles together
  • Evaluate the current talent pool and adjust criteria if needed
  • Build a list of sourcing channels (both possible and proven)

At Shopify, recruitment is embedded throughout the company. According to Shopify’s director of talent acquisition, Anna Lambert, the sourcing department is part of every other department—not just a “service” or offshoot of that team.

Keeping in close and constant contact is what allows sourcing teams at Shopify to take fun risks like sourcing for talent on Snapchat.


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2.) Work those referrals

88% of employers say their best hires come from employee referrals, so this advice may feel a little...obvious.

But let's be honest, are you really leveraging your employees' networks to the fullest? 

2016 research from LinkedIn shows that companies can literally 10X their talent pool by sourcing through their employees’ networks. Still, most of us only put feelers out when we've got open positions to fill. But if great sourcing is all about who you know, doesn't it make sense to constantly grow and nurture that network?

Here's a quick refresher on the benefits of sourcing from employee networks:

  • 67% of employers and recruiters said the hiring process was shorter for employee referrals
  • 51% said it was less expensive to recruit via referrals
  • Referral hires have greater job satisfaction and stay longer at companies (47% stay over 3 years)

Recruiters at Salesforce go beyond asking friends, relatives and existing employees if they know someone good for the role.

According to recruiting operations program manager Kate Israels,

“Our employees are our best brand ambassadors, and they trust in our referral program. They know when they refer connections for a job here, they’re in good hands. Employees can track their candidacy through our self-serve My Referrals app, find the names of the recruiter and hiring manager, see the date they’ll get paid out for a name it! We’re all about transparency and giving our referrals the ‘white glove’ service.”

And don't worry. You don't need to build your own employee referrals app. With a simple, smart ATS you can easily set up a custom referral portal with a shareable link for your team.


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3.) Use a candidate survey (seriously, try it.)

Any recruiter worth their salt will tell you to keep the door open to great candidates—even if it wasn't a fit the first time around.

Candidate surveys are a surprisingly effective (and widely underutilized) avenue for your sourcing toolkit. Take Mailchimp for example. The household-name tech company uses their candidate survey to inform their entire sourcing strategy.

Here's how they do it:

  • Send a survey to every person who comes into the office for an interview—all responses are anonymous
  • Use the results to map trends and areas of opportunity for sourcing and to optimize candidate experience
  • Set data-driven recruitment goals
"All told, 93% of candidates who take our survey say their interviewing experience was a positive one. We’re proud of this, but we’re always looking at ways to improve it. It’s in our DNA as Mailchimp employees to listen hard and change fast. We seek feedback, make changes, and iterate. More importantly, we never forget about the human on the other end and how we can best serve them," says hiring manager, Chris.


What You Should Include in Your Candidate Experience Survey? (+ Sample Questions).

4.) Get super savvy with online sources

We all know LinkedIn is a great source for talent, but it's only a tiny fraction of what's available when it comes to finding talent via online sources.

If you really want to put your online sources to work, there's two main ways to go about it:

  1. Broaden and diversify your sources
  2. Use your best online sources strategically
“We’ll often turn to LinkedIn to understand the size and the depth of a talent pool in new markets around the world,” says Devin Rogozinski, Atlassian’s head of talent marketing. “That data comes in really handy to help us assess where we should be focusing our energy.”

In talent acquisition, it's easy to spin your wheels in the same old places. But that energy could be better spent on targeted online recruitment marketing campaigns and/or personalized recruiter outreach.

Sit down and ask yourself:

  • What associations, Facebook Groups or Twitter chats do your ideal candidates join?
  • What companies already have the best of the best in this role?
  • Can sourcing from different industries give you appropriate candidates with the same, transferable skills?
  • What blogs are they reading?
  • Who do they follow on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn?
  • What schools do they attend, or certifications do they pursue, to develop themselves?
  • What conferences and events will you find them at?
  • What Slack forums do they hang out on?

And don't forget there are a ton of niche social channels and job boards for almost any kind of talent you might need.

Here are a few of our faves:

When you've got the perfect candidate in front of you, use a smart Chrome extension to add them straight into your ATS with one little click.


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5.) Build a standout employer brand

Did you know that companies that invest in employer branding are 3X more likely to make a quality hire? True story. 

Your brand is the best way to sell your company in your top talent markets. 

Don't believe us? Just ask JD Sherman, president and COO of Hubspot.

“Hubspot was the kind of place I wanted to be a part of before I even joined when I met Brian Halligan and I could see just how passionate he was and that Hubspot’s mission was bigger than any sort of profit objective. To see the passion in that and to walk around Hubspot and see how much our employees care about that excited me everyday,” says JD.

Here are a few easy-to-implement tips to help you leverage your employer brand:

You also want to make sure your company vision and/or mission are completely clear and compelling. It should be a bold statement that's easy to remember and repeat. (If you need a little inspo, check out this video from Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein.)


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6.) Get personal with candidate outreach

At the end of the day, recruiting is all about relationships.

In fact, 31% of candidates expect customized messages from employers who reach out to them with job opportunities. And they definitely don't want spam.

The good news is, sending a truly standout email or InMail is easier than you think:

  • Keep it relaxed and friendly
  • Tell the candidate what it was about their profile that caught your eye
  • Provide a genuine reason why you think they might be interested in working with you

A perfect example of candidate outreach done right comes from Dropbox.

Here's an epic tale of how their recruiters and hiring managers scored some seriously awesome engineering talent:

One of our sourcers found an engineering prospect who had creatively, changed all of his LinkedIn profile details from ASCII (i.e., plain readable text), to Base64, a type of encoding method used in various methods including MIME, OpenPGP and XML. This was intriguing, so they worked to send their initial message using Base64. Here's what the LinkedIn InMail read:


It worked! The candidate responded, "This is the most unique recruiting email I've got since I changed the encoding of my profile!"

How cool is that? 

Be the one message in their inbox worth reading and your candidates will never forget your name.


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7.) Follow up with all candidates 

We repeat: FOLLOW UP.

Did you know that 77% of recruiters go back and hire someone who didn’t initially seem like a good fit? Not only that, companies that excel at nurturing candidates fill roles sooner at a 33% lower cost.

Truth is, you never know where your next great hire will come from. So, why not nurture all your candidates?

Here are a few tips to help you keep in touch:

  • Congratulate them on a work anniversary or professional win
  • Say 'Happy Birthday!'
  • Send updates on company news, latest job offers, events, etc.
  • Set up an automated nurture campaign to let active candidates know where they stand in the hiring process
  • Use email for more passive updates and SMS for when you're ready to engage a candidate in the hiring process

And remember, people are busy. It's probably going to take more than one outreach attempt to get a reply from a potential candidate. Stick with it.


Why Long-term Candidate Nurture is a Must for Modern Recruiters

8.) Use the right tool for you

Today, there's no limit to the number of hiring tools you can use. 

From mobile recruiting, gamification, psychometrics and video interviewing—the list of options is loooong. But keeping up with tech trends takes time and with so many choices—how do you find what’s best for you? 

Whether you're using a highly sophisticated HR platform or a basic Excel spreadsheet, it's crucial to streamline your sourcing efforts so that they actually work. 

"There’s four of us for about 600 people and we’ve been recruiting a ton. So, the fact that we can do reference and screening questionnaires, like immigration questions is great. I've worked with other ATS tools, but Breezy is just better," says Michelle Murray, Senior VP for Global Human Resources at Market Force.

If you're a small hiring team with BIG goals, now might be a good time to upgrade your hiring system to one that puts you ahead of the competition.