Hidden-Gem Hiring: 6 Unexpected Places to Find Great Hires

6 min read

Every successful biz has a great hiring process in place. 

From social media sourcing to automated job posting via a great ATS, there are plenty tried-and-tested sourcing strategies every HR pro knows will work.

But what about the places you wouldn’t expect to find stand-out candidates?

Whether it’s on a ski-lift or via an #Instafoodlovers post, the opportunities are endless—as long as you know what to look for.

We spoke to 6 awesome HR experts to find out about the weirdest places they found top talent, and discover their top tips for mining those hidden-gem candidates. 💎

#1. Source at the store

“What seemed to be an insignificant encounter turned out to be one of my best hires.” —William Tincup, President of RecruitingDaily

As a writer, speaker, consultant, investor and teacher, who’s written over 200 HR articles, spoken at 150+ HR conferences and created 1K+ HR podcasts—there’s not much William Tincup doesn’t know about the HR world. 

And when it comes to spotting unicorn candidates, he knows it’s all about the human connection. 🦄

“I was standing in line at a grocery store in Dallas, Texas one night. Long line, short on patience. The woman behind me commented on my selections and we started laughing and talking smack about each other’s life choices. We exchanged cards as was customary at the time and then we connected on LinkedIn,” he tells us. 

At the time William ran a web development company and had a project manager position open. Unknown to him, the same woman applied and was interviewed by his team—who saw her potential straight away. 

“I was the final interview and when she came in the conference room we just started laughing at each other. She was hired on the spot and ended up being one of the best project managers I've ever had the pleasure of working with. What seemed to be an insignificant encounter turned out to be one of my best hires. Weird but true, such is life.”

Top tip: Be yourself + be helpful

Hiring like a pro is all about keeping it real. 

“Be yourself. In my case, I'm dry, sarcastic, brutally honest, an over-cusser and ruthlessly pragmatic. That's who I am in real life and online. That works for some and doesn't work for others. It's a filter of sorts. So my best advice is don't ever try to be someone else. Be yourself.”

For William, it’s also about service to others. 

“Additionally, be helpful. If you're not a match or they're not a match, see if you can help them in another way. Being helpful is free and folks remember those that help them. I know I do.”

#2. Find candidates anytime, anywhere

“The best advice I can give on making real human connections with people is: Take time to really understand what this candidate is up to.” —Sjamilla van der Tooren, Tech Sourcer AI at Zenly

Sjamilla van der Tooren is a tech sourcing pro with previous experience at some of the biggest tech names around (think: WeTransfer, Poki and Parkbee).

Her hiring mantra is simple: find awesome hires for awesome tech companies. 

How does she do it? She looks everywhere, all the time (even in ski lifts ⛷️).

“I've found candidates all over the place: From talking to my ski-instructor in the lift and finding out he was a great developer on a hiatus, to finding a data scientist on a forum with Magic Card Game Fanatics,” she laughs. 

“The one I actually like the most is when I was still working at an agency: I was looking for reverse engineers who were able to hack a very popular gaming console. I found a group of hackers somewhere in the deepest corners of the internet who were sharing ways to hack these devices online and I ended up chatting with one and introduced him to our client.”

Top tip: Play it cool (don’t be creepy)

Online or offline, for Sjamilla great recruitment = genuine connection. 

“I think the best advice I can give on making real human connections with people is: Take time to really understand what this candidate is up to, try to put pieces from different (online) channels together and tie that into what you have to offer as a company. Spending that extra minute reading someone's blog or going through their online projects can really help you understand what they’re doing.”

But once you’ve done your research, remember to play it cool.  

“Be smart about the information you find, saying things like: "I noticed on your Facebook you also like Croissants for breakfast" will make you look creepy. Stay genuine and real, that will get you quite far!”

Ready to find great candidates on social media, minus the creep factor? Check out our guide to Social Recruiting Done Right.

#3. Let great candidates come to you

“Be honest and approachable. The truth is you DON'T know if it's the right opportunity for them.” — Maren Hogan, CEO at Red Branch Media

If you haven’t already heard Maren Hogan’s Red Branch MIDIa podcast, you definitely don’t want to miss it.

As a seasoned marketer and HR community builder, she knows A LOT about finding awesome talent—and building a brand that draws great candidates to you is at the top of her list. 

“The weirdest place I ever found talent was an Instagram post about totchos (nachos with tater tots, it's a thing) at a local restaurant. The person had a passion for them apparently, saw from my account I worked at Red Branch Media, looked at OUR Instagram and loved what she saw! She said during her interview that she knew from the feed she'd be super happy at Red Branch Media,” Maren explains. 

Top tip: Be honest

Finding unicorn candidates ain’t easy (it’s in the name, right?), but for Maren there’s one top tip that helps build your brand even when you don’t get your dream candidate—and that’s honesty.  

“My top tip is to be honest and approachable. The truth is you DON'T know if it's the right opportunity for them, or if they are in a position to take what you're offering (move, salary, benefits, etc.) By expressing that, you take a lot of the pressure off the first outreach.”

According to Maren, whether that candidate is right for you or not, if you’re real with them, they’ll remember.

“Plus, they always remember a good encounter and will either tell someone who IS right for your company, or end up appreciating your approach later when they are looking for an opportunity.”

#4. The “traditional” sourcing method

“I don't think I've found talent in any weird places—it basically all comes from WeWorkRemotely.” —Jonah Phillips, Founder and CEO at Crossword Hobbyist Inc

Okay, so this one isn’t that unexpected—but it’s cool to remind ourselves that 20 years ago this ‘traditional’ sourcing method hadn’t even been imagined. 

Enter: The Internet. 

Since the creation of Skype in 2003 and the launch of Facebook the following year, the days before remote recruiting are barely memorable. 

That’s why for HR expert Jonah Phillips, Founder and CEO at Crossword Hobbyist Inc, when it comes to finding great hires, he believes in the mantra ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’.

And why would you if, like Jonah, you’ve found ALL your best top talent via remote job sites?

Top tip: Screen via video

Whether you’re connecting with a potential job site candidate or catching up with your grocery line buddy, Jonah knows there’s only one way to make a connection that sticks. 
And that’s video.

“My tip for making a connection with any candidate online (unexpected or not) is: get in a video call as early as possible in the process, even if it's just an initial 15-minute screening call. People are wired to connect with faces, and candidates will be more interested in your position once they see and hear you say that it might be a good fit for them.”

Curious how Jonah finds awesome candidates (despite having ZERO HR experience)? Get a detailed breakdown of his hiring process here.

#5. Hire on the highway

“The weirdest place I ever found talent? Let me think...definitely a highway!” —Gianluca Binelli, Founder & CEO at Booster Box

For Gianluca Binelli, CEO at Booster Box, great recruitment is all about reacting quickly. 

That’s why when he found himself driving next to some awesomely high potential talent, he knew it was now or never. 🚗 

“The weirdest place I ever found talent? Let me think...definitely a highway! A gas station to be exact. I was driving back home from a work trip and I was on the phone with a person I was interviewing, and I found out he was also driving and that we were both on the same highway! So, I asked him to pull over and meet me at the gas station. We had coffee and had the interview there,” he explains. 

The strange situation wasn’t lost on Gianluca. 

“I remember taking a picture to celebrate that moment as I acknowledged how weird it was!” he laughs.

Top tip: Show you care

Hidden-gem candidates can appear from anywhere. 

That’s why, when you’ve found someone who fits the bill, it’s SO important to connect with them as fast as you can. 

For Gianluca, at an international company, that means showing you care through the words you choose.

“Booster Box is an international company and we often interview candidates from different countries and different nationalities who speak different languages. A simple tip to make a connection with the interviewee is to learn how to say 2-3 words in the candidate’s mother tongue. If I can, I always try to do that as a quick way to show the other person empathy and interest in his/her culture. It takes little effort but really helps the other person relax at the beginning of the interview, break the ice and open up.”

Want to know how Gianluca 5X’ed his team in just 3 years? We got the lowdown.

#6. Use tricks and treats to find new hires 🎃

“Everyone is worth making a connection with.” —Rachel Hammerton, Director of Recruitment & Toronto Director of Care at Spark Lifecare

For HR experts like Rachel Hammerton, hiring is more than just a job—it’s a lifestyle

And she makes sure everyone in her company sees it that way too. 

As a recruitment pro with a background in caregiving, her role at Spark Lifecare is a no-brainer—as is her passion to make hiring a team affair. And that’s what led to this awesome story from her CEO.👇👇👇

“The CEO of our company was able to provide his business card to an amazing caregiver while he was trick or treating with his kids, after recognizing the talent and care this person gave to those in the home for individuals with disabilities—which resulted in us hiring them!” 

Pretty cool, right?

Rachel also encourages her team to use all the tricks they can to find great hires. 

“We have found amazing talent in everyday life, and hired those providing services such as massage therapy that members of our HQ team use. We were also able to snatch up our social media expert after we creeped her Instagram and approached her (rather than having her apply to us directly).” 

Top tip: Look beyond the resume

Not every candidate comes through on paper. 

That’s why Rachel believes in giving potential hires an equal chance by connecting with them from day one.

First, think about how you come across:

“Be yourself! It's hard to be personable when it's through a screen, but don't be afraid to own up to mistakes, share tidbits, or just make it more of a person behind the screen, rather than an extreme power dynamic between candidate and those doing the hiring.”

Second: figure out who they are.

“Everyone is worth making a connection with. It can be easy to ‘write someone off’ when their resume doesn't align, or they don't seem to come through on paper, but remembering there’s more to people than just what’s on paper has been important in our journey to find awesome talent online.”

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