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How to Bring Candidates Back From the Dead

Almost every recruiter has the power to resurrect candidates. How is this possible?

Well, remember your ATS – it’s stuffed full of candidates that identify with your employer brand and that were enthusiastic enough about your company to apply at some point.

These candidates are currently “dead”. The data is just sitting around, untouched and unexplored. We’re going to run through a few simple ways that you can retarget applicants and bring them back to life (and the ROI that this can produce).

The unexplored ATS goldmine

Let’s start off with the ATS. Why is it a goldmine? You might think it’s just full of a bunch of candidates that didn’t make the cut.

Well, your ATS data might be static, but the people in there certainly aren’t.

They’re out there learning new skills, improving their professional experience and, just maybe, becoming the kind of candidates that fit your target persona.

Unlike the disinterested people that your team might be finding and cold messaging on LinkedIn, you know that these candidates identify with your employer brand and are interested in working with your company.

There’s also a lot of them! The average corporate role receives 250 applications, leaving 249 unsuccessful candidates. You’d expect more than a few might be relevant in the future.

Finally, remember that you’ve already invested a significant amount in these candidates.

You’ve invested resources in building your employer brand and getting these candidates to apply to your company in the first place, and spent recruiter time interviewing and filtering them – you may as well try to make use of them!

A formula for resurrection

So how do you actually start bringing candidates back from beyond the pale? We’re going to break this process down into 3 distinct parts:

Part 1: Mining for gold

It’s important to remember that you’re dealing with unsuccessful applicants here. It’s quite possible that many of them will be pretty unqualified for your current plans.

The first task you’re faced with therefore, is filtering your database and selecting the candidates that you want to re-connect with.

Ideally, your team will have made detailed notes or “tagged” strong candidates, making it easy for you to identify people that it makes sense to re-connect with or your ATS will allow for advanced filtering.

If not, there are a few ways to reduce the pain of searching for relevant talent.

  • Refer to candidate social profiles on networks like LinkedIn, Twitter and Github to spot new skills and experience
  • Speed the process up by using freelancers from an agency like Upwork for research
  • Review your team’s interviewing notes to try and spot unsuccessful candidates that shone during the evaluation process
  • Talent CRM that automatically syncs and updates candidate social, professional and email data in real time.

To make “candidate resurrection” valuable though, you have to let your key hiring needs drive the process.

For example, there’s no point in finding 1000 hotshot marketers in your ATS if you’re not hiring anyone to that side of the business.

First, evaluate your headcount needs, look at your vacant openings and think about the roles that you typically struggle to fill. Then get started and retarget applicants.

Part 2: Black magic and talent pooling

Identifying relevant ATS contacts is only the first step, now you actually have to bring them back to life!

The best tool for this specific brand of black magic is a talent pool.

A talent pool is a group of hiring leads that you’re actively engaged with and looking to hire or place at some point in the future. It’s a great way to build a pipeline of talent that is engaged and "ready" for when you have an open role and need to move quickly.

Move all relevant ATS contacts you identify into your talent pool – spreadsheets or CRM software tends to be the best way to keep track of these candidates (an ATS is a great systems of record, but they’re hardly designed for engagement or relationship management!)

The one criticism of talent pools is that they take an initial investment of time to set up – you need to seed the pool with candidates so that you can return when you have open roles to fill.

The beauty of starting your talent pool with previous applicants is that you get instant value. These people are already on the books, so there is little time investment necessary. You can immediately start dipping into the pool to fill vacancies.

Part 3: SMART re-engagement

If you aren’t going to re-engage these candidates, then you might as well leave them rotting in the ATS.

Firing off a generic email blast to everyone is not, repeat not, the way to get this done though! You need to be a little smarter.

Your new talent pool is probably full of a diverse mix of candidates, (sales, marketing, tech, the list goes on), so you can’t just send everyone the same messages.

Not only do your messages need to be targeted, but you need to have a clear idea of what a successful outcome will be when you hit send (i.e. what results would you be happy with).

The SMART framework is a way to hit both these nails on the head.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

Here’s a quick example:

  • You could send a message to all previous applicants for a junior sales rep role (specific) about 4 new sales rep roles (relevant) that you’re hiring for that closes in 2 weeks time (time-bound).
  • Because the role is relevant, success is certainly attainable, but to make this completely measurable, we’re going to set ourselves a goal of making at least 2 of the hires from our previous applicant talent pool.

Simple right? Following this framework is one of the best ways to make sure you’re actually getting value out of the ATS contacts you want to re-engage.

Should you send company updates or marketing style newsletters to candidates?

Yes, this can be a great engagement tactic (but only if it’s actually relevant). Here’s an example:

  • Your sales team has just won a major award – this is something you could update the sales candidates in your talent pool about, great candidates are always looking for success so this kind of thing can work well for re-engagement.
  • You’ve just been recognised as one of Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For - this is applicable to all candidates, everyone wants to work somewhere with an awesome company culture.

The key rule to remember before you send any messages to your talent pool is: would they find this interesting, helpful or relevant to their career (e.g. job openings).

The ROI of bringing candidates back from the dead

Hopefully this provides an effective framework to get genuine value out of all of the data you have piled up in your ATS.

This has very real benefits:

1. Reduced cost of hire

Typically whenever you have a new role to fill, you’re immediately on the back foot. You’re forced to be reactive – you spend money on job boards, ads, and (if you’re a corporate) agencies.

You may not fill the role from your recycled ATS contacts, but by creating a talent pool and having a large group of qualified leads available to your recruiters at all times, you’ll have a great free resource to look at before you turn to paid channels.

You may still need look externally, but by mining your ATS for gold and creating talent pools you might just be able to fill the role for free in a matter of days. Recent research actually shows that this tactic might cut costs by as much as 50%!

2. Reduced time to hire

So talent pools should help your company keep more of it’s hard earned cash, pretty cool. They’re also great at reducing time to hire.

The beauty of recycling ATS data and using talent pools is that you already have relevant candidates that your team are in engaging whenever you have a new role to fill.

This means that the time-consuming work of screening, selecting and pre-qualifying candidates is done on a rolling basis.

You can then move quickly to fill open roles with the right candidates, reducing the strain on your team. Research has found that 50% of organizations using talent pools reduced their time to hire.

Of course, a shorter time to hire also impacts your bottom line. There’s less lost productivity from vacant roles and you’re saving a good deal of recruiter time.

Your CFO will certainly thank you for all of your candidate black magic (although you should probably explain it to them first!)


Bringing candidates back from the dead is less about sorcery and more about getting maximum value out of your ATS.

If you get it right, you can get enormous value out of re-connecting with your previous applicants, save time and cut recruiting costs significantly. Magic!

Read more about finding quality talent in a challenging market.