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Recruiting on LinkedIn: The Complete Playbook

Whatever your personal opinion of the world’s largest professional network is, you can’t deny that LinkedIn is a great resource and tool to support any company’s recruiting strategy.

There’s a lot of advice swirling around the internet on best practices for recruiting on LinkedIn, but there’s so much content to sift through that it’s difficult to know where to start, and what’s really worth focusing on.

So, we’ve put together everything that you need to know on finding, messaging and managing candidates on LinkedIn. It’s our complete guide to recruiting on LinkedIn, and we think you’ll find it pretty useful.

1. Finding candidates on LinkedIn

Recruiting on LinkedIn begins with finding the right candidates. LinkedIn might have over 800 million members, but you’re only interested in the ones that are relevant to the roles that you’re trying to fill.

i) Search

The power of a good search string should never be overlooked. Not only do search strings help you find the best candidates on LinkedIn, but they’re great time savers as well.

Successful searches are not as simple as you might think — there are a few simple best practices that will help you maximize your results when you’re recruiting on LinkedIn:

Building Boolean search strings

Fully constructed Boolean search strings can look confusing and complex, but they really aren’t. Every string relies on the same, basic syntax:


e.g. developer AND “senior engineer”

This is the simplest function to apply — all results will have both the word developer and the phrase senior engineer. You will not see any LinkedIn profiles that do not have both of these terms.


e.g. copywriting OR content marketing OR content

Using the “OR” command is a good way to widen your search. Profiles only need to match one of the terms, so you’ll get a high volume of results.


e.g. architect NOT “software architect”

The best time to use the “NOT” command is when there are closely related terms that can mean pretty different things. The example above would give you results that contain the word ‘architect’, but not the term ‘software architect’. These roles are very different, and this helps narrow your search, so that only the people you’re looking for will come up in the results.

Quotation marks

Quotation marks let you search for specific phrases. Not using them will mean that each word is treated and searched separately.

For example:

Searching for content marketing would give results that contain both ‘content’ and ‘marketing’, but not necessarily in the same phrase or even paragraph.

While searching for “Content marketing” would give results that contain the phrase “content marketing” specifically.


(“VP” OR “Manager”) AND (Beamery OR Facebook OR “Social Talent” OR Snapchat)

For anyone building more complex strings, brackets are essential. Phrases that are placed within brackets are given priority over other elements.

A common example is when you’re looking for senior candidates (e.g. VPs or Managers) that have worked at specific companies. To combine both of these into a single search, use brackets to separate them.

The example above would return searches containing VPs or Manager at any of the companies that we’ve specified.

Note: The search functionality within LinkedIn Recruiter allows you to do advanced searches without creating Boolean strings, so if you are paying for that, life will be a little easier!

ii) Plan your search

All good searches start with a plan. If you have a specific role to fill, it can be tempting to just open up the ‘search box’ and start typing in keywords but, if possible, you should try and restrain yourself (you’re almost guaranteed to miss out on a lot of candidates if you go in without a plan).

Take the time to plan out your search before you even touch the keyboard — this can be as simple as taking out a pen and paper or opening up the Notepad app on your laptop (there’s no formatting, so it’s easier to add into a boolean string with your chosen operators). Write out all of the must have skills and requirements for your role, and work these into the architecture of your search string.

iii) Avoid ‘stop words’

Stop words, (things like ‘I’, ‘a’, ‘in’, ‘from’), are the quickest way to break your search strings. LinkedIn ignores these words and inserts an invisible ‘AND’ in their place, possibly ruining your string. Make sure that you reword these phrases when you craft your strings.

iv) Use advanced searches

LinkedIn offers two different search experiences — general searches, and advanced searches with filters.

General searches identify candidates across the entire LinkedIn network. Granted, it will only return candidates that match your search conditions, but the terms from your string could appear anywhere in the candidate profile.

LinkedIn advanced searches give you more control when you’re recruiting on LinkedIn. Once you make your initial search in the search bar, you can add detailed filters to narrow down your search further such as, geographic location, current and past companies, schools they attended, connection level, industry, profile language, and more.

These filters are available to all LinkedIn users, including those who have free accounts. So there’s no need to upgrade to LinkedIn Premium to access this search feature.

v) Finding active candidates on LinkedIn

Passive candidates have become the holy grail for many recruiters on LinkedIn.

However, there are plenty of roles that often require the complete opposite: a candidate that is very active and prepared to move quickly.

To find these active candidates on LinkedIn, think about the things that people actively looking for jobs would display on their LinkedIn profiles. You can try searching for phrases like “actively looking” or “seeking new” to start identifying these people. LinkedIn also has a relatively new feature that allows job seekers to let their entire network (or just recruiters) know that they are “open to work”. This feature is a huge asset to recruiters who are on the hunt for active talent.

2. Messaging candidates on LinkedIn

Getting top talent to open, read and reply to your messages is one of the most challenging parts of recruiting on LinkedIn.

We’ve broken down the most important changes you can make to your messages to dramatically improve your response rate.

Note: these tips don’t just apply to recruiting on LinkedIn, they’re equally effective for engaging candidates via email or on other platforms.

i) Write a compelling subject line

When you sit down at your desk every morning and sift through your unread emails and LinkedIn messages, how do you decide which ones to open and which ones to delete?

The subject line.

The subject line is even more important than you might think. Up to 35% of recipients will only open your message if the subject line resonates with them.

The question is: how do you optimize your subject line to encourage candidates to ‘click’ and read your message? Here are a couple of best practices that can make a big difference:

Make it personal

Adding a personal touch to your subject line can make a huge difference. Messages and emails that have the recipient’s first name in the subject line have consistently higher click-through rates than those that don’t.

Pro tip: It’s not just names that are effective here — any details that you’ve picked up from a candidate’s LinkedIn profile can be really effective when they are included in the subject line. Referencing their education is one example of a personal detail that you can almost always get from just a quick glance at their LinkedIn profile.

An underused formula that can be helpful is:

“[Candidate Name]: From [University or College] to [Company]?”

I.e. “Ben: From Oxford University to Beamery?”.

Education (shown at the bottom of the LinkedIn profile), is something that few recruiters mention, so it’s an easy way to stand out from the competition.

The best candidates tend to get a lot of LinkedIn InMails and connection requests, so making your messages stand out requires some thought and extra effort.

Mention shared connections

Use LinkedIn’s ‘How You’re Connected’ feature to see if you have any shared connections with a candidate.

If you do, try mentioning your mutual acquaintance in the subject line to get the candidate to take notice. (If possible, see if you can get a direct introduction from the shared connection to the candidate — this will always be more effective).

ii) Write a personalized message

Getting a candidate to open your message is only the first step when you’re recruiting on LinkedIn. They’re not going to reply if they aren’t impressed by what they see.

Time and time again, candidates get generic InMails that do little to ‘sell’ either the role or the company — no wonder they hit ‘delete’.

Personalization is the easiest way to avoid this and stand out from the crowd. This can start off pretty simple, but there’s plenty of room for creativity (particularly when you’re sourcing passive candidates).

Pro tip: Extreme personalization

Sourcing passive candidates is a tough task. Passive candidates tend to be pretty content with life. They’re usually happy with their situation and they’re rarely looking for new roles. You have to find a way to ‘sell’ your opportunity to these candidates, and find a way to pique their interest.

Extreme personalization might be the answer – show people that you care, that you’ve taken the time to research them, and sourcing passive candidates can become a whole lot easier.

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the box when drafting personalized messages to candidates. Remember that the best candidates usually have an inbox full of messages from recruiters, so being unconventional is sometimes what works.

Blending the personal and professional, and trying to write messages that are ‘interesting’ can really pay off if you get it right.

iii) Make the next step clear

Every message or InMail you send needs to have a clear call to action.

You’re sending that message for a specific reason, usually to draw attention to a job or open opportunity, so make sure the candidate knows that without a doubt.

  • Possible next steps could involve:
  • A simple ‘reply’ to your message
  • Scheduling a screening call
  • An in-person meeting
  • A formal interview

Being vague won’t help you convince a great candidate to reply. It’s proven that people are more responsive and willing to help if they’ve been given clear directions, and that’s true in general — not just for recruiting.

How can you put this into action? Be specific with your next step. If you’d like to arrange a call, provide a few times that work and ask the candidate to select one. This reduces the mental energy that candidates need to expend answering your message, and makes it far more likely that you’ll get a response.

How to follow up

No matter how good your message is, a large percentage of the candidates you message simply won’t reply.

This could be because they aren’t interested, but it could also be because they forgot to reply or because your message came through at a bad time.

This makes following up with candidates crucial to any successful engagement strategy. We’re not going to go into too much detail on the exact way to follow up here, but if you want to learn more, check out our guide to writing the perfect follow-up message.

3. Managing candidates on LinkedIn

What happens when you find a great candidate on LinkedIn? If you’ve paid for LinkedIn Recruiter, you might add them to a project, if not, a spreadsheet. Maybe you just try to remember their name and hope for the best.

However good you are at finding and messaging candidates on LinkedIn, if you don’t have a strategy to manage them effectively, then you’re going to find it difficult to be successful.

What you really need to manage the candidates that you find on LinkedIn is some kind of talent pool, which is essentially a shortlist of candidates for open (or future) roles. Talent pools will allow you to keep tabs on important candidates and ensure that your team doesn’t drop the ball. Your ATS manages applications, talent pools manage everyone else.

There are a few different ways that you can build and manage talent pools (some of which we recommend more than others…)

i) LinkedIn projects

LinkedIn projects let you manage candidates for both open and future roles. Whenever you’re recruiting on LinkedIn, you can add candidates to your projects, and you can even share projects with hiring managers to improve collaboration.

The downside? LinkedIn’s data is LinkedIn’s data. You can’t export anything that you have saved in projects, tying you into your paid LinkedIn plan whether you like it or not.

Imagine if you told your VP of Sales that they couldn’t export and control data on prospects and potential customers — it’s likely that they’d be pretty unhappy. Make sure you carefully consider whether having control over your talent data is important to you.

ii) Spreadsheets

Whether you choose to use Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets, spreadsheets are one way to build lists of candidates that don’t have a place in your ATS.

Spreadsheets are flexible and easily shareable, but they certainly have their downsides. Anyone who has tried to manage candidates with spreadsheets knows exactly how manual they are to update, and if you’re not careful you can end up with a fair bit of duplication.

They’re usually fine when you first start out, but if you’re dealing with any real volume of roles, you need a more sustainable solution.

iii) CRM

If you have the budget, a CRM (Candidate Relationship Management system) is the way to go. It is software designed to help you manage and nurture candidate leads (e.g. everyone that isn’t currently applying).

This covers the people you find on LinkedIn, as well as leads from Employer Branding initiatives and unsuccessful applicants that you want to re-engage.

This is what we specialize in at Beamery. If you’re interested in learning more about exactly what a CRM is and how it differs from your ATS, this article shares more about the differences between them, and which is best for your business.

Read more insights about Recruitment Marketing.