In today's hyper-competitive talent market, sourcing candidates is probably the most valuable recruiting skill for anyone concerned about hiring high-quality talent.
Put simply, many of the best candidates don't apply anymore. It's on you and your team to get proactive, and go out and find them!
With that in mind, we've put together the 10 most important best practices to help you identify and approach talent on any medium you choose and make sourcing candidates something you excel at.
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1. Differentiate between sourcing candidates and recruiting
If you want a high performing sourcing team you need to clarify their responsibilities from the outset. You need to be crystal clear on what tasks your sourcers handle, and where they handover candidates to recruiters.
Sourcers: find and qualify new candidates (i.e. verify their interest).
Recruiters: handle the process from when a candidate is deemed interested or qualified, right through to the moment that they're hired.
In many organizations though, this clear delineation of responsibility is lacking. There are often areas of confusion:
Do your sourcers focus all their time on finding the candidates that aren't applying, or do you also ask them to write and post job ads?
Once they've found candidates, is it their job to send the initial outreach and qualify people, or is this a recruiter responsibility?
You might think the answers to these questions are pretty obvious. If that's the case then great, it sounds like you have a well-organized sourcing process!
If you think your company could be muddled over where sourcing ends and recruiting starts, then it's worth revisiting the issue and clearly defining job roles to encourage your team to take ownership of their respective pieces of the process.
Even if you personally run the whole process from search to offer acceptance, or you have a team of full-cycle recruiters, creating a clear delineation between sourcing and recruiting helps you measure performance far more effectively and ensures that nothing slips through the gaps (more on this later).
2. Plan your strategy for sourcing candidates
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
You're probably familiar with Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's words on the importance of preparation, they're a tried and tested favourite of managers, coaches and parents across the globe.
The phrase is popular for a reason though:
If you don't think before you act, you're asking for trouble. When you're sourcing, if you don't work out exactly who you're looking for before you start, you'll waste time and resources throwing different searches against the wall and seeing what sticks!
It's easy to throw together a few keywords and hit 'search', if you want success sourcing candidates though, invest 20-30 minutes in planning your search.
Here's how you should start:
i) Analyze job requirements
Before you start a new search, you should make sure that you understand every inch of the job requirements. If possible, have a quick chat with the relevant hiring manager to make sure you're on the same page.
You also need to understand if hiring managers would consider 'step up' or 'stretch' candidates. These are people that might not currently be working at the level you're hiring for, but exhibit capabilities that suggest they could step up and perform at a higher level.
ii) Build your candidate persona
This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills and traits that make up your perfect hire. For example, in a sales rep this could be 3+ years experience, ambition and a willingness to do whatever it takes to close the deal.
Here's a persona that we made for a junior marketing role. (You don't have to create something as interactive as this, but it's key to know who you're really looking for)
The persona you create should guide your search and help you target candidates that are a good fit for your company.
You can find more information on candidate personas and their importance, (as well as a complete guide to building your own), in this post.
iii) Make sure you've considered all relevant job titles
Frustratingly, every company under the sun seems to have different titles for the same role! When you're running a new search you need to make sure you've taken all possible titles into account before you start.
(Remember, if you're considering stretch candidates, you'll need to take their typical job titles into effect too!)
iv) Create and run search strings (rinse & repeat)
Choose the titles, skills, experience, locations and terms to include (or exclude) in your search string.
It's pretty likely that your early searches will provide additional relevant titles, phrases and terms that you can add to cast your net a little wider.
From here on out it's a question of optimisation. Add relevant people you find to your CRM, spreadsheet or LinkedIn project and modify your search terms to try and find additional new candidates.
3. Start your search with your database
"If you have access to an ATS or internal resume database – it’s specifically designed to store and retrieve resumes, and probably has more local and more qualified candidates than the Internet, and might actually have a better search interface enabling more precise searching to find more of the right people more quickly.
To top it off, your ATS/CRM is filled with people that have already expressed interest in your company (at some point in time) and with candidates that you or other sourcers/recruiters found elsewhere and entered in! - Glen Cathey
This is a long quote, but it's such an important (and continually ignored) lesson that I didn't want to leave any of it out.
Sourcing candidates doesn't have to start with Google:
Every company has a largely untapped resource that can be hugely valuable for sourcers: their database of resumes and previous applicants.
The average corporate role has 250 applicants. You're likely to hire 1 candidate, which leaves 249 unsuccessful applicants. Many of these will be relevant for other open positions or future roles, but this talent goldmine is often ignored.
Remember - the work to find and engage these candidates has already been done!
You’ve already invested significant resources in building your employer brand and getting these candidates to apply to your company in the first place, not to mention the recruiter time spent interviewing and filtering them – you may as well try to make use of them!
You'll also find that if you're successful in sourcing candidates from your database, you can significantly reduce time to hire and cost, (you have the candidates on file already!)
4. Be careful when judging social profiles and resumes
It tends to just be recruiters and active candidates that agonise over the intricate details of their LinkedIn profile and resume.
The quality coders, marketers and sales reps that you're looking for usually don't have the time (or inclination) to constantly update their social profiles with all the skills they're learning.
Even people that are actively looking, and are regularly updating their resume may well forget to list relevant skills. Writing a resume is hard. Forgetting stuff is not!
Keep all of this in mind when you're sourcing and reviewing new candidates. Candidates are not professional resume writers, and we shouldn't expect them to be.
This is OK though - you're hiring the person not the resume!
Pro tip: Sourcing passive candidates
If you're looking for passive candidates, don't be surprised to see LinkedIn information that's heavily out of date. These candidates aren't actively looking for new work, so they have no motivation to update their profile and list all their skills and experience.
Fortunately, you can use your own knowledge and experience to glean insights from the social profiles of passive candidates.
Here's an example of how this would work:
From your experience you know that typical VP Sales candidates with 5 years experience have certain skills. While candidate x that you have just found doesn't list these skills in her profile, it's likely that she would have all (or at least some) of them, and that she would be a good fit for your role.
5. Go beyond basic searches
Basic searches will give you basic results.
If you rely on simple search strings (e.g. job title, skills) for the bulk of your candidate sourcing, then you'll quickly find that you're ending up with the same talent as everyone else!
You need to go beyond search terms like "java" and "lead developer" to find the pockets of hidden candidates that no one else is looking for.
So how do you do this?
Move away from buzzwords and towards semantic search terms that signify a candidate's responsibilities (i.e. what they actually do in their job). Examples of these terms could include: manage, design, create.
If you couple these "responsibility" terms with more basic keywords you should be able to uncover the candidates that aren't besieged by other recruiters and _are _far more capable.
6. Control candidate quality
No matter how good the first few candidates you find are, can you really be certain that they are the best people for the job?
As a sourcer, you get the enviable task of being one of the main arbiters of quality when it comes to the new people joining your company. It's your responsibility to make sure that the people your submitting are up to scratch!
Don't just submit the first few candidates that you speak to! Make sure you speak to 10-20 candidates before you select your favourites. This dramatically increases the chance of you finding someone who is a great fit and will ensure you keep your hiring manager happy!
7. Build a sourcing pipeline
It sounds counterintuitive, but the best sourcing operations are the ones that never stop, the ones that run continuously.
What exactly does this mean?
It means that your sourcers are always on the lookout for new candidates that match your candidate personas, culture and future hiring plans.
You might not have any open roles right now, but adding relevant candidates to a pipeline is one of the best ways to make sure that you always have a pool of high quality talent that you can dip into when you have a role to fill.
What's the best way to do this?
You're always going to encounter candidates that are interested, but not ready to move, candidates who need a few years more experience, candidates that you think are great but won't reply to your messages...
Instead of moving on, add these people to your pipeline and make a concerted effort to build a relationship. Get this right and you'll always have plenty of people to choose from whenever there’s a position to fill, and you’ll never have to settle for second best.
8. Use the right technology
No technology can transform a lazy sourcer, but getting the right tech stack in place can make lightyears of difference to your productivity.
Here's how technology can help you at each stage of the sourcing process:
i) Finding candidates
When it comes to identifying the right talent, the platform you use depends largely on the role that you're trying to fill. Sourcing truck drivers? Head over to Indeed. Looking for sales reps? LinkedIn could be your answer.
Resume databases get a pretty bad rep nowadays, but for certain roles they can be a great resource of candidates.
After you've found the right candidate, you need some way of recording their profile. There are more than a few browser extensions that will help you collect candidates on the move - here's a pretty extensive list if you aren't already set here.
ii) Managing candidates
Spreadsheets are great for accounting, but they can be pretty limiting for sourcing candidates.
You have to manually update everything, you don’t get any insight into candidate relationships and you have to use them in conjunction with other tools (email etc) so you’re always jumping around.
A Recruitment CRM (Candidate-Relationship-Management) is the perfect tool to manage candidates that you've sourcing. With the right CRM it's easy to build and nurture relationships, create talent pools for open/future roles and manage candidates effectively.
In short, it's an easy way to become a LOT more productive.
iii) Messaging candidates
Engaging the candidates that you've found is the most overlooked part of the sourcing process.
There is so much public data on people nowadays that _finding _someone is often the easy part - it's getting people to respond that's tricky!
If you want to improve your reply rate, you need to get data on the kinds of messages that are actually effective and find ways of testing new templates in a systematic way.
- Email tracking (see when your emails are opened and clicked) - Mailtrack
- Template analytics (see which templates get the most responses) - Yesware
- Drip campaigns (the ability to automate your follow up emails) - Outreach
Pro tip: One tool to rule them all?
If you're bored of using multiple tools for sourcing candidates, take a look at Beamery. Our software takes care of everything we've mentioned in this entire sourcing technology section! (Please forgive our Lord of the Rings reference!)
9. Track the right sourcing metrics
Do you know what good looks like?
Everyone has an idea of what successful sourcing entails, but if you're not tracking the best sourcing metrics, then you don't know whether you're performing as well as you could be or not.
Traditional recruiting metrics don't give you the level of insight into the sourcing process that you need. If you want to understand how you're _really _performing, try tracking these 3 sourcing metrics:
i) Best sources for new candidates
Where do the best candidates come from?
It might not be a question that you can answer right now, but after tracking your sourcing process for a few months, you should have a very clear idea of where to find great candidates for different roles.
Superstar sales reps could be lurking on LinkedIn, top designers on Dribbble. You might find that all of your best technical candidates come from attending meetups.
If you can build up a clear picture of where top talent is hiding, then you can optimise where your team spend their time and resources.
ii) Your pipeline speed (time-to-hire for sourcing)
A slight alteration on the classic ATS time-to-hire metric, tracking the speed of your pipeline will show you how long it typically takes for candidates to go from the "first contacted" stage to "hired".
A sourced candidate's time to hire needs to be tracked from the moment that you first contact them, not when they enter your ATS like normal.
This is because there is an entire process of outreach, nurture and qualification that a sourced candidate goes through before they're ready to apply. By tracking pipeline speed you'll get insight into how efficient and effective your team are at this side of the process.
- How many messages it takes to get an initial response from a candidate
- How long it takes to nurture a candidate and convince them to apply for a role
- Whether candidates that you've sourced move through the screening and interview process faster than general applicants
- And much more
iii) Quality of screening feedback
Sourcing is a quality not a quantity game.
It doesn't matter how many people your team add to your pipeline every week if the standard is poor. To make sure your team are identifying the right kind of candidates, you should focus on metrics that indicate quality.
A simple way to measure quality? Track screening feedback.
Candidates that your team sources have already been vetted to some degree, (you've reviewed their information on sites like LinkedIn, Github and Dribbble), and should be a great match for open roles (you've cherry-picked them, they aren't untargeted applications).
If your team are finding the right kind of candidates, then you'll get positive feedback from recruiters that are handling screening.
On the other hand, if the candidates you've found can't make it through the screening process, then you need to take a good hard look at your sourcing process.
10. Commit to a learning culture
Sourcing is hard.
Anyone can plug a few keywords into LinkedIn, but to uncover the talent that no one else is finding, that requires real skill. The world's best sourcing teams commit to the idea of deliberate practice to constantly improve and enhance their skills.
Deliberate practice is a concept that popular author and blogger Cal Newport talks about at length in his book 'So Good They Can't Ignore You', (recommended for anyone interested in personal development).
It's the art of consistently improving your skill set by intentionally stretching yourself to reach new heights.
For an aspiring writer, this might involve pushing yourself to write on new subjects and for new publications that are above your previous level.
For a sourcer it means a concerted effort to take on harder roles to fill and master different sourcing mediums (e.g. learning how to source on Stack Overflow).
Spending time "out of your comfort zone" like this is the fastest way to improve , and should be a consideration for anyone interested in improving their skills.
Pro tip: resources to check out
This is by no means an exhaustive list of sourcing resources. In fact, if there are any that you feel we have left off, just drop us a message.
Blogs & Learning Resources for Sourcing Candidates:
The Definitive Guide to Recruitment Marketing
As we mentioned earlier, finding candidates is only the beginning - you need to know how to engage them if you really want to be successful. We put together our Definitive Guide to Recruitment Marketing to make that job easier.