7 min read

Candidate Sourcing 101

Candidate sourcing is the process of finding and qualifying candidates – both passive and active candidates– who have not applied directly to your open role.  In today's hyper-competitive talent market, sourcing candidates is one of the most valuable recruiting skills for anyone concerned with hiring high-Candidate sourcing 101quality talent. Candidate sourcing remains a crucial talent acquisition channel: according to Lever, sourced candidates account for 24-33% of all hires, the second most common origin of hire after direct applicants. Candidate sourcing is also one of the most effective ways to hire. On average, one in every 72 sourced candidates are hired as compared to one in every 152 applicants. 

The skill of candidate sourcing however is highly specialized and can be difficult. Recruiters or sourcers must learn to use multiple platforms and apply different sourcing strategies to find the most qualified candidates for a given job. Where those candidates are found can be hard to pinpoint: 78% of candidates use social media in their job search, but the best candidates for a position may be hidden somewhere else. Put simply, many of the best candidates don't apply anymore. It's on you-the recruiter-to get proactive, and go out and find them. 

In this blog post, Candidate Sourcing 101, I'm going to share with you the basics of candidate sourcing including:

  • The difference between active and passive candidates
  • How to deploy active and passive sourcing strategies
  • Boolean search and Boolean search operators including how to write masterful Boolean search strings

Sourcing Strategies Active vs. Passive
There are active candidates and passive candidates and active sourcing strategies and passive sourcing strategies. Here I breakdown each. 

Active Sourcing vs. Passive Sourcing 

Passive Sourcing
Posting jobs online is a passive method of attracting talent. While this is the most common sourcing strategy, it is often the most ineffective strategy because you can’t exert any control over who responds to your job posting. Most candidates who respond to job postings are under-qualified. Additionally, job boards and crawlers designed to link posted resumes with job postings are often ineffective thus linking unrelated resumes to your job posting. The end result is you get tons of resumes that have little or no relevance to your job posting. 

Active Sourcing
Actively searching for candidates in your candidate database or job board resume databases such as Monster or CareerBuilder or LinkedIn is an active sourcing strategy. It is active because the recruiter is in control of the search parameters and dictates which candidates are identified, and filtered in or out. Instead of setting a trap and taking no effort other than waiting for the right candidate to stumble across your job posting, you are actively “hunting” for talent – targeting candidates with specific qualifications and experience, who live in specific areas – regardless of their job search status. While it is impossible to post a job that can guarantee that only candidates who perfectly match the requirements will apply, it is entirely possible to write a search query to find candidates who do have the right type and years of experience, the required certifications, as well as the right industry experience. That’s because 100% of the control over who you find and identify is in your hands, not someone else’s. 

Active Candidates vs. Passive Candidates
Active candidates are candidates actively seeking a change in employment or are unemployed looking for their next opportunity. These candidates are most often found because they apply to our job postings or they have posted their resume on the job boards, or they reach out to you to update their employment status. These candidates are often using Google, Monster, Yahoo and job aggregators to find a new job. These candidates often have their resumes posted on multiple job boards and have indicated on their social media that they are actively seeking work.

A passive candidate is someone who is not actively seeking a new job, but would be open to considering and even accepting one if the right opportunity came along. Passive candidates are typically employed (but not always) and are almost always discovered through active sourcing strategies including:

  • Searching your ATS
  • Sourcing LinkedIn
  • Referrals from clients and candidates
  • Networking

Here is some interesting data about passive candidates.

linkedin survery data

The pie charts above came from a study conducted by LinkedIn in which they surveyed 14,000 LinkedIn Users. What the data is telling us is passive candidates are in fact open to hearing about new opportunities and speaking with a recruiter.

Because these candidates are currently employed they are considered to be passive or not looking. However, one never knows their true “status” until spoken to. We will discuss this topic in further detail later in the course.

The Basics of Boolean Search
Boolean searching is built on a method of symbolic logic developed by George Boole, a 19th century English mathematician. Boolean searches allow you to combine words and phrases using the words AND, OR, NOT (known as Boolean operators) to limit, broaden or define your search. A good recruiter should know how to do a Boolean search. 
For example, a Boolean search could be Engineer AND Georgia. This would limit the search results to only those documents containing the two keywords. 

Beyond Google, many other systems you use on a daily basis accept Boolean searches. This includes LinkedIn, job boards and most likely your ATS system. The first important thing to realize is that there are only five elements of syntax to understand. These are: 

  • AND 
  • OR 
  • NOT 
  • “  ” 
  • ( ) 

By applying these appropriately, along with the keywords you wish to consider, you can create a huge range of search operations. There is no limit to how often you can use any of these elements in a search, so you can create very specific search strings, which will save you a lot of time in filtering the results. 


  1. Your Boolean searches are nothing more than queries. If zero results come back from your query, it does NOT mean candidates don’t exist. 
  2. The results of your boolean searches are a direct reflection of the quality and level of sophistication of your questions. Most recruiters don’t ask good questions. If you want good search results, you need to ask good, sophisticated questions.
  3. The results you are able to pull from any platform including your ATS, or any job board or Linkedin is NOT LIMITED BY THE TECHNOLOGY. Your search results are only limited by your own mind and your ability to ask good questions.
Any recruiter training program worth it's salt will teach a recruiter these basic facts about candidate sourcing including boolean search.

Understanding Boolean Operators
Boolean Operators are simple words (AND, OR, NOT or AND NOT) used as conjunctions to combine or exclude keywords in a search, resulting in a more focused and productive result. Using these operators can greatly reduce or expand the amount of records returned. Boolean operators are useful in saving time by focusing searches for more 'on-target' results that are more appropriate to your needs, eliminating unsuitable or inappropriate results. Although many people seem to think that Boolean came about AFTER the Internet, Boolean logic and searching has been around since WAY BEFORE the Internet. And here’s a quick fact: you don’t have to capitalize Boolean operators on any of the major job boards and many of the major ATS’s.

Boolean Search Operator: AND
The AND operator is inclusionary and thus limits your search. It should be used for targeting required skills, experience, technologies, or job titles you would like to limit your results to. Unless you are searching for common words, with every AND you add to your Boolean query, the fewer results you will typically get. Example: Java AND Oracle AND SQL AND AJAX.

On most Internet search engines and LinkedIn, every space is an “implied AND,” and you don’t have to type it, as every blank space is interpreted as an AND operator. Example: Java Oracle SQL AJAX

Boolean Search Operator: OR
The OR operator offers flexible inclusion, and typically broadens your search results. Many people incorrectly think the OR operator is an either/or operator, when in fact it is not. The OR operator is technically interpreted as “at least one is required, more than one or all can be returned.”  Although some search engines, such as Google, do not require you to encapsulate OR statements with parentheses, if you don’t on most databases and LinkedIn – your search will run but execute in a way that you probably did not intend.  As a best practice, use parentheses around OR statements as a matter of good search syntax. Example: Java AND Oracle AND SQL AND AJAX AND (apache OR weblogic OR websphere). The returned results must mention at least one of the following: apache, weblogic, websphere. However, if candidates mention 2 or all 3, they also will be returned, and most search engines will rank them as more relevant results because of such.  The best ways to use OR statements is:

  1. To think of all of the alternate ways a particular skill or technology can be expressed, e.g., (CPA OR “C.P.A” OR “Certified Public Accountant”)
  2. To search for a list of desired skills where you would be pleased if a candidate had experience with at least one, e.g., (apache OR linux OR mysql).

Boolean Search Operator: NOT
The NOT operator is exclusionary – it excludes specific search terms and so the query will not return any results with that term (or terms) in them. Example: If you were searching for an I.T. Project Manager, you may want to employ the NOT operator in order to eliminate false positive results – results that mention your search terms but do not in fact match your target hiring profile.  In this case, you could run: “project manager” and not construction because you don’t want to see project managers from the construction industry in your search results. In this case the search will not return any results with “project manager” and the word “construction” contained within them.  On all of the major job boards, some ATS’s, and LinkedIn, you can use the NOT operator in conjunction with an OR statement. Example: CFO AND NOT AP/AR (CPA OR Certified Public Accountant) – that search will not return any results with any mention of AP/AR. 

The NOT operator has 2 main uses:

  1. Excluding words you do not want to retrieve to reduce false positive results (most common usage)
  2. Starting with a very restrictive search with many search terms, you can use the NOT operator to systematically and progressively loosen the search into mutually exclusive result sets (not so common usage, but very effective strategy)

Basic example:

  1. “Project Manager” AND SQL AND Spanish
  2. “Project Manager” AND SQL AND NOT Spanish
  3. “Project Manager” AND NOT SQL AND Spanish
  4. “Project Manager” AND NOT (SQL OR Spanish)

Boolean Search Modifier: ASTERISK *
The asterisk can be used on most resume databases and non-Internet search engines as a root word/stem/truncation search. In other words, the search engine will return and highlight any word that begins with the root/stem of the word truncated by the asterisk. For example: admin* will return: administrator, administration, administer, administered, etc. The asterisk is a time saver for search engines that recognize it (which most do)because it saves you from creating long OR statements and having to think of every way a particular word can be expressed.

LinkedIn does not support the asterisk, so you will have to construct large OR statements to search for all of the various ways someone could mention each term you’re searching for. For example: (configure OR configuring OR configured OR configures)

Boolean Search Modifier: PARENTHESES
As a best practice, use parentheses to encapsulate OR statements for the search engines to execute them properly. Remember, the OR operator is interpreted as “I would like at least one of these terms.” Think of parentheses as your way of telling the search engine you’re looking for one of THESE: (_______________).

For example: (apache OR weblogic OR websphere).  If you don’t enclose all of your OR statements, your search may run but it will NOT run as intended.

Boolean Search Modifier: QUOTATION MARKS ” “
Quotation marks must be used when searching for exact phrases of more than one word, or else some search engines will split the phrase up into single word components.  For example: “Director of Tax” will only return “Director of Tax.” If you searched for Director of Tax without the quotation marks, on some search engines, it will split up the words Director and Tax and highlight them as relevant matches even when not mentioned as an exact phrase. 

Finally, it is important to note that Google auto-stems many search terms, so if you are looking specifically for the word manager, it will still return managed, management, etc. – even if you don’t want it to. If you put quotation marks on a single word in Google, it will defeat the auto-stemming feature and only return that specific word.

So there you have it, the basics of candidate sourcing! Remember, the key to setting up and executing more candidate interviews all begins with candidate sourcing and writing masterful boolean search strings.  

Executing Candidate Interviews for Effective Qualification

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