10 min read

Ten Candidate Sourcing Tips for Recruiters

It goes without saying that recruiting professionals have to have a killer candidate sourcing strategy in order to thrive in today’s war for talent. As we all know, recruiters need to be proactive, not reactive when it comes to identifying and cultivating relationships with candidates.  In this blog post, ten candidate sourcing tips for recruiters, I'm going to share with you LinkedIn hacks, ideas for engaging passive candidates and few other tips we share in our recruiter training program that you can easily integrate into your sourcing strategy, all of which will help you get an edge over your competition 

Sourcing Candidates on LinkedIn/Things to Know About LinkedInten candidate sourcing tips for recruiters
The average person joins LinkedIn to network with other like-minded professionals. LinkedIn is not a resume database.  People are NOT joining LinkedIn to post their resume or have their resume evaluated. As such, the average person only puts a little bit of information in their profile.  Most people don’t use their resume as their profile and most people don’t optimize their profile with keywords.  If people leave things-keywords-off their profile, that means you can’t find them. Because people don’t include every skill, tool, technology, certification, or achievement in their profile, that means you need to make sure your Boolean search string doesn’t EXCLUDE people.  Additionally, many people INTENTIONALLY make themselves hard to find so they don’t get bombarded by recruiters calling and emailing them. When conducting Boolean searches, make sure you DON’T exclude people.  

Here is how LinkedIn works. People come up in search results based on keyword frequency in their profile. So if I conduct a search for “project manager,” the candidates who use that keyword in their profile the most will be at the top of the list. This doesn’t mean they are the best candidate however. In fact, often times the best candidates only have the keyword listed once in their profile and sometimes not at all. Despite this, recruiters engage candidates by working their search results starting at the top and working their way down. What I'm suggesting is you consider working through your search results from the bottom up. The candidates that show up at the bottom of the list are likely candidates that never receive calls from recruiters because every recruiter works their search results from the top down. 

Another important thing to keep in mind-and this applies to boolean search across all platforms-, is human error.  People have typos and misspellings in their profile and in their resume. People also use abbreviations and acronyms.  If I’m searching for candidates in the manufacturing industry industry I might want to include “Manufacturing” and “Mfg”  If you are not sure the abbreviation is for your keyword, ask Google. Dictionary.com is also another great resource.

Other Candidate Sourcing Tips
Everyone is always looking for the perfect candidate and as a result is focused on running narrow-minded Boolean searches designed to produce the “bullseye” candidate.   If your only approach to sourcing candidates is to rely on the AND operator and running inclusionary searches then you will struggle to source and place candidates. Instead, you need to start thinking about how you can target people who work with the people who you’re trying to find and place.  For example, if you’re trying to place accountants and you have exhausted your list then search for CPA’s or controllers or accounts payable clerks.  If you are trying to find a CFO, search for controllers, CPA’s, or certified public accountants.  Most recruiters don't think broadly enough and instead operate "with blinders on," or "tunnel vision."  You have to expand your thought process.  Again, your boolean search results will only be as effective as the questions you ask.

Maximum Inclusion Search
There is no one search that finds all candidates. You will have to run multiple searches. Below is an example of maximum inclusion search for a salesperson. As a general rule, I suggest you begin each candidate search by creating a maximum inclusion search string or the Boolean search operator “OR.” The purpose of maximum inclusion is to find the most amount of people who fit your profile. Think of this initial search string as “stage 1” of your candidate search.  With these search results your goal is NOT to recruit these people but to simply look at their profile and identify additional keywords in their profile that you didn’t include or were not aware of.  For example, if I’m an IT recruiter searching for a candidate who specializes in “cloud computing” I could use the keyword “cloud computing” in my search. That will turn up thousands of candidates. I may discover that those candidates also use related keywords “AWS,” “Amazon Web Services” or “Azure.” Now I can go create a second search string with those keywords. The point is we are using LinkedIn to teach us what keywords people are using to describe what they do and what their skills are. With that knowledge you iterate your search strings as you learn the keywords candidates use.

Implicit Search
As mentioned previously, there are some things that people will just forget to include in their profile or that they have intentionally excluded from their profile. When your search results have hit a dead end you can try to run an implicit search.  Suppose we are searching for a sales ops. manager with Salesforce.com experience. You can ask Linkedin, who has the current job title of “sales operations manager” with the keyword “Salesforce.com” in their profile. I can look at the names of the companies that come up in the results and then create an “OR” statement. Now I can create a list that shows me all the sales ops. managers that work at those companies that do NOT have Salesforce.com in their profile. Now I find more sales ops. managers who likely have Salesforce.com experience even though they don’t mention Salesforce.com in their profile. I’m not searching for the skill directly but I can find candidates who work at a company that uses this technology. Most recruiters only focus on doing explicit searches in which they use the exact keywords.  Again, your search results are only as good as the question you ask.

Semantic Search, Natural Language
Ideal candidates can often be hidden away behind unusual job titles. If a search hinges on a single job title—say “front-end developer”— it's easy to miss out on stellar candidates who use a different title, like “UX engineer” or “JavaScript developer.”  You can overcome this with a semantic search strategy.  Semantic search widens your net to source candidates with roles and skills that are related—even if not word-for-word identical—to the role you're trying to fill. 

With semantic search or natural language search you type in phrases that people use to describe what they do like functional testing, black box testing, payroll, accounts payable. By adding verbs to your searches you will get more relevancy.  Don’t just search on nouns. Verbs are things like  prototyping, designing, developing, reconciling. 

Here are three types of semantic search:

  1. Conceptual: Searching for skill keywords (javascript, ux design, css), title variations (javascript developer, ux engineer) and common misspellings (front end devlopr).
  2. Contextual: A candidate who lists “front-end developer” as their most recent title is likely to be a better fit than a candidate who last had the title a decade ago. Simply matching a keyword isn't always enough: You need the context surrounding it.

Grammatical: Looking for combinations of nouns and verbs that indicate “responsibilities and capabilities.” While words like "Python," "deploy," and "design" are relatively meaningless in isolation.  Finding them in a single sentence reveals a niche skill, like “used Python to successfully deploy Chrome browser extension.

Sourcing Active Candidates on Linkedin
Simply search for the keywords “seeking,” “seeks,” or “actively pursuing” in the candidates profiles. Again, these are verbs commonly used by active candidates.

Tips for Developing A Strategic Sourcing Strategy
As mentioned previously, your search strings are nothing more than queries.  The results of your Boolean search strings are a direct reflection of the quality and level of sophistication of your questions. You need to think before you start your search.  Most recruiters don’t ask good questions. If you want good search results, you need to ask good, sophisticated questions. 

Perhaps you heard this quote by Abraham Lincoln, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the ax.” This quote is highly relevant to sourcing candidates because it highlights the importance of recruiters needing to take the time to think before throwing keywords together and hitting search.

Too many recruiters are unknowingly picking up dull axes and begin taking swings. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried chopping down a tree with a dull ax, but it’s neither efficient nor effective, and it requires considerably more effort than necessary. If you just take the time to think, develop some semblance of a search strategy, and experiment with various searches (sharpen your ax!) – you can get to more relevant results more quickly.

For most hiring profiles, you should spend at least 10 -20 minutes thinking about and researching your sourcing strategy, as well as experimenting with search strings and reviewing the results for relevance before you start using the results to begin making calls.

Here is how you can sharpen your ax before you take your first cut:

  1. Be sure to analyze, interpret, and fully understand the job description 
  2. Take your understanding of the position and intelligently select job titles, skills, technologies, companies, responsibilities, verbs and terms, to include (or purposefully exclude!) in a query employing appropriate Boolean operators, query modifiers, and semantic search techniques.
  3. While reviewing the results of your initial searches to assess relevance, scan the results for additional and alternate relevant titles, search terms, phrases, and companies that you can incorporate into your next search string
  4. Based upon the observed relevance of and intelligence gained from each successive search, modify the search strings appropriately and run them again.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until an acceptably large volume of highly relevant results is achieved.

You should always take time to analyze your search criteria to assess the possibility that your search terms may not find all qualified candidates, and in fact might actually be eliminating viable candidates. The more time you spend thinking about and building your search string, the more relevant your results become, which in turn increases your productivity. 

Don’t Over Analyze Candidate Resumes
Chances are that the candidates you’re searching for are not professional resume writers. Whether they are software engineers, lawyers, physical therapists, project managers, or electrical engineers– they are NOT professional resume writers, nor should you expect them to be.

Writing a great and 100% complete resume is no easy task. What IS easy is to forget to add certain responsibilities and every little detail of your professional experience on your resume. Candidates may not think to express every last bit of their experience in their resume – and if you’re looking specifically for one of those little bits and it’s not there, it’s all too easy to assume that the person who wrote the resume doesn’t have the requisite experience you’re looking for. Don’t make assumptions about candidates from their resumes – give them the benefit of the doubt. Ever hear the phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover?”

Resumes are by nature imperfect and are poor representations of a person’s experience and capabilities, so I suggest you apply what I call the “10-second rule:” Don’t read resumes – scan them. If you CAN’T absolutely disqualify/rule out a candidate based on reviewing their resume in 10 seconds, pick up the phone and call them.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised. You’ll call people you would not likely have called before, and you’ll find out that some of those candidates actually DO have the skills and experience you need – it just wasn’t explicitly expressed in their resume.

Don’t Overly Rely on Generic or Vague Search Strings
If you run generic searches with one job title and a couple of basic keywords – you’ll be sure to get correspondingly generic or vague results.  Don’t rely solely or heavily on job title based searches. Not all companies use the same job titles or define roles the same way. Making this mistake only excludes candidates who may possess the qualifications you seek. 

Don’t rely solely on technology terms or skills such as Java, Oracle, Accounts Payable, or SOX, when creating your Boolean search strings. Over Relying on key buzzwords will only give you results of people who mention those terms in their resumes. Mentioning buzzwords does not imply any degree of responsibility or capability.

The most effective searches reach beyond skill and technology terms matching and go into the realm of semantic search by including responsibility terms such as administer, manage, design, configure, create, reconcile, coordinate, design, deliver, etc.) This moves beyond simple buzz-word bingo.

Always Run Multiple Searches Across Multiple Sources
Now matter how strong your sourcing skills are or how many times you’ve recruited for the same position, you should always run multiple searches. It’s impossible for one Boolean search to find all qualified candidates. It is also critical to leverage every resource you have available to you. You may be in love with LinkedIn, but the best candidates for that special position you’re working on may be tucked away in your ATS, or on Twitter.

If you think you’ve exhausted a particular source of candidates – believing that you’ve found all of the available matches and cannot find any more – you’re wrong. Invariably you’ve left behind hidden talent pools of candidates who do match your positions, but you could not find them because your Boolean search strings and perhaps even your entire search strategy made it impossible to do so.

Screen ALL Candidates Resumes
There are MANY recruiters who rely on the job boards in which they focus specifically on resumes posted within the past 30 days.  Recruiters assume these are the candidates to target because they recently became “on the market.”  This is a big mistake.  You do NOT know anything about a candidate until you establish contact with them. Just because their resume was posted yesterday does not mean they are “actively” seeking a new position. Additionally, just because a resume is 3-6+ months old – you have NO idea what their current situation is. You cannot safely assume they are not looking and are “off the market.”

They could be:

  1. Still passively looking, having not found the right match yet.
  2. Available because they are finishing up a contract position they took 3-6 months ago.
  3. In a new position, but extremely unhappy because it’s nothing like they were led to believe it would be.
  4. In a new position, but A.) their boss is leaving, B.) their position is in jeopardy due to layoffs, C.) their division is being acquired, etc. – you get the drift.

The point is, don’t make assumptions!  Never limit yourself to only searching resumes posted in the last 30 days – some of the best passive and active candidates have resumes 31 to 365 + days “old.”  Best of all, most recruiters don’t call them.

Don’t Submit the First 2 -3 Candidates You Find
This sound crazy right? You’re probably thinking, “why shouldn’t I submit the first candidate I find that fits the requirements?”  Ask yourself this – what’s the statistical probability that the first two people you find and speak to magically happen to be the BEST candidates you can possibly find?  Or the most closeable and controllable?  Recruiting candidates should not be conducted on a first in first offer or first in first submittal basis, but on a best In, first out basis.  Find and speak to 10-15 candidates and then submit your BEST. Yeah, I get the whole "speed to market" and competition thing.  Your time is to deliver the BEST candidate, not be the first to submit or to submit the most candidates.

Abide by the 80/20 Rule
The 80/20 Rule AKA the Pareto Principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of causes. What this means is 80% of your candidates are going to come from 20% of your candidate sources.  Focus 80% of your time leveraging your top 20% candidate resources. 

Why spend a lot of time trying to squeeze blood from a stone? There are many sourcers and recruiters spending too much time focusing on intrinsically low-yield candidate sources. For example – some recruiters spend countless hours searching the Internet for candidate leads at the expense of not heavily leveraging their internal ATS. While you can certainly find great people on the Internet, the Internet is not indexed specifically to enable sourcing and requires many tricks and tweaks to yield relevant results.

Your ATS is 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 is already filled with candidates that have already expressed an awareness of and interest in your company.  High yield candidate sources are highly searchable, and deep on candidate data. Of the social networking sites out there, LinkedIn is the most searchable and has the richest candidate data. If you have access to any of the major job boards – they have highly effective search capability, and actually have a larger percentage of “passive” job seekers than “active.”

So there you have it, ten candidate sourcing tips for recruiters.  And don't forget, candidate sourcing is just the tip of the iceberg. Sourcing candidates is the easy part, next comes the real work in which you must execute the candidate interview and qualify the candidate.Executing Candidate Interviews for Effective Qualification


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