Top 10 Candidate Sourcing Best Practices


I firmly believe that candidate identification is the most critical step in the talent acquisition/recruiting life cycle – you can’t build a relationship with, receive a referral from, network with, or hire someone you haven’t found in the first place.

From the very beginning of my recruiting career, I’ve leveraged technology for talent identification. I’ve learned that searching databases, the Internet, and social media offers intrinsic advantages over other methods of candidate sourcing, and I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the top 10 best practices for searching for candidates.

So whether you’re searching LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Monster, your ATS/CRM, or you’re Googling for candidate leads on the Internet – following and integrating these search best practices into your candidate sourcing routine can dramatically increase your ability to more quickly find more of the right people.

In no particular order:

#1: Think Before You Search

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln

That’s become one of my favorite quotes to use when stressing the importance of thinking before throwing some keywords together and hitting “search.”

Too many sourcers and 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 axe, 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 axe!) – you can get to more relevant results more quickly.

For many hiring profiles, you should spend at least 10 -20 minutes thinking about and researching your search 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 axe before you take your first cut:

  1. Analyze, interpret, and fully understand the job opening/position requirements.
  2. Adhere to the Cardinal Rule of Candidate Sourcing: take your understanding of the position and intelligently select titles, skills, technologies, companies, responsibilities, terms, etc. to include (or purposefully exclude!) in a query employing appropriate Boolean / Extended 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
  4. Based upon the observed relevance of and intel 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. I have found that the more time I spend on the front-end of a search, the more relevant my results become, which in turn increases my productivity by enabling me to find more and better candidates more quickly. Imagine that!

Here are a couple of examples of applying the Cardinal Rule of Candidate Sourcing: #1 Searching for Java Developers with JMS, and #2 Searching for LMS Plateau professionals.

#2: Do Not Overanalyze Resumes

Chances are that the people you are trying to find and recruit are not professional resume writers. Whether they are software engineers, lawyers, physical therapists, project managers, or database administrators – they are NOT professional resume writers, nor do I think we should expect them to be.

Writing a great and 100% complete resume isn’t easy. What IS easy is to forget to add some of your responsibilities and every little detail of your professional experience (applications, environments, etc.). 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 obviously or explicitly expressed in their resume.

Always remember – you (and/or your clients) hire PEOPLE, not PAPER.

#3: Do Not Run Overly Generic/Basic Searches

If you run generic searches with perhaps one title and a couple of basic keywords – you’ll be sure to get correspondingly generic and basic results. I’ve heard many a recruiter complain about getting “too many results.” People making this mistake unknowingly increase the size of the Hidden Talent Pool of candidates they don’t find.

Don’t rely solely or heavily on title-based searches. Not all companies use the same titles for the same roles and responsibilities – so making this mistake contributes to you populating Hidden Talent Pools with every candidate that matches your hiring profile or job order but has a title that you didn’t think of and include in your search. See best practice #1 above.

Don’t rely solely on using skill/tech terms (e.g., Java, Oracle, Accounts Payable, SOX, etc.) when creating your Boolean search strings. Technical terms such as programming languages, operating systems, and databases will only give you results of people who mention those terms in their resumes. Mentioning buzz words does not imply any degree of responsibility or capability.

The most effective searches reach beyond skill/technology term matching and into the realm of semantic search by include responsibility terms (administer, configure, create, manage, reconcile, coordinate, design, etc.) and environmental terms (enterprise, host*, etc.) where applicable. This is the first step in moving beyond simple buzz-word bingo.

#4: See Each Resume as More than a Potential Match for the Position You’re Working on

Any source of candidates you have access to can be leveraged in much the same way as LinkedIn can – every person is actually a conduit to a larger network of people. So even if a particular resume or social media profile you’re reviewing doesn’t appear to be an ideal match – they actually might be (see #3 above), and they may know someone who is.

If you find yourself scanning a search result that appears to be under- or over-qualified – remember to not make assumptions about candidates based on their resume/profile, and also be aware that people who are in fact too junior or too senior for your current needs might fit future needs. Additionally, people who are either too junior or too senior for a particular position might work with or know someone who is an exact match.

#5: 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 database/ATS, or on Twitter!

If you think you’ve exhausted a particular source of candidates – believing that you’ve found all Hidden Talent Pools of people 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.

Being aware of this is a major step on the path towards sourcing enlightenment. See best practices #1 and #3.

To Read #6-10, Click Here.