Talent sourcing 101: how to find the best-fit candidates for any role

Magda Cychowski

Earlier this year, we released our Recruiting Benchmarks Report which surveyed over 200 hiring professionals. Some were founders who were handling sourcing and all aspects of hiring on their own for the first time, others were seasoned recruiters, but they all had one thing in common: over 60% named sourcing as their biggest challenge, frustration and roadblock to… well, pretty much the entire hiring process.

In today’s hiring market, unless you have a 2,000+ person recruiting team, a stellar employer brand, or incredible luck, it’s rare that you’ll hit your headcount by posting jobs on LinkedIn alone. 

70% of the global workforce are passive candidates—which means that when you post a job, you’re only tapping into 30% of available hires (many of whom who will apply despite being under qualified). Passive talent sourcing is the best way to widen your net and reach a more diverse and, likely more qualified, talent pool.

What is talent sourcing? 

You’re probably familiar with talent sources: job boards, LinkedIn, internal teams, and so on. Talent sourcing, on the other hand, is all of the tasks associated with finding, engaging and (in some cases) screening best-fit candidates, with the aim to build a candidate pipeline. In simpler terms, it’s an active way to seek talent that wouldn’t have otherwise applied.

Unlike a recruiter who needs to focus on the end-to-end process after a candidate is vetted (aka getting hires), a sourcer focuses on cold-calling and tedious networking to build and maintain candidate pipelines. 

Most common talent sourcing methods

There are a variety of methods that organizations can use to source talent, including:

  1. Recruitment agencies: These are third-party organizations that specialize in finding and placing candidates in job openings. Most companies typically use recruitment agencies to fill executive or C-suite roles, or to find candidates with niche skills or experience.

  2. Job boards and online job postings: Job listings are foundational for any company, allowing potential candidates to apply directly to the organization.

  3. Social media: We all know LinkedIn as the social media platform to engage with potential candidates. However, in recent years, other notable sites to find candidates (especially in tech) have expanded to include Twitter, Github, StackOverflow, and Reddit.

  4. Employee referrals: Encouraging current employees to refer friends and colleagues can be an effective way to find qualified candidates.

  5. Campus recruiting: Many organizations visit college campuses to recruit recent graduates and interns.

  6. Professional associations and networking events: Attending professional association meetings or networking events can be a way to meet potential candidates and learn about job openings.

  7. Headhunting: This involves actively seeking out and approaching specific individuals with the goal of recruiting them for a job opening.

  8. Temporary staffing agencies: These agencies provide temporary or contract workers to organizations as needed. This can be a good way to find talent on a short-term basis.

So how do you know which one is most effective? 

The answer is that there is no right answer — it depends on a multitude of factors, such as: your company brand recognition, the number of hiring managers or recruiters available to source, or host events, which types of roles you’re hiring for, and what the current hiring market looks like for your industry.

That being said, for the purposes of this article, we’re discussing passive talent sourcing, because it provides the highest ROI when it comes to candidate quality across most industries and company sizes.

The talent sourcing process

1. Create a hiring plan and get organized

The most efficient recruiting teams assess budget and resources when planning headcount. You don’t need to get fancy here: a simple spreadsheet will suffice (personally, we like to use the in-app hiring plan in Dover) to help you assess monthly deliverables, and the owners of a search. If you’re a more established recruiting team, you probably track this in your ATS or CRM. 

At a basic level, your hiring plan should include:

  • A timeline and clear deadlines for every step in the hiring process.

  • An outline of channels used and any notes 

  • Resources (such as budget and team members) who will own the search

In Dover, the hiring plan feature helps teams stay organized and see the status of each open req at-a-glance.

2. Build a simple candidate persona.

Creating a candidate persona in recruiting can help you to get crystal clear on the background of your ideal candidate, so you know where and how to more effectively target your recruitment efforts.

At a high-level, you should:

  1. Think about the key characteristics that are important for the position. This could include things like education, work experience, skills, personality traits, and personal interests.

  2. Consider the company culture and what type of person would fit in well with the team. This could include things like values, communication style, and team dynamics.

  3. Research the characteristics of top performers in similar roles, and gather data on the characteristics of successful candidates at your company. This can help you to identify patterns and trends, and get a better understanding of how realistic your expectations are. An easy way to do this is to look at the job listings for companies of a similar size or in a similar industry to yours — look at what types of skillsets and experience they're requiring. Scan the profiles of their current team members with similar titles or in the same department. Are there any patterns in their backgrounds or interests?

3. Invest in the right software. 

When you’re scaling quickly, you’ll need be sending outreach at a volume that isn’t possible to keep track of all on your own — that’s where a CRM or ATS come in handy. 

An ATS or an Applicant Tracking System (you’ve probably heard of Greenhouse, Lever, and Ashby) is a platform where you can automate many of the tasks involved in tracking and evaluating job applicants, like scheduling, resume filtering, and job posting. Overall, an ATS is designed to make the recruitment process more efficient and organized, and each one has differing features, so you’ll have to evaluate them based on your recruiting team size and need. 

CRMs, or customer relationship management platforms, work to scale a recruiter’s sourcing efforts by attracting passive candidates ahead of demand. They handle candidate nurture, and maintain a warm pipeline of active and passive candidates. 

Most ATS’ have CRM functionality as candidate experience takes center stage in today’s hiring market. For example, Dover allows you to organize and manage all candidate touchpoints, while automating parts of the process that improve overall candidate experience, like scheduling, follow-ups, and swift responses to candidate questions.

4. Write a great job description.

According to an Indeed survey of over 2,000 job seekers, more than half say that the quality of a job description is “very or extremely influential” on their decision to submit an application. And with only 6 seconds to capture a candidate’s attention, your writing will need to be more effective than ever — this also means no copy and pasting or using the same template for every role. 

An easy way to think about a job description is that it can be split into three parts: 

  1. Your mission statement and the problem you’re trying to solve. Keep this part short. It’s not that candidates don’t care about your company, culture, or mission — it’s that they can get that info elsewhere. When LinkedIn showed 450 members an example of a job description and asked them to highlight parts they found helpful and appealing, information about the company was listed last — with mission and culture close behind.

  1. Specifics of the role. It’s especially helpful to split this into a list of “day-to-day responsibilities”, future projects, nice-to-haves and must-haves (Iike knowing your tech stack). 

  2. Benefits and your diversity statement. Job posts with an equal opportunity statement fill 10% more quickly on average. 

5. Source and assess.

Begin actively searching for candidates using the channels and strategies you have identified. Your first step here involves posting your open role in the most obvious places: LinkedIn, and your company website. 

Depending on which software you’re using as part of your strategy, you’ll want to use boolean search strings to narrow your results down to a shortlist (~50) best-fit candidates. There are tools like Dover that do this automatically, surfacing best-fit candidates that meet your criteria. Dover takes it one step further by surfacing only those candidates that respond with interest, meaning you’re getting a ton of warm leads.

4 talent sourcing strategies to optimize your recruiting process

Talent sourcing strategies are constantly evolving as the hiring market and recruiting software adapt and automate more parts of the funnel. That being said, there are four key strategies for passive talent sourcing that aren’t going anywhere anytime soon:

1. Personalize your outreach by tailoring your messages to individual candidates, rather than sending generic emails. On the Dover platform, we automatically generate custom, personalized sentences based on a candidate’s profile. Our internal data shows that candidates responded with interest 30% more to outreach with personalization, especially as they’re inundated with more recruiting emails daily.

If you’re writing these on your own, ask yourself:

  • Do you have anything in common with this candidate (i.e. same alma mater, similar skills or interests)?

  • Do they have any standout qualities that would help them specifically in this role (i.e. they have a ton of machine learning experience)?

  • Did they recently achieve a milestone, like a promotion?

2. Keep in touch with candidates who weren't a fit right now, by sending them company updates, or inviting them to casual happy hours or other networking events, as they may be interested in future opportunities. Maintaining a warm pipeline prevents you from needing to start from scratch with every new req.

3. It's also important to track drop-off with detailed data, as this can help you to identify any bottlenecks or areas for improvement in your recruitment process. With Dover, you can see detailed dashboards and pull reports to present to leadership and audit your recruiting process on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis. 

4. Audit your employer brand/website. Employer branding pays off in time and cost-per-hire to take the extra few minutes to audit your branding can really pay off. Nearly two thirds of active job seekers state that they’re more likely to apply to companies who actively maintain their employer brand, and negative reputation costs companies at least 10% more per hire.

Dover customers who scored high on our employer branding rubric, had 60% more interested responses to initial outreach than those who scored lowest — regardless of series funding or company size. 

That being said, assessing your own branding is hard. We find that most companies underestimate the amount of employer branding needed to stand out, as more and more companies are catching up to the trend and getting creative with their branding approach. For more insights and actionable tips you can take today, download our Employer Branding Guide.