Active Sourcing to Supercharge Your Candidate Search

Congratulations! You’re on the hunt for a new team member. But despite posting a pitch-perfect job description everywhere you can, a low application rate and lackluster pool of candidates make you wonder: what’s missing?

This is when we incorporate active sourcing, where someone representing your company makes first contact with talent who may not even be looking for a job. (In fact, we almost always include active sourcing from the get-go.) Active sourcing means widening your candidate pool from active job-seekers to anyone whose unique background makes your opportunity irresistible.

But without a clear plan, active search can become an unfocused time waster. We keep our searches targeted and efficient by following these three principles:

1. Keep Your Search Specific and Prioritized

Before we begin any search, we brainstorm a list of the responsibilities, deliverables, and knowledge required for the new role. Next, we work with the entire hiring team to whittle our sprawling brainstorm down to a tight list of five key attributes, in priority order. It can be a challenge as everyone makes their case for what they find most important, but the specificity gained (not to mention the buy-in from the hiring team) makes the rest of the search far easier.

One prioritization tool is to distinguish the candidate skills needed on Day One from those that can be learned on-the-job. Your HR team may use specific software, but that software is likely much easier to teach than a sophisticated ability to anticipate employee needs. Focus on the “unteachable” things being best-in-class, and trust that a competent person can learn the software program quickly enough to not be a burden.

We also take time to investigate a candidate’s experiences outside of their professional world, especially if they’re on the junior side. Which extracurriculars, volunteer work, or hobbies might have developed the skills the client is looking for? A junior operations role at an early-stage startup would be a great place for someone who’s created and lead a volunteer project from the ground up. Plus, significant volunteer or hobbyist work can reveal a candidate’s motivations more clearly than their official career does. When those motivations align with the mission of a client, candidates get excited--even if they’re otherwise content in their careers.

Once we’ve found one spectacular person, we often dabble in a little Google-stalking to investigate previous employers, volunteer organizations, and the like. If these organizations’ cultures resonate with our client’s, we’ll likely find more than one strong candidate there.

2. Use Multiple Online Forums, and Mix it Up!

LinkedIn is a wonderful resource to use during a search, but we don’t limit ourselves. Not everyone is on there, and not everyone is active there, either.

We use specialized job sites like AngelList (for the start-up-inclined), Kaggle (for data science) or StackOverflow (for engineers). Each has its own quirks, but each minute spent learning these platforms pays off in much more efficient searches later.

Once we’re deep in a platform, it’s easy to lose track of how long you’ve been searching and which keywords you’ve exhausted. We record the keywords and Boolean searches we’ve tried, and timebox our efforts so that we don’t get stuck in a keyword rut. If a search query doesn’t yield a solid batch of relevant prospects within 30 minutes, we change it up.

Outside of search-based platforms, we scan online communities and hubs, such as sub-topic groups on Reddit, specialized listservs, and academic and alumni job boards. Posting jobs in these places reaches a more targeted audience than on sites like Monster. 

3. Systematically Leverage your Personal Network

The people on most hiring teams already have a wealth of existing contacts, but often don’t leverage these networks effectively. This is where being systematic really pays off.

We work with clients to generate a list of contacts, either by using LinkedIn or facilitating a brainstorming session. For pen-and-paper brainstorms, even simple cues often yield lots of ideas (for example, “Who do you know who writes the cleanest code?”). The point here is not to anguish over the brainstorming prompts (“Do I care about clean code?”), but simply to maximize your list. We’ll worry about targeting the right people later.

Next, we develop a handful of different messages to send to these lists of contacts. Depending on closeness, we’ll tinker with the amount of personalization (particularly on LinkedIn, where you can easily catch up on the last three years of someone’s career) until our messages feel compelling. As responses come in, we often turn around and ask if they know anyone we don’t who might fit the bill. 

And the Hard Part’s Over!

Not at all, sadly. Many of the biggest pitfalls in hiring lie in the interviewing and evaluation stage. But a strong initial pool of candidates not only sets up the rest of the process for success, but also improves ongoing search efforts. So if your inbound application rate doesn’t quite compete with Google (yet!), make the extra effort to do some active searching. It will pay off.

Ready for what comes next? Read "4 Tips for Conducting Better Interviews"!