Sourcing can sometimes feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. There are countless great candidates out there, but finding the one who is the right fit for a specific role at a specific time requires a lot of searching.
Even when you turn up a promising list, part of you may wonder if there are fantastic candidates you’re missing — you’ll never have time to review them all. After all your effort, there’s also no guarantee that prospects will reply to your messages. And if they don’t, it’s back to the haystack again.
Luckily, with a few tricks up your sleeve, that search becomes a lot easier. It’s like taking a metal detector with you to the haystack. You’ll find what you need much faster, and you might even uncover some things you didn’t know you were looking for.
To arm you with the right tools for the task, we spoke to Angie Verros, founder and CEO of Vaia Talent. Angie has been in the sourcing game for more than 15 years, and she’s picked up a lot of tricks and tips along the way. “I wish I had known all of this when I got into the business,” she jokes.
Here are Angie’s top 12 tips for sourcing amazing candidates — and getting them to respond.
1. Before beginning your search, ask the hiring manager, “Why should I come and work for you?”
To start your search on the right foot, it’s always a good idea to connect with your hiring manager and ensure you’re totally aligned on what qualities and skills an ideal candidate will possess. And as Angie points out, this is also the ideal time to ask them questions you can’t figure out from the job description alone.
“You’re not going to uncover things like culture from the job description,” Angie says. “So when I’m in an intake call with a hiring manager, the thing that I always ask is, ‘Why should I come and work for you? Why should I leave an organization where I am happy that’s doing almost the same thing your organization is doing? What makes you different?’”
Angie keeps probing until she learns something that will really catch the candidate’s attention. It can’t be a traditional reason like compensation or learning opportunities because every company is talking about that.
“Yes, everybody’s going to make a move for a job for some of those reasons,” she says. “But you have to give candidates a reason besides the traditional.”
2. Mine your applicant tracking system because candidates that weren’t the right fit for one role may be just what you’re looking for now
Before you dive into a brand new search, Angie says it’s worth considering the candidates that are already in your database.
“A lot of sourcers and recruiters,” she says, “go out to find new candidates when they have an entire database of candidates that have either applied in the past or we’ve searched and found them a year ago. Let’s go back and revisit them because maybe their situation has changed.”
In some cases, a sourced candidate that wasn’t looking for a new job a year ago might be open to new opportunities today. And if they’re not interested, they may know of somebody who is currently on the job market. Or maybe a candidate that wasn’t the right fit for the role they applied for is perfect for a different opening, or maybe they’ve gained new skills and experience in the interim that make you look at them in a different light. Either way, you won’t know unless you use your database to its full advantage.
This strategy comes with an added bonus: The candidates who have applied in the past have a preexisting relationship with your company. They were clearly interested in what you’re doing and they may be thrilled to hear from you again.
3. Search for misspellings to uncover “hidden” candidates
Angie says that one of the biggest mistakes she sees is talent professionals limiting their search to a very specific set of keywords.
“We are missing out on a lot of candidates who have made an attempt not to get found,” she says. “There are people that purposefully don’t put their titles or keywords on LinkedIn so they’re not searchable.”
One way to spot these “hidden” candidates is to search for possible misspellings of their job titles and skills.
“Engineers sometimes will add an extra ‘e’ in the word engineer — on purpose or by accident,” Angie says. “If you do a search for ‘engineeer,’ you’ll find a lot of people.”
To try this technique out for yourself, check out this list of common misspellings on LinkedIn. It could help you find a strong candidate for work in “markting” (marketing) or who works as a “manger” (manager). When Angie finds a candidate this way, she references the typo in her initial outreach.
“I’ll put a catchy subject line and say, ‘You should check out Grammarly,’ or ‘Maybe take a second peek at your profile,’” she says.
This technique tends to lead to a high response rate. While some candidates won’t be interested, at least you’ll know not to spend more time chasing them.
“You might get, ‘Thank you. I’m glad you noticed that. Time to update it,’” Angie says. “Or you might get, ‘Don’t reach out to me ever again because I did it on purpose and don’t want to be found.’ But oftentimes, if you send a really authentic and sincere email to a candidate, they will come back with the same.”
If you use this strategy, be prepared to deal with some rejection. If a candidate didn’t want to be found, they may not be interested in what you have to say, no matter how polite or compelling your message is. But if you’re struggling to source talent for a hard-to-fill role, it doesn’t hurt to think outside of the box like this. You never know, you might just stumble across a candidate who will never win a spelling bee but will crush the job you’re looking to fill.
4. Consider searching for things, like references to correct pronouns, that are specific to the profiles of candidates from underrepresented groups
To diversify your candidate pool, consider searching for keywords revolving around common diversity initiatives, like employee resource groups (ERGs) that candidates may be part of.
“A lot of candidates are including keywords in their profile that include the diversity efforts they’re involved in at their organization,” Angie says.
Try adding terms like “employee resource group” and “ERG” to your Boolean strings, along with phrases related to different types of these networks (such as “black,” “Latino,” “disabilities,” “women in IT,” or “LGBTQ”). This may turn up a completely different first page of results than you’d see for a standard search referencing job titles alone.
Angie also recommends building searches around pronouns to find candidates in the LGBTQ+ community. Candidates who are nonbinary or transgender, for example, often tell people their correct pronouns up front to avoid being misgendered.
“Folks who want you to use their pronouns often label that on their profile,” Angie says. “You can even highlight the term pronoun and it could potentially pull up a whole different pool of candidates.”
In addition to including the word “pronoun” in your Boolean strings, you can try adding specific variants of different pronouns, like pasting in “she/her/hers,” “he/him/his,” “they/them/theirs,” or “xe/xem/xir.” This strategy can not only help you find great candidates, but ensures you’re familiar with their correct pronouns if you decide to reach out, helping you earn their trust.
5. Start way down in your search results on LinkedIn and work your way forward
Another of Angie’s strategies for finding overlooked candidates is surprisingly simple.
“Skip a couple of pages and see who shows up later in the search,” she says. “Go to page 15 and see if there’s anybody there.”
This strategy is especially useful if the first few pages of the search are turning up very similar people. But Angie recommends trying it regardless because the candidates lower down in the results are less likely to be found by your competitors. (This is a strategy that Boolean black belt and sourcing guru Glen Cathey champions too.)
“If everyone is doing the same search,” Angie says, “they’re going to the first hundred candidates. They’re not testing the limits to see what’s beyond that. So start at the last page.”
6. Keep an eye on the Similar Profiles feature in LinkedIn Recruiter, and if these candidates are perfect, adjust your search to reflect them
Angie always checks out the Similar Profiles list that appears in LinkedIn Recruiter when she’s viewing a candidate’s profile. She isn’t afraid to go down a rabbit hole of new tabs to see what she finds.
“Maybe I’ll see that a few tabs down the road, those are the great people,” she says. “So then I go back and adjust my search string to make sure that I’m targeting those people.”
It could be that you notice several of the “Similar Profiles” all share a skill that isn’t on your list of requirements but seems to be common among ideal candidates. Or maybe one or two interesting candidates seem pretty much perfect except for one skill the hiring manager asked for that could be learned on the job. Knowing this, you might decide to add or remove a skill from your Boolean string, just to see what difference it makes in your results.
This strategy has one caveat. Sometimes, the rabbit hole of “Similar Profiles” can be very deep.
“It’s a constant battle and I find myself really engulfed in reviewing profiles,” Angie admits. “But overall, thinking outside the box and trying something different could provide you with some really good results.”
7. Scroll to the bottom of a candidate’s profile before sending a message
As you start reaching out to candidates, Angie advises you to scan the candidate’s entire profile — because you may miss something important otherwise.
“Some people don’t scroll to the bottom of the LinkedIn profile,” Angie says. “They just look at the very top. At the bottom, some candidates will include, ‘Recruiters, don’t contact me.’”
Beyond wasting your own time, neglecting to scroll down can cause you to miss great opportunities to grab the candidate’s attention.
“Someone had ‘I’m also known as awesomeness’ at the bottom of their profile, which I thought was kind of funny,” Angie recalls. “I was really interested in recruiting this candidate, so in the subject line I said, ‘Would love to speak with you, Awesomeness.’ And I got a reply because he saw that I went all the way to the very bottom of his profile.”
8. Hook the candidate from the very first message by giving them a reason to get excited about the company
Unless you work for a company that can earn a candidate’s undivided attention from name recognition alone, your first message should include a few intriguing details about what you can offer. (If you followed the first tip in this list, this should be easy.)
“I always include in my first outreach, ‘If you haven’t heard of X company, here’s something you should know,’” Angie says. “Maybe one or two bullets like, ‘we’re growing like crazy,’ or ‘you have the chance to do X.’”
Including this information helps distinguish your company from a dozen others the candidate might have heard from. It doesn’t have to be a laundry list of exciting details — just enough to pique their interest and make them eager to hear more. Keep it short and sweet, but be specific.
“You want to pull that candidate in from the very beginning,” she says. “If you send something that’s a little vague, sometimes they’ll disregard it because they’re looking for a little something, like a link or a video.”
9. Track how often a candidate is opening your messages and looking at content to find the right moments to follow up
Including a link in your outreach comes with another benefit. Recently, Angie has begun experimenting with adding UTM codes to her links. These are essentially tags that allow you to track how a person got to the website, giving you an idea of which outreach tactics are resonating with which candidates.
“It makes me tailor a message to them a little more,” Angie says. “I’m getting to learn about my audience. When you know them, you can target them better.”
This Reddit thread breaks down how you can use UTM codes in your recruitment process if you’d like to give this tactic a go.
Angie also recommends tracking when and how often a candidate opens your messages. In Microsoft Outlook, for example, you can request read receipts to get a notification when someone reads your message. There are also plenty of other email tracking tools out there that you can use, all of which can help you identify strategic moments to follow up.
“If John Smith clicked on that message 12 times in the past week, there’s a reason he went back to that,” Angie says. “The moment you see him click on it again, boom, you’re going to send him another message — because then you’re catching him at a point when he’s thinking about you.”
10. If you’re surprised an in-demand candidate responds to you, ask them why to learn what you’re doing right
Another way to track which outreach techniques are working is simply to ask. If a candidate tells Angie she’s the hundredth recruiter to contact them, she’ll ask what made them respond to her in particular.
“I always ask that question when a candidate who I think is a long shot replies to my email,” she says. “They might say something like, ‘You were persistent but not annoying.’”
This technique can also provide a much-needed confidence boost.
“Some recruiters have this fear that they can’t be creative or they can’t use humor,” Angie says. “If you’re willing to take a little bit of a risk, your chances of getting a response are a little bit greater.”
11. Automate repetitive manual processes like scheduling and dedicate more time to personalization
When it comes to tools, Angie is a big believer in automated scheduling.
“It just makes sense for every recruiter and sourcer to have some sort of calendar tool,” she says. “You don’t have to go back and forth, and then you’re one step ahead of the recruiter that doesn’t use one.”
If you use LinkedIn Recruiter, you can automatically provide your availability via InMail, allowing candidates to easily pick a time when an interview would work for them. Tools like Calendly and YouCanBook.Me are also good for this.
Angie advises using the time you would have spent scheduling on value-added tasks — like personalizing your messages.
“I love automation, but tools can only do so much,” she says. “I think you can use the tools to automate the repeatable processes, but you can personalize using these tools only up to a certain point.”
12. If a search isn’t working, try something else
Angie’s final tip is simple but important to remember when you’re tearing your hair out.
“If something doesn’t work, try something else,” she says. “Just adding or removing one word from your search will make a huge difference. Or if you’re using geographic filters based on where the candidate is located, open them up a little bit. You’ll get different results.”
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