Looking for Candidates in All the Wrong Places? Try One of These 6 Recruitment Sourcing Strategies

By: Sierra Rogers on July 12, 2022

It’s no secret that filling open roles has become much more difficult for recruiters over the last few years. But what may be news to you is that the challenges HR professionals face when it comes to acquiring talent start at the very beginning of the recruiting process: sourcing.

It’s true: Gartner’s 2021 Recruiting and Sourcing Survey[1] polled over 250 recruiters, and when they were asked whether sourcing talent has become more difficult since before the COVID-19 pandemic, 43% of respondents selected “somewhat harder,” and an additional 22% selected “much harder.”

Knowing this reality is likely due to the ongoing talent shortage[2], it’s more important than ever for employers to have a robust sourcing strategy—one that incorporates multiple channels and outreach methods for finding and engaging with job seekers.

So, whether you’re a formal talent sourcer or an HR pro who is involved with your organization’s hiring team, you need an understanding of the most common sourcing strategies used by employers in order to determine where your own sourcing process can be improved.

We’re here to give you that understanding with an overview of six sourcing strategies below, along with actionable tips and additional resources that will help your business endure today’s tough competition for talent.

We’ll cover:

What is candidate sourcing in recruitment?

Sourcing is a step in the recruitment process before resumes are screened or interviews are scheduled in which talent professionals search for and engage with potential candidates in order to fill current and future open roles.

There are many strategies HR professionals use to source candidates, but one common thread is that each tactic involves a component of active outreach.

In each section, we’ll cover different scenarios in which particular sourcing strategies should be used. However, it’s important to note that the effectiveness of the tactic you use depends on factors such as the type of role you’re hiring for, the preferences of those involved with the hiring process, and the availability of different resources such as software, money, time, and personnel.

6 recruitment sourcing strategies, and when to use them

1. Search through a candidate database with an ATS

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a software tool that helps hiring teams manage every step of their recruitment process from sourcing to hiring. ATS are becoming increasingly common for organizations of all sizes, and in fact, in Software Advice’s 2021 Recruiting Strategy Survey[*], only 23% of the HR leaders we surveyed indicated that they had no plans to purchase an applicant tracking system (ATS) now or in the future.


Most applicant tracking systems are built with a candidate sourcing function. Typically, this comes in the form of a searchable candidate database. These databases are populated with previous candidates’ and existing employees’ information, as well as resumes that are publicly available on the web. Further, these systems allow you to automate outreach efforts related to the sourcing process such as emailing candidates and posting positions to job boards.

When to use an applicant tracking system: No matter the industry or size of your business, if you are hiring new employees at a steady rate, an ATS will benefit you. Our ATS software directory has over 300 tools that cover a wide range of price points, and you can filter options based on your organization’s size, so we’re confident that there’s a platform out there that will work for your team.

Ready to have a database full of qualified candidates at your fingertips? Browse our 2022 Applicant Tracking System FrontRunners.

2. Create candidate personas to inform where you look for talent

A candidate persona is a fictional representation of your organization’s ideal job candidate for a specific role. Candidate personas are usually created by a hiring manager and include the desired skill set, work experience, education level, geographical location, and communication style of an “ideal” candidate.

Creating candidate personas helps with sourcing efforts because once you know what kind of individual you are hoping to find, you’ll have a much better idea of where to look for them. For instance, if you know you need an engineer with JavaScript experience, you can look for candidates on niche sites such as the National Society of Professional Engineers[3] careers page. Or, if you need a seasoned marketing professional, you may opt to post your position on the American Marketing Association Job Board[4].

When to use candidate personas: Candidate personas are at their most helpful when they’re used to source candidates for positions that require specific skill sets or previous experience (such as C-level roles, engineering roles, or IT-related roles). It’s also worth noting that it is essential to involve those who would be working with the new hire on a daily basis in the persona-creating process.

3. Use employer brand marketing to attract candidates to you

In the same way that a retailer relies on marketing to attract shoppers into their store, organizations need to market their workplace to appeal to job seekers. Promoting aspects of your employee value proposition (EVP) on social media as well as your business’s careers page will attract job seekers to your company, which will make sourcing candidates easier because you won’t always have to search for them—instead, they’ll come to you.

In our content, Passive Recruiting: Playing The Long Game in Talent Acquisition, we include three tips for bolstering your employer’s brand presence. We recommend checking out that guide later, but here’s a brief summary of our advice:

Our advice:

  1. Feature positive employee testimonials on your business’s website.

  2. Post content that gives job seekers a glimpse into your employee experience on social media.

  3. Monitor and respond to posts on employer review sites.

When to use employer branding: No matter the size of your organization, it’s a good idea to take the time to respond to posts on employer review sites (such as Glassdoor) and feature EVP-related content on your social feed. Working these small tasks into your routine can make a big difference when it comes to how your employer brand is communicated to potential candidates.

4. Take advantage of an employee referral program

An employee referral program is a recruiting strategy where employees are encouraged to refer qualified candidates for open positions within their organization, usually with financial incentives or other rewards as motivation.

Good people know good people: It’s an old staffing cliché for a reason. And there’s evidence to support the fact that employee referral programs lead to quality hires. According to ERIN[5], 45% of employees sourced from referrals stay with their employer for four years or longer. By comparison, only a quarter (25%) of employees sourced through job boards stay for two years or longer.

Overall, the majority of employers believe that employee referrals give the best return on investment when compared to other sourcing methods, likely because referred employees have a longer tenure than other hires on average.


Further reading: How to Increase Employee Referrals With an EVP

When to use an employee referral program: Similar to how we feel about applicant tracking systems, every business (no matter the size) can benefit from having an employee referral program. They’re one of the most effective ways to source qualified candidates, and they’re relatively easy to implement. Get started by browsing our directory of referral management platforms.

5. Source talent from within your own workforce with internal recruiting

Internal recruiting involves searching within your organization for talent that can be promoted or transition into a cross-functional role. While this tactic is especially useful for succession planning, it has other benefits as well, including saving recruiting time and money, lowering voluntary turnover, and contributing to a more engaged workforce.

Further reading: The Advantages of Internal Recruiting Will Make You Consider Changing Your Hiring Strategy

In early 2022, Software Advice ran the Remote Work Culture Survey[**] and asked HR professionals to rank 14 factors that influence their employees’ job satisfaction from most important to least important. Compensation and work-life balance were seen as the most influential, with opportunities to advance their career following closely behind.

So, what does this mean, exactly? It means that employees truly value development opportunities. And considering that it costs approximately $3,000 less to recruit an internal candidate as opposed to an external candidate, framing your workforce as a dynamic talent pool is a win-win strategy.

When to use internal recruiting: It’s nearly always a good idea to look within your own workforce for candidates before turning your recruiting efforts outside of the organization. So, our rule of thumb is to try sourcing internal candidates first for every role. However, there are some cases where external recruiting is preferable; for instance, if you are hiring for a role that requires skills that aren’t currently possessed by your workforce.

6. Attend (or host) offline events in order to build connections with potential candidates

Meet people…in the real world? Yes, that’s exactly what we’re suggesting.

While today’s technology-driven world has given us many great options to explore when it comes to sourcing talent, connecting with professionals face-to-face is still an effective strategy worth pursuing at times.

This could mean attending an industry-specific conference, hosting a networking event of your own, or setting up a booth at a local university’s career fair. To put it simply, you (and the rest of your hiring team) should take advantage of any opportunity that comes around to connect with potential candidates in a professional setting. Not only will they be more likely to remember you and your employer after an in-person interaction, but they’ll also be more likely to respond to any follow-up communications.

When to use offline events to source candidates: There are two cardinal rules when it comes to offline sourcing. First, don’t force it, and second, present an authentic version of yourself and your employer. If an opportunity comes around and a connection is made, there’s a high chance for conversion. But you always run the risk of leaving a potential candidate with a less-than-ideal impression of you and your employer if you’re too pushy and untruthful about the employee experience at your organization.

In short, an effective sourcing strategy incorporates multiple tactics

We’ll end this article the same way we began it: With the fact that 65% of HR leaders believe that sourcing talent has become more difficult since the COVID-19 pandemic. If you made it this far, you probably relate to this sentiment. But rather than leave you to handle that struggle on your own, we have some final parting advice:

  1. Evaluate your current sourcing methods, and determine what’s working and what’s not.

  2. Identify any strategies you can add to your sourcing process (hint: there are six great options above).

  3. Make a plan to put those new strategies into action. If you need some help with that, we’ll have an in-depth how-to guide for kicking off the sourcing strategies covered in this article on the blog soon.

  4. Invest in any resources you may need to source successfully, such as an applicant tracking system or a referral management platform.

  5. Continuously measure the success of each strategy and adjust as needed. You can do this by comparing the offer acceptance rates between different sourcing channels, as well as calculating the average tenure of hires from various sources. Most HR software tools have a reporting function that can help you do this, or you can invest in an HR analytics platform that will pull in data from all of your various systems.

  6. Check out our related content What To Ask In A Candidate Experience Survey, where we explain the value of capturing feedback about your recruitment experience from new hires.

Got two minutes? Watch our short video that offers tips for recruiting passive candidates:

Survey methodology

*The Software Advice Recruiting Strategy Survey was conducted in July 2021. We collected 300 responses from workers with recruiting responsibilities at U.S. employers. The goal of this survey was to learn how much companies are struggling with recruiting and hiring, and what solutions they’ve considered to improve recruiting and hiring outcomes.

**Software Advice’s 2022 Remote Work Culture Survey was conducted in January 2022 among 195 HR leaders at U.S. companies with at least six employees who had transitioned from mostly on-site work to mostly hybrid or remote work. An HR leader is defined as any HR employee with the role of HR manager or higher at their organization. The goal of this survey was to learn how the transition to hybrid and remote work impacted toxic employee behaviors.


  1. Change Recruiting Role Responsibilities to Meet Escalating Recruiter Workloads, Gartner

  2. The Talent Shortage, ManpowerGroup

  3. Job Board, NSPE

  4. Job Board, AMA

  5. Employee Referral Statistics You Need To Know for 2020, ERIN