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Where do Recruiters Find their Candidates?

Updated: Oct 28, 2020

How do headhunters and recruiters find candidates

The magic candidate tree, of course. Well, that’s what some hiring managers may think.

The truth is, it’s incredibly hard work to produce candidates for your roles. There are really two sides to the story: candidate sources and candidate engagement.

Here, we’re really taking about the former. So what are the common sources used by recruiters to find candidates? In no particular order…

Using an In-house database to find candidates:

The first place most recruiters will look when opening an assignment is within their own in-house database. This makes sense. The database is populated with strong candidates who the recruiter will know from previous assignments, or who have been referred to them from their network.

Many recruiters boast about the size of their database (Freudian compensation perhaps?), but the number alone is pretty irrelevant. The value of the database is in its’ quality, rather than its’ quantity. Better to have 30,000 up-to-date and relevant candidates, than 2,000,000 random profiles from here, there and everywhere. You should also look to work with recruiters who have good experience in your discipline or industry sector. If you hire software engineers for example, and you work with a recruiter who has never hired in that area, don’t expect their database to be of any use to you. Regardless of how many profiles they have in there.

Using Job Boards to Find Candidates:

Job boards have a multi-layered revenue model. On the one-hand, they charge fees for you (or indeed recruiters) to post job ads on their platform. They also sell advertising space on their sites. Another key revenue stream for these platforms is the licensing of “CV Search” services to recruitment companies. What does this mean? Well, in the same way you can log in to or and search all of the advertised jobs, recruiters can log-in and search through all of the CVs uploaded to their site. This can be a useful source of candidates who are presumably active in their job search, given that they have uploaded their details to a job board.

Finding Candidates on Social Media:

The first social media platform that comes to mind is of course LinkedIn. You’ll struggle to find a recruiter anywhere who does not use that platform heavily. Recruiter licences on LinkedIn allow recruiters to finely tune their search criteria in ways that is not possible for regular users of the platform. This means recruiters can more accurately identify all of the relevant people on the platform for any particular role. The LinkedIn Recruiter licence costs on average £5,500 per user per year, so when you work with a recruiter, you are getting access to this search functionality via them.

Of course, other social media platforms are also used to identify relevant candidates. Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram can provide leads and are useful sources of information.

Using Inbound Marketing to Generate Candidates:

Modern search techniques allow recruiters to leverage specific profile targeting algorithms across multiple online platforms to get their opportunities in front of the most relevant candidates. On Facebook, LinkedIn and Google we can target job ads at specific profiles so as only people relevant to our requirement see our posts. Looking for Test Automation Engineers in Edinburgh? Your ads can be presented to people who’s online profiles match that requirement within a set radius of your office. This type of advertising offers a significantly greater return on time and spend than traditional non-targeted ads on job boards.

Again, when you work with a recruiter you get to see the fruits of this type of (often very expensive) inbound candidate marketing, without having to pay for it directly and without having to design and run campaigns that work. My advice is if you’re working with a recruiter, ask them what they do in this regard. Many use outdated systems and processes and won’t know what this is at all. I’d say move on and find a more modern recruitment partner so you are getting the best service for your money.

Using Networking & Referrals for Candidate Generation:

Strong recruiters have massive networks that they can draw upon in their search. Strong relationships lead to referrals that can open up candidates who are not actively looking for a new role. So-called ‘passive candidates’ will never even see your job ad, let alone apply to it, and many are not active at all on online platforms. A recruiters ability to deliver candidates of this type can be the difference between you hiring a top 1% candidate or an average hire that’s been rejected by your competitors.

Thought Leadership, Webinars and Conference Proceedings:

Excellent people tend to stand out. Perhaps they blog or produce video content on their area of expertise. Perhaps they have been invited to speak to peers about new developments or best practices. Or perhaps they host workshops and webinars to support others and share information. These can be a very useful source for identifying candidates, particularly for more niche or senior level roles. These sources would be more typically used in retained assignments (as opposed to contingency assignments), where the number of potential candidates is particularly low and where the majority of those candidates are not actively looking for a new role.

So what’s the best source for finding candidates?

Ultimately, the best source is the one that turns up the best candidate. So long as the sourcing is done ethically (beware of spam batch email recruiters!!), it doesn’t really matter from which source a candidate is derived. A good recruiter will give you access to all relevant sources and will have no problem at all in identifying relevant candidates for your roles.

There are many more sources and methods, but this gives you a decent insight into some of the most common. But like I said previously, that’s just for finding the candidates.

In 2020, anyone who has done anything online can be found, if you have the right knowledge and tools. Where do you find candidates? That is an important and relevant question. But a more interesting question, really, is how do you turn the people you’ve found into interested candidates?

That’s where the real value is added.

If you have pressing technical, commercial or leadership roles and you're struggling to get the best candidates, why not get a Candidate Boost from Elemental? It costs nothing to see what we can do!

What to chat about your hiring challenges? Let's talk...

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