Talent Sourcing and Headhunting: How to attract top talent

Joe Caccavale

27

July

2020

|

9

minute read

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Want to know how to attract top talent? Then start thinking like a marketer.

At its core, candidate sourcing is a sales and marketing problem.

And unlike recruitment, sales and marketing have heaps of data on what works and what doesn’t. 

The first rule of marketing is: products are more than just products.

Jobs are like products… so make them sound appealing 

When you buy a new car, you’re buying more than just a car. It’s the sense of identity and the lifestyle that the car represents.

Jobs are no different.

You’re not just selling candidates a ‘job’.

You’re selling them a specific job at a specific company.

And you’re also selling candidates:

  • The identity that comes with that role
  • The lifestyle they’ll be living 
  • Any benefits + salary 

If you’re not attracting the type of candidates you want, then ask yourself: what can I change about the job itself to bring them in?

For example, instead of wondering where all the female developers have gone, you could look at the role you’re advertising and assess whether or not it would actually appeal to them at all, and what you could do to change this.

You can put your heart and soul into candidate sourcing, but if the job itself isn’t a good match, you’re wasting your time.

Jobs are products and so need to be adapted to appeal to your target market.

Take this example: you might be looking to attract more women to your company. However, if you demand that they be able to travel constantly, you risk deterring the very people you set out to attract, since women are less likely to leave their children.

A few things you should check to ensure you’re attracting the candidates you want: 

How much the role pays

Unpaid internships are pretty common - I applied for a few myself back in the day. But what if I was from a less privileged background and couldn’t afford to travel to work for free for 6 months?

Does it allow for flexibility?

Parents with young children will naturally require a degree of flexibility, do you really want to deter such a large chunk of the candidate pool?

Is there a dress code? 

Although seemingly innocuous, formal dress codes can put off candidates. Black people, for example, can feel discriminated against for having to style their hair in a certain way.

Jobs are usually created with a specific sort of person in mind... and that someone tends to look like the people already at the company.

The science behind referrals 

Referrals are a staple of talent sourcing and for good reason.



However, referrals have their downsides.


Referred candidates are more likely to get hired… but as you can see above, they don’t necessarily perform better.

They also do little to promote diversity:

Referred candidates tend to be similar to the hirer (in terms of age, gender, education, ethnicity, etc) and as a result, diversity gaps are perpetuated.

Payscale found that all else equal, referral hiring programs tend to benefit Caucasian men more than any other demographic. Women of color fare the worst: they are 35 percent less likely to receive a referral. They also found that men of colour are 26 percent less likely to receive a referral and Caucasian women are 12% less likely to receive one”.

How to attract top talent using referrals (the right way)

You can (and should) still use referrals for talent sourcing, but make sure they’re still being assessed the same as other candidates.

At Applied, we use blind hiring - using the most predictive forms of assessment science has to offer to judge candidates fairly and accurately. Whilst you don’t have to do things our way, you should at least ensure your process is fair and that candidates are being given an equal shot, whether they were referred or not.

Also, by building a more diverse network and opening financial schemes to people outside of your business, you’ll be able to tap into new networks and a more diverse set of candidates.

You could even try asking people you already know from minority groups to share roles. Since referred candidates tend to mirror the referrer. 

Pinterest tried this and saw a 55% increase in candidates from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds.

A few quick tips on building your pipeline and network:

  • Spend 70 mins per day on LinkedIn adding new connections (this can even include other recruiters).
  • Make sure there’s a place on your website for candidates to register their interest 
  • Get heads of functions active on social media
  • Host events for specific demographics e.g. software engineering for women

Job boards are expensive, so use them wisely

For a 30-day single job posting, you'll probably pay around $200-$300. 

This cost is worth it - both women and ethnic minorities tend to use job boards rather than their networks - but not all job boards were created equal.


If you’re looking to fix specific gaps in diversity, then try advertising through specific job boards.

You should also be tracking your job boards

Make your talent sourcing as data-driven as your marketing.

Much like your marketing channels, you should be tracking which job boards bring the best and most diverse set of candidates.

Here’s what job board tracking looks from within the Applied platform.


If you’re unsure of where to begin with your tracking, ask the marketing team for a hand. They should be able to give you UTM links that you can use to track who comes from where.

We’ve also done some of the digging for you, check out our job board reports below.

Headhunting and proactive searching

87% of the global workforce is open to new jobs...

But 70% are passive candidates.

So, if you’re not actively sourcing candidates by reaching out, you’re seriously missing out.

Yes, a large percentage of those who you reach out to will ignore you. 

However, this is likely because either the job itself isn’t a good fit, or your message isn’t personalised - but we’ll come back to this later.

First, make sure you understand the role you’re selling

Remember to treat the job like a product.

Who are you selling it to and what is the target market?

What skills do they need?... actually need, not to be confused with nice-to-haves.

Is this job signalling that only a certain type of person would fit in? And if so, what can be done to change this?

If a job is as much about identity and lifestyle as it is salary, then make sure you’re selling this to candidates.

Here are a few things to think about that could sway candidates:

  • The company’s mission
  • The company’s growth
  • Workplace culture
  • Career advancement
  • Learning opportunities 
  • What the team will be working on

Then, begin to map the market

For the next step, list 50-60 businesses who you think might have people with the skills you’re looking for.

You could try looking into:

  • Lists of top companies in your industry
  • Databases like CrunchBase 
  • LinkedIn - look at the people who appear under  ‘people who looked at Company X also looked at…’
  • Your competitors

Search for possible candidates by filtering using keywords and job titles, then add them to a sheet or CRM.

Divide candidates into 4 buckets

Your shortlisted candidates should fit into one of four categories (or buckets):

  1. A great match
  2. Possible match 
  3. Probably not right but might be able to refer a great candidate
  4. Not right for the role 

You can then follow up and prioritise based on which bucket candidates fall into...


Stop to do a quick diversity check

If diversity is top of mind for you (which it should be), then you may want to take a minute to make a few tweaks at this stage.

People from minority backgrounds who you’ve categorised as being not right may be worth following up with for referrals. 

You could also consider moving candidates from minority backgrounds from the possible bucket to the ‘have to talk’ bucket.

If you’re assessing everyone fairly once sourced, these adjustments should help push more people from minority backgrounds through the funnel, without giving anyone an unfair advantage.

Finally, create conversion-optimised collateral

Your job descriptions will be seen by a lot of people, so make sure they’re properly optimised.


Some key things to remember when writing job descriptions:


You can check out our ultimate job description guide here - we covered everything from how to list requirements to the language you should be using to attract an even gender split.

To make talent sourcing as easy a possible, we built this template, so that you can keep within best practices and draft high converting job descriptions.


You could also create an information pack about your company and culture to send out to interested candidates - a brochure of sorts.

If your company doesn’t have a career page, then you should seriously consider making one (we wrote a guide here). This should include your company’s values and real-life testimonials.

When it comes to your initial outreach message, be transparent. Use your 300-character LinkedIn connection request note to let candidates know you’ll be following up X number of times. 

Making contact… a few lessons from sales

Selling a role is similar to selling a product/ service, and since sales best practices have been refined and data-fied over time, you’d be silly not to use them in your candidate sourcing.


Persistence is key

50% of sales happen after the 5th contact, but most salespeople give up after just 2.


Here’s the cadence we recommend for the ‘tick every box’ candidates.


Switch mediums to boost engagement 

Changing up the medium you use to contact candidates could improve the response rate. Make sure you’re using a mix of LinkedIn, email, InMail, good ole’ fashioned calls, etc.

Personalise your message

Although the more personalisation the better, if you’ve got 100+ candidates to contact, you probably don’t have time to write a completely personalised message to each one.

If you draft semi-personalised messages for each of the four buckets you created earlier, this should be enough. If the job is attractive and relevant, you should get a decent number of responses.

Some useful tools for headhunting

Dux Soup - automatically adds lists of people on LinkedIn

GEM - creates automatic followups and email sequencing

LeadIQ - find the numbers and emails for people on LinkedIn

LinkedIn Sales Navigator - is great for searching and InMailing

How to pitch to candidates who get back to you

Remember your objective: you want to get them on a call or to apply for the job. 

Find out what the candidate’s interests are so that you know which parts of the role need emphasising to seal the deal.

A common mistake we tend to see is recruiters using these emails/ messages to assess candidates. The purpose here should be to find out what they want. Not what you want.

If you’re explicit enough about the job does/ doesn’t entail they’ll qualify themselves out anyway/


Applied was built to source, assess, and hire the best person for the job, regardless of background. To find out how we baked data and diversity into every step fo the hiring process, browse our free resources, or start your free trial.