Main image of article Your 2020 Candidate Sourcing Guide: Everything You Need

With the tech unemployment rate at 1.3 percent in May, it’s no wonder that finding great job candidates is the biggest challenge for tech recruiters. However, pursuing passive candidates requires a fresh approach, the latest tools and an updated strategy.

Check out our full guide for finding, attracting and engaging with top technical talent. Here's the breakdown of what we'll cover:

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10 Creative and Effective Sourcing Techniques

Top tech candidates are bombarded with dozens of cold calls and outreach emails from recruiters every day. Thankfully, there are other, more creative strategies and highly effective tactics at your disposal.

1. Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Sourcing and Outreach

Marcus Turner’s sourcing strategy is built on the “six degrees of separation” concept. “As a tech leader, it’s my responsibility to identify top potential talent,” said the CTO and chief architect for Enola Labs. “Our entire team plays an active role in networking, connecting on LinkedIn and recommending high caliber engineers to join our team.”

However, engineer-to-engineer outreach is Turner’s secret to success: “We help both parties assess the fit by providing a transparent, accurate overview of the technical environment from the very first touch.”

How has Enola Labs benefited from P2P sourcing and outreach? Staffers receive a $2,500 referral bonus when they recommend a candidate who is ultimately hired. And Turner’s team boasts an exceptional close rate, with one out of every five candidates contacted accepting an offer.

2. Giving, Not Taking

According to Wharton professor, author and psychologist Adam Grant, analyzing the work behaviors of engineers reveals those who display a willingness to help others achieve their goals are more likely to succeed.

“We don't just reach out when we have a job to fill,” Turner said. “We help people progress and plot a career path.”

If a company or position doesn’t seem like a good fit, it’s time to suggest other companies and assist with networking, he added. Serving as mentors creates goodwill, encourages referrals and introductions, and builds a pipeline of candidates.

3. Outside the Box Ads

Several large companies have cleverly turned their brand prowess, websites and sense of humor into a tool for attracting top talent.

For example, TripAdvisor leveraged a page of its website into a pitch. Hidden amid the strings of code was an invitation to “run—don't crawl” (a play on automated website crawling) to join the company's SEO team, complete with contact email address and a link to a job posting.

Toggl announced an opening for a backend developer with a lighthearted Q&A-style blog post and cartoon infographic.

Also (in 2004), Google anonymously enticed applicants by purchasing billboards in Silicon Valley and Harvard Square that displayed a web address in the form of a math puzzle. Tenacious solvers were directed to a second puzzle; those who succeed were invited to submit their résumé.

There’s no doubt that creative ad messages get more attention. If traditional job postings aren’t working, why not try something radical?

4. Create Line of Sight

Getting the executive team involved early-on in the outreach and recruiting process can give you an edge in attracting tech professionals who want to build something of value and make a difference.

A leader who is responsible for creating line of sight can help a candidate see the connection between their everyday work and the company’s mission and vision. Ask one of your execs to speak with candidates and paint a picture of the future.

5. Structured Data Reviews

Adding structured data to job postings and career site web pages increases the chances that tech job hunters will find your posting and apply, since it allows them to search by location, job title or company name. Plus, matching the key data (such as salary) provided by competitors will ensure that your ads rank higher on Google listings.

Fortunately, some ATS have preformatted schema built in. If yours does not, you can access a variety of tools that will help you create and optimize structured data in job postings.

Finally, don’t forget to run a validation test using Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool. It’s the best way to check for errors or warnings and ensure that the structured data you’ve entered will generate rich results.

6. Move in the Same Circles

The best place to find tech pros who are trained in a particular software or specialty is to travel in the same circles. In addition to in-person events, tech pros like to exchange ideas and discuss new technologies in online forums and Slack communities, as well as share code on websites for developers such as GitHub.

7. Use Multiple Candidate Touch Points

In today’s market landscape, recruiters can’t just email a passive candidate once or twice and give up when they don’t respond, explained Shally Steckerl, founder of The Sourcing Institute.

It takes multiple touches across multiple channels and various points in time to get a working candidate’s attention, he said.

Brandon Morrill, head of North America Talent Acquisition & Operations at Ipsen, agrees with that concept. “Track down a prospect’s phone number and try texting or calling to break up the monotony of email,” he said. “Many recruiters forgot how to hunt during the LinkedIn boom, but the fact is that most InMails are either deleted or ignored.”

8. Show and Tell

Your company works hard to produce a solution or a service your customers will love. So why not create excitement around your new releases and showcase your innovative culture at the same time by asking your CIO to blog or speak at Meetups and conferences?

When managers brag about their company’s projects, they not only build their own personal brands—they subtly create a positive impression with professionals who may be secretly looking for a new gig.

9. Create a Social Recruitment Strategy

If you want to find and connect with the best tech professionals, you need a comprehensive social media strategy. The real professionals share relevant content and information about their company, mission and hiring process to keep prospects engaged, reach out directly, involve their team members, and, oh yes, source.

Don’t overlook Facebook as a sourcing tool for tech talent, Steckerl noted.

“You can search for candidates who list their occupation or find prospects who follow groups dedicated to a certain discipline or technology,” he said. “You can also see how they like to communicate so you can engage on their terms.”

10. Talent Rediscovery

What happened to the candidates who submitted their résumés but didn’t apply or took another position? Did you lose touch with that awesome runner-up candidate who now has two more years of engineering experience? Searching your database and reengaging with past applicants could save you time and thousands in recruitment costs.

Top Sourcing Software and Tools

There are lots of prospecting software products and tools (some are even free) to make your job easier. Here’s a brief overview of 10 categories of tools that will help you identify, reach out and build rapport with top tech professionals.

1. Recruitment CRMs

A client relationship management system (CRM) is essential for creating talent communities, delivering targeted messaging and content to passive candidates, and managing a pipeline of potential applicants before an opening arises. In fact, experts claim that 70 percent to 80 percent of recruiting takes place in the pre-applicant stage.

Some CRMs seamlessly integrate with an ATS, while others are separate. Latest features include: integrated video interviewing, multichannel marketing, employee referral platforms, enhanced SEO capabilities, machine learning and predictive analytics, contact information sourcing and interview scheduling.

2. Candidate Rediscovery

Candidate rediscovery tools let you mine the existing résumés in your database to source prior applicants for a current requisition.

3. Contact Finders/Email Trackers

Once you identify a prospect, you need their contact information to reach out. That’s where a contact finder comes in handy. Tools or extensions scrape email addresses from sites such as LinkedIn, corporate websites or Twitter. Once you reach out, gauge efficiency by using an email tracker to measure open rates, bounce rates, click-through rates and so forth.

Unless you are good at writing complex Boolean search strings, you may never find the résumé for that purple squirrel who is hiding in plain sight on the web. Fortunately, there are browser extenders or add-ons that will build an X-ray search that scours multiple sites where tech pros hang out, including StackOverflow and GitHub.

5. Recruitment Marketing Platforms

Recruitment marketing platforms offer a wide variety of features and automation to attract, engage, and nurture passive talent, and can be implemented either as a standalone solution or as part of an integrated HR management suite. Options include: Omni-channel communications, hyper-targeted messaging, pipeline builders, job posting distribution and social recruiting tools.

6. Recruitment Analytics

Recruitment analytics platforms and tools let recruiters track and review where the best candidates are coming from, and which advertising expenditures and recruiting activities are delivering the biggest bang for the buck. These helpful tools analyze conversion rates at every step in the sourcing and engagement process, identify the profiles of top performing applicants, and identify weak spots by visualizing data.

7. Candidate Aggregators

Aggregators speed up the sourcing process by scraping, analyzing and creating a holistic picture of a candidate from disparate profiles strewn across multiple social networking sites and job boards. For instance, a profile may unite education, code samples, work history and side projects, making it easier to present targeted job opportunities and outreach that match the person’s career goals, technical passions and communication style.

8. Employee Referral Platforms

These platforms use automated and AI-powered tools to unlock employee networks and connections. This helps to identify and suggest candidates and manage the referral process; some may integrate with an existing ATS.

9. De-Biasing Tools

Companies can now use tools to expand their talent pools by creating more inclusive job descriptions, running blind résumé reviews, creating structured interviews, and more.

10. Chatbots

A recruiting chatbot or virtual recruiting assistant uses natural language processing and machine learning to automate and streamline the sourcing and recruiting process by sending and receiving messages, answering questions, and performing many basic tasks.

Hiring Tips for Large Companies

The tables have turned. The generation that loves social media, texting and new technology also prefers to work for businesses with fewer than 100 employees, according to research from online salary database But will it last? History shows that at some point the cycle will end.

“I would be recruiting from startups and smaller companies,” Steckerl said. “Because eventually, some of those employees are going to get tired of wearing multiple hats. They are going to want more well-defined job descriptions, access to resources and better benefits.”

In addition to streamlining the vetting process and making a concerted effort to reduce time to hire, recruiters in large companies need to eliminate old, outdated ways of thinking that create barriers to filling the position.

For instance, instead of focusing on evidence of how a candidate has performed in the past, look for clues as to how they might perform in the future.

“Stop selecting candidates based on a job they’ve already done or skills they used five years ago,” Steckerl noted. Focus on people who are underemployed and have great potential.

Hiring Tips for Small Companies

Small businesses can absolutely compete with high-profile companies for technical talent, as long as they educate prospects and target “move up candidates” that are within their financial reach, noted Jeffrey Hyman, chief talent officer for Strong Suit Executive Search.

“With employee disengagement reaching record high levels, passive candidates are open to hearing about new job opportunities,” Hyman said. “But before you pitch a position, you need to explain what your industry is all about and why your company is poised to thrive and succeed.”

Abby Hamilton, VP of People Development for LiveIntent, forges a human connection through storytelling and videos that highlight the company’s “fail fast” culture, mission, and the career paths of current employees.

“You have to forge a human connection first, when you don’t have a well-known brand,” noted Hamilton, who has recruited and hired more than 150 tech pros for small companies over the course of her career.

More than any other generation, Millennials are looking for flexibility and autonomy, explained Laura Handrick, workforce analyst for Fit Small Business: “Play to your competitive strengths and the things that matter most to tech pros by describing opportunities for learning and advancement, stretch assignments and access to decision makers.”

Small businesses are typically less bureaucratic and feature a casual, family-like work environment, she added. And because the team is smaller, tech employees develop cross-functional skills and have the opportunity to weigh in on matters impacting the entire company.

Tech employees no longer need the structure of a large organization to grow their careers. In many cases, employees have access to online source code repositories, development tools and training. Moreover, because they acquire new skills and experience quickly in a small company, they leapfrog over colleagues at larger organizations.

If your company can't afford to pay at the top of the market for talent, adjust your expectations and pursue more junior candidates.

The average salary boost that employees receive when changing jobs is about 18 percent, Hyman said. For an up-and-comer who is buried in the org chart at a major company and making $80,000, the chance at a $10,000 to $15,000 bump in salary is potentially exciting.

Effective Interviewing Techniques

When it comes to interviewing technical talent, Chuck Groom acknowledges that one size doesn’t fit all. (This is especially true when interviewing candidates for highly specialized positions such as data scientists, Big Data Engineers and Cloud Engineers.

The director of engineering for VTS and former Amazon bar raiser, is a fan of the standard process (one or two phone screensfollowed by no more than four hours of in-person interviews) as long as the questions and format reflect the requirements of a particular role and today’s passive, candidate-driven market.

“Don’t over-engineer the process,” Groom warned. “Get everyone to agree on what success looks like, and draft questions that focus on day-to-day skills and the desired experience level before you start interviewing.”

Groom prefers phone screens because they save everyone time. And he doesn’t recommend marathon, all-day interview sessions because they exhaust the candidate. The goal of the phone screens is to get the candidate excited about the opportunity, and to see if it makes sense to proceed with an in-person interview.

For instance, during the first phone screen, a recruiter can assess the fit and skill level of the candidate, and sell the company and the position. During the second call, the hiring manager should allocate two-thirds of the time to high-level technical questions and discussions, and the remaining one-third to behavioral-based questions.

Technical evaluations should reflect real activities, as well. For instance, Groom suggests that a whiteboard should only be used to explain quick concepts or to illustrate data flows, similar to a huddle. If you’re hiring someone to write code, then a big chunk of the interview should involve hands on a keyboard, he stated.

“Generally, I don’t like take-home coding tests because they are too off-putting, especially for working professionals,” he said. “Plus to get an accurate assessment, the problem needs to be well-defined.”

The only exception would be when a take-home assignment is used as preparation to an onsite project or challenge, he added.

Marcus Turner agrees with Groom’s comments, adding: “For instance, I wouldn’t ask a senior engineer who graduated from college 10 years ago to solve a Big-O notation problem. Otherwise, you risk eliminating quality programmers from other industries or who didn’t major in computer science.”

What about bar raisers or other unconventional interview methods? Are they more effective? The answer is: it depends.

So-called bar raisers are supposed to act as impartial coaches who help to eliminate bias and enforce interview process and hiring consistency. However, unless they are well-trained and have a clear vision of their role, they often become another “voice of no.”

Unless you have a lot of time and resources to invest in training and monitoring a bar raiser or a non-traditional method, most companies will be better off sticking with the standard interviewing process and focusing on continual improvement.

“Put energy into debugging your process,” Groom advised. “Solicit feedback after interviews and track outcomes to figure out what’s working and what isn’t.”