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What You Need to Know About Sourcing Job Candidates

A group of people holding resumes on a laptop.
​Sourcing Job Candidates

Sourcing is the proactive searching for qualified job candidates for current or planned open positions within a company. Rather than waiting for candidates to apply, HR professionals, recruiters and hiring managers can take the initiative to find candidates who may be a good fit for the organization. The employer's sourcing strategy should include defining the employer brand as well as determining who the employer is looking for and where to find these individuals. The following are common candidate sources:

External Candidates

Sourcing practices include the search for active and passive external candidates. Passive candidates are those who are not currently seeking employment but may be persuaded to leave their current employment for the right opportunity.

Internal Candidates

Current employees seeking promotion or transfer can be an excellent recruitment source. Internal hires retain organizational knowledge and typically get up to speed in their new roles more quickly than external hires.

Employee Referrals

Leveraging employee referrals is an effective sourcing strategy that is cost-effective and often the fastest way to find external talent.

Alumni Groups

A corporate alumni association helps an employer maintain ongoing relationships with its former employees, or “alumni.” Employers that continue relationships with alumni often reap the benefits of rehiring these individuals or receiving candidate referrals from them. 

Community Outreach

To improve candidate diversity, employers can reach out to specific minority groups and advertise in places where diverse groups of people will see the job openings.

Social Media

More and more recruiters are turning to social media to find talent, scouring social media profiles, blogs and online communities to find information on passive candidates. Employers also use social media to advertise jobs, either through vendors or via job seekers sharing job openings over their online networks.

Niche Job Boards

Niche job boards and recruiting sites allow employers to focus sourcing efforts on a particular group, rather than casting a wide net with regular online job boards. Often specific to a particular industry, niche boards can also target candidates from minority groups, veterans, older workers and other specified groups. 

Job Fairs

Employers that utilize job fairs effectively are able to increase visibility of the employer brand, market themselves as a great place to work and source qualified candidates. Thorough preparation and a well-thought-out strategy are important for job fair success. 

College Fairs

Similar to job fairs, college fairs allow employers to source college students and recent graduates. Organizations that strategically market themselves in ways that appeal to college students are in the best position to compete with other organizations for the top talent among new graduates.

Common Issues
Negative Candidate Experience

Just as a positive employer brand can draw in candidates, not handling the recruiting and hiring process effectively can turn candidates off. Ghosting candidates by not following up on communication reflects poorly on the employer and its reputation.

Communicating with Internal Candidates

Providing honest feedback to internal candidates who are not selected for a position is important. Poor communication can create dissatisfaction, high turnover and even charges of discrimination if people believe they've been passed over unfairly.


Sourcing passive employees can be done ethically; however, some poaching practices cross the line. Anytime theft or misrepresentation is involved—think stealing company directories, using deception to get employee names, hiring someone solely to harm a company—the action could be illegal and/or unethical.

Applicant Recordkeeping for Federal Contractors

Federal contractors are required to retain certain records when conducting searches of internal or external resume databases, such as online job boards. In addition to the resumes of candidates the contractor considered for a position, a copy of the job posting for the open position, the search criteria used and the date the search was conducted must be maintained.

Social Media Concerns

Many argue that the use of social media profiles to source potential job candidates yields too much private information that is not job-related and raises concerns about the legal risks of obtaining protected class information (e.g., age, race, gender, religion) that is not typically revealed with other sourcing methods. In addition, some companies have been sued for age discrimination by targeting social media ads to younger candidates, essentially excluding older candidates.

Improper Inquiries

When seeking qualified candidates for open positions, employers can run afoul of equal employment opportunity laws by asking questions that reveal information regarding an individual’s status in a protected class (e.g., age, disability, religion). Examples of questions that may not be obviously improper include graduation dates, citizenship status and whether the candidate owns a car.

State Laws

Many states have laws that protect an individual's lawful off-duty conduct and prohibit employers from refusing to hire individuals based on such conduct. Some examples of protected activity include smoker status, alcohol consumption and political affiliation.

Lack of Diversity with Employee Referrals

While employee referral programs can be an excellent sourcing tool, such programs can negatively affect diversity in the workplace if not managed properly. Because employees often refer candidates of the same race, religion, national origin or any other protected class, unintentional discrimination of some protected groups and an overall lack of diversity can occur.


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