How Do Recruiters Find Candidates?

By Biron Clark


Applying for Jobs

Biron Clark

Biron Clark

Writer & Career Coach

I was a professional recruiter for 5 years and spent most of my day looking for job candidates (also known as “sourcing”).

In this article, I’ll share the top 8 ways recruiters look for candidates so you can get noticed and get more job opportunities.

I’ll also share an exact breakdown of how much time I spent on each activity, because it’s not equal and there are only a few areas that you need to focus on for recruiters to find you.

How Recruiters Find Candidates (8 Ways)

1. LinkedIn

The top place where most recruiters look for job candidates is LinkedIn. So, how do recruiters find candidates on LinkedIn? Recruiters perform targeted searches using keywords and filters (like location, job title, and more).

This allows them to find active job seekers but also passive candidates who may not be looking for a job change, but could still be convinced to make a move for the right offer.

They’ll look through hundreds of professionals, reading the job title, recent work description, sometimes viewing the list of skills, and then quickly moving on to the next.

When I worked as a recruiter, I spent hours looking for candidates on LinkedIn each day. Every job seeker should include LinkedIn as a part of their job search strategy.

If you want to get seen by recruiters, take the time to make your LinkedIn profile as strong as possible. This is a great way to appear in more recruiter searches and get seen more often.

Hiring managers also browse LinkedIn looking for qualified candidates, and a company will typically post each job directly to LinkedIn as well. These are more reasons to be on LinkedIn if you’re in an active job search.

Make sure you’ve got a completed profile with work experience, skills, and a good headshot. If you’re looking for a new position but haven’t completed your LinkedIn profile, you’re holding your job search back.

Here are a few of my best LinkedIn resources to help you catch recruiter attention:

Also, some hiring managers will search for a candidate’s name on LinkedIn even if that person applied via a different channel like the company website, career fairs/events, etc.

And if another job seeker has a lot more info than you on their LinkedIn profile, they may get the interview instead of you.

2. Asking Candidates for Referrals

When talking to a candidate, recruiters may end the call by asking the candidate if they know anyone else they can refer for other jobs they’re working on.

Some recruiters also seek out referrals in a sneakier way; they will sometimes use reference checks as a way to build their network and find new candidates to work with.

They’ll ask for two or three references and then after speaking to those people, they’ll start talking about the job market and gauging their interest in new jobs. 

People in your network can also intentionally refer you to a recruiter.

Maybe you know a few people who get a lot of calls from recruiters but aren’t looking for a new job right now. If you tell them that you’re job hunting, they can refer you to any recruiters looking to find candidates.

This is why it’s worthwhile to tell your network that you’re job hunting.

You don’t need to announce your job search publicly on social media or broadcast it to all of the hiring managers in your network on LinkedIn. Instead, you should have one-on-one conversations with key people in their network to notify them about your job search.

Recruiters also utilize employee referrals. This occurs when an employee within a company refers a colleague from outside the company.

Companies will often reward their employees financially if they refer a candidate who gets hired for a job. So it’s worth asking people in your network if their employer is hiring. You aren’t bothering them, and you might even be making them some money if they refer you to a company recruiter and you get hired.

3. Talking with an Existing Professional Network

Top recruiters will build a relationship with good job candidates and try to work with them multiple times throughout their careers.

So when a new job is posted, many recruiters go into their professional network (usually tracked through LinkedIn) to see who might be a good candidate for a newly-opened job.

For this reason, it’s worth building a strong relationship with a few good, knowledgeable recruiters who specialize in your industry and/or city.

And stay in touch with a recruiter even after they refer you for a job, because you could be a suitable candidate for more jobs in the future.

Recruiters can keep you informed about career-advancing opportunities. Even if you’re not actively job searching, it can’t hurt to hear what type of talent companies are looking for and what those companies are willing to pay people who they’re hiring.

Read more here about how to effectively work with recruiters.

4. Job Boards

The next place I looked for qualified candidates to fill job openings was online job boards. I didn’t spend much time there, but I did check the job boards frequently to find job seekers who were new to the market.

My company didn’t post jobs on many job boards, but we’d use a job board database to search for resumes that had already been uploaded by applicants. We searched candidate resumes by keywords and other filters.

So it can be worthwhile to upload your resume to a few trusted job sites (just make sure you’re using large, trusted job boards or reputable niche job boards, because you don’t want your resume to end up all over the web).

Before doing so, ensure that you’ve included the keywords that you want to be found for.

Also, just to be upfront, most of the job candidates on job boards weren’t particularly good or impressive, so I didn’t contact a high number of candidates via job boards.

Instead, I went there because checking job boards takes very little time/effort each day, and there was a possibility that I would find one or two great candidates per week to reach out to.

And I knew that if I waited too long, other recruiters would get to them first. So that’s why I visited job boards multiple times per week to find candidates.

5. Direct Resume Submissions

Recruiters do read resumes/CVs that are sent to them, and will respond.

But only if you send your resume with a good, customized message explaining why you think they’re a relevant person to speak to.

And only if the resume looks impressive overall.

Read here for what recruiters look for in a resume.

Most recruiters specialize in helping certain types of candidates in a particular industry, city, or both.

Don’t just send your resume out to all of the recruiters you can find. Take your time to find a few relevant recruiters and send a customized message.

Some candidates mass-email their resume to hundreds of recruiters, which is an awful networking strategy and will get your message deleted. You need to show the recruiter that you’re not doing this.

So you should never say, “Can you look at my resume and tell me what job I’m a fit for?”

And you should never just attach your resume and say something generic like, “I’m submitting my resume for any relevant jobs.”

Your message will get deleted if you do this.

Recruiters get way too many of these generic messages, and it’s not going to get you a response from them.

Instead, say something like this:

“I saw you post a job description for a Quality Assurance Engineer role and have just started exploring the market in that space. I have 2 years of prior QA experience with XYZ Company. I’ve attached my resume. Do you think it would make sense to talk sometime this week?”

Also, take your time to customize your resume for the job description, if you’re aware of a certain job that this recruiter is working on. If not, it’s okay to send a general resume and include some information in your email indicating what types of jobs you’re a good candidate for.

6. Online Job Postings

Most businesses have a careers page where they post their job openings directly.

Employers and recruiters don’t rely only on this method to find candidates, but it’s still utilized and is an effective way of finding job candidates.

So if you’re interested in a company, it’s always worth going to their careers page to browse the current job descriptions. Even if they don’t have a role that’s the exact right fit, you can send them an email about why their company interests you and how you could help them.

You never know when a hiring manager is thinking of opening up a new position, or when a company is growing quickly and just wants good, qualified candidates in general. So it can’t hurt to email a company that interests you.

7. Social Media Other Than LinkedIn

I mentioned LinkedIn earlier as the top place where recruiters find applicants.

Recruiters also use other social media platforms to find qualified job seekers, though.

For example, tech recruiters may search Twitter and send a message to a potential candidate if they notice someone interesting.

Tech recruiters also browse GitHub when recruiting, which is a software collaboration website.

The exact social sites that your ideal recruiters use will depend on your industry and job type, but it’s worth researching and thinking about this as a candidate.

However, focus on LinkedIn first, since every recruiter and hiring manager is on LinkedIn.

8. Career Fairs

We looked at a number of common online recruiting activities above, but some companies and employers do their recruiting and hiring in person, too.

If you’re interested in a company, it’s worth searching the web to see if they participate in any career fairs or other recruiting events.

Attending career fairs is a good opportunity to get your resume in front of the hiring team and also ask some valuable questions to employers, such as:

  • What types of positions are you hiring for right now?
  • What do you look for in a candidate for those roles?

Even if you don’t know which specific employers will be at a career fair, it’s worth going just to meet new recruiters and companies looking for talent.

I don’t feel that career fairs or any in-person events are the primary way that most companies do their recruiting these days, but it can’t hurt to include it with your other job search strategies.

Here are 13 good questions to ask at a career fair.

Exact Breakdown: How I Spent a Day Recruiting

The recruiting strategies above aren’t used equally when it comes to finding talent.

While I was just one recruiter with one perspective, I thought it’d be helpful to share my typical breakdown of a day.

This is how I spent my day looking for talent as a tech recruiter:

  • Searching for candidates on LinkedIn: 65%
  • Seeking referrals from job candidates in my network: 15%
  • Reviewing resumes sent to me by candidates: 10%
  • Sourcing candidates on job boards/websites like Dice and Monster: 5%
  • Everything else: 5%

And then any time I’d talk to an applicant through this process above, I’d also ask if they can refer me to any other professionals in their network. This is step #2 in the list above.

But I didn’t spend a lot of time including this in my initial strategies because I was new to the industry and didn’t have multi-year relationships yet.

My more senior colleagues did much more networking and would kick off each search for talent by talking to the people they knew and getting referrals.

They’d call someone and say, “I’ve just been told about XYZ position at ABC company opening up. Who in your network might see this as a step up in their career?” (Or something to that effect.)

So these numbers above will vary depending on the recruiter’s experience and the size of their network.

A recruiter with more experience will be able to use their network much more heavily and won’t spend as much time looking for new candidates on LinkedIn.

While I recruited for 5 years, my work was split between two different industries so I didn’t have a big network to lean on for referrals. That’s why I used more cold-outreach and sourcing strategies like LinkedIn searches.

The percentages in this breakdown will also vary greatly depending on whether you’re an agency recruiter or an in-house recruiter. (I explain the different types of recruiters here.)

But hopefully, the above breakdown gives you a general sense of how recruiters source candidates.

The main takeaways here are:

  • Be active on LinkedIn and have a good profile.
  • Build relationships with good recruiters instead of just seeing job searching as a short-term, transactional process.
  • Don’t be afraid to send your resume directly to a recruiter, too, but always include a customized message and reason.

Sourcing vs. Recruiting

In bigger companies, there will be a team of people doing “sourcing,” which essentially means putting together lists of candidates for the recruiters (who are usually more experienced) to reach out to.

The information and advice above still apply, though.

It doesn’t really matter if you’re talking to a small, boutique recruiting firm or solo recruiter building their own list of candidates… or a mega-company with 25 people sourcing lists of job candidates all day and then passing the list off to a senior recruiter.

The strategies above are still how companies and recruiting teams in particular find candidates, so they’re the channels you should focus on as a candidate to get noticed.

Conclusion: Where do Recruiters Look for Candidates?

Recruiters look for job candidates through the methods above, both online and offline. The exact mix of strategies used to find candidates will depend on the recruiter’s experience level and network, as well as their industry.

For the most part, though, job recruiters are finding talent online via sites like LinkedIn and via direct messages/calls to their network to get referrals.

I recommend taking the following actions if you want to find a job faster with the help of recruiters:

  • Make sure you’re networking and telling other professionals that you’re job searching so that they can recommend you to any recruiters they speak to.
  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile is well-written and 100% complete, since this is how most of the recruiters I’ve met spend the bulk of their day recruiting new talent.
  • Finally, take advantage of local in-person events such as career fairs, which is another way to gain access to more opportunities as an applicant.

While each employer finds new job candidates a bit differently, the steps above describe the process used by the typical business.

Focus on the areas above and you’ll catch more recruiter attention and land a job faster.

Additional resources:


Biron Clark

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