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What is sourcing?

Definition: Sourcing in the recruitment context refers to the process of identifying, attracting, and engaging potential candidates for open job positions before the formal application process begins.

It’s a proactive strategy used by recruiters and hiring managers to build a talent pipeline of qualified candidates, ensuring that when a position becomes available, there is already a pool of potential applicants to consider. Sourcing is not just about filling current vacancies but also about creating a sustainable talent acquisition strategy that aligns with the organization’s long-term goals.

What is the difference between sourcing and recruitment?

Sourcing and recruitment are two crucial phases within the broader talent acquisition process, each serving distinct purposes. Understanding the difference between sourcing and recruitment helps clarify the roles and strategies used by HR professionals to attract and hire the best candidates.


Sourcing is the initial phase in the talent acquisition process, focusing on identifying, attracting, and engaging potential candidates for current or future job openings. It is a proactive approach aimed at building a talent pool of qualified individuals before a specific need arises. Sourcing involves:

  • Researching to find candidates who meet specific job criteria.
  • Reaching out to potential candidates through various channels like social media, professional networks, and job boards.
  • Encouraging passive candidates (those not actively looking for a job) to consider opportunities within the organization.
  • Building relationships with potential candidates to keep them interested in future opportunities.
  • The main goal of sourcing is to create a rich pipeline of candidates, ensuring that there is always a pool of talent to draw from when a job opening occurs.


Recruitment begins after sourcing and involves the process of screening, interviewing, and selecting candidates for a specific job opening. It is a reactive process that kicks in once a job vacancy is identified. Recruitment activities include:

  • Posting job advertisements on various platforms.
  • Receiving and reviewing applications.
  • Conducting interviews and assessments to determine the best-fit candidate for the role.
  • Making job offers and handling the onboarding process for new hires.
  • Recruitment focuses on evaluating candidates’ fit for a particular position and guiding them through the selection process until a successful hire is made.

Key Differences

  • Purpose: Sourcing is about building a pool of potential candidates for current and future roles, focusing on outreach and engagement. Recruitment is about filling a specific vacancy, focusing on evaluating candidates’ suitability for the role and processing hires.
  • Approach: Sourcing is proactive, seeking out candidates who may not be actively looking for new opportunities. Recruitment is more reactive, responding to the immediate need to fill a vacancy.
  • Scope: Sourcing casts a wide net to gather as many potential candidates as possible, often targeting passive candidates. Recruitment is narrower, concentrating on candidates who have applied for a job or have been sourced for a specific opening.
  • Outcome: The outcome of sourcing is a talent pipeline filled with qualified candidates. The outcome of recruitment is the successful hiring of a candidate for a specific position.

Types of candidate sourcing

Passive Sourcing

Passive sourcing targets individuals who are currently employed and not actively looking for new opportunities. These candidates are often content in their current roles but might be open to considering compelling offers.


  • Utilizing professional networking sites like LinkedIn to identify potential candidates based on their skills and experience.
  • Engaging with industry-specific forums, blogs, and online communities to build relationships with potential candidates over time.
  • Monitoring speakers, authors, and participants in industry conferences and seminars who demonstrate expertise in their field.


  • Access to a wider talent pool, including candidates who may not be reached through traditional job postings.
  • Opportunity to attract highly skilled professionals who can bring significant value to the organization.

Active Sourcing

Active sourcing focuses on individuals who are actively seeking new job opportunities. These candidates might be unemployed, looking for a change, or exploring their options.


  • Posting job openings on online job boards and career websites where active job seekers are likely to search.
  • Participating in career fairs and job expos targeted at individuals looking for employment opportunities.
  • Encouraging applications through social media campaigns and email marketing targeted at job seekers.


  • Easier to engage since these candidates are already motivated to find new roles.
  • Faster response times to job postings and outreach efforts.

Direct Sourcing

Direct sourcing involves proactively identifying and contacting potential candidates to fill specific roles. This strategy can target both passive and active candidates but is characterized by the recruiter initiating contact directly.


  • Using candidate databases and recruitment software to find candidates who match specific job criteria, then reaching out to them directly.
  • Leveraging employee referral programs where existing employees directly refer someone from their network.
  • Conducting targeted search campaigns using professional directories, alumni networks, or other databases to find candidates with specific qualifications.


  • Allows for a highly targeted approach, focusing efforts on candidates who closely match the job requirements.
  • Can lead to higher-quality hires since the process starts with a clear understanding of the role’s needs and the candidate’s capabilities.

Sourcing strategies

Sourcing strategies in recruitment are diverse, allowing companies to tap into various talent pools to find suitable candidates for their open positions. Each sourcing type has its unique advantages and is chosen based on the specific needs, industry, and target candidate profile. Here are some of the different types of sourcing:

  1. Online Job Boards: Utilizing platforms like Indeed, Monster, or specialized job boards relevant to specific industries. These are great for reaching a wide audience of active job seekers.
  2. Social Media Sourcing: Leveraging social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to identify and engage with potential candidates. This method is effective for reaching passive candidates who might not be actively looking for new opportunities but are open to the right offer.
  3. Employee Referral Programs: Encouraging current employees to refer candidates from their personal networks. Referrals often lead to hires that are a good cultural fit and have higher retention rates.
  4. Professional Networking Events and Conferences: Attending industry-specific events, conferences, or seminars to meet potential candidates in person. This method is particularly effective for networking with professionals and leaders in specific fields.
  5. Recruitment Agencies and Headhunters: Partnering with agencies or headhunters who specialize in sourcing candidates for specific roles or industries. They can access a broader network and have expertise in engaging passive candidates.
  6. College and University Recruiting: Establishing relationships with educational institutions to source fresh graduates or interns. This is ideal for roles requiring recent graduates or entry-level candidates with up-to-date knowledge in their field.
  7. Internal Talent Pools: Identifying potential candidates from within the organization for promotions or lateral moves. This leverages existing employees’ familiarity with the company culture and operations.
  8. Talent Communities and Forums: Engaging with online communities or forums where professionals in the target industry gather to share knowledge and network. This includes professional associations, discussion groups, and online forums.
  9. Passive Candidate Outreach: Directly reaching out to individuals who have not applied for a position but whose skills and experience align with the company’s needs. This often involves personalized communication to pique their interest.
  10. Boolean Search: Using advanced internet search techniques to find resumes and profiles across the web. Recruiters use specific keywords, operators, and modifiers to locate candidates with the precise skills and experience they need.
  11. Database Mining: Searching through existing databases of resumes and candidate profiles collected from previous recruitment efforts. This method makes use of the organization’s existing talent pool to find suitable candidates who have already expressed interest in the company.


What is a sourcing recruiter?

A sourcing recruiter specializes in the initial phase of the recruitment process, focusing on identifying, attracting, and engaging potential candidates for various job openings. Their primary role is to build a robust talent pipeline by reaching out to passive candidates, utilizing social media platforms, professional networks, and databases to find individuals with the specific skills and experience required for roles within the organization. Sourcing recruiters proactively create and maintain relationships with potential candidates to ensure a steady flow of talent for current and future hiring needs.

What is a sourcing method?

A sourcing method refers to the strategies and techniques used by recruiters and hiring professionals to find potential candidates for job vacancies. These methods vary from active job postings on online job boards and career sites to passive candidate outreach through networking, social media engagement, and referrals. Sourcing methods also include direct sourcing, where recruiters proactively contact potential candidates, and using technology and data analytics to identify talents, such as Boolean search and AI-driven candidate matching tools. The choice of sourcing method depends on the role, industry, and specific hiring goals.

What tools are essential for effective sourcing?

Key tools for effective sourcing include LinkedIn Recruiter, applicant tracking systems (ATS) with sourcing capabilities, Boolean search techniques for internet sourcing, and specialized sourcing tools like Entelo or Hiretual that help identify and engage candidates.

How can I improve my sourcing strategy?

Improving your sourcing strategy involves staying updated with industry trends, regularly refining your search criteria to be more targeted, personalizing your outreach messages, and leveraging employee referrals. Additionally, analyzing the success of different sourcing channels can help allocate efforts more effectively.

What is direct sourcing?

Direct sourcing involves proactively identifying, contacting, and engaging candidates for specific job roles, rather than waiting for applicants to come through job postings. This strategy targets both passive and active candidates but is characterized by the recruiter initiating the contact.

How do I measure the success of my sourcing efforts?

Success can be measured by metrics such as the time to fill a position, the quality of candidates entering the pipeline, conversion rates from sourced candidate to applicant, and ultimately, hires. Additionally, tracking the diversity of the candidate pool and candidate engagement rates can provide insights into sourcing effectiveness.

How can I keep sourced candidates engaged?

Keeping sourced candidates engaged involves regular communication, sharing relevant company news or industry insights, and providing personalized updates about potential job opportunities. Creating a positive candidate experience, even for those not currently being considered for a role, can maintain their interest in future opportunities with the company.