7 Best Practices in Recruiting and Sourcing Candidates

by Mike Tannian on March 11, 2022

Struggling to find qualified applicants for your organization? In this post, we’ll discuss best practices for recruiting and sourcing candidates.

Article Highlights

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to conjure the perfect candidate from thin air, as much as we might wish that were the case. 

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to make it easier to recruit and source top candidates. If you’re tired of wading through dozens of job applications that never seem to include “the one,” you’re in the right place. 

Below we’ll cover best practices in recruiting and candidate sourcing so that you can fill those always-open positions with qualified candidates. In this post, we’ll also clarify the difference between sourcing candidates and recruiting and why that distinction matters. 

Keep reading if you’re ready to (finally!) impress that hiring manager with your next batch of applicants. 

What's the Difference Between Candidate Sourcing and Recruiting? 

Before we dig into the best way to source candidates, let’s get straight on the difference between candidate sourcing and recruiting. You might think they’re the same thing since organizations in the public sector often rely upon one person to do both the sourcing and recruiting of candidates. 

But there is a distinction between the two. And it’s fairly simple: candidate sourcing takes place before recruitment. 

You can’t recruit a candidate you aren’t aware of yet, right? Candidate sourcing is essentially the process of generating a candidate pool of both active and passive candidates (more about this later) that have the skills, background, experience, and interests you’re looking for. 

Candidate sourcing involves doing things like generating interest around your organization through advertising upcoming job openings, building your employee brand, and networking with individuals in your field. Each of these actions enables you to engage with people who may be interested in working for your organization one day. 

Recruiting is where rubber meets the road and you start actively selecting suitable candidates from the candidate pool you’ve created. A recruiter might take the following actions: 

  • Review candidate applications to open roles in your organization
  • Invite talented professionals to interview
  • Coordinate interview schedules
  • Answer candidate questions
  • Facilitate negotiations
  • Draft job offers 

In short, candidate sourcing is an ongoing process of finding and attracting talent to your organization while recruitment more actively moves talent through the hiring process. 

Passive vs Active Candidate Sourcing

The distinction between candidate sourcing and recruiting is especially important when we begin to consider passive versus active candidate sourcing. 

Most of the time when you think about recruitment, you’re probably thinking about how to source candidates that are active job seekers. Active candidate sourcing occurs when you pursue potential candidates who are currently seeking new jobs. 

But if you only focus on these active job seekers, you’re missing out on loads of potential candidates. In fact, passive candidates make up about 70% of the global workforce. Passive candidates are people who aren’t necessarily looking for a new job but may consider leaving their current employer for the right opportunity. 

As such, finding the right talent for your organization requires using a mix of both active and passive candidate sourcing. 

How to Source Candidates: Best Practices

So, what does passive and active candidate sourcing entail? Let’s find out. Below we discuss seven best practices in recruiting and candidate sourcing that can help ensure you’re maximizing your outreach efforts and securing qualified candidates for your organization. 

1. Analyze job requirements

Before you can move forward with candidate sourcing, you must have a clear understanding of job requirements. Taking the time to speak with the hiring manager to understand their needs for the position, including key skills, education, or experiences, is fundamental to finding the right candidates. 

Only once you’ve identified job requirements can you begin drafting a recruitment ad that attracts not just any talent, but the right talent. You should anticipate needing to receive between 17 and 27 applications (depending on the size and type of public organization you work for) to find “the one.” 

After you’ve reviewed job requirements and posted a job description, be sure to stay in touch with the hiring manager throughout the recruiting process. This enables you to adapt to your recruitment strategy as needed, whether that means casting a wider net in your search or reconsidering what skills are really required for the role. 

2. Write accurate and compelling job descriptions

When a job search first begins, individuals generally peruse a few online job boards to see what career opportunities are available. So one of the best ways to recruit top talent is considering how your job descriptions will be received by potential applicants. 

You can’t attract your ideal candidate if your job description isn’t enticing, after all. At a minimum, your job description should include: 

  • The job title
  • The position’s salary 
  • Attractive benefits 
  • Required skills or certifications  
  • Description of a job’s day-to-day duties 
  • The role’s overall contribution to the organization 

When writing the job’s title, include a descriptive title — not just what’s in your human resources management platform. That’s because 36% of job seekers look for their next role by searching for a specific job title. A job seeker is far more likely to search for “Affordable Housing Manager” than “Program Manager.” 

Lastly, when writing about the job’s required skills, be sure to really keep it just to requirements. This can help widen the diversity of applications you receive, since women may be less likely to apply to jobs when they don’t meet all criteria on a job description. 

3. Create an employee referral program (with incentive)

Another one of the best ways to recruit top talent, including passive candidates, is by using employee referral programs. Organizations who use the networks of their current employees expand their talent pool ten-fold

And there’s more. 

According to a LinkedIn survey, 82% of employees said that employee referrals resulted in the best return on investment compared to other sourcing options. The same survey also indicates that referral programs improve retention rates, as referred employees stay with the organization longer on average than employees who were found on job boards. 

What does that mean for you? Well, it means you can spend less on hiring: 

  • Rewriting recruitment ads 
  • Wading through job applications
  • Playing phone tag to schedule interviews 

And more time fostering a healthy organizational culture: 

  • Holding employee appreciation events
  • Creating professional development training programs 
  • Networking in your field and maintaining your organization’s brand

When it comes to building a successful employee referral program, the key is to make it a win-win for everyone involved. Offer incentives, such as gift cards or monetary bonuses, to individuals who refer successful candidates. And be clear about the types of candidates you’re looking for so employees know exactly where to tap into their network. 

4. Leverage social media (and your social network)

Since more than 75% of job seekers use social media when searching for their next gig, leveraging these platforms is key to sourcing candidates. 

And that doesn’t just mean you should repeatedly post your recruitment ads to LinkedIn! Social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great places to promote your organization’s brand with passive candidates. This might include doing things like: 

  • Posting photos of employee events on Instagram 
  • Inviting professionals to networking events on Facebook 
  • Sharing blog posts on LinkedIn that paint a picture about your organizational culture

By demonstrating a clear employee brand on your social media channels, you build a relationship with ideal candidates that resonates over time. 

And when you’re in an active sourcing stage, fall back on your own social networks, too. Don’t be wary of tapping into your own professional networks to see if there’s anyone you may have overlooked who could be perfect for the role. 

5. Source candidates for future positions

Think you found someone who would be perfect for your organization… but don’t have any open positions? 

Don’t wait until you have an open position to connect with talented professionals. Network with individuals in your candidate pool by reaching out and asking passive job seekers about their career goals. Let them know of your interest in them as a candidate and gauge their response.

And when it comes to sourcing candidates for future positions, don’t forget about the pool of people you already know would be happy to work for your organization: your existing employees. 

If you’re expecting a retirement in the near future, consider the ways in which you can prepare existing employees to fill this role in the future. What training or certifications can you offer? How can your organization nurture the growth and development of existing employees? 

6. Create a talent pipeline of ideal candidates (from your talent pool)

Hopefully, you’ve created a long list of qualified candidates during your sourcing. Now, it’s time to narrow down your options and refine your talent pipeline. 

First, take the time to vet candidates for your hiring manager. Review resumes and invite strong candidates for a 15-minute interview. After the screening interview, prioritize these candidates even further. Consider how their experience, education, skills, and personality will make them successful (or not) in the open position. 

Then, work with your hiring manager to prioritize the questions you’d like to ask suitable candidates in the next round of interviews. To avoid bias, aim to ask each candidate the same questions. When writing questions, consider how you can learn about a candidate’s: 

  • Previous experience
  • Skills
  • Career goals
  • Values 
  • Salary expectations

Last but certainly not least, consider the candidate’s culture fit by reflecting on the interview process as a whole. Did the candidate have a good rapport with the hiring manager? Did they treat everyone they met with respect, from secretary to department director? 

Once you’ve identified the person you’d like to hire, take a big, deep breath. You’re almost at the finish line! 

7. Store quality candidates for future openings

But before you can celebrate, you need to close the loops on all the other candidates you interviewed. Maybe you went through the hiring process and fell in love with a candidate…

But they just didn’t have the right skills and background for this specific job opportunity. You should just throw their contact information away, right?  


If someone impressed you throughout the hiring process, don’t put all your sourcing efforts to waste. Ask if you can keep their information in your HR database for future job opportunities. Provide them with constructive feedback about their application and interview, which can make them 4x more likely to reapply to open positions with your organization in the future. 

Then, keep them in your candidate pool by staying in touch. The next time you’re looking to hire, this person may be just the one for the job. 

Final Thoughts

While there’s no one best way to source candidates, certain practices can make or break your overall recruitment process. Learning how to source candidates efficiently requires taking the time to write accurate and compelling job descriptions, developing an employee referral program, and undertaking the other recruiting and sourcing best practices we discussed above.

And it doesn’t end there! Find out what else you can do to recruit and retain top talent in the public sector on our blog.

Mike Tannian

Mike Tannian is the Director of Content Marketing at NEOGOV. With a talented team of writers by his side, he aims to produce content that delivers real value to public sector HR professionals at every stage in the buying journey.

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