Sourcing Passive Candidates: What We Teach Our Recruiters on Day #1

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Step by step, learn how to find top talent using web search techniques.

Sourcing Passive Candidates: What We Teach Our Recruiters on Day #1
Credit: Jeremy Thomas/Unsplash & Christian De Pape

More than 95 percent of our candidates are sourced. That rate has held steady since 2012 when Recruiting Social began serving clients.

Today, you’re going to learn how we do it.

This guide reveals everything we teach our recruiters about sourcing on their first day. First, we’ll show you how to figure out important details about the target candidate. Then, we’ll teach you how to use search engines to find them, out there on the web.

Ready? Let’s go …



Sourcing 101

In recruitment, sourcing means finding candidates for a job opening. But let’s dig a little deeper.

An active search

Unlike the “post and pray” method of posting a role and waiting for applicants, sourcing is an active search for potential hires. It focuses on passive candidates: people who aren’t actively looking for a job.

Traditional sourcing resembles professional networking:

  • Attending industry conferences, panels, and workshops
  • Hosting mixers, meet-ups, or happy hours for professionals in a particular field
  • Asking colleagues to refer possible candidates and make introductions

Many contemporary sourcing techniques are web-based:

  • Using advanced search techniques on Google or other search engines
  • Searching profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter or other social networks and online communities
  • Sifting through resume databases and professional directories
  • Retrieving idle or forgotten resumes from an Applicant Tracking System

This guide will help you start practicing the latter, digital methods of sourcing candidates. But don’t be afraid to close your laptop, put down your phone, and go meet people in person!


The sourcing process typically involves:

  1. Defining the target candidate you aim to find.
  2. Building a list of qualified prospects, an activity called research or name generation.
  3. Finding contact information for each person.
  4. Reaching out, whether by email, InMail, or phone call.
  5. Determining if the individual is interested in the opening and confirming their qualifications.

The resulting pool of people is often called a candidate pipeline. From this list, hiring managers select interviewees.

Today, we’re going to focus on the first two steps: defining the target candidate and name generation.


Defining Your Target Candidate

Before you search, you need to know who you seek. Let’s set our sights on your target candidate.

Target candidate profile

Who are you looking for, and where can you find them? The more you know before you start sourcing, the more efficient your search will be, and the more successful your results.

This is why you need to assemble a target candidate profile.

First, review the job description or requisition. List out the basic role details. Then, outline the qualifications.

Role Details

Job Title
Seniority level
Main responsibilities


Work experience
Industry experience
Required skills
Nice-to-have skills

Next, talk to the hiring manager. Ask questions to determine where to direct your search.

Past/Current Employers

Which competitors’ employees should you target?


Which schools’ graduates?


Should you look outside the local area? Where?

Other Job Titles

What other or related job titles might candidates hold?

Other Industries

What other industries might they work in?

Online Hubs

What social networks, websites, or platforms do they frequent?

Put this information into a single document. You’ll want it handy when you start combing the web for prospects.


How Search Engines Work

Search engines are the main tool recruiters use to find candidates online. Let’s take a peek under the hood.

Beyond basic googling

Hear “search engine,” and you probably think “Google.” It’s the world’s most popular search tool, used for nearly three-quarters of all web searches. Think of “googling” something, and you probably picture a short phrase or question typed into the Google search field. Press Enter, and you get a list of results.

But basic googling doesn’t make for effective sourcing. Not when you need to find qualified candidates who meet specific criteria. And while Google is a powerful source of answers, different keywords and search strings deliver different results. So do different search engines.

To source, you need to go beyond the basics.

True or false

In 1847, an English Mathematician named George Boole published a book titled The Mathematical Analysis of Logic. In its pages, he outlined a new kind of algebra where values could either be true or false.

This binary logic, called Boolean, became the foundation for how all digital electronics, computers, and programming languages work.

Why does this matter?

Boolean is the language of search engines. By understanding Boolean logic, you gain a powerful tool for finding candidates on the web.

Boolean logic

Search engines use keywords – descriptive words, terms, and phrases – to understand what you want to find. The relevance of your results depends on the specificity, combination, and organization of your keywords.

Boolean operators allow you to combine or exclude keywords:

Boolean operators

AND Boolean operator used in candidate sourcing


Results will include both terms. You can also use an ampersand (&).


resume AND portfolio
resume & portfolio
resume & portfolio & email

OR Boolean operator used in candidate sourcing


Results will include one or both terms. You can also use a vertical bar ( | ).


resume OR cv
resume OR cv OR profile
resume | cv & portfolio

NOT Boolean operator used in candidate sourcing


Results will exclude the second term. You can also use a minus sign (-).


resume NOT jobs
resume -jobs
resume OR cv -jobs

Boolean modifiers organize keywords to expand or refine what they mean:

Boolean modifiers

Quotes Boolean modifier used in candidate sourcing


Results will only include the exact phrase. Enclose multi-word terms in quotation marks (“”).


“vice president”
“senior software engineer”
“san francisco”

Wildcard (asterisk) Boolean modifier used in candidate sourcing


Results will include all variations of the term. Use an asterisk (*) at the end or in place of a word.


recruit* =
recruiter; recruitment; recruiting

consumer * goods =
consumer packaged goods;
consumer durable goods

Parentheses Boolean modifier used in candidate sourcing


Results will include specific variations of the term. Wrap OR statements with parentheses ().


sales (director OR vp) (seattle OR tacoma OR redmond)


Searching the Web

What should you type in the search box? It’s time to combine keywords with Boolean and hit “Enter.”

Choosing keywords

How do you select keywords? First, refer to your candidate profile. Look back at the job description, too. If your company employs people in a similar role, check their LinkedIn profiles.

What words, terms, or traits describe the talent you’re looking for?

These are candidate keywords:

Candidate keywords

Job function

video production
aeronautical engineering

Job title

vp sales
video editor
engineering manager




account management
final cut pro
air intake design


torrance ca

Past/Current Employer inc
wizardry studios
flycar group

Consider your what types of files or details you want to find.

These are material-type keywords:

Material-type keywords


about me





Start assembling a grouped keyword list. Also try to include:

Synonymsengineer; developer; architect. Use the define: command in Google (e.g. search define:engineer) or the Google Dictionary search box (just Google dictionary) to find synonyms.

Acronymshr for human resources – and abbreviationspeopleops for people operations. Try the Acronym Finder to come up with these.

Related termsseattle; tacoma; redmond. Search, check definitions using define:, or refer to a map to find relevant related keywords.

Building a search string

Say you’re sourcing tech recruiters in Seattle.

Try searching:

tech recruiter resume seattle

It’s a basic search string, the kind any average Google user might try. But many of the results are irrelevant: recruiting agency websites, job ads, and resume samples:

Basic Google search for candidate sourcing

So let’s apply Boolean to refine our search. First, let’s use the NOT operator (-) to exclude unwanted results:

tech recruiter resume seattle -agency -job -jobs -hire -hiring -sample -indeed -apply -example

Basic Google search using NOT Boolean command for candidate sourcing

Alright, alright! Starting to see slightly more useful results.

Next, let’s include synonyms using the OR operator:

(tech OR technology or technical) (“recruiter” OR “talent acquisition”)(“resume” OR profile or cv) seattle-agency -job -jobs -hire -hiring -sample -indeed -apply -example

Note that we’ve enclosed OR substrings in parentheses. We’ve wrapped the term talent acquisition in quotation marks so results include the exact phrase.

Why did we also wrap recruiter and resume, single words, in quotation marks?

This helps to counteract auto-stemming: when search engines seek the keyword as entered, the root word, and related words formed with other suffixes. For example, recruiter might also turn up results with the words recruiters, recruitment, and recruiting. Resume might also turn up results with the word resumes, plural. But in this search, we only want exact matches for the word recruiter and resume. Quotation marks help us do that.

Let’s make one more refinement:

tech* (“recruiter” or “talent acquisition”)(“resume” or profile or cv) seattle -agency -job* -hir* -sample -indeed -apply -example

Instead of (tech or technology or technical), we can use tech*. The wildcard symbol (asterisk) helps us search for related variations of tech. We can do the same with -hir* and -job* to exclude variations of hire and job.

And our results?

Google search using Boolean search string for candidate sourcing in recruitment


X-Raying Websites & Social

So far, your search spans the entire web. Now, let’s target specific websites and social media.

What is X-Ray search?

Google seattle sales manager and you get more than 2.3 million hits – yikes. Strategic Boolean can help pare back those results, but you’re still covering the entire internet.

Sometimes, though, you know where you want to look:

You might want, for example, to scan a competitor’s website for employees in the sales department. Or maybe you want to dig through a sales industry forum for potential candidates. Perhaps you only want to search LinkedIn for profiles, Indeed for resumes, or Dribbble for portfolios. Maybe you want to try finding talent based on Twitter bios. Or, clever as you are, you might want to uncover a website’s hidden or unlinked pages and documents.

Yeah, you can do all that. The technique is called x-raying. To use it, you’ll need to learn a few search commands:

Search commands

SITE search command as used in candidate sourcing


Searches only the specified web domain.


INTITLE search command as used in candidate sourcing


Searches for keywords in web page titles.


intitle:”talent acquisition”
(intitle:recruiter or “talent acquisition”)

INURL search command as used in candidate sourcing


Searches for keywords in the web page URLs.


(inurl:profile or resume or cv)

How to use x-ray

To try the x-ray technique, let’s go back to our search for a Seattle tech recruiter.

LinkedIn is an obvious place to look. We’ll use the site: command to zoom in on the professional social network: tech* (“recruiter” OR “talent acquisition”) seattle

The results:

Google search using Xray search string for candidate sourcing in recruitment

Okay, not bad. But there are some job postings and company mixed into the results. Let’s get rid of them by using both the NOT operator and inurl: command: tech* (“recruiter” OR “talent acquisition”) seattle -inurl:jobs -inurl:company

Advanced search using Xray search string for candidate sourcing in recruitment

Try something similar with Twitter: seattle (“tech recruiter” OR “technical recruiter”)

Now how about targeting a company website: “engineering manager” (inurl:2015 OR inurl:2016 OR inurl:2017 OR inurl:2018)

Or a university: inurl:alumni finance (vp OR “vice president” OR director)

See how this works?

Thank you to Chad MacRae, Angela Bortolussi, and Teresa Holland for sharing your sourcing expertise, training materials, and feedback.

Christian De Pape, Head of Brand and Operations at Recruiting Social; employer branding and recruitment marketing expert; design thinking and service designer.
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand and operations at Recruiting Social. He is an expert in user-centered branding, communications, and content for recruitment. Connect with Christian on LinkedIn.

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