In 1941, the codebreaking centre at Bletchley Park used an unconventional technique to recruit new codebreakers: a crossword puzzle. It was a simple but effective strategy – they asked The Daily Telegraph to organise a crossword competition and then approached the best contestants about a job.

More than 80 years later, recruiters are still trying to come up with creative ways to source qualified leads.

We’ve seen a variety of creative candidate sourcing strategies in recent years that range from totally genius to slightly creepy, depending on your opinion. IKEA created a recruitment campaign where they slipped job advertisements in the style of their furniture building instructions into customers’ packages. Google has hired programmers using their search history. Other organisations have even made headlines for using Tinder to find internship candidates.

Of course, not every organisation can publish a cryptic crossword in a national newspaper or look at programmers’ search habits. Instead, here’s our list of the best creative candidate sourcing strategies that your business can actually try out in 2023.

But first, what do we mean by candidate sourcing?

Candidate sourcing, also sometimes called talent sourcing, is defined as the process of identifying and qualifying candidates who have not directly applied to a role. These can be both active candidates (job seekers who are actively searching for a new job) or passive candidates (people who are not currently searching for new opportunities).

Talent sourcing can be somewhat difficult and time consuming as it requires recruiters to seek out passive candidates who may require some persuading to leave their current jobs. It even takes time and resources to identify active candidates who are searching for a new job but have not applied to any of your open positions.

However, the benefits of candidate sourcing often outweigh these costs. Talent sourcing means that you can improve the quality of hire, improve efficiency, and boost retention, saving you time and money in the long run. Moreover, it can help you build a more diverse and inclusive workforce. And, while candidate sourcing takes time, it can still speed up time-to-hire and cost-per-hire.

Candidate sourcing is a great way to make your recruitment process more proactive and effective. So, what are the best and most creative strategies for sourcing candidates in 2023? Let’s take a look at some of the obvious and less obvious strategies.

Review your talent pool 

The first step when devising a new creative strategy for candidate sourcing is to take stock of what you’re already doing. Your organisation probably already has a talent pool with information about past applicants, events and career fairs attendees, and various other sources. Your first step for boosting your candidate sourcing strategy is to make sure you’re using your talent pool in the most effective way.

Having a lot of individuals in your talent pool is a great first step, but what are you doing to differentiate them and get top talent into your talent pipeline? The next step is to start segmenting talent. Categorise or tag your potential candidates based on their skills or experience level, location, role type, and more. This makes it easier to view the types of candidates at a glance and identify promising individuals for particular roles.

Want to learn more about talent pooling? Check out our guide to building a talent pool and our guide to talent pools and GDPR.

Keep an eye on the not-yet-qualified 

The best candidate sourcing strategies work in the long term, coming to fruition over months and years. One step to improve your sourcing is to identify promising future candidates who do not currently have the experience or skills necessary for the roles, but will in a few years’ time.

Identifying these individuals (usually students or new graduates) early on allows you to add them to the talent pool, keep these passive candidates engaged with your organisation, and maybe eventually hire them before they are snapped up by another organisation. By building relationships early in their careers and then tracking their progress, you can increase the likelihood of hiring these high-potential candidates later on.

Yes, it’s extra work, but it’s worth it to be sourcing candidates who are the best and brightest young talent and may be the perfect culture fit but just need a little more experience before they join the company.

Plus, you can do this easily with the Hireserve ATS talent pool management tool, which allows you to create and manage bespoke talent pools with ease.

Want to learn more about graduate sourcing using your applicant tracking system? Check out our three-part guide to graduate recruitment for SMEs, focusing on how to attract recently graduated applicants, providing a great candidate experience in the application process, and boosting retention of these candidates.

Advertise where your ideal candidates are

One mistake that recruiters often make is always using the same channels to advertise job vacancies. This comes from the reasonable impulse to cast a wide net — after all, the more potential applicants see your job opening, the more likely you are to get great job candidates applying, right?

While publicising all roles on the same job boards and social media accounts can sometimes be effective, our research shows that different types of candidates have very different job search habits, and keeping your target audience in mind is a good way to reach the right people.

For example, our research has shown some key differences between older and younger candidates. For example, out of candidates over the age of 55, 80% would look at a company’s website to research a job, but only 59% would look at the company’s careers section compared to nearly 80% of younger respondents. Furthermore, younger candidates were more likely to research an organisation on social media, while less than a third of 55+ candidates would do so. 55% of 18-24 year old candidates would directly contact a company to find out more about a role, whereas only 12% of older candidates would do so.

This has implications for how you source candidates for different types of roles. For more junior roles aimed at younger demographics, advertising on social media and your careers page is key, whereas advertising more senior roles is less likely to be successful on social media.

And don’t forget that not all social media platforms are used equally by different age groups. The most common Facebook user is a man aged 25-34, making up over 18% of users. Usage drops off sharply for those who are 35 and over, while the younger generations also tend to use Facebook less. Similarly, 38.5% of Twitter users are 25-35 years old.

On the other hand, the story is vastly different for TikTok. 23.8% of TikTok users are 18-24 year old women and 17.9% are 18-24 year old men, making this platform’s user base substantially younger.

If you’re using social media in your efforts to source candidates, this is important to keep in mind. Creating content highlighting your company culture or advertising job vacancies is a great idea — but you need to make sure it’s in the right places for your target demographic.

Create a challenge

On the whole, recruiters want to make the application and hiring process as simple and easy as possible. In this era of short attention spans and highly discerning candidates, you don’t want to make potential candidates jump through too many hoops or they’ll give up on their application.

Or, so we once thought.

Now, it’s becoming increasingly clear that creating a challenge in the application process can be a great way to source the ideal candidates.

Remember the Google recruitment technique which we mentioned earlier, where a great candidate was identified through their search habits? The candidate was identified because they were searching for information related to a programming language, but that wasn’t the end of the process. Google showed them a message saying ‘You’re speaking our language. Up for a challenge?’ This took them to a series of programming challenges, and then after completion the candidate was approached by a Google recruiter. Sounds pretty similar to the Bletchley Park crossword recruitment strategy, right?

This example shows that sometimes offering a challenge can be a great way to engage passive candidates, even if they are not actively looking for a job. The challenge screens them and produces qualified candidates who are interested enough in the role to complete the task.

Of course, this only works in some industries and job roles, and must be highly personalised to the job and the type of candidates you want to attract. But if you’re looking for a creative and unique way to attract the right candidates, sharing a challenge or brain-teaser on your social media or careers website, or even organising a hackathon or similar event might be a good option.

Revamp your LinkedIn content, not just the job listings

With 52 million people looking for their new job on LinkedIn each week, this social media platform cannot be ignored in your candidate sourcing techniques. However, there’s more to LinkedIn than simply posting job adverts. This professional social media is a great way to engage and re-engage passive candidates by creating great content that shows off your employer brand. Research shows that the platform’s engagement increased by 22% in 2022, showing that LinkedIn is increasingly being used to network, share ideas, and build communities.

67% of recruiters say that people hired using LinkedIn are higher quality than those hired using other job boards, so it’s worth investing in your LinkedIn candidate sourcing. To get started, read our ultimate guide to creating the best LinkedIn company page.

Write the ultimate job descriptions

Basic? Yes. Essential? Absolutely.

While writing good job descriptions seems almost too obvious to include on this list, we’ve decided to put it here because we can’t overstate how important a good job description is. The job description shouldn’t be filled with jargon or vague ideas; it should give a clear and realistic idea of a role’s duties and expectations.

However, don’t get too bogged down in the specifics of the role. The job description has a second function: to use its language and tone to convey something about the organisation, the open role, and the type of candidate they want to recruit.

For example, in 2019, Twitter advertised the role ‘Tweeter in Chief’ which used a playful job description to convey the type of person they wanted. The first line said:

‘Tweet Tweet. You’ll be our @Twitter on Twitter. Our Tweeter in Chief. You’ll set the tone of who we are and how we act, and talk to people on Twitter. No big deal.’

Twitter’s quirky job advert made the news, gaining attention from many people who weren’t even looking for a new job. By taking a leaf out of Twitter’s book, you can ensure that your job descriptions go above and beyond simply describing the job and instead communicate what it would be like to work in the role.

Tap into pop culture

Some of our favourite examples of creative candidate sourcing are where an organisation has taken inspiration from pop culture and current trends to make their recruitment marketing fun.

One shining example is Waste Creative’s Animal Crossing recruitment campaign. The agency created a virtual replica of their office in the video game Animal Crossing in the summer of 2020, a time when many people were isolating in their homes and playing the popular game.

With interest in augmented reality, virtual reality, and the metaverse growing, it’s no surprise that other organisations are using these in their recruitment efforts with virtual office tours and more.

Of course, it’s not always possible to start recruiting in the metaverse or recreate your company’s office in a video game, but these examples show that being creative with your candidate sourcing can be a real success. Thinking outside the box and taking inspiration from current trends could be a great way to enhance your talent sourcing. Don’t forget to check out our guide to the Dos and Don’ts of recruitment marketing to ensure your efforts lead to hiring success.

Take candidate sourcing to the next level

While some of the old strategies for candidate sourcing are still as important as ever (great job descriptions and employee referrals will always be useful), creative methods of sourcing candidates are a great way to stand out. With these tips for inspiration, you can reinvigorate your talent sourcing strategy and make sure there are always promising candidates in the pipeline for your company to recruit.

Looking for extra help sourcing the best potential candidates? We designed Hireserve ATS to help with all your talent sourcing and recruitment needs. From helping you manage bespoke talent pools, automating posting to social media and job boards, and much more, our applicant tracking system is a must-have tool for recruiters and hiring managers.

Want to see how it works? Request a demo today and get ready to transform your candidate sourcing in 2023.

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.