Candidate Spotting

There is no shortage of job applicants these days. Rather, what we have a shortage of is qualified applicants. And whenever there’s a severe shortage, posting a job often makes it worse, not better. After all, when you post you waste precious time sifting through candidates who leave you wondering why they’ve bothered to apply as they have so little in common with the job requirements.

When you base your entire recruiting strategy on job postings to attract active candidates, you are giving up control. And that is a frightening concept. You’re left hoping and wishing, if not praying, that a contender will somehow surf by your posting and be seized by the impulse to apply for your job over every other opportunity out there. It’s wishful thinking he will send his resume off into the great unknown with no guarantee any human being will ever see it or respond.

Candidate spotting is all about control. It involves identifying, profiling, and filtering passive candidates to come up with a hotlist of the most viable prospects. Instead of targeting every potential candidate at every target company, you’re going to target the passives most likely to convert to interested, qualified candidates.

To recruit passive candidates, it no longer is enough to simply ask, “who is working in similar roles at our competitors?” and then attempt to recruit those people. Because, my friends, you will waste an inordinate amount of time recruiting people who are wrong or who simply won’t respond to your outreach.

The problem with targeting everyone is that you are targeting everyone. There simply isn’t enough of you to go around. It makes no sense for you to call and email everyone, often multiple times, to transform a mountain of names into viable candidates. Who has that kind of time?

This is where most passive candidate efforts fail. Candidate spotting puts you in control and makes the recruiting of passives far more manageable because you turn that mountain of passive prospects into a molehill. You replace the shotgun approach with one more resembling a sniper.

Candidate spotting is about surveying the landscape and spotting candidates who will be more likely to be responsive and more likely to be just what you are seeking. So you start with the same list of target companies as you would with any typical sourcing project, but now you’re going to filter that list down to a select few.

I want you to start thinking like an investor picking stocks using stock filters, only you are an investor of a different kind. You are investing your time as well as your company’s money and resources to find the people your company needs to win in the marketplace.

So you take that same group of target companies out of which you plan to recruit (usually your competitors), and you filter that list down to a tight target company hotlist.

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The number and kinds of filters you employ are limited only by your imagination. That’s where the real art of candidate spotting really comes in.

  • Filter on duress. Companies that are under duress make ideal targets. Look for poor earnings reports, depressed stock prices, mergers and acquisitions, layoffs, and rumors of layoffs. We call these opportunities “swoop-ins.” People working at companies under duress are far more likely to return your recruiting calls. So set up news alerts to track all target companies. The moment a target company experiences uncertainty, target their people. If you respond more quickly than recruiters at other companies, you’ll have first mover advantage.
  • Filter on annual reviews. People often decide to leave after annual reviews. So set up alerts to follow up with candidates as those reviews are being completed. If you don’t know, they often occur at the fiscal-year end, a fact you can easily look up on information services such as Hoovers.
  • Filter on cultural fit. Find out where most of your company’s hires have come from and target those companies.
  • Filter on location. Target companies whose offices are closest to yours.

Candidate spotting also leverages candidate profiling. Names and titles are no longer enough when so much information can be had through the Internet. Taking a moment to check for available biographical information can help you prioritize hot candidates and eliminate candidates who fall short of your standards.

  • Filter out recent hires. Generally, unless a candidate has a compelling reason to leave, job-hoppers are frowned upon. So eliminate candidates who have been on the job less than two years. We mark those in our system “on the bench.”
  • Filter out odd career trajectories. Prioritize candidates whose career trajectories make sense, preferably a steady path upwards with no gaps.
  • Filter out companies with high retention. Every industry has them. These are companies that are generally the market leader and who treat their employees very, very well. Unless your company is prepared to spend what it will take to lure those candidates away, don’t waste your time.
  • Filter out anyone who lacks must-have requirements. It may seem obvious, but when you are working off a list of names and titles, it is impossible to tell who has requisite education or experience. That is why we profile candidates, aggregating available biographical information whenever possible. The moment or two it takes to quickly Google for additional information or to check LinkedIn can save you wasted effort recruiting the wrong people.
  • Filter in award-winners. Prioritize individuals who have achieved recognition in their respective fields. This also includes inventors of patents and other forms of recognition.
  • Filter in top school alumni. Prioritize individuals who have attended the best schools and with an above-average GPA. Like award-winners, attending a top school makes them stand out and more likely to get an offer over the competition.

Candidate spotting is an effective way to proactively target and recruit by finding the shortest path to the best candidates. The time to try it is when you’re not finding the candidates you need using other methods.

If you run the filters as suggested, you can narrow your target candidate list down to a hot list of the 20 or 30 most viable prospects. The technique can be applied to executive search as well as recruiting at the non-executive level.

Use candidate spotting to address a single opening or a group of openings by building out research on pools of talent and then filtering on profiles according to circumstance and your own recruitment needs.

Candidate spotting can be outsourced or done by internal search teams. However, if it’s the latter, consult with a human capital intelligence expert to uncover the subtle patterns and markers that separate the wheat from the chaff, the rock stars from the roadies, and the Prince Charmings from the toadies.

In the end, you shouldn’t have to kiss every frog to find Prince Charming. You shouldn’t have to turn over ever stone. The next time you feel as if you are, it is time to try candidate spotting.

Krista Bradford ( is the founder and CEO of The Good Search, an innovative retained executive search firm that delivers top talent clients never dreamed existed. Bradford also leads the firm's talent acquisition research and intelligence division, Intellerati, which offers services in support of corporate executive search and recruiting teams as well as diversity talent pools, succession benches, and custom intelligence that gleans competitive insights from the talent ecosystem. Prior to founding her firm more than a decade ago, Bradford served as an Emmy Award- winning investigative reporter and television journalist. She studied at Harvard University and Columbia University, ultimately obtaining her BA at The New School. Bradford is a noted recruiting industry expert, national speaker, and columnist. Her blog "The Investigative Recruiter" is counted among the recruiting industry’s Top 20 blogs.


9 Comments on “Candidate Spotting

  1. I REALLY enjoyed this article. The practical side of recruiting is really using your TIME wisely. Kim has given some solid practical ways to screen candidates.

    My number one tool in my arsenal is great management of my day. When a recruiter has a plan for each day, your effectiveness goes up exponentially. By setting aside time each day to review a couple of periodicals a day that describe the landscape of your market, you can glean information that will land solid candidates. Candidates are impressed when I know what is going on in their business. It is almost like they think you ‘KNOW’ them because you understand their business cycle or something else that is specific to that candidate.

    The culture fit filter is one that I use heavily. There are certain companies in our area that provide a similar culture that are ‘feeders’ for Quicken Loans. By networking often in the market, I have gotten to know individuals who send referalls.

    I have added ‘Candidate Spotting’ to my lexicon.

    Michael D. Lewis
    Executive Recruiter
    Quicken Loans

  2. Michael,
    I completely agree with you on the importance of planning one’s day. My team spends the last half hour of every day planning the next . . .without a plan, you focus on what’s urgent, not necessarily what’s important. We’ve actually adapted Barbara Bruno’s planner . . .its a whopping 6 pages long (which I’ve thrown into a spreadsheet to make it easier to manage). But it forces one to focus on every granular aspect of search . . .

  3. I really enjoyed reading Krista’s piece on spotting talent. I have one question, What’s the Barbara bruno Planner? I have been away from search for a couple of years and I am trying to jump start my business again. If your going to be a good hunter you need to be a great tracker.

  4. Krista’s article was fundamentally sound and re-energized some basics for me. As a recruiter for sales positions for our company, I don’t have a chance to actually ‘do the hiring’ and can simply provide candidates. The control aspect of making the hiring decision is left to the hiring managers at each of our hotels. The notion of control via candidate spotting is encouraging and again gives me some ‘influence’ in the process. Thank you Krista!

  5. That spreadsheet must be interesting! I have a recruiter who is more a salesperson – keeping him focused is an every day project; not to mention his old ‘recruiting’ habbits easily surface when pressured. Would it be possible to get a couple pointers?

    New Supervisor in the recruiting world.

  6. Excellent points, Krista. We spend so much recruiting time as the hamster on the wheel. This is a practical and applicable approach to how to identify not only the best qualified candidates, but those most likely to listen to the pitch.

    When people say they don’t have enough time, what they’re really saying is they don’t know how to effectively use their time. Or worse, that they don’t know what they’re doing but they sure know how to keep busy. We can’t afford busy, we pay for effectiveness. Thank you.

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