Most Sourcing Is Painfully Dull — It’s Time to Try Some Creative Approaches

Compared to the extremely high levels of creativity and innovation that are found in marketing and product branding, the sourcing aspect of corporate recruiting would have to be given a grade of “F” when it comes to creativity and trying new sources. Using the benchmark standard, the CareerXroads annual survey of external hire sources, more than 90% of corporate hires come from traditional and well-established recruiting sources (i.e. referrals, job boards, the career site, direct sourcing, college career centers, social media, and career fairs). With the exception of possibly social media, you could hardly call any of these major sources “creative.”

In fact, because everyone uses them by definition, they can’t be creative — they are simply common. In order to be labeled as creative, sources have to be unique and infrequently used, as well as effective. For example, creative sourcing might include the use of contests, video games, radio, movie theater ads, billboards, and TV ads. Being creative in sourcing is essential for three basic reasons:

  1. No competitive advantage — if everyone else uses the same sources as you do, your firm simply cannot gain a competitive advantage over your talent competitors. Being a unique user of an effective source does provide a competitive advantage.
  2. Lost in the volume — when literally every corporation uses the same source, your message cannot easily stand out and get noticed, simply because of the volume of recruiting messages.
  3. Active only sources — when you focus so much of your sourcing on active sources (i.e. job boards, print ads, and career fairs), you are failing to reach the 80% of employed individuals who are not actively looking for a job (i.e. the so-called passives). Most creative sources reach both non-lookers and active job seekers.

A List of 20 Proven “Creative Recruiting Sources” That Most Are Not Using

Below you’ll find a list of sourcing approaches that would have to be classified as “creative” simply because so many corporations don’t have the courage to try them. A few of the firms that have tried these approaches are listed in parentheses.

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  1. YouTube videos — using employee-produced videos to show the excitement within the firm can allow you to cheaply provide authentic recruiting and employer branding messages (Deloitte, Zynga, and Hyatt)
  2. Your own contest — offering your own online technical contest allows you to assess and attract individuals who are not looking for a job, as well as to get answers to your current problems (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Quixey, and Whirlpool)
  3. Contests sponsored by others — recruiting at externally sponsored contests like cooking competitions and poker competitions can allow you to assess the work of top professionals (Harrah’s, and Microsoft, Dell, and MGM Grand)
  4. Video games — using video games to attract and excite candidates can impress individuals who love video games (U.S. Army, MITRE, and Marriott)
  5. TV/Radio — using both cable and Internet TV shows to show what it’s like to work at the firm can get a powerful message across. Targeting the specific radio stations that your prospect audience listens to can also be effective, especially for diversity prospects (Southwest Air and Zappos)
  6. Movie theater ads — placing ads between movies at movie theaters in order to attract can be effective if members of your target audience are frequent moviegoers (Southwest Air and TSA)
  7. Billboards  using highway billboards to recruit and build your employer brand can make your message visible to commuters (Google, EA and MGM Grand)
  8. Employee referral cards — providing employees with employee referral cards to give to people who impress them during their course of their day can be an inexpensive and effect sourcing tool (Apple and Southwest Airlines)
  9. “Show your work” sites — sourcing on Internet sites like Dribble and Pinterest where individuals post their actual work can allow you to assess and complement on the work of individuals who are not actively looking for a job. Recruiting on Slideshare can also be effective because you can view the presentations of the individuals that you are considering (Southwest Airlines and Work Club).
  10. Location sourcing — physically placing recruiters and recruiting signs close to competitors or where potential hires “hang out” can easily and quickly get the attention of many prospects (EA, zscaler, Google, Cake, Tokbox, TSA, and
  11. Recruiting at non-recruiting events — recruiting at events that are regularly attended by your targets including charity events, sporting events, and wine festivals can allow you to reach employed individuals who are not expecting to be recruited at these types of events. Recruiting at events held by clubs and professional associations that many prospects join can also be effective. (Google, Cisco, IBM, the U.S. Navy, and UPS).
  12. Direct mail — because almost everyone uses the Internet, sending candidate messages directly to their home can make your message stand out (FirstMerit Bank and Starr Tincup).
  13. Consumer products — placing recruiting ads or brand messaging on consumer products like pizza boxes, coffee sleeves, and gas pumps can be a subtle but effective recruiting tool (TSA and Sun).
  14. Question sites/forums — recruit individuals who continually give high quality answers on Internet questions sites like Quora and Focus and on functional forums.
  15. Use the mobile platform for messaging — the smart phone is the most powerful communications medium, simply because prospects are constantly on it and carry it with them at all times. Make sure that your corporate website is compatible with smart phones and use text, voice, and videos to communicate your message to prospects (Sodexo, the U.S. Army, and AT&T).
  16. Talent communities —  for large companies, you can develop online talent communities where you build relationships over time with a group of prospects based on learning and professional issues. Only after the professional relationship is solidified do you pursue recruiting possibilities (Microsoft and UPS).
  17. Assigned referrals — rather than waiting for employees to find a referral, when a top candidate has already been identified, the firm can use software to identify which employee has the strongest social media relationship with the target. The employee (or employees) is then given the assignment to use their connections to contact and to build a recruiting relationship with the target. (Zynga)
  18. Blogs — having your employees write blogs can send an authentic message to individuals who are not actively seeking a job (Google and Microsoft).
  19. Creating a story book — compiling and publishing a book highlighting key employee’s stories about the firm’s culture and environment is a form of authentic messaging (Zappos).
  20. Community organizations and churches — if you’re looking for entry level and hourly workers, an often overlooked source or community organizations and churches. These organizations are likely to be among the first contacted by individuals who have recently joined the community. 

Final Thoughts

If your idea of sourcing is limited to putting together a Boolean search and posting your job on a job board, your overuse of these “tired approaches” may be hurting your firm. Seventy-five percent of all hires come from the same five sources. It may be time to get a fresh perspective, so why not make a commitment to build a relationship with your product marketing and branding teams in order to identify the breath of creative approaches that they use to reach their potential customers?

If you’re not sure whether a new creative approach will work, simply survey a sample of your top employees and best hires to see if using a new source would’ve been effective in reaching and selling them? And remember to ask new hires what approaches attracted them so that you can tell if your new sources actually had a positive impact.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



15 Comments on “Most Sourcing Is Painfully Dull — It’s Time to Try Some Creative Approaches

  1. Maybe I missed it but phone sourcing was glaringly absent from your list of 20.
    Few do it and therein lies the competitive damage – oops! I mean advantage.

    “if everyone else uses the same sources as you do, your firm simply cannot gain a competitive advantage over your talent competitors. Being a unique user of an effective source does provide a competitive advantage.” ~Dr. John Sullivan, 2012

    Thanks for the message, though.

    Maureen Sharib
    Phone Sourcer
    513 899 9628

  2. Thank you for this message. There is risk in trying non-conventional approaches but there is also opportunity in going where your prospects are and competition is not.

    Other opportunities: recruiting on your local newspaper website. Check out the demographics of the readers and you’ll likely find above average incomes and education. Look at the Business section to recruit for Managers/Directors/Executives or Accounting/Finance or Sales professionals. Sports tends to be well suited for IT and Engineering professionals. Every recruitment campaign I’ve run for clients in these areas has received in the realm of 5x the industry standard response rate and in one recent case drove over 100 people to a company’s Career site in a week.

    Behavioral Targeting: there are vendors out there who follow people’s behavior on the web and can figure out who IT professionals are, for example, by the conferences the register for, sites they frequent, industry groups they are members of, etc. Can also be used for diverse talent, nurses, and other professionals.

  3. Dr. John,

    Thank you for sharing a great article regarding Creative Recruitment Sourcing. Very insightful and informative.

    Best Regards
    Sean Rego

  4. This is a really great critical look at the sometimes-stagnant world of recruiting. One channel for recruiting that contains a lot of room for creativity and innovation is social, where apps like Work for Us ( allow a lot of customization as well as intelligent targeting to certain candidates and broadcasting across other channels.

    Thanks for the great article!

  5. According to Dr. Sullivan:

    “more than 90% of corporate hires come from traditional and well-established recruiting sources (i.e. referrals, job boards, the career site, direct sourcing, college career centers, social media, and career fairs).” And ” Seventy-five percent of all hires come from the same five sources.”

    Maybe it’s because those “traditional and well-established” sources are effective.

  6. @Maureen I guess Phone Sourcing did not make the list because it’s a “creative sourcing” method that most are not using…

    @ Dr. John A lot good ideas, but some of these are a huge time suck. Most IT recruiters have a huge req load and going off the beaten path to find one candidate can cause a disruption in candidate flow. And what if that one candidate decides NOT to make a move?

    And, video games? Web design companies should have Flash based games on their careers page because it would attract the right kind of candidates.

  7. Some great ideas posted however I think that Social Media still has ways to be innovative and is probably one of the ways you really can stand out from the crowd. Taking away just advertising on Linkedin, which some may say is not “social media”, businesses have an opportunity to promote their brand via many different portals and can reach a far more targeted audience than say an advert in a newspaper or a billboard. Company facebook pages, combining brand with employment is one key area. Forums and blogs I completely agree with and if you want a “Talent community” you need a reason for them to stay and listen.

    The fastest growing websites in the world are Social media sites, being innovative using these can make you stand out and be infront of the right people. Job boards again will always continue to deliver as long as there is unemployment, again there is more to how you use a Job board rather than just posting a job and hoping for response.

  8. Michael;

    I suspect it didn’t make the list because Dr. Sullivan’s management students didn’t THINK to do it! I’m sure Dr. Sullivan learns more from his students (as all good teachers do) than they do from him!

    I envy Dr. Sullivan’s access to the brain trust though I am doubly pleased that even they didn’t think about phone sourcing. It shows just how creative, unique and elegant it really is!

    “Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful.” – Matthew E. May.

    Maureen Sharib
    Phone Sourcer
    513 899 962

  9. While traditional sources can be effective, they often do not capture the attention of the passive job seekers. In my opinion the most effective way to recruit the best candidates is through targeted searches utilizing social media, networking and competitive analysis combined. This method, while lengthy in up front time, is highly effective and reaches a pool of untapped talent. Companies grow primarily by gaining market share and what better way to help them gain market share and have a distinct advantage than recruiting directly out of their competitors. I think the days of “cold calling” out of the competition while seeming more traditional and archaic is most effective and often the least utilized method in recruiting. This method is what separates the “good from the great” in both candidates and recruiters.

    Dina Hemmi

  10. Let’s see.
    Billboards, check, did that in the late 70’s early 80’s.

    Newspaper ads, check, did that in mid 70’s

    Recruiting at non recruiting events, Check, Oh, God does this mean i have to go back to those things called the Chamber After Hours and those 5:00 AM Business Breakfast thingys, sponsor Symphony events and do those 4th of July flag waving, cow chip tossing contests. Oh Lord.

    Direct Mail, check, i know those post cards and letters are still here someplace in an old filing cabinet when we stuck them in 95′.

    Consumer Products, check, somebody find those signs we put on the city buses and in taxi’s and the airport and all that stuff we used to put on bulletin boards in college laundries and don’t forget those flyers we paid kids to put on car windows at the mall and football games and concerts.

    And while we are gasping in awe at all this new creative stuff somebody call the Donut Stop and tell them we will start sending donuts to companies with our business cards in the box every Friday morning again.

    Anybody seen my bell bottom jeans, hippie beads and i’ll be right back, running to the salon to have my hair straightened, parted in the middle and find a headband.

    Creativity rocks on man, farmhouse! Peace Out!

  11. Thanks, Dr. Sullivan.

    “A List of 20 Proven “Creative Recruiting Sources” That Most Are Not Using
    Below you’ll find a list of sourcing approaches that would have to be classified as “creative” simply because so many corporations don’t have the courage to try them.”


    Proven by whom to do what? Hire large numbers of quality people quickly and effectively? If so- I’m dubious.

    As Jim Shaw wisely said (referring to traditional methods): “Maybe it’s because those “traditional and well-established” sources are effective.”

    Fundamentally, sourcing/finding decentcandidates is NOT the current main problem. IMHO, the current main problem is getting managers to hire the kind of candiates they can reasonably expect to get with the level of compensation, benefits, etc, they have to offer. Experienced recruiters need to educate managers to get over their priveleged, entitled mentality, i.e., help them realize:
    “They (and their companies) AREN’T that special.”


    Keith “Been Super Work-Busy” Halperin

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