I’ve been recruiting for 19 years and my ears perk up when I hear a theme from Talent Leaders pop up more than a few times. Lately, what I’m hearing is that they feel they need to be more “proactive” in their recruiting efforts.

A prime example is Red Bull: their Director of Talent Bryce Murray says “we need to go on the offensive…hand-to-hand combat is needed to recruit the best.” Bryce’s vision is to proactively build the equivalent of an in-house staffing agency to reach his hiring goals (on a related note, you might enjoy the piece What Red Bull Does with their Job Descriptions).

The Fall is the time of year when the need for proactive recruiting becomes crystal clear. Between Labor Day and Christmas, two recruiting factors coincide: A) you start getting a clear picture of your performance toward your hiring goal and B) it’s usually around now that you’re asked to submit next year’s operating budget.

Most organizations ask Talent Leaders to hit aggressive hiring goals, and to do it with as lean a budget as possible. That’s no surprise. There’s no easy path to hitting aggressive goals, while keeping within a tight budget. However, many Talent Leaders believe that being more proactive in recruiting gives them more control over their team’s destiny.

Last year we learned that a typical in-house recruiter expects to manage between 15-50 requirements at a time. We all know it’s impossible to be truly focused on that number of requirements at one time. However, we do know that proactive recruiting increases the odds of filling as many of these requirements as possible simultaneously.

Having been a Director of Sales & Recruiting for a multi-billion dollar staffing agency, and spending the last 3 years of working with corporate Talent Acquisition executives, I’ve been keeping some notes on this subject.

Here are 5 ways you be a more proactive recruiter — something more like the in-house “staffing agency” that Bryce at Red Bull is building.

1. Hire “hunters” (not “farmers”)

Sounds simple, right? Well, it turns out that this step is not as simple as it seems. In the recruiting world you’ve got two very different types of recruiters, hunters and farmers.

The hunters are recruiters who know how to identify hard-to-find candidates, message them effectively to get their attention, and close them on an opportunity. Not only do hunters like this type of recruiting, they live for it. They want new challenges, and they want to be on the cutting edge. They want to work closely with hiring managers in a strategic fashion to deliver top-notch candidates. A recruiter that is a hunter is very similar in profile to a successful salesperson.

A recruiter that is a farmer brings a different value to the table. A farmer is someone that likes to immerse themselves in operational tasks, and improve on them. A farming recruiter is at their best when there is a steady quantity of candidates, and interactions with hiring managers are from a customer service perspective. Farmers are good at weeding out candidates for your “evergreen” jobs that you continuously hire for. They know those roles well, and exactly what type of candidates you are looking for. They take pride in optimizing that process to drive your business forward.

You’ll want to make sure you’ve got hunters on your team for proactive recruiting. The best place to find hunters is at staffing agencies. Recruiters who have had success in staffing agencies will typically have a hunting mentality. They have to be aggressive in order to survive. This does not mean all recruiters out of staffing agencies are hunters though, so don’t make that assumption.

If you’re looking for a hunter out of a staffing agency, there are certain things to look for. You’re looking for someone that worked at an agency for at least 3 years. You don’t want someone who tried it, but it wasn’t for them. You want someone who was successful in an agency. Look for candidates who were promoted to new roles (including outside sales). Look for candidates who hit their bonus and company incentive trips within their first 3-4 years in an agency. They are typically the folks who hustle, take direction, and make the most of any opportunity. Agency recruiting is a challenge that offers an awesome proving ground for in-house leaders to evaluate potential candidates.

Hiring a hunter from a staffing agency does come with a caution. You have to make sure you continuously put new challenges in front of them. Once they master a task, they can be bored easily. But this can be a big bonus to being more proactive as a recruiting team.

2. Master the stages of your hiring process

Most Talent Leaders are working within their organization to lay out a precise interview process. They know their target success ratios from phone screens to Trust the Processon-site interviews to the offer stage to a hire. That’s a great start, but these steps are focused on the interview process alone and don’t always zoom out to see the entire hiring process.

To start mapping out when to be proactive, provide your recruiters (and hiring managers) an understanding of your hiring process from start to finish. This will reveal opportunities at every step for being more proactive. Both your hunting and farming recruiters will have a role in being proactive through various stages of your hiring process. Include your hiring managers and their teams as well since they regularly interact with your candidates.

A full hiring process will typically include the stages outlined below. Within each stage is an example of an opportunity to be more proactive in your approach.


In many cases a candidate is not right for the specific position they applied for. However, a quick review of their profile shows that the candidate fits your general hiring criteria. You’ll want to place these candidate in proactive queue with automated job alerts. You may not have the bandwidth to call all of them individually at this stage.

Phone screen

In some cases the candidate is not right for the specific position you discussed, but appears to be a cultural fit. Place them in proactive queue for immediate review by all members of your recruiting team for other open requirements. If they are not a cultural fit, be up front with the candidate (tactfully) while notating this in your database.

Personal interview

This is a tougher one, as if you are declining them at this phase they’re likely not a cultural fit. If they are a cultural fit, but the timing wasn’t right, make sure to put them in your proactive queue with a scheduled contact point 6-12 months out. They may gain more skills in that time, as well as their situation may change.

Team interview

You want to stay focused on the candidate at this point. But you cannot miss out on the questions your team is asking in interviews about the candidate’s current and former places of work. That includes questions about the people they’ve worked for and with in the past. You need to be tactful, but it’s a good place for your hiring team to document potential referrals.


If they do not pass this phase, it’s likely due to a lack of skill in a certain area. Consider them for alternate positions, or put them in a proactive queue 6-12 months out to check on their progress in the needed skill areas. As they continue to grow their skills, they may become a better match in the future.

Offer stage

Like it or not, you may get turned down. This will happen in a competitive market. Just make sure you understand why. If it comes down to a certain level of responsibility, salary, or location you may be able to put them in a proactive queue for the future. This can be effective if handled correctly, but be careful of repeat offenders.


Make it all about the candidate. Promote them joining your team across your social networks, and make sure to tag them. Their friends and former colleagues are bound to see this, and may like a post or make a comment. Take note of any interesting folks interacting with those social posts. They could be future candidates, or know people who are. Now that they know one of your employees, a door has been opened. Make a big deal of it.


This is definitely the best opportunity you’ll have to get good referrals, so don’t miss out on it. Your new employees are excited to be at your company, and have a whole new network of family, friends, and colleagues for you to contact. Make sure you instruct them on exactly how they can help the company’s recruiting efforts with referrals during this time.

Performance reviews

You want to make reviews all about the employee, but you can still solicit referrals. These are good opportunities to point out people in the candidate’s network who your recruiting team would like to talk to. You cannot assume that individuals know exactly who would make a good referral. As part of their performance, they may have never referred anyone. Show them who is a good prospect, and how to go about referring them.

3. Source candidates by channel

Proactive Recruiting 3The obvious place to start being more proactive is sourcing. It’s usually the first thing that comes to a Talent Leader’s mind. It’s a natural thought process because it is a topic that seems easier to control. However, there is a danger that sourcing plans can be crafted with more of a checklist mentality.

To be more proactive, you’ve got to move your sourcing channels from a checklist to a strategy. You’ve got to examine every sourcing channel as part of going more proactive.

Previous applicants

I talk to Talent Leaders who freely admit that they’ve got thousands of candidates in their ATS who have not been talked to in years. And none of their recruiters are even looking for candidates in their ATS when they have new requirements come open. This is a travesty, and a complete waste of time for both parties. Mine that database. It’s yours, and there’s gold in there.

Sourced candidates

There’s so much more to recruiting than running a search on LinkedIn. No one understands this better than recruiters that are hunters. Work with your hiring managers to identify companies they want to see candidates from. Then make a list of target candidates, and who in your company has a connection with them. Compose a good message, and you’re off and running.

Pipeline candidates

More often than not Talent Leaders say they have no pipeline to speak of. Thus, they have the desire to get more proactive in recruiting. Start out small first, and look at your own team. If you have 5 recruiters on your team, each should know at least 5-10 candidates they’ve met with this year who they would like to get hired in the future. That’s 25-50 people right there. Add them to a Google Doc or Excel spreadsheet, and you’ve started a pipeline. Start simple.

Inbound candidates

Most companies have candidates coming from CareerBuilder, Craigslist, Dice, Indeed, LinkedIn, Monster, and the list goes on. The majority of these candidates will never see the light of day in your hiring process. There’s a ton of volume, and not enough time to eyeball every candidate. However, you must make sure that each applicant gets at least an automated response (better than nothing). You must also make sure they populate into your searchable database where they can be found by your recruiters working on new requirements which could be more fitting for each candidate.

Referred candidates

Candidates hired via referral account for 25% of hires, and perhaps much higher in some companies. The key here is to help people in your company identify people in their network you would like to get to know. There are several tools you can buy to do this, but nothing beats sitting down with your employees and talking them through it. Once you show them the profiles you’re looking for, and give them a good message to send, you’ll start getting more folks on-board with referring good candidates.

Social candidates

You should frequently post updates across all relevant social networks. Updates should come from official company accounts as well as department accounts, and also from personal accounts. The key is to publish relevant content providing an authentic look at the people and culture of your company. And make sure you tag all appropriate people in each update. This opens the door to dialogue. You listen to others talking about the person that was tagged, or about your company. You then have your opportunity to engage the friends and colleagues of your employees in a useful way.

4. Build a pipeline systematically

I hear that their recruiters are busy managing multiple requirements, that they have difficult hiring managers to deal with, or that the market is tight for top talent.

The bottom line though is that there really is no excuse for not building a pipeline of candidates through proactive recruiting.

It’s an opportunity that will pay off over time, and provide more control.

There’s also a ton of ways to do it easier than in years past. Start with some simple steps, and get more advanced as your team gains their footing.

Here are the pipeline approaches I’ve found most successful:

Determine your “evergreen” requirements

Most companies have roles which they will hire for on a continuous basis. These roles are typically in the Sales and Technology departments of organizations. These are the absolute perfect places to invest your time in proactive recruiting. If your team hires for similar skills often, start there. If not, start with the most mainstream requirements you have.

Create your process before selecting a technology

You don’t need to spend $7K per year for a seat of LinkedIn Recruiter to build a pipeline. In fact, I’d argue you don’t need to pay for any service at all to start building a pipeline. Google Docs creates shareable documents your team can use to start building a pipeline…for free. As you gain more mastery and consistency, then think about spending money on a “Talent CRM” that fits your organization.

Pipeline days

Give applicable recruiters on your team 1 day every 2 weeks dedicated to do nothing but proactively recruit. Leave meetings off of the calendar, and give them room to mine your database, reach out to long lost connections, or build a target list of candidates from desirable companies. You’ll certainly want to measure progress being made on these days, but give them the runway to be creative.

Open your doors

There’s no better way to show candidates what life is like at your company than inviting them to an event at your office. You can go as big as hosting a meetup, have an open house for undergrads, or simply invite candidates over for a cup of coffee. The best way to build more interest with candidates is to spend time with them on your turf.

Record everything

Employer branding is a hot topic in the world of recruiting. Candidates want to know more about who they would work for, what types of challenges they’d be faced with, and how your company makes the world a better place. By recording everything you can show them your culture, and help drive your employer brand. Take lots of pictures at events and record short video clips of your team’s interacting. Make sure it’s authentic, but true to your brand. This helps you develop great content to share with prospects that will get their attention.

Share best practices

You want everyone on your team to hear stories about what’s working. This is especially true when it results in a great hire. Recruiters will adopt practices they see working, and sharing best practices is a great way to accomplish this. It doesn’t always have to be about hires either. It can be incredibly effective to show your team what a good pipeline of candidates looks like, and how the pipeline was built. Seeing is believing.

5. Hold yourself and team accountable

Doing the 4 steps above won’t matter if you don’t hold yourself and your team accountable.

It starts with you — you gotta stand up in front of your team and show what proactive steps you’re taking (like the 4 above).

You need team meetings (daily huddles) and individual meetings (I find weekly to work well) to measure your progress.

Management guru Peter Drucker famously said, “what gets measured gets managed”

If you’ve ever worked in a staffing agency, you know that daily standup meetings are vital to success. Recruiters report to the team on their daily progress, including activity numbers and candidates in progress. This is an opportunity to build a candidate pipeline as an in-house team. Recruiters have a forum to exchange ideas on sourcing and closing candidates.

They’ll also recommend candidates to other recruiters for positions that may be a better fit. As a Talent Leader, standup meetings can provide a great venue for highlighting positive outcomes which motivates the recruiting team as well.

Individual pipeline reviews are also important. Individual meetings are an opportunity to empower your recruiters, as well as learn more about them. They should come to the meeting understanding their priorities, and having an action plan ready. This puts the power in their hands, and helps them be more in control. That’s what you want as a leader. The more you know about their goals, the more you can point them toward success.

And, of course, you should be responsible for covering the team’s progress towards goals as it is you who is accountable for the team’s success.


Ongig is the first ever Employer Branding SaaS — it allows enterprises to create, distribute and measure interactive job descriptions at scale. American Express, Autodesk, Intel and Yelp are among the early users of the Ongig SaaS.

by in Recruiters