Recruiters succeed where applicant tracking systems (ATS) fail. While ATS have the ability to store and sift through resumes based on desired skills, they alone cannot make final judgment calls about candidates. Because applicant tracking systems have flaws, thankfully, recruiters do not rely solely upon them for finding candidates.

Recruiters use a variety of sourcing techniques to find strong candidates for jobs. As a job seeker, you should always compare your resume against job descriptions when you apply to jobs online. But, understanding the other ways in which recruiters search for candidates can help you conduct a thorough job search beyond applying to advertised positions.

Types of recruiters

There are two primary types of recruiters: agency or internal. Both types of recruiters fulfill staffing needs but who they staff for is different. Agency recruiters work at staffing firms that specialize in finding candidates within a specific industry. While they usually specialize in an industry like marketing or technology, they recruit for multiple, if not dozens of companies within that given field. Internal recruiters work for only one company, providing hiring support for a variety of open roles within their company.

Agency recruiters often focus on depth, i.e. finding Java developers if they work for a technical staffing firm, while internal recruiters focus on breadth, i.e. finding both a sales manager and a public relations specialist for their company. Most companies utilize a combination of internal and agency recruiters for any given role.

Whether they work for an agency or a company, most recruiters use a combination of these techniques to find candidates:

1. Job boards and career sites

Recruiters often rely upon sites such as Career Builder, Monster, Dice, and Indeed to find candidates who aren’t in their internal applicant tracking system. Unlike a company ATS, which only contains the resumes of candidates who have applied to jobs at their company, job board and career site databases contain millions of resumes that span different industries, experience levels, and geographical locations. They are a gold mine for recruiters trying to find the perfect candidate for a role.

Large career sites such as Career Builder facilitate a passive approach to landing jobs by asking you, the user, to upload your resume into their database. Resumes stored into their database are then available to recruiters and companies who pay for access to search their bank of resumes.

Uploading your resume to career boards is particularly good if you’re a candidate who prefers a passive job search. If you’re in no rush to leave your current role but would move companies for the right opportunity, this is way to keep that possibility open. Having your resume in these databases means recruiters can find you if there’s an opportunity that might be a good match for your qualifications. Take the time to craft an outstanding resume that recruiters won’t pass up once they’ve got it in their hands.

On these job boards, your resume will likely be searched with a Boolean or string search, meaning a combination of keywords and phrases in a search will result in your resume coming to the top of the pile. It’s important to tailor your resume to your desired job title before hosting it on a job board so your matches are accurate and you’re being seen in the system.

2. LinkedIn

One of the most popular recruiting tools these days is LinkedIn because of its ease of use. LinkedIn makes it easy for recruiters, who usually have a Recruiter account, to search for candidates based on their work history, job title, or college. One of the primary advantages for recruiters is finding qualified candidates on LinkedIn who would be otherwise impossible to locate because they aren’t actively looking for jobs. Same goes here as job boards: make sure your LinkedIn profile accurately represents what you’re looking for, so that you’re showing up in recruiter searches.

Update your LinkedIn profile regularly, providing a detailed account of your work history and professional accomplishments. Even if you are happily employed, LinkedIn is a priceless tool for future job hunts and a great way to stay in touch with your professional network—and there’s always a chance that a recruiter will contact you about an opportunity you wouldn’t have otherwise heard about.

If you’re an active job seeker, join—and participate in—relevant LinkedIn groups. To start, look for groups related to your industry, alma mater, or geographic area. Bulk up your profile by taking steps such as adding your volunteer work or attaching work samples. Network with professionals in your field and search for recruiters that staff for positions in your industry. Be proactive and let them know you’re open to hearing from potential recruiters.

3. Applicant tracking systems

At some point in their search, most recruiters will run keyword searches to find candidates in their applicant tracking system (ATS). ATS parse resumes submitted online and store the information in their database. When a recruiter has an open role, they can easily run keyword searches in the ATS and it will populate and rank a list of candidates whose resumes contain those keywords.

The best way to rank highly in applicant tracking systems is to make sure the content of your resume closely matches the job description. To see how well your resume is aligned with a job, try the resume analysis tool from Jobscan. By optimizing your resume keywords the first time you submit your resume to a company, you should come up as a candidate for future opportunities that also closely match your skill set.

4. Networking events

While technology has made it easier to both find jobs and find candidates, it hasn’t replaced the value of face-to-face networking. Job fairs, conferences, meet-ups, and other industry networking events are still the best way to make connections, for both recruiters and candidates. Specific industry or event-related networking opportunities are always best, recruiters are everywhere and impressing them with industry know-how before you mention you’re on the hunt makes a lasting impression.

Recruiters attend these types of events to:

  • Network with active job seekers
  • Meet professionals in the industry they staff for
  • Identify candidates who are strongly engaged for future hiring purposes
  • Learn more about positions in the field that they hire for

Active job seekers should attend these events to make as many connections as possible with recruiters and professionals in their industry. Bring plenty of business cards and copies of your networking resume, but remember to play it cool and don’t act like you’re looking to take advantage. Networking is all about the relationship.

After networking events, follow up with the contacts you made while they still have you fresh in their memory. For non-active job seekers, attend one or two industry events a year just to stay abreast of new developments in your field and expand your professional network. Those contacts may come in handy at a future time when you are looking for new opportunities.

5. Employee referrals

Recruiters love working with candidates referred to them by internal employees at their company, or candidates they’ve previously placed. Referrals tend to be strong candidates because they’re reliable enough to that someone is willing to vouch for them. In order to attract more referral candidates, many companies offer a monetary incentive for their employees to recommend people from their network for open roles. Recruiters can save a lot of time hunting down candidates when they get referrals passed along to them.

The moral of the story for job seekers is that it’s not only what you know, but who you know. Tell your family and friends when you are looking for new opportunities in case they hear of anything. Personal connections make a huge difference when you are looking for a job. 80 percent of open positions are never even advertised, according to Forbes. Instead of just tapping into the 20 percent of jobs that anyone can apply for online, tap into your network and ask if everyone you know if they can refer you to a hiring manager or recruiter at their company. Truly, ask everyone – just do it politely. Research has shown that acquaintances—whose social and professional circles don’t have as much overlap with yours as those of your close friends and family—are more likely to connect people to new jobs.

Recruiting is really like sales, recruiters are selling you the position and selling candidates to the Hiring Managers. Most recruiters, regardless of whether they work internally for a company or at an agency, will engage in multiple sourcing techniques so they can find the best possible candidates to sell upwards. Understanding how recruiters find candidates can help you, as a job seeker, speed up the process and probability of finding an opportunity you love.

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James Hu

James Hu is the founder and CEO of Jobscan, a web tool that helps job seekers land interviews by optimizing resume keywords.

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