Candidate Spotting | How to Spot Ideal Candidates
March 11, 2021
by Krista Bradford

Candidate Spotting

by Krista Bradford  (Originally published on, the article has since been updated)

Empowered Recruiting

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.


LinkedIn’s Illusion of Control

With more than 740 million members on LinkedIn alone, clearly, it offers no shortage of potential candidates. And that’s the problem. All the candidates you don’t want get in the way of the candidate you desperately need.


Job Postings Offer No Control

When you base your entire recruiting strategy on job postings to attract active candidates, you are giving up control entirely. 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. Top-performing candidates rarely want or need to apply for a job. Rather, the opportunities come to them.


Job Postings Make more work

Posting a job opening often makes matters worse. Because virtually anyone can apply to a job, they do submit their applications even when they bear no resemblance to the job description. They leave you wondering why they’ve bothered to apply in the first place.


AI Discriminates

Of course, AI-powered solutions have been designed to filter out unqualified job applicants. But there have been numerous reports of AI run amok — discriminating against applicants because, in the eyes of artificial intelligence, the most qualified candidates look and act a lot like a white guy.

Reuters, an international news organization, has reported that Amazon scrapped its AI recruiting tool because it showed bias against women. Of course, companies have since come along, offering AI solutions to detect discrimination in the hiring process. But, so far, extreme caution is advised. Companies using any of these AI tools risk possible litigation should bias be discovered in the AI algorithm.


Titles not a Sourcing Strategy

To recruit passive candidates, it no longer is enough to simply ask, “what potential candidates are working in similar roles at our competitors?” and then to 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 with a certain title is that you are targeting everyone. There simply isn’t enough of you to go around. Who has that kind of time?

It makes no sense for you to call and email everyone, often multiple times, to transform a mountain of names into viable candidates. This is where most passive candidate efforts fail.

Again, candidate spotting is designed to put you in control and makes the recruiting of passives far more manageable by turning that mountain of passive prospects into a molehill. You turn an unruly endless list of candidates into a tight list of the best-of-the-best.

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.

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.


Top Talent Signals

  • Filter for excellence. Look for evidence in social media profiles or resumes that indicates the person is a top performer. Look for an upward career trajectory. Does the person progress to more senior roles with greater responsibility? Allow for legitimate sideways, lattice-like moves on the career ladder for young parents or periods when a worker returns to school. Adjust for glass ceilings for under-represented candidates, reaching down a level to off-set discrimination that slowed their progress. Also, look for honors, awards, research publications, and patents that matter.
  • Filter for 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 a first-mover advantage.
  • Filter for 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 for cultural fit with care. Prioritize recruiting from companies that are a cultural fit. You can set a strategy to examine where most of your company’s hires have come from and target those companies. But take care to avoid interpreting cultural fit as “candidates who look like us”.
  • Filter for location. Prioritize recruiting from companies whose offices are closest to yours. Doing so avoids the issue of relocation, speeding time to hire.

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 the Noise

  • 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 for less than two years. We mark those in our system “on the bench.”
  • Filter out odd career trajectories. Avoid unexplained gaps between jobs without a decent explanation. Avoid a crazy quilt of jobs that have no relationship to one another, suggesting the person hasn’t yet figured out what he or she wants to do. It is okay for people to change careers, but the story of their work must make sense. They must evolve.
  • 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 the 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.

Candidate Spotting Benefits

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 hotlist 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.

You shouldn’t have to leave “no stone unturned”. The next time you feel as if you are, it is time to try candidate spotting. For more on how to find the best candidates, check out our post How to Crush Candidate Sourcing.

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