Tapping the top 3 sources of high-quality candidates

Posted by Robin Erickson and Denise Moulton on July 06, 2017.

Organizations use a variety of sourcing strategies to attract and engage top talent. However, some sources are more effective than others at identifying high-quality candidates.


Even highly regarded or highly sought-after employers cannot always feel confident that their talent pipeline is sufficiently full of the right candidates they need at the right time. Recruiting is an essential HR and business function, and can be challenging and time consuming. During a typical 40-hour work week, junior recruiters effectively spend one-half of their time (18 to 23 hours per week) identifying which candidates to contact. For senior recruiters, the majority of time (estimated at 12 to 15 hours per week) is spent engaging known talent from their network1. An Aberdeen study found that 62 percent of organizations consider sourcing to be the biggest talent acquisition challenge.2

Organizations employ many sourcing strategies to attract and engage top talent—some are more effective than others. In our study of 11 common sourcing channels, we found that an organization’s own employees provide high-quality candidates, with about one-half of surveyed organizations (51 percent) citing employee referrals as one of their top three best sourcing channels (see Figure 1)3. Rounding out the top three are professional networking sites (42 percent) and internal candidates (40 percent) as the next two highest sources of quality candidates.

Figure 1. The Top Sources Organizations Use to Yield the Highest-Quality Hires4

Source: Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP 2017.

At the top: A high cost-to-value ratio
Tapping current employees to source new candidates is a viable recruiting strategy for many reasons:

  • Strong return on investment—Bersin research found that 9 percent of the overall spend for sourcing went to employee referrals, delivering 16 percent of new hires.5
  • Good cultural fit— employees tend to refer candidates with similar skills and attributes.
  • Access to specialized or hard-to-find skills—people typically network with others in similar roles.
  • Long-term effectiveness—one study showed a 42 percent retention rate after three years for employees hired through employee referral programs vs.32 percent for employees hired through job boards and 14 percent for career site hires.6

A tip for tapping in: Offering rewards for employees who refer candidates that become new hires can be a fraction of the cost of conventional recruiting. In addition to monetary incentives (which might be scaled based on job level or urgency/difficulty in filling the position), organizations may wish to consider non-monetary awards such as an extra day off, corporate “swag,” or public recognition. In addition, organizations may help drive even greater participation in employee referral programs by including incentives (e.g., a raffle for all those who participate or a luncheon with leadership) to any employee that participates in the program itself, regardless of whether or not the referred candidate is hired.

At No. 2: Online find
Talent Acquisition (TA) functions recognize the low-cost and high-touch advantages of professional networking sites for identifying quality candidates. According to our research, 10 percent of total hires comes from professional networking sites, with 12 percent of the spending allocation.7

A tip for tapping in: To remain competitive, recruiters nowadays are continuously expanding their use of social media sites for sourcing. Given the shift is now more mainstream than unique, many solution providers have found that they need to include access to these options in their offerings to remain competitive. Organizations should assess the viability of these offerings as they evaluate technology options.

At No. 3: Inside job
Though TA functions allocate only 6 percent of their spending to this source, internal candidates also form the third largest sourcing channel, filling 14 percent of all job openings.8
Sourcing internally has important benefits, including eliminating the additional costs of recruiting and onboarding externally, and decreased time to productivity. In addition, internal hires:

  • Require significantly less time to adapt to a new position.
  • Receive better performance reviews.
  • Are generally paid 18 percent to 20 percent less than external hires.9

A tip for tapping in: Progressive TA functions know that sourcing internally not only fills vacant positions but also helps to bolster employee engagement and foster innovation with an influx of fresh ideas. In addition, sourcing internally may provide business leaders a perfect opportunity to become more familiar with talent they normally would not have known existed10. Lastly, fostering a culture that prioritizes and promotes internal mobility goes a long way toward building a “simply irresistible” organization.11

New research available
Leveraging high-quality sourcing channels is just one of the topics discussed in a new three-part series of Bersin by Deloitte publications focused on Strategic Talent Sourcing. For the executive summary of these reports, check out the complimentary WhatWorks® Brief, Reignite Talent Sourcing.

Robin Erickson, Ph.D. directs Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Talent Acquisition, Engagement, and Retention research. Recognized as a Talent thought leader, she advises Bersin members, conducts industry surveys, writes reports, and develops frameworks and tools.

Contributor: Denise Moulton, mid-market HR and talent research leader, Bersin by Deloitte.


1How Much Time Do Recruiters Spend Not Filling Jobs, Hirabl / Cale Donovan, 2016, http://www.hirabl.com/blog/2016/5/3/how-much-time-do-recruiters-spend-not-filling-jobs.
2What Is Your Most Effective Source Of Hire?, Aberdeen Group, 2013, http://web.jobvite.com/rs/jobvite/images/Aberdeenpercent20Sourcingpercent20Report.pdf.
3Bersin by Deloitte Talent Acquisition Benchmarking Data, 2014.
4Ibid.
5For more information, The Talent Acquisition Factbook® 2011: Benchmarks and Trends in Spending, Staffing and Key Recruiting Metrics, Bersin & Associates / Karen O’Leonard, November 2011. Available to research members at www.bersin.com/library or for purchase at www.bersin.com/tafactbook.
6Katherine Jones, Ph.D., & Kim Lamoureux, Creating an Employee Referral Program: Guideline for Getting Started, Bersin by Deloitte, December 2013.
7Talent Acquisition Factbook: Benchmarks and Trends in Spending, Staffing, and Key Recruiting Metrics, Bersin by Deloitte / Jennifer Krider, Karen O’Leonard, and Robin Erickson, PhD, 2015.
8Ibid.
9Weighing Internal vs. External Hires, SHRM / Eric Krell, January 2015, https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-magazine/ pages/010215-hiring.aspx?.
10High-Impact Sucession Management: The Performance Model, Bersin by Deloitte, February 2017.
11Josh Bersin, “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement,” Deloitte Review, Issue 16, Deloitte University Press, January 26, 2015, http://d2mtr37y39tpbu.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/DR16_becoming_irresistible.pdf.

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