Essential Research Tools Every Recruiter Should Utilize

While data from CareerBuilder shows that 52% of employers currently use social networking sites to research job candidates, up significantly from 43% last year, that still leaves roughly one half who unfortunately aren’t doing so. In today’s world, there’s simply no excuse to ignore the vast array of useful technological tools to research candidates for your most critical hires.

However, the range of tools available is enormous, ever-changing and evolving. Additionally, the technology that delivers these tools has changed dramatically, allowing the profession to search for candidates in different ways. For instance, per data cited in a recent webinar, since 45% of active candidates have applied for a job via a mobile device and 60% of passive candidates view career opportunities sent to their mobile device, it’s become much more important to make job postings and career websites mobile-friendly. That’s why determining which tools to use to is often so challenging.

The overall goal of this article is to describe broad categories of recruitment tools available so that readers who are corporate buyers of recruitment consulting services will know the right questions to ask when interviewing external recruitment/search vendors about their experience and qualifications in using these tools. Recognizing that every search is unique, just as every position and its associated challenges are unique, our intent is to provide a general guide when embarking on a relationship with an external executive search consultant. We’ll also cover savvy ways that capable recruiters can shortcut a search or bypass a dead end when working on a particularly difficult search.

Change is constant

Compared to even five years ago, literally hundreds of new tools have been brought to market. According to Towers Watson, the recruitment technology industry is now a $8.1 billion industry (for further reading, link here).  Some tech providers tout sophisticated algorithms to find passive candidates; others aim to streamline the process. Much attention, in particular, is being paid to technologies that meet the “2-3 thumb swipe rule” by engaging candidates who view job postings and emails on their smartphones by minimizing click-throughs.toby

While every search firm may subscribe to different products, at a minimum they ought to be able to prove their expertise in advertising the position in the most effective and targeted manner possible (see sidebar) and prove their prowess within three different categories of tools.  These tools are by no means mutually exclusive nor do they all necessarily need to be employed in the context of a single search. The specific tools a recruiter selects when starting a search should always be the culmination of a measured and strategic decision based on the likelihood that a combination of particular tools will turn up the best candidates in the shortest possible timeframe.

Before even turning to the selection of tools, however, every reputable search firm will insist on a pre-search kick-off meeting with their client to discuss the ideal candidate for the job, compensation, as well as the corporate culture, potential challenges, etc.  One of the critical outcomes of this meeting is a position profile written to attract potential candidates and to develop a “value proposition”.  As a next step, savvy recruiters will also create something we refer to as a “sizzle sheet” for advertising and research purposes, and when contacting candidates by phone. Only then do we turn to selecting tools from the following general categories described below:


Tracking – whether in the form of a candidate relationship management (CRM) system or an applicant tracking system (ATS) – is vital. So, before engaging an outside search consultant, make sure that they are using one. It is also quite common and advantageous to have contract recruiters use your organization’s ATS system so that you are able to retain all the information on each contact for future openings. As for retained searches, we make it a practice to provide our client with a “dashboard report” identifying all of the candidates we have contacted.  Also make sure to ask about a potential vendor’s own proprietary database. At TalentRISE, we maintain and update a database of nearly 400,000 names which we mine as a first step when assigned any search. This database has proven to be invaluable as we continue to build groups of candidates by function and geography, experience and expertise.

Public/Social Business Networks and Forums

Social networks, with LinkedIn Corporate Edition leading the pack, are some of the best tools that recruiters can use to find passive candidates via their digital footprint. Examples of such networks include chat rooms, association forums, and LinkedIn groups. We also use listservs to communicate with groups, especially academic forums, about job openings. A recent example of a search in which a listserv played a useful role was for a job with a specialized medical organization requiring a PhD. By leveraging highly specialized academic listservs, we were able to identify qualified candidates.

Be sure to ask a prospective vendor which networks they will use to find candidates for your specific open position. Depending on the functional role you are filling, ask your potential vendor about their expertise with directories such as  Ziggs, Zoominfo, Jigsaw and Spoke. And does the consultant make it easy for individuals to share opportunities through their own personal social media channels with their colleagues?  Depending on the level of the position, don’t discount the value of Facebook – while a VP of Engineering is not a likely target on Facebook, success can be found with more junior level technology positions.

Thought Leadership and Media

A category of tools less frequently utilized but perhaps even more useful than that offered by social networks mines potential candidates’ contributions and quotes in the media as well as their current employers’ websites and blogs. Self-published blogs, articles, personal websites and twitter feeds are also valuable for research and will often lead the way to the ideal candidate.

Typically, a recruiter will search under certain keywords to find a candidates who has published on a specific topic. For example, when looking for a consultant with expertise in healthcare management on behalf of one of our clients in the professional services field, our researchers may search for articles in healthcare management publications and then do further research on the most frequent and prominent authors, speakers at conferences or individuals who are quoted as experts in their field. Similarly, we will often monitor twitter feeds as well as blogs to research and identify individuals who stand out as thought leaders and may fit the qualifications of our clients’ job description. Various tools, such as Broadlook/Capture streamline the process of filtering such information from what often ends up being hundreds of sources.

Correcting Course

As we all know, things don’t often go as planned. In anticipation of Murphy’s Law, it’s also important to question your consultant about their “Plan B” if and when a particular search tool strategy does not yield the anticipated results. An experienced recruitment consultant will know when to switch gears and adopt a new strategy to avoid going down the same wrong path again and again, wasting time and energy when the traditional sources for candidates aren’t surfacing the right qualifications. There is a need for workarounds particularly when what you are looking for is not really obvious. A recent search we filled, for instance, required very niche skills –  both fluency in Japanese and an engineering background. In cases like this, a knowledgeable researcher will create an algebraic search using a boolean search string. In a recent instance, for example, we were able to uncover several candidates for a senior level executive role requiring a security clearance using a Google search that looked something like this: (intitle:resume | inurl:resume) (director OR engineer) (windows | MCSE | exchange) (ts/sci | poly | polygraph | secret) (VA | Virginia | DC | Maryland | MD) -jobs -send -submit -your -sample).


In our opinion, one of the most critical roles in any search is the researcher.  The role is not unlike that of a master sleuth looking for that often very small and elusive handful of candidates best qualified and credentialed for a certain role. The researcher also needs to be an expert reader of people and their personalities to find individuals who will best fit the culture of your organization. Finally, the researcher must also possess the sales skills to interest the candidate to pursue the position further. Given all these hats a researcher must wear in order to be successful, it’s only common sense to equip him or her with the best tools possible to do his or her job.