Marketing’s Critical Role in Candidate Sourcing

These are interesting times for talent acquisition. The economy is still improving, unemployment is quite low and jobs still experience fits and starts of growth. Candidate sourcing is more difficult now, but that’s partly because of outdated methods that don’t work well anymore. Marketing has the answer and it’s been there all along.

Marketing and sales know how to make it rain. Feast or famine, they bring in prospective customers who are more likely to buy and they nurture them every step of the way. At the core of marketing is the funnel, and it holds the most cherished of all assets: the qualified lead. Sound familiar?

Marketing and talent acquisition have a lot more in common than you might think. Build your strategy around an HR marketing or talent funnel and you can get the same level of insight and control over outcomes that marketing and sales have known about for years.


What marketing has known for ages, talent acquisition is just beginning to figure out. One of the most important tools in marketing’s bag is the customer funnel. If you don’t know it, you will.

The short version is this: solid leads are ushered into the funnel where marketing can watch, nurture and convert them to paying customers. The process isn’t much different for candidate sourcing: usher in high-quality leads, nurture them and convert them to employees.

The long version has more moving parts, but it’s still essentially the same funnel. The reason this works is that customers and job candidates have a lot in common. In fact, candidates can be considered customers in many ways. To encourage them to stay in the funnel and ultimately convert by accepting a job offer, you need to treat them like customers.

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Workopolis says these rules work for treating candidates like customers you want to keep:

  • Listen to your candidates to learn who they are and what they really need.
  • Understand your product, which is the job. When hiring managers don’t get it, candidates won’t buy it.
  • Mind your manners. A little ”please” and ”thank you” go a long way.

Above all, treat your candidates the way you would want to be treated. If you can remember a bad personal experience, try to avoid it. If you can remember a good one, try to duplicate it.

The names might be slightly different, but the customer and candidate journey through the funnel have the same key points.
The names might be slightly different, but the customer and candidate journey through the funnel have the same key points.


The customer’s buying journey starts at the top of the funnel and ends at the bottom. It’s the same for job candidates. Every funnel has the same or similar layers or levels, each one with a different focus and nurture strategies. Here’s how they line up.

  • Awareness: top of the funnel and the widest part. Awareness stems from lead generation campaigns.
  • Interest: customers learn more about the company, the products and the brand.
  • Consideration: this is where leads are evaluated for quality, nurtured and kept in the funnel by any means possible.
  • Intent: customers are interested and are likely to buy, but aren’t quite ready yet.
  • Evaluation: a critical stage where decisions are made. Customers at the evaluation stage need lots of nurturing.
  • Purchase: finally, all of the hard work pays off. The customer buys what you’re selling.

You can already see the relationship between marketing and talent sourcing. Candidates really are customers. At every stage of the funnel, there’s an opportunity to keep great job candidates in and engage with them so they don’t lose interest and fall away.

Why does it matter? Because sourcing is expensive. And just because a prospect isn’t right for one job doesn’t mean they won’t be right for another. With some obvious exceptions, every candidate who makes it into your funnel is worth nurturing. You never know when the right job will open up for them.

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You don’t need to hear more about how the good old days are over. Unless you’re Google or another hot and in-demand employer brand, you probably don’t get a deluge of applications for every job listing that you post. This is a full employment economy.

Even if economists argue about the particulars, the bottom line for talent sourcing is few people are out of work so few are looking for a job. On the flip side, almost everyone is open to something new. Loyalty isn’t as prevalent as it used to be, which works out great for you.

Caveat: the lack of loyalty is a double-edged sword that can nick you later, but employee nurturing can help remedy it and keep more of your hard-won employees on the roster.

The talent funnel fits perfectly into the new talent acquisition normal. That’s because it’s made for customer-and in your case candidate-development. When people are hungry, you don’t have to convince them to eat. When they’re not, it takes some effort.

In a full employment economy, the talent acquisition funnel becomes a well from which you can draw for qualified people who would otherwise take much longer to find. In many cases, you might not find them at all. Think of it as an on-demand registry for people at varying stages of development, all of them worthwhile in some way.

When you find someone who is amazing at their job, would you throw away the opportunity to hire them one day just because there’s nothing available for them now? Probably not. Should you usher them into the top of the funnel, show them why your employer brand rocks, nurture them and keep them interested until something does come available? Probably.

What’s great about the funnel is that it works no matter what the hiring climate happens to be. When the economy turns around again, and it always does, the funnel will still work. That’s its nature. As long as you work it at every stage, it rewards you with qualified, interested candidates who are more likely to accept a job offer than not.


Customers and job candidates are similar in other ways besides the journey that leads to purchase or job offer acceptance. They’re both influenced by brand image. Branding can kill your talent funnel. Fortunately, it can also make it shine like a new penny.

Customers are more likely to buy from brands that they trust. Likewise, job candidates are more likely to accept a job from an employer brand that they trust. Both groups of people can turn on a dime if that trust is breached or if they find out toward the top of the funnel that it never existed at all.

LinkedIn Talent Solutions says the consumer brand is the value and characteristics that customers associate with the products and services that a company has to sell. The employer brand is the value and characteristics that candidates associate with working for you.

Brand building for the talent funnel parallels marketing in some key ways.

The product that you have to offer is the job, the company culture, benefits and other perks that make it appealing. The price candidates pay for working there is the ”prestige of your jobs,” says LinkedIn. Promotional work includes ads, talent acquisition strategies, marketing, recruitment and PR. And the deals are struck on social media, your career site and anywhere else that you connect with your consumer, your candidate.

The framework seems straightforward enough. The devil is sometimes in the details. Done well, employer branding makes your talent funnel a dynamic and vibrant ecosystem filled with candidates you can’t wait to hire (and who can’t wait to get an offer). Done poorly, bad things can happen in all directions.

First, you need a unique value proposition or UVP. What do you offer that no one else does? But don’t stop there. You might have free cans of stale pistachios at the reception desk. Nobody wants those, either. What unique thing do you have that job candidates actually want? There’s the key.

Your employer brand should revolve around that wonderful thing that you do and nobody else does and that candidates wish they had. It probably includes several things, but they distill to one message. What is yours?

Shahid Wazed writes at LinkedIn that the message might be to Think Different. But no, that’s Apple’s UVP. Or maybe it’s that you care. But that’s already been widely used. Find out what you do better than anyone else, and develop that into your UVP. That’s where your employer branding efforts should all spring from.

What happens when branding goes wrong? At best, your brand will be a lot of nothing special. In a competitive talent sourcing market filled with specialized branding campaigns, you can’t afford to be milk toast.

Undercover Recruiter says there are a few giveaways of a good branding gone bad.

  • You think you’re in total control over the employer brand image. Not even close, not with candidates active on social media and certainly not since the advent of Glassdoor. What you say about your brand doesn’t matter as much as what others have to say about you.
  • You forget about your UVP. What’s the point of a unique value proposition if you don’t flex it every day? Stick to your messaging, they say. And keep the messaging theme simple.
  • You aren’t as transparent or authentic as you ought to be. Of all people, you should understand the real employer brand better than anyone else. If your messaging is different from reality, everyone will eventually know it. The employer brand will appear disingenuous, and all of your work will fall flat. Likewise, a lack of authenticity rings suspiciously in the ears of people who don’t know the brand.
  • You forget about the consumer brand. Your company sells something to someone. How does the employer brand relate to what consumers feel about the company?
  • You tread the line between eye-catching and offensive a little too closely. Be careful not to alienate a large portion of your target audience in an effort to capture another market segment’s attention.



The funnel will likely produce at least some results, even if you only make a halfhearted effort. When you treat it like a powerful tool, which it is, your results can go from good to amazing. Analytics helps.

For every stage of the funnel, there is data. This data tells you where candidates came from, which marketing tactic they responded to, how they behave in the funnel, how resistant they are to staying in the funnel, and a host of different details that you really want to know. Problem is, Big Data is first and foremost, big. Data analytics breaks it into manageable portions that make sense.

What can data analytics tell you about your talent funnel? These are just a few of the many possibilities.

  • Where candidates seem to stall out in the funnel
  • Which groups of candidates stall more at which level
  • The conversion rate between funnel layers and which layers tend to lose more candidates
  • Days from entering the funnel to conversion
  • Job applications started to those completed and submitted
  • Job applications to conversions
  • Job offers veto acceptance

There’s honestly very little that you can’t learn about the funnel, your marketing strategies, candidate engagement and the employer brand if you use the right analytics. If it seems confusing, think of it like this: for everything that you wanted to know about sourcing job candidates, there is data to explain what’s happened in the past. Analytics makes data smaller and useful instead of enormous and overwhelming.

The marketing funnel as interpreted for talent acquisition works better with tools that are made for it. Those are investments to think about when budget season arrives. Lead generation, for example, should be a top priority. Although you could scrape every contact into the funnel that you find, it works better when you know who you’re sourcing. Technology can help you accomplish that. It helps you work smarter and use your budget in the most effective way.

When you take your cue from marketing, some of the biggest HR, talent acquisition, and HR talent management pain points become a little more manageable, too. That’s because the funnel lets you home in with more precision on elements that affect your results. If time-to-hire is too long and costs too much in the process, you may need more candidates in general. If the quality of hire takes a hit, lead generation at the top of the funnel needs attention.

Talent professionals can learn a lot from marketing and sales. Just as customers have a journey from awareness to conversion, prospective job candidates start with an awareness of the employer brand. How or whether they convert into employees at the bottom of the funnel is in many ways something that you can influence through the technology and strategies that you use.

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