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Proactive recruitment: A forward-thinking strategy for hiring managers and recruiters


Finding excellent candidates can be tricky at the best of times, but when an employee leaves and you need to react to a suddenly vacated position, you’re under a lot of pressure to find the right hire fast.

You find yourself relying on luck and market conditions, and you might end up with an “acceptable” candidate instead of a perfect fit.

Recruiters who follow a proactive recruitment approach can be more strategic about their hiring initiatives, with a ready talent pool of qualified candidates.

With proactive hiring, you source candidates before they’re strictly needed. Then when the right position opens up, you reach out to them with applications and online skill tests.

This article discusses the top benefits of proactive recruiting and the six phases that go into a stellar proactive recruitment process.

What is proactive recruiting?

What does a proactive recruiting approach entail

The standard proactive recruitment meaning is identifying, sourcing, and attracting job candidates before you need them. This gives recruiters a ready pool of potential candidates to draw from when they need to fill a role.

A proactive approach usually entails:

  • Assessing your company’s skill gaps

  • Determining potential future positions

  • Building an internal and external talent pool

  • Nurturing potential candidates

  • Reaching out to your now-ready talent pool when a role opens

Proactive recruitment strategies enable hiring teams to harness a more controlled and effective hiring process instead of simply being at the mercy of the job market (which can feel like the roll of the dice).

It makes the recruitment process simpler and less hectic and promotes better candidate outcomes.

The difference between proactive and reactive recruitment

Proactive and reactive recruitment are two different hiring tactics with similar-sounding names but very different meanings:

  • Proactive recruitment: Sourcing and attracting candidates before demand

  • Reactive recruitment: Reacting to the loss of an employee by launching a hiring initiative

Reactive recruitment is when a hiring manager begins a recruitment initiative right when there’s a demand and relies on applicants applying for the open position.

Proactive recruiting is all about searching, finding, and engaging with likely candidates before you need them.

It’s similar to buying groceries. If you wait until the jug is empty to buy milk, the store may be already closed, out of your preferred variety, or not have any milk at all.

But if you buy your milk in advance – when you still have a bit in the jug and the store’s open for another five hours – you have your choice of types, you have time to decide, and you won’t have to go without it.

A proactive approach reduces the hustle and chaos of filling a role and ensures you find the ideal candidate.

Although, let’s take a moment to say that reactive recruitment isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. There can be times when it’s unavoidable, and a recruiter has to act on the fly.

But it’s always best to be as prepared as possible to mitigate risks and issues, improve candidate experience, and find the best possible hire.

The benefits of proactive recruitment 

The benefits of proactive recruitment

Every recruiter wants to find the best candidate in less time. Although you’re unlikely to find purple squirrels (candidates who are absolutely perfect for a position), proactive recruitment strategies optimize the hiring process as much as possible.

A more controlled hiring process and reduced chaos are only a couple of the benefits of proactive recruitment. Sourcing proactive talent affects the entire process and improves it for both the recruiter and the candidate.

Here are the top advantages of proactive recruiting:



Better candidate experience

Streamlining the hiring process lets you spend time building relationships through positive communication, which improves the entire experience for the candidate

Less stressful and time-pressured hiring

Working against the clock puts more pressure on you, increasing stress and decreasing the chances of finding the ideal candidate

Fewer mistakes and bad hires

Proactive sourcing improves quality of hire and reduces the risk of a bad hire

Better time-to-hire metrics

Working from a talent pool rather than from scratch speeds up the process exponentially

Higher-quality hires

Proactive recruitment means you’ll be finding the best, not just someone at the right place and time that will fill the gap

Proactive recruitment helps recruiters find essential skills that they’re struggling to pinpoint.

This approach is ideal in today’s landscape. It’s a laborer’s market, and you no longer have thousands of applicants per job opening.

A recent study showed that unemployment is lower than it’s been in 50 years. 

A separate study by SHRM showed that 75% of HR professionals have difficulty recruiting new candidates due to skill gaps, with 52% claiming the skills shortage has worsened in the past two years.

This study also showed that 83% of HR professionals struggle to find suitable candidates.

The state of skills gap is slowing recruitment

With a skill shortage of this magnitude, you need strategies to zero in on the exact talent you need and be able to take action right when you need it.

This is especially true since the current job market has made candidates choosy with their offers. The Candidate Experience Report showed that 67% of workers agree that candidate experience makes or breaks a job offer.[1]

This extends beyond a single hire, too. A negative candidate experience spreads to other candidates. But on the flip side, a stellar candidate experience improves your brand image and increases potential referrals and applicants in the future.

Hiring the right person the first time also drastically reduces your hiring costs. Many variables stack up when assessing the total cost of a bad hire, including recruitment costs and opportunity costs.

All of the variables can add up to a ridiculous sum. Some estimates get close to $250,000 – for one bad hire.[2] 

An unfit hire also disrupts projects and teams, meaning that proactive recruitment helps maintain productivity and keeps current processes smooth.

It’s imperative to hire the right candidate the first time, and proactive recruiting increases the chances of finding the best hire for your situation.

For more information on the impact of a poor hire, read our article on the cost of a bad hire.

The phases of proactive recruitment: a step-by-step approach

Let’s walk through a proactive approach step-by-step.

Proactive recruitment is essentially about managing a pipeline of potential candidates. It’s very similar to the marketing funnel used in pull marketing.

The typical five phases of proactive recruiting are:

  1. Find

  2. Engage

  3. Nurture

  4. Attract

  5. Convert

However, we’ll be doing things a bit differently. Our optimized approach will help you follow a stronger, more effective process.

The 6 phases of proactive recruitment




1. Identify your company’s skill gaps and expected future positions

Assess your workforce’s current skills and your company’s future needs to find out where you stand

2. Find candidates, both internally and externally, and build a talent pool

Try a variety of strategies to build a healthy talent pool, such as dropping experience requirements, using project-based workers, and adopting skills-based practices

3. Engage and connect with potential candidates

Reach out and build a relationship with likely candidates

4. Reach out to the candidates that match the open position when a role arises

Let your talent pool know when a role opens and encourage them to apply

5. Convert them into your next hire using a skills-based approach

Use skills-based hiring to assess your candidates’ real capabilities

6. Keep unsuccessful candidates in your talent pool for future opportunities

Set aside candidates for another future role, ensuring great talent doesn’t go to waste and keeping your talent pool full

1. Identify your company’s skill gaps and expected future positions

An example of a basic skills gap analysis

This stage is about identifying what talent you will need in the future.

You can’t source the right candidates unless you know what position you’re sourcing for.

We recommend performing a skills-gap analysis to assess which skills your workforce has and which skills they’re lacking.

Here’s an example of a basic skills gap analysis:

  1. Define both short-term and long-term goals

  2. Identify the skills you need to achieve these goals

  3. Determine if you need to do a team-based or individual-based assessment

  4. Measure skills and identify gaps

This process unveils the skills you need to achieve these goals, which helps you see what positions you may need to hire for in the future.

You then use the information learned from your skills gap analysis to build an ideal candidate persona.

An ideal candidate persona is a representation of your ideal hire for a given position, usually describing the necessary skills, expected salary, and desired traits.

Here’s a sample ideal candidate persona for a backend developer:

Criteria category


Hard skills




Soft skills



Time Management





Traits and personality

Inquisitive, solutions-oriented, agreeable, open

When you assess your needed skills ahead of time and build a persona for your perfect backend developer, it speeds up and streamlines the process of hiring your next software developer.

But first, let’s source some candidates.

2. Find candidates, both internally and externally, and build a talent pool 

After the skills gap analysis, you know what skills to look for in your future candidate so you can begin sourcing likely candidates.

This step entails building a talent pool of high-quality professionals that suits your company culture, values, and expected needs.

Here are a few of our top strategies for creating an excellent talent pool:

  • Drop unnecessary job requirements: Years of experience and degrees don’t always indicate capability, and dropping them from your list of “must-haves” opens the door for many more candidates.

  • Switch to skills-based hiring: Skills-based hiring facilitates hiring people with the right skills but no formal training or experience.

  • Include people with criminal records in your talent pool: Fair-chance hiring practices increase your talent pool by 70 to 100 million people[3] (and that’s only America).

  • Offer flexible working arrangements: You’re missing out on the best talent if you don’t offer flexible work. These arrangements are attractive to many candidates, but they’re necessary for some people, such as working parents.

  • Use project-based workers: Accepting project-based workers expands the talent pool greatly. Millions of people only work as contractors and freelancers.

  • Prioritize online visibility: Online visibility is incredibly important, as it helps candidates find you, so the search isn’t solely on your shoulders.

  • Build an internal talent pool: Your current employees are one of the best sources of future talent. They already possess company knowledge and are accustomed to your organizational culture.

Internal mobility is your secret weapon to securing high-quality candidates fast and increasing employee satisfaction and retention at the same time.

Companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees for an average of 5.4 years. That’s nearly twice as long as companies that struggle with it.

3. Engage and connect with potential candidates

Best practices for engaging with potential candidates

Now, let’s connect with this proactive talent you so carefully collected.

Focus on building interest and attracting them to your company. Connect with them, get to know them, and send them valuable messages.

The word “valuable” is key here. Nurture potential candidates, but don’t annoy them.

Here are a few best practices to follow when engaging with potential candidates:

  • Connect with them over social media: Platforms such as LinkedIn are excellent tools for getting to know people professionally and allow candidates to learn about your organization naturally.

  • Talk to them like people: Stay human with semi-formal language and light-hearted dialogue. This is a conversation, not a thesis.

  • Offer them valuable information and advice: Provide them with valuable information, industry tips, and recent news.

  • Understand their skills and strengths: Go into the conversation with an understanding of what the candidate does and what they specialize in.

  • Primarily make it about them: Ask about them, their achievements, skills, and interests. Mention your company, but don’t be pushy and go for a hard sell.

Candidate engagement is much easier to handle when you have HR software, such as a candidate relationship management system or a recruitment marketing platform.

You can manually collect and manage your potential candidates using old-fashioned hard work and spreadsheets, but if you have a large talent pool and a lot of roles to fill, it is worth investing in an online recruitment platform.

A candidate relationship management (CRM) system helps you identify and build a talent pool, manage and nurture potential candidates, and continuously improve through analytics.

Check out our guide on online recruitment platforms to read more on the subject.

4. Reach out to the candidates that match the open position when a role arises

This is the crucial moment you’ve been waiting for – a role is open, and you aren’t scrambling around.

Time to reach out to your lovingly cultivated talent pool and attract them to the role.

You can use your CRM to pull up relevant information on the candidates before you reach out, such as your previous conversations and any important topics you covered.

It pays to be personal. Mass email blasts aren’t specific or thoughtful enough. Consider the candidate’s interests and career goals.

You need to provide solid incentives to attract these candidates, so pull them in with personalization and an excellent candidate experience.

The candidate experience starts with the application stage, so ensure your applications are:

  • Short and concise

  • Easy to apply

  • Mobile-friendly

These features seem nice, but they’re much more important than they first look. One study showed that 54% of Gen Z job seekers won’t even complete an application if the process is outdated.

A separate study also showed that 58% of job applicants apply with their phones, so a mobile-responsive application is more than doubling the number of available candidates.[4]

For more tips on how to make a better application process, read our guide on how to increase job applicants.

5. Convert them into your next hire using a skills-based approach

Your ideal candidate is interested. Let’s turn them into your next successful hire with skills-based hiring.

Skills-based hiring is the practice of hiring a candidate for a role based on their capabilities while reducing reliance on CVs and resumes. We believe it’s the future of recruiting.

Skills-based hiring is beneficial for both candidate and employer alike:

  • Candidate: A chance to be assessed for their real skill and not experience, background, age, or other areas with a chance for bias

  • Employer: A way to secure an ideal candidate with the exact capabilities necessary for the role

Unfortunately, CVs aren’t always effective and don’t indicate whether or not the candidate is a good fit for the role. They can’t accurately convey capability or soft skills, and many candidates have admitted to lying in them.[5]

Skills-based hiring eliminates unnecessary steps and requirements, instead focusing on the candidate’s skills and ability to do the job well.

Here’s a sample skills-based hiring process:

  1. Application: Applicants complete a skill-focused application with qualifying questions and no required experience or education.

  2. Assessments: Candidates then complete pre-employment skill assessments, including tests for hard skills, soft skills, personality, and cultural fit.

  3. Structured interviews and/or panel interviews: There are two different skills-based methods of conducting a job interview. Structured interviews ask all candidates the same questions and base decisions on predetermined criteria, but panel interviews are part of a collaborative hiring process.

  4. Trial (optional): Candidates complete a paid trial sample so you can assess their style, how they take feedback, and how you work together. Trials are especially useful for industries like writing, design, and programming.

  5. Offer: The hiring manager can now make a confident offer to a candidate who’s already displayed their skills and capabilities.

Skills-based hiring opens the door for more candidates, such as ones that don’t have extensive work or educational experience or people who are switching career industries.

This process also makes a more enjoyable, effective experience for the recruiter because they can get the right hire faster.

6. Keep unsuccessful candidates in your talent pool for future opportunities

Some candidates may not work out, but they might be right for another position.

One of the best proactive recruiting ideas is to keep all unsuccessful candidates in your talent pool for future opportunities. You sourced them in the first place, so you know they’re a solid candidate.

They weren’t right for this role, but they might be perfect for another.

Keeping unsuccessful candidates on the back burner ensures that none of that top talent you sourced goes to waste. Instead, you have a recruitment pipeline ready to be tapped when needed. It’s almost a shortcut – it’s essentially step two again, but with all the research and nurturing work out of the way.

In this way, your proactive recruitment is a cycle that continuously builds on itself.

Build a healthy talent pool with proactive recruitment

It can make a world of difference when you take the time to source candidates, then engage and connect with them.

With proactive recruiting ideas like assessing skill gaps and building a healthy talent pool, you can change the hiring process from a stressful and hectic ordeal into a smooth, streamlined stroll.

Building a wide talent pool is a fundamental part of a proactive approach and vastly improves the entire hiring process.

Read our in-depth guide on building a talent pool to learn about the nine strategies for growing your talent pool and having a better group of candidates to rely on when proactively recruiting.

Check out our HR Fundamentals test to help you hire people who can build your recruiting process further.


  1. “The Candidate Experience Report”. (2018). ICIMS. Retrieved January 9, 2023. https://cdn31.icims.com/icims3/prod/pdf/hei-assets/the-candidate-experience-report.pdf

  2. Frye, Lisa. (May 9, 2017). “The Cost of a Bad Hire Can Be Astronomical”. SHRM. Retrieved January 9, 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/cost-of-bad-hires.aspx 

  3. Vallas, Rebecca; Dietrich, Sharon. (December 2014). “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records”. Center for American Progress. Retrieved January 9, 2023. https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/VallasCriminalRecordsReport.pdf

  4. Zhao, Daniel. (2018). “The Rise of Mobile Devices in Job Search: Challenges and Opportunities for Employers”. Retrieved January 9, 2023. https://www.glassdoor.com/research/app/uploads/sites/2/2019/06/Mobile-Job-Search-1.pdf

  5. Garner, Mandy. (November 22, 2021). “Older workers go undercover to get hired, with 44% lying about their age on their CV”. WorkingWise. Retrieved January 9, 2023. https://www.workingwise.co.uk/older-workers-under-cover/


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