As the labor shortage crisis and the Great Resignation continue to hit employers hard, some traditional applicant pools are running dry. Rest assured, recruiters – your new hire is out there. But to find them, you’ll need to adjust your hiring strategies and rethink your evaluation methods.

With U.S. job openings reaching a record 11.5 million this spring and unemployment hitting 3.6%, candidates hold all the cards. Now, job seekers can be ultra-selective in the roles they apply for, the interviews they agree to and the offers they accept. If they don’t like their current job for one reason or another, they’ll leave without hesitance, knowing something better lies right around the corner.

Start with these six ways to uncover hidden talent. 

Tap Into Overlooked Groups

Find hidden talent by targeting commonly overlooked and underrepresented groups such as veterans, immigrants, formerly incarcerated individuals and people with disabilities. (Did you know that one in four adults have some type of disability, yet only 17.9% of those with a disability were employed in 2020?)

You’ll not only widen your talent pool, but also strengthen your DE&I strategy, bring new voices to your team and address the needs of a wider range of customers. Historically Black Colleges and Universities (or HBCUs), The Veterans Employment Center (VEC), The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion (EARN) and your state Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agency are great places to start searching for your next new hire. 

Filter In, Not Out

Are your job postings too full of “must-haves”? Is your evaluation process based on qualifying or disqualifying applicants, with little room for considering candidates who don’t check every box?

Find hidden talent like career changers and people without degrees by filtering candidates in, not filtering them out.

That means being less strict with your requirements for specific degrees, credentials or titles and focusing on applicants’ transferable skills and experience. If the position doesn’t legally require a certain license, certification or degree, consider making those qualifications “nice-to-haves” rather than “must-haves.”

Use skills tests to give candidates a fair chance to demonstrate what they know, regardless of whether they have a degree, and weigh the importance of soft skills versus hard skills. For example, if an applicant has the right soft skills, could they readily train up in other areas?

Also, think about hiring for “culture add” instead of “culture fit.” Embrace new perspectives, backgrounds and experiences that expand your company’s culture, not simply fit into the existing mold. 

Don’t Disqualify Based on Employment Gaps

Employment gaps should no longer be immediate red flags or disqualifiers. Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s common to encounter job seekers who have taken time off to change careers, relocate, handle a personal illness or injury or be a full-time parent, student or caregiver. 

Discover hidden talent by giving applicants an opportunity to address employment gaps in the interview – be understanding and don’t make assumptions. If you’re using an applicant tracking system (ATS) or another form of artificial intelligence that automatically disqualifies applicants with employment gaps, adjust your settings. 

Expand Your Reach to Remote Workers 

If your industry, type of business and open position allow it, expand your search to include remote candidates. Whether you source remote workers locally, regionally, nationally or globally, your talent pool will grow exponentially. Plus, hiring “work-from-home” employees can cut overhead costs (office space, insurance, etc.) and raise productivity.

Target Passive Candidates

Don’t wait for the right applicants to find you. Great hires for your team may not be actively looking for a new position but would make a move if the right opportunity came along. This is where you can take advantage of the momentum of the Great Resignation when workers are more inclined to leave their posts than ever before. 

So, where do you find passive candidates? Use an online resume database, check your pipeline of previous applicants, browse social media or ask your employees for referrals. You might also approach former employees (“boomerangs”) with whom you still have a good professional relationship to see if they’re interested in returning to your company. 

Search Within

Could the right person for the role be hiding right under your nose? In other words, could you promote one of your current employees or move them laterally to fill the position?

Think about whether there is already someone on your team or company at large that has the necessary institutional knowledge and the potential to learn new skills quickly or grow into a different role. However, if you do hire from within, plan accordingly to backfill their position.

While traditional methods for finding applicants like job boards, networking events and career fairs won’t go out of style any time soon, today’s employment climate requires recruiters to leave no stone unturned. Supplement those traditional approaches with these tactics for uncovering hidden talent and you’ll be one step closer to finding your next hire.


Jason Hayes is VP of Employer Sales and Customer Success at iHire, a career-oriented platform that connects candidates and employers across 56 industry-focused communities. Since 2006, he has progressed through numerous positions at iHire and kept his finger on the pulse of market changes and trends affecting job seekers as well as hiring professionals. Hayes is instrumental in building and sustaining iHire’s own workplace culture of excellence, innovation, and growth, and serves as a trusted resource for his team as well as iHire’s clients for finding the right talent in this competitive market.