What is source of hire? Definition, meaning, and more

Last updated:
March 28, 2023
March 28, 2023
min read
Gem Siocon
source of hire
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Learning about your source of hire can help to optimize recruitment processes and understand which acquisition channels should be used more. Moreover, it will help you tremendously when planning and updating your recruitment budgets this 2023. 

This article will discuss the advantages and drawbacks of tracking the source of hire, and how to calculate it. 

What is source of hire? 

Source of hire can be a useful data point to collect to begin predicting your best talent acquisition channels. This recruitment metric can be tracked by tagging each candidate who  submitted to your hiring process with a tag detailing the acquisition source or where the recruiter found the profile (LinkedIn, Employee referral, Internal, Facebook, Indeed, etc).

Here’s a list of common recruiting sources: 

  • Employee referrals - existing employees refer people in their professional and personal networks to their company’s current job openings. 
  • Internal talent - also referred as direct sourcing, before a company considers hiring external candidates, they evaluate the skills and performance of their existing staff to determine if they are fit for the current job openings. It can be a promotion or lateral transfers
  • Old Employees/Boomerang candidates - a person who has previously worked for the company and looking to work for the same company again
  • Job boards and job search websites - used by employers to advertise and post their job vacancies to candidates. These sites collect and list all available job openings (local, international, remote). Examples: Indeed, Monster, Adzuna, Glassdoor, CareerBuilder, Flexjobs, Snagajobs 
  • Job fairs - these job events are organized by the government and local municipalities where candidates walk in and are interviewed at the same time. Usually, these are massive recruitment events and are suitable when hiring for entry-level positions. 
  • University/College recruiting - companies are targeting new graduates and young professionals to work for them. These are also conducted to fill entry-level roles. 
  • Social media - due to the popularity of LinkedIn and Facebook, many companies are actively recruiting by posting their job openings on their company pages or running paid advertisements 
  • Staffing agencies - ideal for small companies that don’t have an HR staff or those companies that are having a difficult time recruiting skilled candidates for a particular niche, staffing agencies handle end-to-end placement of candidates in exchange for fee
  • Company career website - companies have a dedicated page in their website promoting career opportunities within the organization
  • Paid job advertising - HR can pay Google to post job ads. Recruiters choose the keywords and phrases relevant to the open role. 
  • Professional networks - these are extensive groups of professionals and industry contacts who can either speak specifically to a candidate’s work experience and accomplishments. Or they can personally endorse the candidate as a potential hire to organizations that are members of the professional networks. Examples of professional networks are the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA), and the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). 

It displays the percentage of the company’s total hires who entered the pipeline in every recruitment channel or source.

For example:

You’ve recruited 40 candidates in 6 months. Your Applicant Tracking System (ATS) shows that employees referred 15, 10 candidates applied via job boards , 10 were hired via social media , and 5 were recruited via job fairs .

By tracking this metric, you can then look at successful hires. Then you can assess which acquisition channels have resulted in the best quality hires.

Benefits and challenges of tracking the source of hire

Keeping tabs on your source of hire has its advantages and disadvantages:


Learn where to allocate advertising budgets to sources that work.

Knowing your strongest and weakest sources of hire will help you allocate resources and budget accordingly. 

In our example above, employee referral is considered the strongest source of hire. You can further boost this source by: 

  • Be clear about the job requirements to avoid bad hires and negative candidate experience
  • Create a contest. In addition to referral fees per qualified applicant, reward employees who have the most number of successful referrals with cash or non-monetary incentives
  • Promote your referral program into the company’s career site, candidate email marketing, and SMS 
  • Run an internal campaign for employees to opt-in to share current openings on social media automatically
  • Consider investing in employee referral software to make the process easier and smoother for both referred applicants and employees. 

On the flip side, the job fair is the weakest link among sources of hire. You can either stop joining career events or improve them by 

  • Use technology to showcase your employer brand. Feature employee testimonial videos. Place iPads where candidates can start the initial application process
  • Give away company merchandise like mugs, pens, and shirts. Nobody can resist freebies, and it would make your brand more memorable even after the career fair
  • Host a mini-workshop to further educate candidates about your company and the available jobs and tips for a successful career.

You maximize your resources and reduce waste on ineffective channels by efficiently allocating your budget. 

Track the effectiveness of the hiring stages

Source of hire can help you measure where your most successful applicants come from so you can continue investing in this source. On the other hand, you can cancel sources of hire that are not yielding the desired results. 

You can be more granular in your source of hire analysis. For instance, if you are receiving the highest number of applications via social media, drill down further to know whether they came from LinkedIn or Facebook. If a job board is producing the biggest number of resume submissions, check if they’re from Indeed or Glassdoor. 

It's not just quantity but also the quality of candidates you attract in your sources of hire. For example, if you notice that most of the company’s high performers were actually sourced internally, then it's time to increase the budget for developing your employees.

You can either improve your current training programs or experiment with other forms of learning and development like mentorship or job rotation. 


There might be bias 

You’ve noticed that most of your best staff came from a particular school. In that case you may favor recruiting applicants from a certain university and ignore other colleges. Or the best-performing managers were referred by your management.

In that case, you may be guilty of bias and risk losing talent from other sources or sabotaging your company culture (when you have too many referred candidates). 

To avoid biases in your hiring decisions, combine the source of hire with other recruitment metrics. For example, you may combine the source of hire with the quality of hire metric to determine which source attracts substandard candidates.

If most selected applicants get low-performance ratings, it can be a sign for you to improve your recruitment and screening process. Or you can combine the source of hire with time to fill or time to hire. Mixing these KPIs enables you to identify where you struggle to source candidates and fill vacancies.

Don’t get stuck with only one source of hire based on previous successful experiences. Educate recruiters and hiring managers on unconscious hiring biases to make sound recruitment decisions. 

Candidates might come from multiple sources.

It’s typical for applicants to get through multiple sources. They might see your ad first on Indeed, but they might be convinced to send their application from a friend who referred the same job opening. Social networking sites are particularly important sources of influence in convincing candidates to finally send their resumes. 

To pinpoint definite sources of hire, consider using a recruitment marketing tool to give you information about candidates’ experience and interaction with your brand before they apply. You can also go straight to the point by sending survey questions to new hires. 

Shortlisted candidates are ignored 

When you focus too much on the source of hire, you overlook other aspects of hiring that are equally important in attracting high-quality candidates. 

To address this issue,  track candidate sources together with sources of hire. Pay equal attention to every hiring phase. For instance, check the source of candidates who immediately passed the initial interview and the source of candidates who passed the final round of interviews. 

Inefficient reallocation of resources 

Concentrating on only one source of hire might produce homogeneous employees. For instance, if you always use staffing agencies to source candidates, you may limit the number or quality of candidates you attract. And it's not cost-effective in the long run, since agencies are known to charge exorbitant placement fees. 

To address this concern, segment your source to differentiate the type of candidates each source brings. You may attract a lot of applicants using job boards while the best managers in your company were sourced from referrals.

In that case, track quality of hire together with source of hire. Then, connect other recruitment KPIs to other results and use various approaches to how you allocate your resources. 

How to calculate source of hire? 

To calculate the source of hire, divide the total number of new hires from all candidates from different sources multiplied by 100. Sources can be different channels (job boards, referred, career fairs, source).

Continuing with the above example from ATS,  here’s the calculation of source of hire: 

Employee referral - 15/40 x 100% = 37.5%

Job boards - 10/40 x 100% = 25% 

Social media - 10/40 x 100% = 25% 
Job fairs - 5/40 x 100% = 12.5% 

Suppose you are interested in knowing the sources of hire for specific sources (job board 1, job board 2, or staffing agency 1, staffing agency 2).

In that case, the formula is dividing the total number of candidates from a particular source by the total number of hires by multiplied by 100. 


If 7 candidates came from Indeed and another 3 came from Monster job boards, the calculation would be:

 7/40 x 100 % = 17.5% of candidates from Indeed
3/40 x 100 % = 7.5% of candidates from Monster 

Following the exact computation, you could also classify your source of hire as something broader (external hire or internal hire). 

How do I track source of hire?

Use a combination of the following methods for a comprehensive analysis of your sources of hire:

Use an Applicant Tracking System 

Your ATS can show you the applicants who’ve entered the recruitment pipeline from different sources by extracting and viewing your source of hire report. Candidates are not only categorized via sourcing channel but also their application status.

Survey candidates 

You can conduct candidate surveys to know how an applicant heard about the job opening. Use standardized questions or drop-down menu during the application process. This approach allows for uniformed responses, which generates a more credible and reliable results. 

In your survey, ask questions like:

  • How did you learn about this position (social media, job fair, employee referral)?
  • Which source did you apply from (LinkedIn, Indeed, Glassdoor)?
  •  What influenced you the most to consider applying for this job?

 To have the most accurate information about your sources of hire, compare your candidate from pre-hire to post hire to detect errors. 

Gather data from your recruiting team 

Recruiters can provide data about sources of hire, specifically if they sourced candidates on social media. Hiring managers may also suggest a good source that’s proven to produce good hires, like if a top school produces the most talented software engineers. These various channels can give a clear picture of your sources of hire. 

Web analytics 

Another alternative is to use cookies on career websites to track hiring sources. Recruitment marketing tools can help trace how applicants engage with your brand across various channels.  You can assign UTM codes to your job posts when you publish them on social media or job boards.  Then use Google Analytics to help you check the web traffic for your job postings. 


Knowing your source of hire metrics can help you analyze the recruiting channels that are giving you the most qualified candidates so you can boost your resources for maximum results and drop or tweak ineffective hiring channels. 

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