How to Build a Candidate Pipeline in 9 Steps

September 3, 2019

In the past, recruiting was always, by and large, a reactive game. Circumstances changed, roles opened up, and recruiters were tasked with filling the gaps. 

But that’s changed a lot in recent years. Today, forward-thinking teams are adopting a more proactive approach to recruiting — thinking actively about their company’s future hiring needs and what they can do to help support them. And a crucial aspect of this approach is pipelining. 

Candidate pipelining helps talent professionals think beyond the current req alone — putting them in a better position to be strategic advisors to their company. It also makes it easier to fill hard-to-fill roles, boost your team’s productivity, and reduce your cost and time to hire. 

Whether you plan to try pipelining for the very first time or need some tips to refine your approach, here are 9 simple steps that will help you build out your candidate pipeline and measure its success.

1. Build a stand-out employer brand that attracts the kind of candidates you want

Before you start building out your pipeline, it’s worth taking a second look at your employer brand. This can help draw the right candidates into your pipeline, doing a lot of the hard work for you. And as you start building and nurturing relationships with candidates, your employer brand may be the thing that keeps them interested and invested in your company — or turns them away. 

Think beyond your career site alone (though of course, this is also important). Everything from your company’s social media accounts to the way your existing employees talk about your company online can have a major impact on the way candidates view you. Look for ways to make your brand meaningful and memorable, as this will make candidates much more receptive to invitations to connect. 

2. Focus on skills your business recruits for repeatedly and roles that are hard to fill 

The key to good pipelining is thinking strategically about which roles actually need a pipeline. This will help you avoid wasting time or resources on roles that don’t really demand a long-term strategy. 

You’re likely to get the greatest return on investment from talent pipelines focused on hard-to-fill roles or positions you hire for frequently, like those with high turnover. Having engaged and interested candidates already in mind for these roles can significantly cut down your time to hire and ensure the roles don’t stay vacant for long. 

LinkedIn Talent Insights can help you gain a better understanding of which roles would benefit most from having pipelines. Using Talent Insights, you can quickly gauge hiring and departure trends at your company, learn what skills your company will need for the future, and assess the availability of local talent. From there, you can easily create a company report to share with your leaders, helping you get stakeholder buy-in and plan more effectively. 

3. Set clear and realistic targets for your team, based on real data

Without firm targets in place, it can be hard to measure how successful your pipelining efforts have been. Setting targets also allows you to make a more compelling case for the resources you need — and helps business leaders grasp the true value of your efforts. 

Hiring expert Glen Cathey recommends turning to data to calculate your team’s capacity, understand what’s realistic, and discover where your bottlenecks lie before you set your targets. Using his handy calculator, you can quickly figure out the size of team you’d need to meet a target of, say, 20 hires per month. 

Knowing this, you can set ambitious but attainable goals that inspire and motivate your team, rather than leaving them scrambling to keep up. You can also help leaders understand what’s realistic and what isn’t. 

If quantity isn’t your number one priority, your targets might relate to metrics like the number of candidates engaged, the ratio of submittals to interviews, or your offer acceptance rate. As you get more experienced with pipelining and gather more data around it, you can tweak your targets to more closely reflect your capacity and your company’s evolving needs. But having some targets in place from day one keeps everyone accountable and working toward a common goal.

4. Source great candidates to fill your pipeline using LinkedIn, networking events, and referrals

To ensure you’re able to consistently fill your pipeline with great talent, your team needs a diversified strategy for sourcing candidates. Here are a few channels to focus on: 


When you’re looking to build out a long-term pipeline, LinkedIn Recruiter’s advanced search capabilities can help you quickly identify candidates with tons of potential and start building those connections. 

When you reach out to candidates over InMail, be honest about your intentions. Let them know why they caught your eye, referencing specific skills or experience from their profile, and note that while you might not have a role open right now, you’d like to stay in touch. Keep the focus on helping them discover the right move for their career. Many candidates will be flattered to know you’re considering them and interested in learning more about your company. 


Meeting a candidate in person is a fast way to start building a relationship that can pay off down the line. Encourage your team to regularly attend industry events where they can make valuable connections to fill your pipeline. If you have the resources, you can also host your own events, giving candidates the chance to find out more about what it’s like to work at your company, while letting your recruiters and hiring managers scout for talent. 

Be sure to connect with these candidates on LinkedIn to keep the conversation going and find out a little more about them, like their specific career goals and interests. Check in every now and then to keep them invested (more on that later).

Previous applicants

Your applicant tracking system (ATS) is an invaluable resource for building out your pipeline. Your database is probably already full of applicants that weren’t a great fit for one role but might be perfect for future jobs. By digging into this historical data, you can save yourself a lot of time and show candidates you’re really paying attention to them. 

LinkedIn Talent Hub will make this aspect of pipelining even easier. Launching this fall in North America, Talent Hub integrates with all your most-used LinkedIn tools, so you don’t have to shift between different platforms to keep track of your pipeline. You can store candidate data, manage outreach and scheduling, communicate with your team, and more, helping to keep your pipeline flowing smoothly. 


Another simple way to fill your pipeline is by building a referral program at your company. And the key to a great program is simplicity. If it’s difficult for employees to refer a candidate, you’ll get fewer referrals. Asking employees to submit, say, a name and contact info, or even just a business card, can encourage more to get involved. 

You can also encourage a healthy flow of referred candidates by rewarding employees for every referral that leads to an interview or hire. Whether it’s a referral bonus, a shoutout at the next all-hands meeting, or just making sure their support is reflected in their next performance review, incentivizing referrals shows employees how much value you place on finding great people to join the team. 

It’s also important to offer some training around referrals, as employees may not know what makes for a good hire, or even which skills and traits you’re looking for. Paint a clear picture of what skills and experience the ideal hire would have, and talk them through what happens after they refer a candidate to help them understand the process. If an employee is willing to make the introductions between you and a candidate they referred, consider providing them with some simple templates that they can quickly customize and send. 

5. Make sure your pipeline is filled with a diverse slate of candidates

As your pipeline starts filling up, be careful to assess whether it reflects the diversity of your talent pool. A lack of diversity in your pipeline can hold back your company’s diversity and inclusion efforts, so keeping an eye on the breakdown of your candidates can help you course-correct as you go. 

To diversify your pipeline, consider sourcing from historically diverse schools. You can do this by building Boolean strings using a list of historically black colleges and universities or women’s colleges and universities, adding the search operator OR between each school’s name and parentheses around the list. This will ensure your search results are filled with diverse graduates. 

If you source at industry events or campus recruiting fairs, it’s also crucial to send diverse members of your team to engage with candidates. Seeing other people who look like them can send a powerful message to candidates about your company, encouraging them to hear what you have to say. 

You can also lean on your employee resource groups (ERGs) to find diverse referrals. Diverse employees may be more likely to refer diverse candidates, since people are more likely to network with those similar to themselves. Talking with diverse employees can also help people involved in the hiring process better understand the systemic barriers preventing diverse candidates from entering their pipeline — allowing you to devise a more targeted strategy. 

6. Balance the breakdown of internal and external candidates in your pipeline

Your pipeline doesn’t just have to be made up of applicants and sourced candidates. Considering existing employees for open roles can help you fill more difficult reqs faster, all while helping employees grow their careers at your company. This can be especially valuable if they’ve been looking for a change of pace, since a lateral move can have dramatic effects on your retention rate.

The important thing here is balance. Too much internal hiring can prevent fresh ideas and perspectives from entering your company, while too little risks leaving employees frustrated by the lack of advancement opportunities. Keep your pipeline full of both internal and external candidates and focus on finding the best person for the job, regardless of where they come from. 

7. Have a source of truth to help everyone to stay on the same page

If you have different candidate information stored across multiple hiring platforms, it can be harder to build a consistent pipeline. Adopting a comprehensive ATS that allows you to compile all your candidate data under one roof can make it easier for everyone involved to view the pipeline at a glance and make smarter decisions about it.

LinkedIn Talent Hub is designed to help keep teams on the same page and working together seamlessly. Its new features make it easy for teams to collaborate, share feedback on candidates, and keep track of the status of each req. Hiring managers will also have more visibility into the pipeline and process, enabling a more fruitful recruiter-hiring manager relationship. 

8. Engage your pipeline and stay in touch to keep candidates warm

One of the benefits of talent pipelining is that it lets you stay in touch and build relationships with people who aren’t necessarily looking for a job right now but might be open to opportunities down the line. 

First impressions are everything. Before reaching out to a candidate for the first time, skim their LinkedIn profile again and look for simple ways to personalize your message. Mentioning a mutual connection, a shared hobby, or just something specific that impressed you about them signals you actually took the time to read to their profile — increasing the likelihood they’ll respond. Using the “spotlights” feature in LinkedIn Recruiter can also help you gauge your chances of getting a response, helping you understand if they’ve previously engaged with your company or know one of your employees. 

Pipelining is about having conversations, so shift the focus away from what you need and toward open-ended discussions about their goals. After the connection is made, congratulating them for work anniversaries and other achievements is an easy way to strengthen the relationship and show them you’re paying attention, so make sure your LinkedIn network notifications are switched on.

Balance is important here too. Contacting candidates too often can come across as a hard sell, while leaving them hanging for long periods with no contact might cause them to lose interest altogether. Aask how often they’d like to receive updates and speak about their goals, then set reminders for yourself to reconnect. You can also ask their preferred method of keeping in touch, whether it’s on LinkedIn, via email, or something else entirely. 

9. Measure your progress and adjust your strategy as needed

One benefit of housing your entire pipeline on a single platform is that you’ll never lose sight of candidates. This makes it much simpler to collect and analyze data about how your pipeline is performing and make strategic adjustments.

If your ATS offers pipeline reporting, regularly pull your reports to see how the tool is being used across your team and determine the strength of your strategy. (Talent Hub, for example, has a dedicated reports feature for this purpose.) Establishing a screen-to-hire ratio can help motivate the team — but without knowing whether the ratio is being met, it’s harder to plan realistically to reach your goals. 

Over time, you’ll be able to measure the success of different channels you use to source — from inbound applications to referral traffic to direct sourcing. You’ll also be able to spot whether candidates are spending too much time in one stage, if you’re screening too many or too few candidates, and if your time to hire is truly decreasing. 

The goal of building a pipeline is to save time, but it might take a little time to nail your strategy. If one strategy isn’t working, see what adjustments you can make to boost your results and make your pipeline pay off. You’ll save time in the long run since you won’t have to start from square one for every hire. 

Build a pipeline to success 

With a solid pipeline in place, your team can source, screen, interview, and hire talent faster and more efficiently, no matter the role — setting you, your company, and your candidates up for success. 

LinkedIn Talent Hub will make it easy to build and manage your pipeline and measure your results over time. Sign up for launch updates to be the first to know when Talent Hub is available in your region.

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