Inbound vs Outbound Recruiting: When to Use What?

Confused about the inbound vs. outbound approach to recruitment? This comprehensive guide will explain everything: definitions, pros and cons, and methods.
Wendy Ng
Wendy Ng
Content Lead for Recruitment & Recruitment Technologies, FlexOS
A Recruitment Tool Content Lead with a devotion to people-centric practices and a passion to help people make hiring better and more enjoyable through insightful, research-driven guides.
June 6, 2024
min read

Let’s talk about inbound vs outbound in recruitment today. 

Sound like sales and marketing, right? But the shift in labor market and the evolving nature of work urge recruiters like us to adapt our mindset and approach accordingly. Since 2021, Glassdoor reported that 86% of HR professionals surveyed indicated recruitment is becoming more like marketing.

Inbound vs Outbound recruiting are not entire new concepts. Instead, they provide a structured approach to recruitment strategies.  

At its core, the distinction between inbound and outbound recruiting centers around who initiates the contact: do candidates come to you, or do you reach out to them?

In this article, I will delve into these two concepts, explore their benefits, challenges, and practical strategies that come with each methodology. 

By the end of this article, you will have the answer to your critical question: Inbound vs outbound recruiting, which one should I use?

Let’s dive in!

Understand Inbound vs Outbound Recruiting

Inbound Recruiting Definition

Inbound recruiting is a talent acquisition strategy that focuses on attracting, engaging, and converting potential job candidates through various marketing and branding techniques, similar to how inbound marketing attracts customers. 

The goal is to make your company and job opportunities more visible and appealing to candidates and nudge them applying for the opening jobs or future positions.

inbound recruiting funnel
Your candidate journey through an inbound recruiting funnel.

Key Components of Inbound Recruiting

A Desirable Employer Brand

The foundation of inbound recruiting is a desirable employer brand that resonates deeply with potential candidates. 

A strong employer brand effectively communicates what it's like to work at your company, the core values it stands by, and the growth opportunities it offers. That’s why building a compelling employee value proposition is so important. 

This branding is pivotal for not just attracting any candidate, but the right candidate who fits the company culture and ethos. 

For instance, showcasing real employee stories, workplace culture, and career progression opportunities through various media paints a vivid picture of the company as an employer of choice. 

This helps in attracting candidates who are not only qualified but are also enthusiastic about what the company stands for, ensuring a good fit both culturally and motivationally.

A Strong Online Presence

A strong online presence is crucial for maximizing the reach and impact of your employer brand. 

This involves leveraging the power of SEO to enhance the visibility of your job postings and career-related content on search engines. 

Additionally, an active and engaging presence on social media platforms like LinkedIn, X, and Facebook allows you to regularly connect with potential candidates. 

This continuous engagement is essential for maintaining the relevance of your brand in the minds of potential hires and for showcasing your company's achievements, values, and community involvement. 

Effective use of these platforms also helps in building a digital community around your brand, extending your reach and enhancing your attractiveness as an employer.

A Nurturing Candidate Pool

Maintaining a nurturing candidate pool is the final component that ties the inbound recruiting strategy together. 

This involves creating a candidate-focused experience that begins from the first interaction and extends beyond the hiring process. 

Ensuring a positive, respectful, and engaging candidate experience is crucial, as it reflects directly on your employer brand and influences candidates’ decisions to engage with or apply to your company. 

Techniques such as streamlined application processes, timely communications, and feedback loops are vital. 

Additionally, keeping in touch with past applicants and passive candidates through regular updates and nurturing emails can transform your talent pool into a community eager to engage with future opportunities at your company.

Exploring our top picks of Recruitment CRM to build quality and engaging candidate pools here.

Benefits and Challenges of Inbound Recruiting

Inbound Hiring Benefits

As you might guess it, one of the primary benefits of inbound hiring is the attraction of quality candidates who are genuinely interested in the company's mission and culture.

These candidates are more likely to be engaged and motivated, which can lead to higher job satisfaction and lower turnover rates. Remember, onboarding and post-hire employee engagement are important to keep your first-year attrition rate low.

Furthermore, inbound hiring helps in building a robust talent pool

By continuously attracting interested candidates, you can maintain a reservoir of potential hires, which is particularly valuable for quickly filling future vacancies or expanding teams without the urgency or pressure of immediate hiring needs. 

Of course, this requires a good candidate engagement strategy and a right technology. 

But once you achieve it, the potential reduction in the cost per hire follows.

Over time, as the employer brand strengthens and becomes more recognized (among your target candidate segments), the natural influx of candidates increases, thereby reducing the overall cost associated with attracting and sourcing new candidates, like costs for job advertisements or recruitment agencies.

Inbound Hiring Challenges

All of the aboves are not an overnight success! 

In fact, it takes a lot of time and efforts, trials and errors, and also a budget to establish your employer brand, creating recruitment marketing content, and optimize your application system.

Additionally, the results from inbound hiring strategies are not immediate. 

Building a compelling employer brand and establishing a strong online presence is a gradual process that requires patience and persistence. 

It takes time to see the impact of these efforts in the form of increased applications and improved quality of hires.

What is Outbound Recruiting?

outbound approach in recruitment

Outbound recruiting is a proactive recruitment strategy where recruiters or talent acquisition professionals actively seek out and engage potential candidates for job openings, rather than waiting for them to apply. As innovative HR entrepreneur David Paffenholz said in our interview:

"In any role where we feel like we haven't gotten the best inbound applicant pool or we're looking for something really specific, we have to go out and find the right candidate." - David Paffenholz

This approach is often used to find passive candidates who are not actively looking for a new job but might be open to the right opportunity, especially for urgent, hard-to-fill, or specialized roles:

  • Highly competitive industries or roles like software engineers or machine learning engineers and data scientists
  • Niche or specialized positions like quantum computing, robotics, rare language localization
  • Senior-level or executive roles

Key Practices of Outbound Hiring

Direct Sourcing

The outbound hiring process involves a kickoff call with the hiring manager to define role requirements, followed by recruiters (or sourcers) identifying and reviewing potential candidates, then reaching out to gauge interest and determine interview progression.

And by nature, it’s an iterative cycle.

“You might go through that cycle multiple times, depending on how many changes need to be made and whether the search is going in the right direction or if there's even the type of talent available that the hiring manager has in mind. And that last piece is actually a really interesting one, because that can often change the entire journey, even when you're quite far into it.” - David Paffenholz

Typically, you will surf Linkedin to find potential profiles and send personalized messages for them to invite to the position. 

But many advanced recruitment technology (plus AI) can help you do it more effectively—expand your search, provide you with in-depth candidate information, and prepare customized emails for you. PeopleGPT by David (pictured) is an example of such tools. 

"We use that technology to help make decisions on whether a profile matches what you're looking for and do that at tens of thousands of profiles per second." - David Paffenholz, founder of PeopleGPT
PeopleGPT, AI-driven outbound recruiting tool.

Recruitment Agencies

Many companies choose to partner with recruitment agencies to streamline their outbound hiring efforts. 

These agencies specialize in talent acquisition and have extensive networks and databases of potential candidates, which they've built over many years. 

They are particularly useful for roles requiring specific skills or for industries where talent is scarce.

Recruitment agencies understand the market dynamics and often have insights into candidate expectations and employer reputations within specific sectors. 

They can act as mediators, helping to negotiate terms that are attractive to both candidates and companies. 

Their expertise in handling the preliminary stages of recruitment, such as initial interviews and assessments, is helpful if your company don’t have time and in-house resources to spend.


Networking is a vital part of outbound recruiting. 

Attending industry events, conferences, and job fairs allows recruiters and hiring managers to meet potential candidates in more context-appropriate settings. 

You can gauge insights about people’s personality, professional demeanor, their real-time thinking and communication skills. And chances are you might meet your future team members there.

Moreover, being visible in industry-related events helps companies strengthen their employer brand among professional communities. 

It signals that the company is an active participant in the industry and is committed to finding and investing in top talent.

Employee referrals are another powerful tool in the networking arsenal. 

Current employees often know qualified people who might be a good fit for the company, culturally and professionally.

Setting up an employee referral program can motivate employees to recommend former colleagues or industry acquaintances, effectively turning the entire workforce into recruiters.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Outbound Recruiting

outbound recruiting requires proactiveness

Outbound Hiring Benefits

One of the main advantages of outbound recruiting is the ability to target recruitment efforts precisely

Recruitment teams identify and approach individuals who have the requisite skills and fit specific role requirements. In other words, you have almost total control over the type of candidates being approached. That’s why this method highly effective for positions that require niche skills. 

Additionally, outbound recruiting is advantageous when there is an urgent need to fill positions

At its core, outbound recruiting is about proactivity and precision—two qualities that are invaluable when time is of the essence. The direct approach allows you to quickly engage with potential candidates, significantly speeding up the hiring process when you need it most.

Challenges of Outbound Recruiting

However, outbound recruiting can also present several challenges. 

It is often more time-consuming and resource-intensive than inbound methods.

Identifying, contacting, and engaging with potential candidates requires significant effort and coordination. Recruiters must dedicate time to sourcing candidates, crafting personalized outreach messages, and following up. (That’s when technologies become a game-changer!)

Furthermore, the cost per hire with outbound recruiting can be higher compared to inbound methods. 

This includes costs associated with technologies, using recruitment agencies, and/or the manpower involved in direct sourcing and networking efforts. 

Given the proactive nature of outreach, there's also the risk that candidates may not be as engaged or interested in the company. 

Since these candidates are not actively seeking opportunities within the company, they might be less enthusiastic about the role or less aligned with the company's culture, both causing you to start the cycle all over again.

Inbound vs Outbound Recruiting: What Should You Use?

Choosing between inbound and outbound recruiting depends on various factors, including the nature of the job market, the specific hiring needs of your company, and the strategic goals of your recruitment team. 

Each approach has its strengths and may be more suitable under different circumstances. 

For roles where brand attraction is strong and the talent pool is active, inbound methods might suffice. However, for specialized roles or in competitive markets, outbound approaches can be more effective.

Here’s the summary and comparison of two methodologies to navigate your choice:

inbound vs outbound recruiting
Inbound vs Outbound recruiting: A comparison.

Wrapping it Up: Inbound vs Outbound Recruiting

As we look to the future of recruitment, the decision between inbound and outbound strategies might not be an "either/or" but rather a "best of both worlds." 

So, as you ponder the paths of inbound and outbound, consider how blending these approaches could set the stage for a revolutionary hiring strategy that's as dynamic as the future itself! Thinking about a hybrid approach that leverages the strengths of both strategies to connect with talent. 

Maybe you’ll see AI-driven recruiting platforms that blend the targeted assertiveness of outbound with the magnetic pull of inbound very soon, creating a recruitment symphony that resonates with the very best of candidates. But at least for now, you can build your recruiting tech stack like that:

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