Sometimes a great candidate turns out to be a truly exceptional hire, going above and beyond expectations and making a huge impact on an organization. This promise of greatness inspires a quest for more top performers, but what are the best ways to find them?

Recruitment professionals have long assumed the most talented candidates are passive: that they’re employed by great companies, they’re not actively looking for new opportunities and they need to be wooed away from their roles by diligent recruiters. This leads many recruiters to focus on outbound recruiting tactics as the path to hiring more top performers.

In actuality, our latest research reveals that top performers, like the majority of people, seek to actively steer their careers. To uncover the key job search behaviors of these sought-after candidates, first we surveyed 1,000 hiring managers to find out the key attributes of their top performers. Then we surveyed 4,000 job seekers and identified more than 1,800 who have been recognized at work for having these top-performer attributes. Our findings illustrate how top performers search for jobs and suggest ways employers can strategically attract more top talent to their organizations.

Nearly all top performers actively search for jobs

Top talent is actively looking for new opportunities, with 92% of top performers saying they search for jobs at least a few times a year. Of top performers who were actually hired within the past year, this number is even higher: nearly everyone (96%) took an action to find a new job in the six months prior to being hired.

Clearly, the most talented candidates are not idly waiting for their next career step to fall into their lap. They’re monitoring opportunities for the one that meets their needs and goals, and they’re using online tools to do so. Among top performers who were hired in the past year, 55% visited an online job site in the six months before their hire, 54% subscribed to online job alerts and 48% used a mobile job search app.

This graph lists the actions top performers took prior to being hired at their current job.
When asked what actions top performers took prior to being hired at their current job, 55% visited online job sites, 54% subscribed to job alerts or notifications from online job sites, 48% used a mobile job search app, 45% looked at job opportunities on company career websites, 35% asked friends/family for a referral, 25% visited an online professional networking site, 22% attended a career fair and 19% accepted help from a recruiter.

Top talent has different motivators

In today’s competitive talent landscape, top performers are in greater demand than ever. With plenty of options available to them, these candidates can afford to be choosy. Compared with other job seekers, top performers are 46% more likely to be attracted by a better company reputation and 29% more likely to be attracted by more interesting, challenging work. This means employers can attract top talent through strong employer branding and compelling job content that showcases the things that make a position impactful and rewarding.

Top performers know that purpose and stimulation at work can be more conducive to job satisfaction than salary alone: They’re 10% less likely than other job seekers to be attracted to a new job by better compensation or benefits. Employers should bear this in mind when posting a job. Although compensation is important, it might not be enough to sway the most talented candidates, who seek meaning, purpose and learning from their work.

To learn more about what drives the most talented candidates in the workforce, download our latest research in our Talent Attraction Study: How Top Performers Search for Jobs.


This survey was fielded online within the United States from March 16-22, 2016, among 4,000 adults ages 18 and older, among whom 2,439 employed and unemployed job seekers (1,439 employed adults and 1,000 unemployed adults) and 1,561 employed adults not currently looking for new opportunities, using the Decipher survey platform owned by FocusVision on behalf of Indeed. We identified “top performers” as the sample of respondents who are regularly recognized for work contributions and who reported their managers or peers have associated them with any of the attributes identified in our employer research.