The SAHARA Funnel — A Framework for Data-Driven Recruitment

Ever since becoming the Head of Growth at Recruitee, I have had the chance to see how the field of marketing/growth and that of recruitment/HR are similar in many ways.

Right now, everyone is excited about growth hacking. There are so many communities, influencers and resources out there, it’s difficult to keep up! Meanwhile, recruitment is often seen as being less ‘sexy’, despite the fact that every successful founder in the world will tell you that hiring the right people is the key to growing a business.

By looking closer at the challenges that companies face when recruiting, I’ve seen a lot of parallels between recruitment and marketing. In both fields, there is huge potential for experimentation, creative approaches and being data-driven, with many innovative companies disrupting the traditional approaches.

One of the key ways in which ‘talent hacking’ can learn from growth hacking is through data-driven experimentation. In growth, many look to the Pirate Funnel (Awareness, Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Revenue, Referrals — i.e. AAARRR; the sound that pirates supposedly make) as a framework for tracking and optimizing metrics throughout the customer journey. Talent hacking needs something similar.

Given that there is no equivalent of the Pirate Funnel in recruitment, I decided to create one: the SAHARA Funnel:

The SAHARA Funnel is my adaptation of the Pirate Funnel for Recruitment.

In this post, I would like to break down every stage of the SAHARA Funnel and draw some parallels between talent hacking and growth hacking.


The equivalent of ‘Awareness’, this is where you source talent and potential candidates, making them aware of your company and vacancy.

Most recruiters approach talent sourcing in a rather traditional way, doing their research and then reaching out to potential candidates. This is where we can be inspired by growth hackers’ ‘creative acquisition’ methods.

A number of growth hacking skills and tools can come in handy here. Scraping information with tools like Dexi, getting contact details with Hunter and Lusha and building an online community to enhance your employer brand and company influencer status.

This is also where tools like Recruitee come into play, allowing you to build branded career sites and integrate them with your core domain .


This is the equivalent of ‘Acquisition’ or a conversion in marketing. Once you’ve sourced your talent, there are a number of ways you can encourage talent to ‘convert’ into applicants.

Many Conversion Rate Optimization principles can be applied if you have career site or page. A/B testing can also come in handy in maximizing your desired click-throughs.

One of the advantages of using an Applicant Tracking System like Recruitee is that the application form can be easily built, customized and integrated with your branded career site.


You might be wondering what ‘Hire’ is the equivalent of in the Pirate Funnel. This is where the order of the stages differs between the SAHARA Funnel and the traditional SaaS Pirate Funnel (the order of the Pirate Funnel also changes depending on the business model). In this case, ‘Hire’ is the recruitment version of ‘Revenue’.

Once you’ve sourced your talent and got them to apply, you will run them through your recruitment process. Again, an ATS is a good tool for designing and managing your hiring pipeline. Free tools like Trello can also help.

The hiring pipeline is also something that benefits greatly from data-driven optimization. Companies like AirBnB, Facebook and Google are continuously testing new things and experimenting on what processes produce the best hires.

With the emergence of more accessible technologies for machine learning, AI will also begin to play a more important role in both growth and recruitment. Predictive models will likely have the potential of predicting applicant’s likelihood of having the right experience, being a culture fit and even being hired.


In the same way that traditional marketers mainly think about Awareness and Acquisition, often ignoring the incredibly important Activation and Retention, Recruiters often see their job as being done the moment a candidate is hired. This is usually where the line between ‘recruitment’ and ‘HR’ is drawn.

This is likely to change in future as lean startups with multidisciplinary teams begin thinking about the entirety of the ‘candidate journey’. As has been the case in marketing and growth in recent years, it is quite possible that Activation and Retention will play a much bigger role in recruiters’ work.

In this case, Activation means the same as it does in the Pirate Funnel. it is all about giving the candidate that first great experience and bringing them to the ‘Wow Moment’ as soon as possible. It’s about making the new hire realise as soon as possible that your company and the role you’re offering is the right fit.

Studies increasingly show that millennials have different priorities when it comes to jobs. Above everything else, they care about personal skill development, work flexibility and company culture. As these become increasingly important for hiring and retaining the best talent, recruitment and HR professionals are going to have to make sure that new hires get great onboarding, colleague support and the best experience going into their new role.

This will be vital for Retention…


The holy grail of talent (and growth) hacking. Nobody wants to put tons of resources and time into acquiring users or hires that leave right away. Losing great talent is the bane of any business.

As in the case of growth, Retention in hiring is strongly tied to Activation. If the candidate doesn’t get activated early on, their chances of retaining will likely drop.

Company culture, up-skilling, personal investment, equity, promotions, pay rises and other benefits and perks all contribute to an employee’s likelihood of sticking with the company.

There is a lot of literature out there on retaining employees. As in the case of growth, it’s all about knowing your talent, understanding what value they bring and incentivizing them accordingly.


‘Advocacy’ is the equivalent of ‘Referrals’ in the Pirate Funnel.

I know, at this point it might seem like I’m just desperate to make my SAHARA acronym work, but if the Pirate Funnel can treat ‘Referrals’ as something different from ‘Awareness’ and ‘Acquisition’, so too can ‘Advocacy’ be seen as something that transcends the other stages of this funnel.

Advocacy is not so much about creating an element of virality as it is to build a strong employer brand, a social following and a wide reaching network to grow your talent pools and attract the best of the best.

Google, Facebook, AirBnB, HubSpot, Spotify, Dropbox….these are all companies where most talent in tech wouldn’t blink twice before taking a job. These companies ooze the startup working culture, are viewed as innovators and leaders and seem to offer endless opportunities to those who join their ranks.

As is the case with ‘Referrals’ in marketing, ‘Advocacy’ can be systematically induced. Some companies like HubSpot have even taken Advocacy and referrals to the next level, offering up to $10,000 to people who successfully refer a developer.


There are a lot of parallels between Recruitment and Marketing. In the former, you’re acquiring talent/hires whilst in the latter you’re acquiring users/customers.

I strongly believe that ‘talent hacking’ could be for recruitment what growth hacking has been for marketing: a data-driven, creative and experimental cross-funnel approach to guiding talent from A to Z.

As with marketing, the field of recruitment is plagued by traditional approaches, limited scope and a reliance on big budgets and agencies. This is bound to change as the priorities of talent and the nature of work are changing faster than ever before.