How to Build a Candidate Persona to Focus Your Talent Search

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A candidate persona will help your talent acquisition team know exactly who you’re looking to recruit, so they can focus the search and target the pitch.

Profile of a woman in silhouette

Photo: Molly Belle via Unsplash

What is a candidate persona? Good question. It’s a tool that is very similar to the buyer personas used in sales and marketing. Here’s a definition:

candidate persona (recruitment)
noun

A fictional representation of the ideal hire for a specific role, based on existing employee data, market research, and educated guesses about experience, goals, motivations, and concerns.

Why use candidate personas

The process of developing a candidate persona will help you articulate who exactly it is you need and want to hire. Knowing this – identifying that specific individual – will let you focus your attention on relevant channels, speak in their language, build a relationship, address their concerns, and attract them to your company.

If you don’t have that understanding, your recruitment messaging – job ads, Linkedin postings, tweets, InMails, emails, etc. – are not going to be relevant to your audience. If your messaging is not relevant, your audience is not going to be very engaged.

Needless to say, that makes your job of attracting and securing talented people a lot harder. If your talent acquisition team doesn’t know who they’re speaking to – who they are working to attract – it’s hard to craft a message that really resonates.

When to use personas

Not every role requires this amount of effort. But for roles that are filled repeatedly or in volume, and roles that require you to pursue highly-specialized candidates with exceptional skill-sets, the effort put into developing a candidate persona can pay back dividends. You’ll save time, minimize the stress of scrounging around in the dark, and improve the quality of your hires.

Tech roles are a good example. Not only must candidates be capable of working with specific programming languages and technologies, they also must fit in with the team dynamic and company culture. Often, given the rarity of their skill-set, they must be willing to relocate. To top it off, these candidates are in high demand and regularly receiving interest and offers from competing employers.

A candidate persona can help tame those challenges.

How to build a candidate persona

How do you assemble a useful persona? Research. Here’s what you need to do:

Know the role. Do a thorough intake with the hiring manager. Understand what the role requires, what the team needs, and what personalities and traits will add to your company culture. Actually, you should always do this step – for the sake of selecting right-fit candidates – whether or not you’re building a candidate persona.

Identify ideal existing employees in that role. Talk to them, find out why they do what they do, what matters to them, what interests them, what fears and worries they have, and how they were attracted to their current role.

Snoop LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and other social profiles. Source the ideal people – but instead of pursuing them, note their experiences, their interests, the language they use, the concerns they divulge. Profile them.

Assemble the character. Pick out the trends from your research and use them to put together a plausible, grounded in reality representation of who you want to fill the role:

  1. Give them a name.
  2. Choose a photo to visually represent the persona and make them “real”. Unsplash and Stocksnap.io are good sources of licence-free images, or you can purchase stock photos from vendors like iStockphoto and Stocksy.
  3. Identify relevant background info, such as current employment, work experience, education, hobbies, interests, career stage, generation, family size and age, residential preferences, and mannerisms. Avoid demographic details that don’t specifically affect career decisions and professional personality, though. You don’t want to discriminate, you want a persona that feels real and identifiable.
  4. Identify their goals, challenges, and objections. Include professional and personal goals, challenges to their success, and likely objections they might have to changing jobs, or working for your company.

Create message templates targeted to the persona. Articulate how your company can help them solve the challenges they face and achieve their goals. Include an elevator pitch that can be reused and repeated across all job postings, social channels, in emails, phone calls, and interviews.

Share your persona, and use it to guide recruitment. Your candidate persona is like a wanted poster. Put it up where everyone on your talent acquisition team can see it, and focus yourselves on finding and recruiting that person. Use the persona to guide your decision-making, and the template messages to guide your communications.

Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content

About the author

Christian De Pape is Head of Marketing and Content at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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