The Beginner’s Guide to Candidate Personas

The modern recruiting landscape is more complex and competitive than ever before.  Thanks to recent upticks in the economy, organizations nationwide are now hiring at an unprecedented rate. Coupled with historically low unemployment rates, HR and recruiting professionals are often faced with more open positions than there are viable candidates to fill them. In fact, 65 percent of recruiters claim talent shortage is the biggest difficulty they face in the hiring process.

As the competition for top talent tightens, many hiring professionals are finding traditional recruiting tactics to be less effective. It’s no longer enough to simply post a generic job description on the usual platforms and pray applicants will come pouring in — because they won’t. Instead, recruiters must take a proactive approach in their search for the perfect hire, or risk losing the ideal candidate to the competition.

Fortunately, with the help of job candidate personas, you can find, target and recruit the best candidates in the workforce.  Ready to learn more about candidate personas? Keep reading.

What are candidate personas?

A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal job candidate.

Candidate personas are similar to buyer personas, which have long been used by marketing teams to identify and target an organization’s best customers — but, rather than pinpointing a potential buyer, candidate personas help recruiters zero in on the perfect hire. Candidate personas use industry research, hiring trends and anecdotal evidence to allow recruiters to truly get inside the minds of their ideal candidates.

A standard candidate persona is derived from data surrounding work history, skills, qualifications and education. But, the most effective candidate personas go beyond information found within a resume and explore other, less tangible traits that make someone the perfect hire. This often includes characteristics like personality traits, career goals, soft skills and sometimes even employment preferences.

[Related: 4 Signs You’ve Found an Informed Candidate]

How are candidate personas used?

Although the best recruiters often create job candidate personas in their heads, very few recruiters actually put them down on paper.  Having a documented candidate persona strategy leads to more informed recruiting and helps improve the following processes:

  • Creating and placing job descriptions
  • Employer branding
  • Sourcing passive candidate
  • Time-to-hire rates
  • Employee turnover rates
  • And much more!

How? It’s simple — a well-crafted candidate persona puts you in the shoes of your ideal candidate. You’ll know exactly what the perfect candidate is looking for, where to find them and how to effectively engage with them.

Steps to Create Effective Job Candidate Personas

Although creating high-quality job candidate personas can be time-consuming, the process might not be as complicated as you think. But, for optimal results, you must set aside the necessary time for planning and thoughtful preparation.

The candidate persona creation process can be broken down into three simple steps: collecting your data, identifying common data points between successful candidates and then assembling your personas. In this next section, we break down these three steps to help you better understand the process.

1. Gather Your Data

Start building your candidate personas by throwing everything you think you know out the window. It’s good to start from scratch. After all, the most effective candidate personas are based on real, concrete data — not gut feelings and assumptions. Next, it’s time to collect your data.

When marketers create buyer personas, they first consult existing customer data and market research. Recruiters must take a similar approach, but rather than looking at customer data, focus on data surrounding successful hires and placements.

Recruiters can uncover this information in a number of different ways, but we suggest you start by interviewing current employees. For optimal results, consider focusing your research on top performers within a specific position or department.

For example, say you’re looking to hire a marketing manager. Start by looking at the resumes of marketing managers you’ve successfully placed in the past and the performance data of top-tier marketing managers. Then, interview professionals who currently work in that role to understand what qualities make them successful. To take it a step further, we recommend gathering anecdotal evidence or commentary by consulting other recruiters and hiring managers who have hired marketing managers in the past.

Remember — although personas are represented as a single character, in reality, they are a composite of many different people. That said, aim to gather as much information as possible regarding each position or job opening. The more data you have to work with, the more detailed your personas will be.

Here are a few data points to prioritize, many of which can already be found in your candidate or recruiting database:

  • Demographic information: Age, location, current job title, income.
  • Background: Educational and professional history.
  • Personal attributes: Personality characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, interests and fears.
  • Qualifications: Any required or preferred skills, certifications, coursework, etc.
  • Goals: What kind of career do they want to build? Where do they want to be in five years?
  • Objections: What would cause a candidate to not want to work for a company? What aspects of a company’s brand, culture or hiring process would cause them to lose interest?
  • Web activity: Where do they spend time on the internet? Identify which online platforms they utilize for leisure, for networking and of course, where they look for jobs.

Of course, this list of data points is by no means comprehensive. Use your best judgment and really pay attention to traits and characteristics that seem to be shared by successful candidates.

[Related: Why Recruiting for Personality Matters]

2. Identify Trends

Now that you’ve compiled your data, it’s time to organize and analyze this information to identify shared trends and traits. This is when your personas will really start to take shape.

The goal here is to develop a list of qualities and characteristics that make up the ideal candidate for each of the positions you’re trying to fill. If you are struggling to do this effectively, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have you noticed that successful candidates often share common job/career specific experiences?
  • What skills does the ideal candidate absolutely need to have?
  • What motivates the ideal candidate?
  • Where does the ideal candidate see themselves in five years?
  • What is the ideal candidate looking for in their work environment?
  • Where does the ideal candidate search for jobs?

These questions will lead you to draw conclusions about the candidate who will best meet your needs for any given role or job opening.

[Related: 6 Signs You’ve Found the Right Candidate]

3. Assemble Your Personas

After collecting and analyzing your data, it’s finally time to assemble your candidate persona profiles. At this stage, you’ll use the insights you’ve uncovered to create a profile of your hypothetical candidate.

It’s important to remember: Your end goal should not be a job description, but rather an archetype of your ideal candidate. While some of your persona’s qualities will match up with the job description, some may not. For example, just because the ideal candidate aspires to make $75,000 a year doesn’t mean they aren’t the perfect fit for a job that pays $60,000 a year. Their lofty salary goals show ambition and drive.

Make sure your personas are representative of actual human beings and don’t be afraid to get creative — many companies give their personas names and pictures to make them seem more realistic and multi-dimensional.

Incorporating Candidate Personas Within Your Recruiting Strategy

With each new job opening or position you fill, we recommend creating a brand-new candidate persona. Over time, you’ll have a library of personas to pull from, making your recruiting process efficient, effective and streamlined. Use your candidate personas to inform each aspect of the recruiting process, from the language you use in your job description to the questions you ask during interviews.

Krysta Williams is a Marketing Content Specialist at ZoomInfo, the leading business database solution. Krysta writes for the ZoomInfo B2B blog on topics related to sales, marketing, and recruiting. In her free time, Krysta enjoys playing with her dog and writing about travel.

Learn More:

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