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How to Use Candidate Personas in Your Hiring

Jason Richmond
Chief Culture Officer and Founder at Ideal Outcomes

Customer personas have been used for years to develop more effective, targeted marketing strategies. Also known as “buyer personas,” they help marketers identify and evaluate potential customers and clients. 

This same process can help recruiters be more effective in communicating with and identifying prospective job candidates. Basically, a candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate, depicting things like a name, a job title, key demographic information, and the characteristics, skills, values, and other traits that your perfect hire will possess. For starters, they can be used to:

  • Create more compelling job descriptions
  • Identify key candidate characteristics that better fit your culture
  • Better align your sourcing strategies so that you can attract the right talent more quickly
  • Allow you to start building talent pipelines and talent communities 

To develop useful personas, it is wise to gather data and do some research for each key position you are trying to fill. Don’t simply go by your gut. This can take some time, so don’t attempt to create personas for every open requisition, but instead, focus on your mission-critical roles (some companies call these strategic roles) and your hardest to fill roles. Alternatively, you can focus on job families, such as customer service, sales, finance, and so on. 

Once you have identified the roles, your next step is to gather information. Who are the current top performers in these roles and what do you know about them? 

Having the right recruiting strategy makes all the difference for your company's future. Make sure yours lands you the best candidates.

Begin with your hiring managers as they can provide the most insight and need to be on board with this process anyway. Here are some questions you can ask them:

  • Who are the most successful people on your team currently?
  • What makes them successful? What do they do that other team members don’t do or do less frequently? 
  • Where did they use to work? 
  • What kind of companies provide us with the best candidates?
  • What kind of experience seems to transfer most successfully here? 
  • What unique skills do they have?
  • How much experience do they have? Is the amount of experience important or are there other things that are more critical for success?
  • Are there specific degrees or certifications that are very important for this role?
  • Describe the key aspects of their personality. For example, are they team players, aggressive, good problem solvers, tenacious, passionate about their work, etc?
  • What are their career goals? 
  • What are their turnoffs? What do they not like about the job? 
  • What are some of their hobbies?

Next, talk with the top performers themselves. Ask them the same questions about themselves and get their perspective, including:

  • What websites or other sources do you use when looking for a job?
  • What sources do you use to keep up with industry trends and news? 
  • What are your least favorite things about working here? 
  • What do you like best about working here? 

Talk with the up and downstream internal customers of these positions.

Ask them some of the same questions, too. For example, if you are developing a persona for an outside sales representative, you might ask a few customer service representatives who interact with the sales team regularly. 

By now you should have a very solid picture of your candidate persona and it’s time to develop their story. A simple way to do this is to create a template, like this one for an outside sales representative. (You can find other examples in my book Culture Spark: 5 Steps to Ignite and Sustain Organizational Growth.)

Darlene Sales Rep

Education

  • BA from State University

Culture Fit

  • Fast-paced environment
  • Autonomy
  • Fast learner, loves to be challenged

 

Experience

  • 2-5 years in outside sales in similar consumer goods industry

Goals

  • Be top salesperson of the year
  • Maybe management some day

Skills

  • Hunter: good at cold calling and building new customers
  • Strong follow up/pipeline management

Dislikes

  • Being micromanaged
  • Lots of paperwork and administrative duties

Interests

  • Competitive sports, was a college athlete

Staying Connected

  • Looks for jobs on LinkedIn
  • Reads XYZ trade magazines regularly

Candidate personas are a great way to personalize your recruiting process, find candidates that will be a better fit, and get your hiring managers to think differently about talent. They will allow you to engage at a personal level with candidates and also improve the candidate experience.

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