How To Create A Candidate Persona
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” – Abraham Lincoln
Who are you looking for? Forget the job title and the company name — what does your ideal candidate actually look like? What is the candidate persona that would fit your company culture?
Without this idea of an ‘ideal candidate’, it’s hard for your talent team to rate the CVs that get passed across their desk, or know which LinkedIn profile is the best match for the role.
How can you fire up your sourcers for a new search if you don’t know exactly who you’re looking for?
On paper, any candidate your team finds might look great, but if they don’t match your persona then maybe they won’t be a great fit after all.
Even if you’ve never heard the word “persona” before, it’s likely that you’re creating them on some level already. However, setting aside time to complete the process intentionally should give you even better results.
What is a candidate persona?
A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills and traits that make up your ‘perfect’ hire.
Creating personas helps you guide your hiring process and identify the talent that is the best fit for your organization, and each open role.
Where do candidate personas come from (and why do they help)?
You can blame marketing departments for the development of personas, as they’re the ones that first came up with this research-driven approach to understanding your target audience. (‘Buyer personas’ are part of the way that marketers evaluate potential customers).
Pretty much everything that marketing does is guided by these personas. Their explicit function is to help companies reach prospective customers far more effectively.
In the same way, candidate personas can make recruiters far more effective. They can help you:
- Create more relevant job descriptions and increase applications
- Understand the best recruiting channels for your target candidates
- Align your sourcing strategies and focus on better talent
How do you create your own candidate personas?
So, how do you get started creating your own candidate personas? There are 3 key things to focus on:
- Identifying trends
- Creating persona stories
Approaching persona creation with this framework ensures that you’re as accurate as possible.
Step 1: Start with research
Candidate personas need to be based on actual data, not gut feelings or assumptions. For the best results, your research should account for current employees, any major stakeholders in the hiring process and candidates.
Ideally, you should have a persona for each role you’re trying to fill. At a bare minimum, try and create one for each job category (e.g. a sales rep persona, a junior marketer persona, etc.).
To illustrate the persona creation process here, we are going to choose a junior marketing role.
The best way to start gathering data is to survey your existing employees. For this example, you would focus on your marketing department, but feel free to check in with staff across the company.
This is the perfect way to start because the people that currently work for your company should exhibit many of the traits that you’d look for in new hires as well.
Try asking a range of questions about goals, motivations, and interests. Remember, you’re trying to understand what helps someone succeed at your company — valuable data that will be central to your persona.
Here are a few questions that we find are very helpful to get a broad picture of what your ideal employee looks like:
- What part of your role do you enjoy the most?
- Why did you apply to this company?
- What do you like about our culture?
- Where do you spend your time online?
- What skills do you think help you succeed?
- What are your major goals and targets?
Whenever you begin a new hiring initiative, it’s essential to make sure that all other stakeholders are onboard — you don’t want to run into roadblocks further down the line.
Schedule a time to talk to the relevant hiring managers, recruiters and sourcers about the kind of skills and traits they’d like to see in a new marketing hire. Get a feel for the way that teams currently look for candidates. Here are the areas that are important to cover in your discussion:
Job titles range (a lot) from company to company, so you need to draw up a complete list of potential titles to make sure your team can find top junior marketers for your team.
Where do they work?
Are there specific companies that you’ve had success in hiring from? For example, do you find that marketers from tech companies perform better than maketers from other industries?
What do they do?
What is the skill set that you’re looking for? Look beyond the job description here — are you scouting for content crafters or analytics wizards? Do they need proficiency in certain tools or tech?
What level of experience do you need? Is sector experience necessary? Are you open to hiring new graduates and provide on-the-job training? Does a lack of experience disqualify someone, or is it simply a guideline?
Do candidates need to be in a certain geographic location or are you willing to hire a fully remote employee in a different time zone? Are you looking for people with a certain background (e.g. marketing qualifications or degree?) Are there specific universities you target?
What goals do the best marketing candidates typically have? What are their aspirations? This might be harder to pinpoint, but you should be able to get some qualitative data from things like interview notes.
How are you interacting with them right now?
Where is your team finding candidates? Is it LinkedIn, online job boards like Indeed, Twitter, etc? How are they reaching out? Is it working?
The answers to these questions will put you well on the way to creating your first candidate persona. Here’s a neat checklist to make sure you don’t miss anything:
- What job titles should you look for?
- Where do they work?
- What skills do they have?
- What is their level of experience? vWhat personal traits are you looking for?
- What are the typical goals you expect to see?
- How are you interacting with them?
By this point, you should have a fairly accurate idea of what your “junior marketing persona” looks like. You’ll have a pretty clear set of traits and skills to look out for.
The only issue is that this data can be slightly biased, and it’s entirely from your own company’s perspective. To get truly accurate results, you have to speak to the external candidates themselves.
Don’t be afraid to ask candidates honest questions about why they’re interested in your company. They likely identify with your employer brand because they applied, and like it or not, they’re the personas that you’re trying to attract right now. They’re a great source of insight!
Use the same questions that you asked your employees, so that you can easily compare the results and see how they stack up.
Reach out to a variety of individuals: unsuccessful applicants, prospects, and candidates who are currently in your hiring process.
Step 2: Uncover trends
Research is the most important element of the persona creation process. By gathering all the data you can, it’s far easier to pinpoint what your ideal ‘new hire’ really looks like.
The next step is to analyze your data and look for trends. This exercise is crucial when you’re creating multiple personas, as you may be able to spot trends and commonalities for different roles.
You might find, for example, that all your most successful hires in sales and marketing are incredibly driven and come from top universities. This would be a trend that you would then include in all sales and marketing personas.
A question we often get asked at this stage is: how many of these candidate personas am I looking for? How many do I need?
The answer: as many as you need. If you’re filling a broad spectrum of different roles, you’ll need a diverse set of personas. Fast growing companies, with a range of open roles often fall into this camp.
On the other hand, if you’re only really looking for a single candidate type, you can limit yourself to just a few personas. We often see specialized recruitment agencies or companies with high volume hiring needs fall into this camp.
Step 3: Create persona stories
You’ve pulled together all of this research, so the final step is to create your own candidate persona stories.
Persona stories bring together all your research and create a handy, 360-degree view of your persona and make it easier for your team to get to grips with the process and target candidates effectively.
Let’s look at a candidate persona example, to show you what this looks like on paper.
Meet Marketing Mary.
- BACKGROUND: She has a BA in digital marketing from a top tier school.
- ROLES & EXPERIENCE: She has 2-5 years experience, preferably at a competitor
- SKILLS: Content Marketing & Social Media
- INTERESTS: Art & Sport
- WATERING HOLES: Twitter chats, various blogs and forums
- CULTURAL CHARACTERISTICS: Likes working in a fast-paced environment; always learning and enjoys new challenges
- GOALS: Fast career progression; learning every day
- OBJECTIONS: Long interview processes; impersonal communication
Marketing Mary is a junior marketer persona we’ve generated based on our own research at Beamery — her combination of interests and experience make her a good fit for an imagined ‘Junior Marketer’ role.
If you want to make sure that your talent team is highly effective in the ways they search for, discover, communicate with and screen candidates, then candidate personas are your best bet.
Thoughtfully creating personas helps make sure that recruiters and hiring managers are aligned on who you’re really looking for.