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How to Create a Candidate Persona

Sourcing featured

"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 really look like? What is the candidate persona that would fit your culture?

Without this idea of a 'perfect candidate', it's hard for your team to rate the CVs that get passed across their desk, or know which LinkedIn profile is the best match.

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 work out.

Even if you've never heard the word "persona" before, it's likely that you're creating them on some level already. Setting aside time to complete the process properly though should give you even better results. Want to know how to create a candidate persona? Read on...

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 organisation.

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 and parcel 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:

  • Research
  • Identifying trends
  • Creating persona stories

Approaching persona creation with this framework ensures that you're as accurate as possible.

Step 1: Research 

Step one, start with research.

Candidate personas need to be based on actual data, not gut feelings and assumptions. For the best results, your research should account for employees, any major stakeholders in the hiring process and candidates.

Ideally, you should have a persona for each role you're trying to fill. Failing this, try and create one for each 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.

i) Employees

The best way to start gathering data is to survey your existing employees. Focus on your marketing department, but feel free to check in with staff across your company.

This is the perfect way to start because the people that work at your company should exhibit many of the traits that you’d look for in new hires.

Try asking a range of questions on 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:

Candidate Persona Questions

ii) Stakeholders

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 things 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 it is important to cover in your discussion:

Job titles. No one just calls a spade a spade anymore! Job titles range (a lot) from company to company, so you need to draw up a complete list 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?

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?

Experience. What level of experience do you need? Is sector experience necessary? Does a lack of experience disqualify someone, or is it just a guideline?

Personal. Do candidates need to be in a certain location? Are you looking for people with a certain background (e.g. marketing qualifications or degree?) Are there specific universities you target?

Goals. What goals do good marketing candidates typically have? What are their aspirations? This might be harder to pinpoint, but you should get some data from things like interview notes.

How are you interacting with them right now? Where is your team finding these candidates right now? Is it LinkedIn, online forums, 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:

Candidate Persona Checklist

iii) Candidates

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, it’s entirely from your company’s perspective. To get truly accurate results, you have to speak to the candidates themselves.

Don't be afraid to ask these candidates honest questions about why they're interested in your company. They're all people who identify with your Employer Brand and, like it or not, they’re the personas that you’re attracting right now so they’re a great source of insight!

Use the same questions that you asked your employees so that you can compare the results and see how they stack up.

Reach out to anyone from unsuccessful applicants, to prospects, to candidates currently in your hiring process.

Step 2: Finding trends

Research is the most important element of the persona creation process. By gathering all the data you can from your team, it's far easier to pinpoint what your ideal 'new hire' really looks like.

The next step is to analyse 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.

In this post, we're only looking at a junior marketing role, but we'll touch on the importance of trends quickly.

You might find for example, that all sales and marketing successful hires are incredibly driven and come from Ivy League backgrounds. This would be a trend that you would then include in all sales and marketing personas.

The 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 specialised recruitment agencies or companies with high volume hiring needs fall into this camp.

Step 3: Persona stories

You’ve pulled together all of this research, so the final step is to create your own candidate persona stories.

Persona stories draw 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.

Meet Marketing Mary.

Candidate persona example
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 our open ‘Junior Marketer’ role.

Quick Summary

If you want to make sure that your team is highly targeted in the way that they search for, discover, communicate with and screen candidates, then these candidate personas are your best bet.

It should help make sure that you know who you're really looking for!

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