Candidate Personas: Your Sure-Fire Solution to Finding Great-Fit Talent

If you are a recruiter, you’ve definitely spent hours going through a job description (JD), looking at candidate profiles and shortlisting them, only to have them rejected by the Hiring Manager. On the other hand, if you’re a Hiring Manager, I am sure you’ve spent way too much time looking at resumes, thinking, “Oh no, certainly not what I’m looking for.”

Why does this keep happening? The problem might be because you are looking at a resume and not a person, even though the resume isn’t going to join your company.

Be it business or talent acquisition, the hiring challenges people face across industries are fairly similar. In a recent Belong survey, we asked several business leaders, talent leaders and recruiters to list their top hiring challenges.

Here’s what we found:

The top two hiring challenges — discovering relevant talent and preventing drop-offs — have their roots in targeting. Especially in Outbound Hiring, just getting your targeting right could make all the difference between hiring the best candidate in three weeks, and hiring someone in desperation four months down the line.

To avoid this, there’s one sure-fire solution to consistently identify and target the most relevant talent and it can be borrowed from your marketing team: Personas.

What are Candidate Personas?

A Candidate Persona is a fictional representation of an ideal candidate for a role or position, developed based on data and research. This will include the defining characteristics, skills, personality traits, interests and motivations that you are looking for in the person who will succeed in this role.

How do they help?

In a candidate-driven talent market, targeted and insightful Candidate Personas are undoubtedly more effective than non-descript JDs that provide no sense of who the right candidate is. Candidate Personas, on the other hand, are designed to help recruiters understand an opportunity from the candidate’s perspective.

To break it down, here are four key reasons why Candidate Personas makes sense:

  1. Knowing who to look for makes it that much easier to find them. Candidate Personas humanize your search in a way that a JD cannot. Not only does this improve the quality of your screening, but it also helps build empathy for the candidate within your organization.
  2. You can personalize the candidate experience and journey more effectively. Because you understand the human behind the JD, you will know how to connect, make a great impression, and design and deliver a superior experience.
  3. You can double down on the right sourcing channels. For example, if the persona of the data scientist you’re looking for is someone who enjoys solving puzzles, targeting forums such as Kaggle could be a good bet.
  4. You can effectively align business and talent acquisition. Because JDs are usually a narrow listing of desired skills and experience, they hardly help business and recruiting to speak the same language.

How do you build a Candidate Persona?

The exercise of building Candidate Personas begins with gathering data. This data comes from conversations with the Hiring Manager and current employees with similar or adjacent roles, and analyzing historical hiring data.

We propose that you break down the process of collecting data into the following steps:

1. Identify and interview your top performers

If this is not a new role you’re hiring for, we suggest starting the process of defining a Candidate Persona by talking to employees in similar positions as the one you are hiring for. Based on quarterly evaluations, identifying your top performers should be an easy enough task. Set up interviews with them to understand what attracted them to join your organization.

But if these are completely new roles, extend your interviews to people outside your company. Tap into your network and talk to candidates that you or your Hiring Manager think would be a perfect fit (who knows, maybe you’ll end up hiring one of them!)

We’ve put together a list of questions that could help you with these interviews.

2. Consult stakeholders working with top performers

Information provided by the people working closely with top performers will help eliminate any hidden bias, and round out the Candidate Persona. Interview stakeholders to understand why these people were chosen in the first place: what are their strengths and weaknesses? How can you, as an employer, help them overcome those weaknesses?

The feedback from stakeholders will also help you do a preliminary assessment for culture-fit during interviews.

3. Analyze your hiring data

Your organization’s historical hiring data is crucial to fill information gaps and validate insights you will have obtained through the interviews. Check out the average tenure of your employees and your best performers. Is there a noticeable difference in their longevity? Bucket your longest-serving colleagues and best performers separately and tie it back to the source of their hire. Look for similarities including educational institutions, cities they hail from and previous employers.

4. Dive deep into social networks, communities and professional forums

Digital footprints are fantastic to develop a 360 degree understanding of the candidate, including interests and passions — an important part of a Candidate Persona. What social media groups are your ideal candidates members of? Are there patterns in the Twitter handles they follow? Are they members of similar professional communities such as GitHub, StackOverflow and Behance?

Once you have sufficient data on all these four sections, you will see several patterns and trends that will help you put together a strong Candidate Persona.

Once you are done with your persona building exercise, you will end up something that roughly looks like this.

Putting Candidate Personas to Use

Once you’ve built a persona, you are now ready to convert all insights you have gathered into specific action points for your hiring. For example, here’s how we would do it in case of Rani:

  • Rani is an intelligent, accomplished individual who is at a fantastic stage in her career. She’s been in demand ever since she got out of college, and she’s had no trouble finding a job; she is a classic passive candidate. You won’t find her scanning job boards, looking for an opportunity. The best way to get Rani to interview with your organization is to go outbound and reach out to her.
  • Since she gets contacted by recruiters quite frequently, it’s ideal that the outreach is initiated by the team lead, so that there is a higher chance that she’d respond.
  • She values her time more than anything, so she appreciates communication that is simple and direct. An email that clearly expresses an interest in hiring her, why she’s perfect for the job and what she stands to gain by this opportunity would be well received.
  • The interview process for Rani shouldn’t stretch over 3 days. If you are upfront and clear about the number of rounds and the purpose, with a time estimate, she’d love you for it.
  • If she accepts the offer, it is a great idea for her future boss to stay connected, maybe drop a mail regarding what is happening in the team, with maybe even a suggestion of a news article on a topic of her interest.

Optimize continuously for maximum impact

Once you create and implement a Persona-based hiring strategy, it’s equally important to measure its impact. It’s only when you begin meeting and interviewing candidates, that you can assess its success. Is the Persona you’ve created capturing the right profiles? Is it consistently bringing you profiles that do not meet your Hiring Manager’s standards? Can this be fixed by altering the Persona’s education or experience? Based on qualitative feedback from your Hiring Manager, make the necessary tweaks to your Candidate Persona to further improve your targeting.

Ideally, these newly created Candidate Persona should help you significantly decrease both your sourcing time and your conversion ratio by identifying the most relevant talent faster. It is exactly this kind of efficiency that will improve recruiter productivity, and of course, help to build a better relationship between Talent Acquisition and Business.

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If you’d like to access talent intelligence for your most critical roles, sign up for early access to Belong’s Talent Supply Index.

The Talent Supply Index measures how competitive the market is for a given job by dividing the total number of people with relevant skills by the total number of active opportunities for that job, and is an effective proxy to help businesses plan and gauge hiring costs, efforts and cycles.

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