Candidate Personas: Hiring Through Hearts and Minds

Are your recruiters struggling to make real connections with candidates? As former recruiters, we know that requisitions run together and the hiring process can become rote. And that’s how we lose the personal connections with target candidates we so desperately need.

Here at exaqueo, we take a lot of lessons from consumer marketing; one of which is using personas to inform marketing strategies. Consumer marketers use personas to get behind the buyer: who are they, how do they feel and what spurs their actions? By using a similar approach in talent acquisition, we create candidate personas to help our clients better reach and connect with best-fit talent.

So, what are personas?

Defining Personas

Personas are fictional, generalized representations of your ideal audience and serve as a stand-in for this unique group of people. For years, the consumer marketing industry has used personas as a tool to better understand their ideal customers. In parallel, we have found that personas can be utilized in the many strategic areas of talent acquisition—from talent attraction to candidate experience to retention. Specifically, personas can be used as a tool to represent our ideal candidates.

Why does this matter?

The Importance of Candidate Personas in Talent Acquisition

Throughout talent acquisition, it’s important to understand who your candidates are, what makes them tick and what their journey looks like. Having a deep understanding of your candidate(s) is critical to anything related to talent acquisition, for example: 

  • Driving content strategy
  • Crafting recruitment talking points
  • Developing career sites
  • Following up on interviews

Personas help us internalize the ideal candidates we are trying to attract and relate to them as real people. Creating personas can help improve the way you solve talent acquisition challenges for the business and align your hiring team on the type of talent to recruit. Most importantly, they help create empathy and keep teams grounded in the real needs of their ideal candidates. Because of this, we believe that the process of creating candidate personas is well worth the time and an essential part of your talent acquisition strategy.

Okay, so candidate personas are an important tool for talent acquisition. But, how do I actually create one?

Developing Candidate Personas

Because personas are a composite sketch of your ideal candidate, it’s easy to take shortcuts in developing them by simply compiling a “wish list” of traits you want them to have. However, a properly developed candidate persona is based on sound research, not made up of weak assumptions or dangerous intuitions. Once developed, they may reinforce what you already know, dispel myths or both.

At exaqueo, we have a proven methodology and blueprint for building candidate personas. The majority of our research is qualitative—based on market research as well as insights gathered from surveys and interviews from top performing employees (those who have recently “bought”) and ideal candidates (those who are still shopping).  We also incorporate elements of our proprietary Whole Self and Source of Brand models.  Ultimately helping you tailor your messaging and customize your approach to engaging with the type of talent you want for your organization.

If you were to develop personas on your own, you can follow these steps:

  1. Identify audience (candidates) and choose target segments to personify (e.g. java developers)
  2. Define persona model (defining factors, plus what to include in the finished persona profile)
  3. Select research participants (typically a diverse mix of recruiters, employees and candidates)
  4. Develop interview questions sets and/or surveys (it’s important to craft your questions appropriately to make sure you get valuable insights)
  5. Conduct research (this can take some time, so be sure to plan accordingly)
  6. Analyze and develop (pull out common themes that cut across this unique group of people, then input into persona model)
  7. Implement and socialize (this is key to making personas a useful tool - more on that below)
  8. Test and optimize (like anything, personas have a shelf life - if updates need to be made, you should always take a research-based approach)

And, a finished persona profile will include elements from your persona model and a name, photo and story to bring it to life.

Once they're developed, how do I integrate personas into the work I'm doing with employer branding?

Connecting Candidate Personas with Employer Brand Strategy

Use of personas can be a critical part of ensuring all elements of the employment lifecycle carry an authentic employer brand. However, socializing and implementing personas is almost as important as developing them. Before you begin, however, there are several key considerations:

  • Personas are a tool for marketing and talent acquisition. They should not be shared with individuals who make up that persona or shared externally.
  • Personas represent a group of people who share common experiences. Not all people in this group are the same and may exist across widely different demographics.
  • Personas are not intended to be used for segmentation or targeting. Segmentation and targeting provide a quantitative way to view the market, while personas provide a qualitative understanding of behavior. In other words, it isn’t possible to look at purely quantitative criteria for a list of people and deduce behavior, mindset or level of needs desired from that alone.

And, here is a sample of how personas are used as a tool for the key stakeholders involved in employer brand work, including:

  • Employer branding practitioner or team: Typically owns the personas, and uses them to create or refresh current marketing touch points, develop integrated content strategies and more.
  • Talent acquisition leaders and recruiters: Use them to develop empathy towards candidates, facilitate strategy talent conversations with hiring partners, identify the concerns and needs of candidates more quickly throughout the hiring process and more.
  • Marketing, creative design and internal communications teams: Use them to inform design decisions, develop messaging and more.

Appealing and relating to your audience (candidates)—consistently throughout touchpoints in recruitment and attraction—will help pull the employer brand through as effectively as possible. And, it will help you get inside your candidates’ mindset and understand their needs, expectations, behaviors, pain points and overall experience. Which will help create a better, more personalized and consultative, candidate experience.

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