What is a Candidate Persona?

What is a Candidate Persona?

Key Takeaways:

  • A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of the optimal candidate suited for a particular position. This representation includes professional attributes, skills, experience, and personal traits.
  • Candidate personas enhance employer branding, provide insights into candidate demographics, support quicker time-to-hire, and improve employee retention.
  • Targeted recruitment based on personas enhances the likelihood of hires fitting organizational needs, promoting higher employee retention rates.

Competing for talent in today’s job market requires a deep understanding of the top candidates and where to find them. Often, searching through LinkedIn profiles or the existing talent pool doesn’t provide enough information about who else could be a great fit for an organization. But with the help of candidate personas – in-depth descriptions of the ideal job seeker – organizations can create a more accurate picture of which candidate types are optimal for specific roles and areas of the organization.


What is a Candidate Persona?

A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of the ideal candidate for a specific role or job category within an organization. It describes this candidate’s likely professional characteristics, including skills, experience, career goals, and personal characteristics, like motivators, frustrations or challenges, and behavioral habits.

Candidate personas can be structured in many different ways, with the ideal structure being the one that fits the company’s organizational structure and hiring goals best. Organizations typically create personas for specific roles or experience levels. Some large, global organizations have personas for specific archetypes. Examples include:

  • By role: sales associates, engineers, nurses, project managers, and many others
  • By experience level: intern, entry-level hire, supervisor, etc.
  • By archetype: common traits, skills, and ways of working that generally fit the organization structure and culture (example: Achievers, Analyticals, Creators)

what are candidate personas

Where job postings describe the job, candidate personas describe the best candidate to fill the position. For example, a candidate persona for an HR specialist might look something like this:

HR Specialist Harriet is a recent graduate of a 4-year B.A. degree program. She aspires to fill a senior talent acquisition or training role within the next 5-7 years, but for now, wants to learn the basics of HR management. She has held a few internships in HR, and is interested in roles that will provide her with a holistic knowledge of core HR activities such as recruitment, onboarding, benefits administration, and compensation management. She is still cultivating her personal brand, is high-energy, eager to learn, and actively seeking opportunities to be mentored by a more experienced HR professional. Her dream job offers a great work-life balance with frequent opportunities for learning and advancement. She spends a great deal of her time on LinkedIn for networking and learning opportunities, and on Instagram for growing her personal brand and engaging with her social network.

Tip: Candidate personas can help organizations identify the target candidate for any role. With this understanding, it’s easier to identify candidate job search behaviors, preferred social media sites, and other characteristics.


Benefits of Candidate Personas

When asked, recruitment professionals can usually verbally describe what they’re looking for in the ideal candidate. However, written candidate personas add more detail, provide more nuance or context to a specific role, and are more shareable with hiring managers, other recruiters, and search partners. 

Here are the key benefits candidate personas add to any organization’s recruitment program:


Enhances Employer Branding

Candidate personas add more nuance to the description of the ideal candidate, allowing organizations to refine their branding messaging to match candidate goals, motivations, and pain points. As a result, organizations can more effectively tailor branding to resonate with target candidates and speak to the work experiences and benefits they value most. And what resonates yields more quality applications. According to LinkedIn, organizations with a compelling employer brand yield 50% more qualified applicants.


Sheds More Light on Candidate Demographics

Personas allow organizations to better understand candidates’ generational cohort (with its nuances), experience level, and social media preferences. For example, persona research can help a healthcare organization determine that the nurse manager persona is a Generation X professional who uses Facebook, whereas the nursing assistant persona may be a Gen Z job seeker more likely to be on Instagram. With these insights, the organization can tailor its job advertising strategy to show job ads to different personas on different platforms.

candidate persona recruitment strategies


Supports Better Time-to-Hire Metrics

Well-researched candidate personas help hiring managers and recruiters stay on the same page when discussing and searching for the ideal candidate. With clarity about the role and who should fill it, it’s easier to agree on candidates and get to the offer stage quicker.

Tip: The average non-managerial professional role takes 60 days to fill. With smart recruitment analytics, organizations can keep better track of critical metrics and understand the ROI of new recruitment strategies.


Improves Employee Retention

Candidate personas enable a more targeted recruitment effort, thus increasing the chances that hires more closely align with organizational needs. And when there’s a strong fit, employees may be more motivated to remain and grow with the organization.


What to Consider When Creating and Using Candidate Personas

It’s not uncommon for job postings to attract an average of 250 applicants, but many may be a poor match for organizational needs. Thankfully, organizations seeking to refresh their recruitment strategy can use candidate personas to improve applicant quantity and quality. 

Building personas the organization can use to improve the recruitment process takes a combination of research, knowledge of best practices, and a committed recruitment partner with expertise in persona development. 

To get started, recruitment marketing professionals should incorporate the following actions into their persona development strategy:


Manage the Number and Type of Candidate Personas

Regardless of organization structure or size, it is possible to create too many personas. Ideally, recruitment marketing teams should aim to create no more than ten candidate personas, as more than that can make the process of using personas too unwieldy. Additionally, whether candidate personas are created by role, department, or experience, they should represent a general description of the ideal candidate. Also, they should not be so specific that they exclude some potentially great candidates or create so much specific nuance that they cannot be executed against effectively. 

Candidate Persona Template

It’s also essential to avoid over-differentiating, for example, by creating different candidate personas for similar positions, such as Sales Associate and Sr. Sales Associate. Internally, the roles may be quite different, but from a talent acquisition standpoint, they may share the same persona.

Tip: Not every target candidate will be an exact match with the candidate persona; there will be some outliers. But if the outliers begin to represent the ideal target candidate, it’s probably time to reassess the sourcing strategy.


Perform Internal and External Research

Building candidate personas effectively requires incorporating information about current incumbents as well as the market conditions affecting recruitment. Internally, talent acquisition professionals can gain cues about prospective candidate goals and motivations by looking at the data from people currently in those roles and exploring past instances of successful hiring channels. Externally, information such as labor data, college graduation trends, and LinkedIn or Indeed applicant metrics help to create a picture of ideal applicants, including where they currently work and what kinds of job opportunities they seek.


Follow a Candidate Persona Template

Whether written in bullet or paragraph form, or expressed visually in a chart, candidate personas should fully describe the characteristics that define the target applicant. By following a comprehensive candidate persona template, recruitment teams can create consistent personas without inadvertently leaving out important details.

While not an exhaustive list, the template should include the following elements at a minimum:

  • Candidate source: Digital and in-person sources for the ideal candidate, including job boards, career fairs, and employee referrals.
  • Background and experience: The knowledge and experience ideal candidates possess. Examples can include educational level, proficiency with specific processes and technology platforms, and years and type of experience in specific industries and work environments.
  • Demographic: The age, gender, income level, and job title describing the typical quality applicant (though keep in mind that age and gender can’t be used to disqualify candidates).
  • Technical and soft skills: The capabilities candidates possess, including soft skills like communication, problem-solving, creativity, and time management, as well as technical skills such as equipment operation and generating specific reports.
  • Social and networking: The social media platforms where candidates are most likely to engage, as well as the professional organizations where they are members.
  • Preferred employer values: The values candidates expect employers to demonstrate in areas such as diversity and inclusion, sustainability, social justice, and remote work.
  • Career aspirations: Candidate goals for the future, including desired roles, experience level, job title, and compensation.
  • Personal traits: The personality type, communication style, preferred role on a team, strengths, and weaknesses of ideal candidates.
  • Pain points: Aspects of the application, branding, messaging, and other factors that could cause the ideal candidate to withdraw from the application or interview process.

candidate persona engagement strategies


Boost Recruitment Success With Candidate Personas

Across every industry, finding and hiring the ideal candidate has become increasingly challenging with time. Not only are today’s candidates more selective regarding where and how they want to work, but they also have more information available to help them decide where to apply. Considering the role of employer branding and social media channels in influencing job seeker behavior, organizations wanting to compete more effectively can rely on candidate personas for that special “leg up” in identifying and engaging quality candidates.

To get started building candidate personas that transform organizational recruitment processes, Recruitics is here to help! The Recruitics team can provide strategic support and customized recruitment marketing solutions to help organizations of any size leverage personas for more targeted recruitment and quality applicants.

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