Using Personas in Recruitment

You’re hiring. Cool! Like any business, you want to recruit the best talent. You’re on the hunt for more than the basic job requirements. You want someone to bring energy and new ideas. A good culture fit. Someone with perspective and insight that will help you grow.

Using Personas in Recruitment

So, who is that person? And how are you going to get your job listing in front of them?

Not only that, but how are you going to stand out next to the other organizations hiring in your industry?

Approach hiring the same way your marketing team approaches messaging: target based on audience personas.

“Millennials” isn’t an employee persona.

Tell me if this sounds familiar. During a recruitment strategy meeting, someone will exclaim, “We need to attract Millennials!” Everyone will nod their heads, offer a few “sage” pieces of wisdom about how Millennials like adventure, or remote work opportunities, or craft beer on tap, and someone will probably make a snarky joke about “participation trophies.”

Two things are wrong with this scenario. The first is simple: It’s not nice to collectively bag on younger folks. Also, it’s quite possibly age discrimination. So, stop picking on Millennials and the participation trophies they never asked for in the first place.

The second thing is the real meat of the issue: “Millennials” is not a target group. According to U.S. Census data, there are over 75 million Millennials. No 75 million people are alike. Mark Zuckerberg is a Millennial, and so is the kid down the street everybody judges because he hasn’t moved out of his parent’s house yet. (Have you seen rent prices versus entry-level income lately? Give the kid a break.)

This lesson also goes for hiring “women” or “seniors” or any other vague demographic. Don’t shortcut your persona efforts by relying on (largely false or overgeneralized) stereotypes. Dig in and find out who your ideal candidate really is.

Create a persona based on attributes and data.

The beauty of personas is that they rely on data, and are composites of collected attributes, rather than a fictionalized version of who you think your ideal candidate is.

Creating a candidate persona requires a bit of time investment, but it’s worth it when you land your next rockstar recruit.

How do you create a candidate persona?

Evaluate your superstars. These are your go-to team members, the ones who pick up the slack and go the extra mile. Review the performance evaluations of several top employees. What experiences do they have in common? Do they share similar career paths, or education levels? Looking deeper into their evaluation, what words are used to describe their positive attributes? These findings can help you focus on what really matters in your next recruit.

Look to your data. How did your best candidates find your job offers? Did they seek you out, or did you court them?

Analyze exit interviews. What about candidates that decided to leave — what can you learn from their work experience, cover letters, and the job descriptions you posted? Was there a misalignment in expectation, a poor culture fit? Review exit interviews and see if you can find trends in what could have gone better.

What should your persona include? Here are a few ideas:

  • Educational background
  • Prior roles or work history
  • Status (currently employed, unemployed, freelance looking for full-time)
  • Professional values
  • Learning sources (Where does your ideal candidate go to hone their craft?)
  • Behavioral attributes
  • Experience level

Encourage diversity through your personas.

A candidate persona isn’t a fictionalized version of your top employee; it’s a composite sketched from the collective traits and attributes of your best performers and research from your hiring data. Your audience persona has no race, no gender, and no age. Not yet, anyway.

Most personas, when documented, include a name and a stock photo. You can use your candidate personas to subtly promote diversity by using photography featuring people of different ages, genders, ethnicities, and abilities.

I’ve never seen a candidate persona that featured a person in a wheelchair, and in my opinion, that’s a shame and a lost opportunity. One of the best programmers I ever met was paralyzed from the chest down. I worked with a transgender woman who was an absolute genius at empathetic customer service. Both had experienced discrimination in the workplace.

You can help break that cycle, just by normalizing the appearance of people in your workplace. Personas are one easy way to do that.

You have a candidate persona. Now what?

Now that you know who you want to hire, you can reverse-engineer your job offer and content surrounding it to target that persona. Does the listed job title match those skills? Is the required experience really “required,” based on the experience of your persona? Are you listing the benefits that will speak to your persona, and are you speaking their language?

Before you interview, personas make it easier to evaluate candidates. Sit down with each candidate’s resume and cover letter and your persona. How do they align?

Keep an eye on behavioral attributes during the interview, and check them again afterward. If a candidate has an impressive list of leadership projects under their belt, but was shy or nervous during the interview, it may be that the interview was a flub, or that they’re a great leader but a poor public speaker. Is that important? Is it something mentoring could improve?

Personas correct preconceived ideas about candidates, remove biases, and ultimately help you describe, target and recruit your next rockstar employee.