How to Build Better Candidate Personas

Like most industries, recruiting has become more competitive in the Internet era. Think about how many online job boards and career networking sites are available to candidates these days. Now consider how saturated each of these platforms are with recruiters—all vying for the same candidates.  For this reason, you must be more strategic with your candidate sourcing tactics. Enter: candidate personas.

Although many recruiters already use candidate personas– some struggle to use them effectively. Today, we offer you tips and best practices to improve your candidate personas. Keep reading!

What are candidate personas?

A candidate persona is a semi-fictional profile of your ideal job candidate. This concept is much like the buyer personas that marketers use to find and target their ideal buyers. Recruiters build candidate personas using data gathered from past placements, current employees, and industry research.

Candidate personas can include broad data like employment history, skills, interpersonal attributes, and education level. They can also contain, more specific details regarding a candidate’s career goals, personality, and employment preferences.

A set of high-quality candidate personas can help you improve every part of your recruiting strategy, including:

  • Job descriptions
  • Channel selection
  • Passive candidate sourcing
  • Employer branding
  • And more!

Why are candidate personas so helpful? They help recruiters develop a deep understanding of their ideal candidates. When you know exactly what your perfect hires look like– and what they’re looking for in their next role or company– you are better equipped to target and recruit candidates that have the attributes your company is seeking.

How do I create candidate personas?

There are three main steps to the candidate persona creation process. These steps include collecting data, identifying trends, and then building your personas. To create multi-dimensional candidate personas you must set aside some time for planning and thoughtful preparation.

Since this article is about creating better candidate personas, we won’t spend too much time on the actual process. But, here’s a quick overview for those who are new to candidate personas:

Collect data. Recruiters collect candidate persona data in a number of ways – primarily by analyzing past hires and interviewing current employees. The more data you collect for each open position, the more detailed your personas will be.
Identify trends. Once you’ve collected enough data, it’s time to organize and analyze the information in an effort to recognize important patterns and commonalities.  The ultimate goal is to come away with a list of qualities and characteristics that make up the ideal candidate for each position you attempt to fill.

Build personas. Create a hypothetical profile of a candidate using the trends you’ve uncovered. These personas should represent real human beings, so it’s important to include both hard and soft skills within each persona.

Let’s move on to the ways you can improve upon your existing candidate personas:

1. Collect a wide variety of data.

If you’ve already created candidate personas but find they’re not particular helpful,  it’s likely because you didn’t use a wide variety of candidate data. The more information you collect, the more realistic your personas will be.

Here’s what we mean – your current employees can provide valuable insight, but they only represent one perspective. So, try broadening your interview subjects to include the following:

  • Employees: As we stated, your current employees are a good place to start – you hired them, so they probably exhibit many of the qualities you’re looking for in future hires. They also understand what makes someone successful and productive within their particular department or role.


  • Candidates: The candidates that you’re interviewing now might provide very different answers to the same questions you ask your employees. But, that doesn’t mean their perspectives aren’t valuable. Speak directly to past and current applicants about why they were interested in your company and what they look for in an employer.


  • Key stakeholders: Managers, executives and fellow recruiters have important opinions when it comes to hiring future talent. Speak to stakeholders about the position you’re looking to fill – how this role fits into the big picture of the organization, and what qualities the hire will need in order to be successful in the role, etc. This will provide a variety of perspectives and might give you important insight into how your particular company is growing and evolving.

2. Don’t over-emphasize industry experience.

Here’s where many recruiters make a mistake– they define their ideal candidate by how much relevant experience they have. They include other details in their personas, but their primary focus is finding candidates with “XX amount of years” of relevant work experience.

Experience is important, but it’s not what defines a good hire. So, be more open-minded when creating your personas. Be more specific with the skills and attributes you want in your hires, rather than prioritizing ultra-specific industry experience requirements.

3. Don’t forget soft skills and personality traits.

Oftentimes, the most important elements of your candidate personas are the ones that are the hardest to quantify. Things like personality traits and career goals can’t be boiled down to simple numbers– but they are essential details if you want to make your personas more accurate.

Go beyond the surface-level details (current employment, education, desired salary) and make your personas more life-like. What is the ideal candidate’s long-term career goal? What excites them or frustrates them in the workplace? What are their biggest motivators? How do they spend their free time outside of the office?

4. Build a candidate persona library.

Candidate personas must be as specific and realistic as possible – so using one persona for a number of different job openings isn’t going to cut it—even if they’re similar roles.

For example, let’s say you’re hiring an entry-level blog writer and an entry-level PR copywriter. Candidates for these roles may have a lot of overlap in terms of the skills and attributes they need to be successful– but they will have important differences as well.

As a rule of thumb, you should create a new persona for each open position you’re looking to fill. Sure, that means more work. But, it also means you’ll know exactly what you’re looking for in regards to each role, and you can be more targeted in your subsequent recruiting efforts.

As you create new personas be sure to keep a well-organized library of every candidate persona you’ve created. In some instances, these personas will stay consistent over the years,  meaning you can reuse them over and over. Other personas, though, might need revamping once in a while. Keeping a library of personas is the best way to keep your candidate personas fresh and top of mind.

Key Takeaways

And there you have it– key considerations to improve your candidate personas and candidate sourcing strategy. Successful recruiting requires the right preparation and nothing prepares you better than getting to know your ideal hires through candidate persona creation. When you find the perfect candidate, all the work you put into your candidate personas will be more than worth it.

Sam Holzman is the Content Marketing Specialist at ZoomInfo where he writes for their B2B blog. ZoomInfo is a leading USA business database that helps organizations accelerate growth and profitability. Sam regularly covers topics related to sales, marketing, and recruiting, and likes to write about sports and travel in his free time.


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