How candidate personas should shape recruiting conversations

Apr 23, 2019 - Cat DiStasio

Marketers have buyer personas. Recruiters need candidate personas.

Because recruiting is not all that different from marketing, recruiters need to think like marketers and work to understand their audience. Marketers develop buyer personas to help them organize the desires, habits, and needs of each type of customer they are hoping to attract. Recruiters can apply a similar approach in talent acquisition, and tailor the recruiting experience to meet each candidate’s expectations.

Last month, we explained how to determine your brand’s archetype and then use it to enhance your talent acquisition strategy. Now, we’re looking at the candidate side of the relationship. Candidate personas might also be referred to as candidate archetypes, but to avoid any possible confusion, we’ll just refer to them as personas throughout this discussion.

Research tells us most candidates (58%) want more communication with recruiters. When recruiters deliver a personalized experience, candidates tend to respond positively. We don’t require statistics to tell us that people (including candidates) will be more likely to chat with us if we show that we know more about them. It’s one of the top lessons we learned from Dale Carnegie.

In today’s post, we’ll explain more about the value of candidate personas, how to determine your candidates’ personas, and how personas can inform your conversational recruiting strategy.

What is a candidate persona?

Similar to buyer personas, and to employer brand archetypes, a candidate persona is a collection of dominant personality traits, tendencies, and behaviors commonly found amongst all your candidates or subgroups of your candidates. Candidate personas help us understand who a candidate is, what their life is like, and what they want from an employer. In tight labor markets, recruiters who can unlock these mysteries will have a better chance at connecting with top talent simply by delivering a unique recruiting experience.

In a recent Indeed study, job seekers identified the top three factors contributing to a positive recruiting experience: enjoyable conversations (43%), transparency of salary and benefit details (42%), and respect for their time (40%). Focusing on quality conversations with candidates can address all three of these factors, and candidate personas help determine what constitutes a quality conversation.

We also know building trust is a key component of a successful conversational recruiting strategyand a skill AI won’t soon replace. Recruiters won’t be able to build trust with candidates unless those candidates feel you are connecting with them as a unique individual. Candidate personas can give you a jumping off point. They enable you to know someone without actually knowing someone, and ultimately personas can increase the odds that a candidate will continue talking with you.

How to determine your candidates’ personas

The most common candidate personas among your talent pool must align with your employer brand, so you may want to determine that first. That will give you a reference point as you think about candidate personas, and help you think about how to shape the conversations you’re having with candidates. In the article on brand archetypes, we used The Home Depot as an example of the Everyman archetype and for that company, the candidate persona must include traits and behaviors that align with that employer archetype.

If your candidate persona matches your brand archetype, you’ll probably know it right away. However, if it’s not immediately obvious, don’t panic. Review the questions to determine brand archetype, but keep your ideal candidates in mind. Some recruiters may have more than one candidate persona to target, depending on the types of roles they are sourcing for.

Ultimately, if you’re confused about your candidates’ archetype, just ask them. Consider creating a voluntary questionnaire applicants can complete (or conduct a focus group), with questions designed to understand their priorities. Here are some questions to ask in that survey:

  • What do you value in an employer?
  • What do you try to avoid in an employer?
  • What is a day-in-a-life like for you?
  • What interests do you have outside of work?

The end goal of developing and using candidate personas is to achieve a deeper understanding of the type of people you’re trying to hire. To go a step beyond, consider the demographics and psychographics of your candidates.

Interacting with different archetypes

Just as in marketing, recruiters need to customize their messaging depending on the audience. And when your true audience is one personthe person who will ultimately win the job offeryou need a laser focus to your approach. Once you identify a candidate persona, you want to keep it in mind in every interaction and let the persona inform how you write job ads and social media posts, the information your chatbot can help candidates find, and every conversation between recruiter and candidate, across all channels.

Candidate personas can also help shape your sourcing strategy. By understanding the persona’s lifestyle and needs, you can more easily brainstorm places to find the right job seekers for your pipeline. The U.S. Army recently put this strategy into action by starting a Fortnite team, because they know their best recruits play the popular video game. They wouldn’t know that if they hadn’t considered the candidate persona. (To learn more about the Army’s approach, watch Joe’s video on the recruiting campaign.)

Another great example is a healthcare client that totally revamped their communication strategy after creating candidate personas. They found that not only are nurses only available later in the evening due to their nontraditional shifts but they also learned that using video calls were unacceptable to this candidate because nurses didn’t want to be on video after a 12-hour shift. This healthcare organization switched to online events instead, which leveraged chat to create human connections on the candidates’ terms.

Here’s to better conversations

While candidate personas can be invaluable for informing your strategies, avoid letting them become prescriptive. Recruiters still need to work hard to avoid stereotyping candidates and keep implicit bias in check. Stay open to new information and use critical thinking to tailor each individual interaction, just as you would when communicating with friends or coworkers. The end result is a better experience for both candidate and recruiter.

For more expert insights to improve your recruiting strategies, check out our best talent acquisition videos (so far) this year.

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