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Building and using detailed candidate personas to target talent online enables recruiters and sourcers to zero in on the right candidates for the role and to get the most from social recruiting.
Marketers have been doing it for years: creating composite profiles of consumer personalities and preferences to clearly outline the most effective messages and channels for reaching specific customer segments.
"When done correctly, talent acquisition professionals can use personas, too," said Allison Kruse, head of social media and talent acquisition for KForce, a staffing firm headquartered in Tampa, Fla.
Chad MacRae, the founder of Recruiting Social, a social recruitment company based in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and Los Angeles, defines candidate personas as fictional representations of the ideal hire for a specific role. Candidate personas "help you to target people to join your organization that connect with your talent brand or mission based on current employee data, market research and educated guesses around experience, goals, motivations and challenges," he explained.
"You're basing personas on data that you're constantly gathering from your top performers, your best hires, and the candidates you're talking to day in and day out," Kruse said.
But with candidates sharing more information about themselves online than ever before, social sourcing can become overwhelming and time-consuming.
That's why advocates for personas in recruiting argue that personas need to be created and agreed upon by hiring stakeholders before writing job postings and sending out sourcing queries.
Once built, personas can be used in recruitment marketing and employer branding to attract and engage future talent. "There are a lot of opportunities to leverage personas, from devising a recruiting strategy, building careers sites, writing job posts, conducting interviews and sourcing," Kruse said. "They can be used to improve candidate experience; time-to-fill; collaboration among the sourcing, recruiting and marketing teams; and for training new recruiters."
Bring Candidate Personas to Life
Each person is different, but it is possible to create broad candidate profiles that share behaviors, experts agree. Get started by interviewing the company's top performers in each role.
"The easiest way to begin a candidate persona is to research the people who have been hired before in the role," said Johnny Campbell, the founder and CEO of Social Talent, a recruitment training firm based in Dublin. Recruiters can use internal performance data and top sources of hire to identify trends in experience among high-potential employees.
"Visualize the candidates [most likely to succeed]. Where do they work right now?" Campbell asked. "Is it a big multinational or a small not-for-profit? What is their current title likely to be? What level of education do you expect them to have? Then go deeper. What motivates this person? What social networks do they belong to? What influences them?"
Personas also include biographical data, typical work history, necessary skills and traits for success, and common pain points of the role synced up with solutions to get candidates' attention.
For example, if a likely pain point for a certain role is a limited budget and resources, find out if the hiring manager can alleviate the situation and offer something positive regarding budget and headcount. "If you know that your company has a great antidote statement, put it on a landing page, career page or in a video and promote it," Kruse said. "But if you don't have an antidote, don't lie to her. You have to be transparent and tell her that."
Personas are not foolproof and are never set in stone. "Treat your personas as a living, evolving document," Kruse said. "If it's not working, continue to tweak it. Each new candidate you meet will introduce a new perspective that you can use to make your personas more precise and tailored to your roles."
Kruse shared an example of a persona for a director of employer brand position named Erin.
"She lives and breathes employer branding, so she'll be in Twitter chats, she's in relevant Facebook groups, active on LinkedIn and following conferences like SourceCon," Kruse said.
She went on to describe Erin as a college-educated employer brand manager with 10 years of experience. She began her career as a recruiter and has worked in corporate and third-party recruiting environments.
Erin is passionate about her job, creative and innovative because she's worked with low budgets in her career, has strong interpersonal skills, and is talkative and outgoing. She might work from home, has an active lifestyle, loves travel and has a large social network. She prefers digital communication over a phone call, is a heavy mobile user, active on social media, and mixes her personal and professional life online. Her career goals include presenting at recruiting conferences, owning strategies for employer branding initiatives, and establishing a social media training program for employees to become better brand ambassadors.
"Motivators are really important in the persona," Kruse said. "If you're trying to close a candidate, you need to know what she's motivated by."
In Erin's case, "it's important that she stay current in her industry, she's a loyal brand ambassador for her company, and she loves to influence others, serve as a mentor and employee advocate," Kruse said.
Once Erin's persona is built from attributes and behaviors held in common by top performers in the role, recruiters can more easily find candidates like her and craft tailored recruitment campaigns to attract and engage them. "Based on her persona, you can figure out what conferences she goes to, where she hangs out online, what she talks about, what interests her, what hashtags she uses and what groups she's in," Kruse said.
In addition to figuring out where the right candidates are online, recruiters can get their attention by highlighting aspects of the job or company initiatives that will excite them and make the employer stand out.
Candidate personas should be free of any protected characteristics like age, gender, ethnicity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.
"This is not a gray area," said Jonathan Segal, a partner in the Philadelphia office of Duane Morris and the managing principal of the Duane Morris Institute, which provides training for human resource professionals. "No profiles [used in the hiring process] can directly or indirectly suggest protected characteristics."
Employers should instead focus on the competencies and skills in candidate personas, he said.
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