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How to Create a Candidate Persona (With Examples)

Male hiring manager interviewing a female professional matching his ideal candidate persona at his desk shaking her hands while holding a resume.

As a recruiter, you’ve probably spent much time thinking about the perfect candidate. You’ve tried to get inside their head to figure out what would make a job appealing to them. You may have even envisioned what they look like. 

A candidate persona is a way to make this ideal candidate profile official so you can fine–tune your recruiting efforts and hire the right person more efficiently. 

What is a Candidate Persona?

A candidate persona is a hypothetical profile that describes the qualities of the ideal candidate for a particular role. A candidate persona is not a real person, but it does have a significant level of depth. It goes beyond a list of skills and gets down to what makes the perfect candidate tick, including their motivations, fears, values, and personality traits. 

Just as marketing teams use buyer personas to help them create more effective marketing campaigns, candidate personas can be used by recruiters to craft highly targeted recruitment messaging and ultimately hire more of the right people.

Benefits of Creating Candidate Personas

Improves hiring accuracy

Creating candidate personas forces you to think strategically about the type of person you need and how they’ll work within your company culture. The process narrows your focus, so you’re more likely to identify a strong fit rather than making a hiring mistake based on factors that should have jumped out at you to signal a mismatch. 

Optimizes the use of resources

Instead of casting a wide net and allocating resources where they’re not likely to be successful, candidate personas ensure you’re spending your time and money talking to the people who are most likely to want the job and be able to perform it successfully.

Alleviates recruiter workload

Candidate personas help recruiters minimize time spent screening out unqualified applicants. By creating job descriptions and recruitment marketing materials that are highly tailored to a specific type of individual, you’re less likely to have ill-fitting candidates apply in the first place. 

Strengthens job descriptions

Candidate personas help you write job descriptions that speak directly to the audience you want to reach. Think of it like writing a letter; if you’re writing a heartfelt letter to your great aunt, it will sound much different than writing a cover letter to a hiring manager. Candidate personas help you speak the ideal candidate’s language, highlighting the benefits they’re most interested in and proactively addressing questions they might have about the role.

Promotes recruiting alignment

If there are multiple recruiters involved in hiring, everyone must be on the same page about the kind of applicant you’re looking for. Candidate personas facilitate better alignment among recruiting teammates and can promote a stronger sense of agreement about the final selection later on in the process. 

Improves recruiting metrics

By improving your hiring accuracy, candidate personas can also strengthen recruiting KPIs like your retention rate, turnover rate, and offer acceptance rate. 

How to Create a Candidate Persona

Research the market

Begin by arming yourself with a thorough understanding of the current norms around this position. Use job descriptions and resumes to research the hard and soft skills, background, and qualifications a typical candidate for this job would possess. 

Review historical data

Which types of people have performed well in this role in the past? Review hiring data and performance reports to correlate applicant characteristics with job success. Also, look at recruiting metrics by position and department to assess how well your current targeting works. For example, if you discover that a particular position is experiencing consistently high turnover, it could be a sign that you need to revise the candidate persona for that role to identify better-fitting applicants. 

Talk to stakeholders

Talk to other members of your recruiting team, hiring managers, employees currently in the role, or those who work closely with it to better understand the requirements. Ask questions like “What does it take to be successful in this job?” and “What does the ideal candidate look like?” All you’ll likely need is three or four conversations before some common answers emerge. 

Leverage artificial intelligence

AI-powered recruiting tools can be a great asset when creating recruiting personas. They can help predict the most likely traits the right candidate will have and even help screen applicants once you post the position.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About AI Recruiting Techniques

What to Include in a Candidate Persona

Demographic data: Identify core demographics like the ideal candidate’s age, location, gender, education level, and familial status. Remember, it’s illegal to disqualify applicants based on these criteria–that’s not what we’re setting out to do. Instead, the goal is to help you zero in on characteristics that make a candidate a more probable fit.

Employment: Determine their current job title and the company they’d be likely to work for

Skills: Outline hard and soft skills, being as thorough as possible 

Experience: Define how many years of experience they have as well as any specific work experience that makes them exceptionally qualified

Characteristics: Include personality traits, quirks, and preferences. How would this person’s friends describe them? Are they introverted or extroverted? Do they work best individually or as part of a team?

Goals and motivations: What are their career aspirations? Where do they see themself in five years? Why are they job searching? What are their salary expectations?

Values: What’s important to this person? What do their personal ethics look like?

Interests and hobbies: How do they spend their free time? What do they read, watch, and listen to?

Obstacles: Are there any hurdles you’ll have to overcome if you want to hire them? For example, maybe they’re considering offers from multiple companies or concerned about maintaining their work-life balance. 

Name and photo: While these aren’t completely necessary, they can help your persona feel more natural and keep it at the forefront of recruiters’s minds. 

Example Candidate Persona #1: Marketing Director

Sarah Thompson, 37 years old

Sarah lives in Brooklyn and commutes to Manhattan for her job as Associate Marketing Director of a Fortune 500 consumer electronics firm. She reports to the marketing director and leads a team of eight marketing strategists in developing integrated marketing campaigns for the company’s flagship products. She holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and an MBA from Columbia University with 12 years of professional experience. 

Sarah is known for being a strategic thinker adept at executing creative strategies that achieve her company’s goals. She has a strong analytical background and is skilled at using data to drive decision-making and assess the effectiveness of marketing campaigns. She’s an excellent communicator, able to collaborate across departments and skill sets to convey the brand’s message. 

Sarah is a high achiever who is strongly goal-oriented. Her short-term career goal is to obtain a marketing director position in a forward-thinking company where she can experiment with new and emerging marketing tactics. She hesitates to work for a legacy brand, concerned that leadership will be too engrossed in the old way of doing things.

Sarah is a mother of two who has been married for seven years. In her free time, she enjoys taking fitness classes and reading fiction novels. She subscribes to the New York Times and reads The Wall Street Journal online. 

Example Candidate Persona #2: Database Administrator 

Alex Nguyen, 29 years old

Alex is a database administrator in San Francisco with six years of professional experience. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and is an Oracle Certified Professional. 

Alex is proficient in designing, implementing, and maintaining databases using SQL, NoSQL, and cloud-based solutions. He’s capable of devising and executing robust backup and recovery strategies to safeguard critical data in compliance with industry standards and demonstrates solid problem-solving abilities. 

Alex enjoys living in San Francisco, but the increasing cost of living is becoming a barrier to staying in the area as he hopes to one day buy a home. He is open to relocating, particularly to an emerging tech hub in a smaller city. He is not actively job searching but would be interested in hearing about opportunities that allow for professional growth, especially opportunities for advanced training or specialization in emerging database technologies.

Alex’s friends describe him as reliable and detail-oriented. He likes to be on time and keeps a calendar never to miss an important date. Outside of work, Alex enjoys participating in hackathons and tech meetups, which help keep him on the cutting edge of the latest technological trends. He’s an avid hiker and enjoys exploring the scenic trails around the San Francisco Bay Area during weekends, finding solace in nature, and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

As you can see, the above personas include an extensive amount of detail that makes it easy to picture a real person. This is the whole point–so when you come across a ‘Sarah’ or an ‘Alex’ in your pile of applicants, you’re instantly aware that they’re a firm fit and worthy of pursuing further.

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Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn