A Deep Dive into Candidate Personas

A Deep Dive into Candidate Personas

By: Susan Walsh, SHRM-SCP

What is a candidate persona? A candidate persona is a profile of an ideal candidate that is based on data gathered from the job description, key stakeholders, team members, and other HR recruiting initiatives (examples include DE&I, Succession Planning).  A persona represents a fictional employee with the ideal qualifications, experience, needs, and motivators. Detailed data is gathered through the use of interviews, focus groups, and surveys. 

Why create a candidate persona?  A candidate persona helps the hiring team clearly visualize the ideal candidate. This benefits the recruiting process in several ways:

  • Once you understand the ideal candidate, it’s easier to understand where to find this candidate.  Recruiting efforts can be more targeted and intentional.
  • The quality of interview questions improves and the hiring team stays focused on the ideal candidate profile. It’s easier to train your hiring managers to ask interview questions that uncover those ideal candidate traits.
  • Candidate evaluation becomes easier when a candidate persona is used.  This gives the interviewers a basis for comparison and helps minimize the subjectivity of the interview process.

Next, let’s go over the steps to developing a candidate persona and review a sample persona.

  1. Do your research. Use information from the job description for a good definition of the role, the number of years experience required, special or technical skills, and desired location.
  2. Survey stakeholders. Get input from hiring managers, team members, and employees from any department that works closely with this role.  Information gathered includes experience and skills, type of previous work environment, company/team size, remote/onsite work experiences, communication style, personality/behavioral traits, and professional goals.  There will likely be some overlap with your findings from the initial research.
  3. Create your candidate persona. Focus on no more than 10-15 criteria for the persona. That means you might need to move less essential criteria aside for the moment. Keep those in mind when you narrow down your final candidates.  Focus on the top ten or so for the persona. 
  4. Integrate DE&I initiatives. Identify gaps at your company and create personas that help to target candidates that can bring a variety of experiences and fresh ideas to your teams.

The following is a sample persona grid that has been completed for a developer role. You can select a number of key roles in your company, roles that are more frequently filled, or every role. 

Persona grids

This developer persona gives the engineering team a clear picture of the candidate that best meets the needs of the job, the team, and the organization. Without the ideal candidate defined through a persona, the process of sourcing, screening, interviewing and hiring can be hit or miss. A persona gives the hiring team a target.

Keep in mind this is only one of many ways to develop a candidate persona. There are several other formats for visually depicting the ideal candidate. You may want to start small by selecting a team or department that has had difficulty hiring, onboarding, or retaining new hires.  Begin by developing candidate personas that truly reflect the skills, experiences, needs, and motivators that lead to success on the team and in the organization.




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