Personas 101: Building Your Organization's Cast of Characters

Shannon Seery
May 23 ․ 5 min read

Symphony Talent - Personas 101 Blog

For decades (and in some cases centuries) playwrights and screenwriters have used personas to help flesh out their characters and guide directors toward best-fit casting decisions. Then, marketing jumped on the bandwagon, using personas to help define the people who make up their core customer base. And today, more and more talent acquisition teams are leveraging the power of candidate personas to help “cast” talent for various roles within their organizations.

If your TA team is seeking a recruitment solution for finding great-fit candidates more quickly, personas are an excellent way to narrow down the pile of resumes and focus on building relationships. Even better, once these candidates become employees it’s more likely they’ll be “keepers.”

Intrigued? This latest installment of our 101 Series explains what personas are, along with some tips for building them.

What exactly do we mean by a “candidate persona”?

In a nutshell, a candidate persona is a fictional character – a composite sketch based on the qualities, skills, personality, goals, and demographics that the ideal person for a specific role would embody. Personas may be used in tandem with a targeted hiring program (such as a diversity initiative), or simply as a guideline for recruiters to help narrow down candidates from a large talent pool. They’re also useful in helping guide the entire Recruitment Marketing process, including messaging, creative executions, programmatic recruiting channels and even job descriptions.   

Start with research

Objectivity vs. assumption is where a lot of candidate personas either lay dormant or come to life. And that’s where research makes all the difference. Before you start building out a persona you should be gathering insights from the following:

1) EXISTING INFORMATION - Look at the data you already have on your most successful hires. What particular qualities (including candidate experience, and hard and soft skills) do these people possess? For example, you might see a trend toward problem-solving emerge consistently among your top performing customer service employees or thoroughness and attention to detail in those thriving in technical roles. These insights aren’t always captured on a traditional resume or C.V., but they’re traits and characteristics that are important to success.

2) CURRENT EMPLOYEES – Survey your current employees, those in similar positions to the roles you need to fill and, if time and resources permit, across your whole organization. Focus on their goals and aspirations, their alignment with your employer brand, and what they feel they bring to the table. Encourage them to be honest and open about why they chose your organization, the challenges they face – and what makes them stay.  

3) CANDIDATES – During the interview process recruiters should be asking potential hires what captured their interest in your organization, how they first became aware of you as a potential employer and how your employer brand message aligns with their hopes and expectations.

Don’t be tempted to short-change the recruitment research process and go with what you know: you’ll be missing the whole point of creating a candidate persona in the first place!

Bring it to life

This can be a lot of fun – and the more details you can build into a candidate persona, the easier it will be to identify great people and get them onboard quickly!

Of course, it’s important to include the basic skills sets and qualifications necessary for the role. However, candidate personas should go deeper: where these ideal candidates live, what they do outside of work, their social lives, their hobbies, the music they listen to, where they spend time online - in short, what makes them happy (or not). Be sure to get key stakeholders involved in building out these “ideal characters” and refine as needed.

Want to see the impact of persona building in action? Check out our webinar on demand where Highmark Health shares how they leverage personas to target quality talent.