July 8, 2015

Is Persona-Based Recruiting the Future?

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HidingAllAwayEarlier this year, employer branding firm Universum released a four-part study, “2020 Outlook: the Future of Employer Branding.” Based on a survey of more than 2000 HR professionals and CEOs from around the world, the study looks at where employer branding is today and how employer branding may evolve over the next five years. In the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring each piece in this study in a series of posts. Today, we take a look at part three of the study: “Talent Inside Out.”

When you boil it all down, employer branding is, quite simply, a recruiting tactic meant to attract candidates with the right personality and cultural fits for an organization.

On paper, that sounds great. We know that personality and cultural fit are extremely important hiring criteria, but there’s a bit of a problem. Unlike technical and interpersonal skills, which can generally be quantified or objectively measured in some way, personality and cultural fit are slippery concepts. Indeed, they only exist subjectively: personality and cultural fit are determined only by how well a given candidate fits in with a given company’s culture. There is no universal “fit” score. Candidate X may be a perfect hire for company Y, but company Z may see candidate X as the world’s worst employee — and neither company would be wrong, per se.

So far in this series, we’ve explored the importance of employer branding, who should own employer branding efforts, and how to build a better employer brand. But now, we’ve hit a wall: how, exactly, can companies use their employer brands to recruit the best candidates? How can companies be sure that the talent their brands attract really is the right talent?

According to “Talent Inside Out,” the third piece in Universum’s “2020 Outlook: the Future of Employer Branding,” the answer is “persona-based recruiting.”

Making Hiring Decisions Based on an Ideal Candidate Profile

Persona-based recruiting, Universum says, is a “bellwether of sorts”:

“[Persona-based recruiting is] an indication that a company is now thinking beyond the traditional ways of recruiting candidates and honing in on factors that were once considered intangibles. What type of personality is most likely to succeed within the organization? And how should we identify, recruit and motivate these individuals?”

Personality and cultural fits are often judged based on intuition and gut feelings — more “Good Vibrations” than even “Weird Science.” But Universum asserts that persona-based recruiting can provide employers with important, semi-objective criteria. By matching prospective candidates against ideal candidate personas, employers can answer questions like, “Who succeeds in this organization” and “How do we recruit the right people?”

ColorsUniversum describes the recruiting persona as “a fictional representation of your ideal hire; it encompasses both quantifiable factors (such as area of study, mastery of technical skills, or years of experience) [and] qualitative factors (such as motivation and aspirations).”

“What should be accomplished with this process [of creating an ideal candidate persona] is a representation of who the organization wishes to attract, not only based on hard factors, but also on soft factors,” says Joao Araujo, country manager of the U.K. and Ireland for Universum. “The idea is to facilitate recruitment decisions by allowing hiring managers to have a more comprehensive view of who they want to attract.”

While Araujo believes that HR should lead the effort to create personas for talent attraction purposes, he also believes that hiring managers should be highly involved in the process. After all: hiring managers are likely to be very aware of the kinds of people who really succeed in their departments and on their teams.

How to Create an Ideal Candidate Persona

Araujo says the project of creating an ideal candidate persona begins with an understanding of who your top performing employees are.

“One needs to understand what makes [these employees] special,” Araujo says. “Is it the hard factors? Or the soft factors? Or a combination of both? Is there a particular university that seems to be more successful in terms of educating our people? Is there any particular trait that stands out?”

Once you understand what makes your top performers so special, you can use these qualities to draft up an ideal candidate persona — that is, a hypothetical candidate who embodies all of these qualities.

You should have personas that correspond to different roles and departments — after all, a top salesperson probably won’t have the same qualities as a top content marketer, though there may be some overlap.

You also need to make sure that your ideal personas are not totally divorced from the realities of the talent market. An ideal candidate persona is pretty much useless if it can’t point you toward living, breathing candidates.

“It’s necessary to ensure that the profile that is being set exists in the outside world,” Araujo says.

In other words: don’t go looking for Supermen. Leave a little leeway. Recognize that people aren’t perfect. You’ll never find the ideal candidate in the wild — but you may get close. Just remember that.

HorizonOnce you have your personas crafted, you can measure every potential employee you come across against the personas. Which qualities do they have? Which do they lack? Are they enough of a match that they’ll really excel in the company, or should you look for a better fit?

Personas: Always a Work in Progress

Unlike loading a Ronco Rotisserie Oven, crafting an ideal candidate persona is not a matter of setting it and forgetting it. Universum says that “persona-based recruiting should always be a work in progress.”

“As mentioned above, the purpose of persona-based recruiting is to facilitate recruitment decisions by allowing hiring managers to have a more comprehensive view of who they want to attract,” Araujo says. “These personas should be reviewed or refined every time that is considered relevant.”

For example, if internal or external conditions have changed the type of talent an employer needs to attract, then the old personas will not longer be relevant. Employers need to make sure they’re regularly reviewing their ideal candidate personas, so that the personas are always applicable to current recruiting efforts.

Read more in Recruitment Methods

Matthew Kosinski is the former managing editor of Recruiter.com.