Getting to Know Tech Candidate Personas

Recruiters have heard plenty about the tight tech job market by now. Given that this hiring climate is unlikely to change anytime soon, you still need a way to sift through the clutter to find the right candidates. It helps to know exactly who you’re looking for, because knowing your audience is a critical factor in any recruiting strategy, especially when it comes to tech. And one way to do this is through candidate personas.

You might be thinking: “I already know who I’m looking to hire. What do I need personas for?” Well, for one thing, writing down goals is intrinsically linked with higher success rates, making you anywhere from 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish your goals. That’s certainly nothing to scoff at, but rather than getting into the science behind this, let’s focus on getting those personas built.

What is a Candidate Persona?

As with most things in life, it’s easiest to start at the beginning. Just what is a candidate persona, and where did the whole idea come from?

Basically, this is the talent acquisition version of something other departments (think sales and marketing) create all the time. In our case, rather than trying to determine a potential customer, buyer or market segment, tech recruiters try to envision the perfect candidate. This lets recruiters visualize a fictional representation of the person they want to hire, generating a sketch of the real-life human we’re looking for and where we might be able to find them.

Building out candidate personas involves a healthy mix of data, research, interviews and imagination. Crafting a detailed persona for every position you’re hiring for might seem like a lot of work at first, but the return on your time investment is significant. To start, ask yourself these three basic questions:

  • Who is our ideal candidate?
  • Where does this person operate?
  • Why would they want to work for our organization?

Doing the Heavy Lifting

With each of the above points in mind, it’s wise to create personas that match your current openings exactly, such as senior software engineer or data scientist. One of the best places to start is by looking at the top performers currently in these roles and identifying what they have in common. If you can set up an interview, ask about the goals, values and ambitions that drive them in their day-to-day jobs. You can also seek input from other sources and stakeholders, such as candidates, hiring managers and executives.

From there, detail out a basic profile, accounting for more straightforward factors such as age, location, experience level, skills and certifications. After that, spend some time working out any common pain points that this candidate might encounter, along with likes, dislikes, personality traits, aspirations, challenges and the like. Moving through this part of the exercise will help to answer the first question in full.

Answering the others will take some deeper digging. For instance, learning where your candidates operate could mean understanding their web activity. Luckily, tech talent tends to congregate in similar spaces, attending the same events and following a handful of popular brands and companies, as evidenced by Dice’s Ideal Employer data. Knowing this will also shed some light on whether the candidates in question would want to work for your organizations. To complete the persona, look out for any key considerations that might influence their decision-making, which includes:

  • What’s most important to them (i.e., salary and benefits)?
  • What’s less important to them (something that often varies by generation)?
  • Any hindrances or possible objections (travel, on-site vs. remote)?
  • What do they want from their employer (their strengths, brand recognition)?

Reaping the Benefits

Once you get your first few personas down, creating supplemental personas for each new opening will become second nature. Some companies outsource persona creation to recruitment marketing firms, while others keep it in-house, generating nicknames such as “Mobile Developer Maria” or “QA Manager Quinton” and getting creative with the process. Both options, in-house or outsourcing, exist for equally good reasons.

You’ll find that the more personas you have in your arsenal, the easier the tech recruiting landscape is to navigate, and not just in terms of relating to your sourcing efforts. This newfound clarity can help you shape other top-of-funnel recruiting activities like job advertising, employer brand awareness and candidate engagement, allowing you to bring your strategy and efforts into focus.

In practical application, candidate personas can help you deliver a more personalized experience, something that’s invaluable when courting and communicating with tech talent (active or passive alike). Causing a domino effect, the benefits of personas are potentially endless, opening the door to streamlined sourcing, improved ROI and with any luck, a faster function from start to finish.

Noel Cocca is the founder and CEO of RecruitingDaily and its merry band of rabble-rousers. He aims to produce at the sweet spot between content and actual awareness by creating great work for living, breathing human beings in recruiting and hiring. He works to ease problems, both large and small, from startups to enterprises.