Do you know exactly what candidate you are looking for? Learn how to build your ideal candidate persona, to ensure a more precise and successful hiring process! Annelle Barnett shares her experiences as a recruiter in searching for the right candidate for the right persona.

EP 73 – Building the Candidate Persona

Welcome to the epic company culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney will give you the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

JOSH [0:16] Hello, and welcome to the epic company culture podcast. This is season two, which is all about hiring and company culture. And I’m here with my co host, Annelle Barnett.

JOSH [0:26] Hi. How are you doing?

JOSH [0:29] Well, thanks for joining us today. We are going to talk about the candidate persona. How do you build out a persona to know exactly who you’re going for and hire with intent? What’s a candidate persona?

What is Candidate Persona?

ANNELLE [0:42] Well, a candidate persona is similar to what is known as a buyer persona in marketing terms. So basically, it identifies who the candidate is. It helps you understand who they are. What are their triggers? What’s their personality and their culture? What are success factors and things about the actual candidate? And then how you go about hiring them.  I cannot obviously have a decision in the matter as well. As a company, or as a hiring manager, you want to be able to put your best foot forward in order to earn that candidates willingness to come and work for you.

JOSH [1:30] Yeah, so with that candidate persona, what we’re really doing is filling a role and posting a position to really understand what that person would be like. What type of experience do they have? What is their personality? How do they fit into the team? We are really spending extra time to get the right fit, right? Not just a but in a seat, correct?

Understanding the Individual

[1:54] Yes, yeah. Everybody has different things that matter to them. For instance, like an analytical person probably in the interview processes is probably going to be concerned with your processes for hiring. If it’s very lackadaisical, or you don’t do what you say you’re going to do. If you say that you’re going to follow up with them on Friday, but you follow up with them on Tuesday, then they’re actually going to take note of that. So, really understanding who that individual is, and and how they’re going to be evaluating you is as important as evaluating them for their skill sets.

JOSH [2:36] Yeah, definitely. So what are the things that you start off with when you’re building a candidate persona?  What are the attributes you’re looking at, in order to narrow down the search?

ANNELLE [2:47] Yeah, so there are several difference. The persona or the persona of that work with a setup and a tab system. You have six different tabs. You have the actual candidate persona profiles that’s who the individual is.  Then, you have their personality as the next tab. Success factors is tab number three. Perceived behaviors as number four, and then the candidates journey. Finally, company culture and how that aligns. Those are the different elements that make up a candidate persona.

Persona Profile

You start with the persona profile, which is going to be in marketing. We always name these people. For instance, marketing, automation, marketing operations. Maybe, you want to identify what different kinds of titles this individual could currently have when you’re looking for them. What is their education level that you’re looking for.  You obviously want to know that they live within communicable distance of your location. Then, potentially any tools that they would use in this role, their responsibilities, and how they’re evaluated. This first tab information and resources that they trust, because you need to know how to find them. So, if they’re somebody that’s looking at certain websites all the time, certain magazines or public any kind of publications. Then, that’s where you’re going to find them. And so identifying that in advance of the interview process is a good way to really hone in your strategy.

JOSH [4:32] So right out of the gate on the first tab of the system, we’re looking at their just their general persona, and we’re digging in a lot deeper, right? We’re not just posting again. We’re not posting that job opening.  How far from the office should they live? What maximum distance that we think they’re willing to drive? So for that specific question, tell me about how you think that affects hiring? The company culture match and other employee retention strategies. Like how does the miles from the office plan?


ANNELLE [5:04] Well, everybody is different. Some people are more tolerant of a long commute than others. But for instance, how the situation in the past was one of the things that they were really concerned about, and the role that they were going to take is a great work life balance. And they lived an hour and 15 minutes away from where this position was going to be. So, that’s a two and a half hour commute every day,

[5:36] Every single day, five days a week, it’s almost impossible to have a work life balance. If you’re spending two and a half hours in the car every day, and then eight to 10 or however many hours that you spend at the actual job. That’s an example of not working, even though they thought that it would be okay. It’s just almost like saving them from themselves, because it’s just not everytime.

JOSH[6:04] For some reason, they’re highly motivated to make a move into a new position. They probably try and sell you on that even harder, how little of an impact it has.

What’s the distance?

But again, going back to some of the things we talked about in past episodes, that you can probably dig into the distance between where they’ve lived based on their jobs that they’ve had, find some correlation there and hopefully save them from themselves, right? If every job they’ve ever had, has been within five miles and this one’s 20 miles exact, then they can be the best marketing person that you have in your list. But you might have to pass on them if you don’t want to see them leave later.

ANNELLE [6:43] Because I then get the other side of that when I’m interviewing candidates and ask why they’re leaving their current position. The first answer is well, it is a 45 minute commute. So, I can completely understand why they want to find something closer to their house. But, you know, perhaps that would have been a good thought before. It’s up to the positions.

JOSH [7:11] Yeah, you definitely never know what kind of situations people are in.  You know, financially or work environments. They sometimes make moves that are incongruent with the long term goal.

[7:25] So once you have this profile built out, what’s the next thing that you’re looking at?


ANNELLE [7:31] The next tab covers personality which I’m sure that you can handle that question a little bit better than me. But from a high level, it’s their behavior style. What kind of person, traits that they have, and what are the strengths and weaknesses that we’re looking for based on the personality type. Then, what are there motivators or rewards.

JOSH [7:57] Given that we work with you on doing some of these personality assessments for clients and making sure that’s a good fit, the behavior style, those traits and work rewards are all huge factors in that.  First, is just the overall style congruent with the role that you’re trying to fill? So when you’re posting

ANNELLE [8:21] Marketing operations Mary

JOSH [8:24] She’s an operations person.  She has to make sure the trains run on time. Maybe meet some of those goals. So, she’s probably a certain style like an initiator, right?

We want to make sure that she’s goal driven, and probably fast pace in certain ways. That’s congruent with the people that were getting in. We’re actually able to look at all the data that is out there and say that this is the profile of the person that we want to come in. When they take a behavior assessment, these are the only people that are going to be a match and where we think we’re going to be successful.

Work Motivators

We also get to work rewards and motivators. So, we’re able to say that this person is a motivator.  By these three factors that are either they’re motivated by work, travel, or plan time off, or additional vacation time. What does that look like? What do we need to do to offer them a position and reward them in a way that they’re going to be successful? All kinds of ways that personality comes in to make sure that it’s congruent with the role. Like you said, sometimes we have to save people from them.

We had one recently where we had a kind of a marketing analytics person that was going to do research, get together numbers, see which campaigns were successful. For us, that’s a very specific profile. We had somebody that was more of a frontline marketing person. As we dug deeper, they were like, “Oh, yeah, well, I don’t like really putting together all these numbers. I don’t like doing things”. And you’re like, “Wait, why did you sign?” As we uncovered and peeled back the onion, we figured out that they weren’t a fit. That’s really focusing on the personality and being intentional about that, right. So after personality, what’s the next part of the candidate persona?

Success Factors

ANNELLE [10:01] Then, we have success factors, which is basically what we have to offer this candidate and what results or outcomes are they looking for? So that goes into what is Mary once. What does Mary care about what kind of technology stack to we have to offer.  Because Mary, an operations person, is typically going to be working with a lot of technology and marketing. So, they want to know that they can work with the really cool tools, and then what exciting projects will they get pretty much on. At the beginning, what can we entice Mary with that will make her excited to come work for us. I think, actually those are things that clients often or hiring managers and companies are often not thinking about, but are really important for Mary.

JOSH [10:58] Yeah, and with the job outlook that we have right now, where we’re actually really competing for the best talent  there is. Many jobs are already filled, and people are leaving to go to other places. Those are factors that may be companies haven’t had to deal with before.

Marketing Automation for Candidate Sourcing

What’s the technology stack? Why many people don’t want to use an advanced application where they have everything they need, like a full marketing automation? Then, be handed the small business email marketing tool and realize they lost all of their power because they don’t have the day to day decisions, things like that.

[11:32] Yeah, I like the idea of thinking about what they want and what they’re looking for. Because that’s definitely a huge factor. We had this came up many years ago, where we were interviewing a marketing person. This person had a very pointed question. Like, what’s your budget? What’s your spin. If you hire me, what’s my budget going to be spent? It’s a huge time you’re like, “Oh, we don’t really have our stuff together on that right now. It is something we were looking at doing”.

New Intiative

We didn’t get most of our leads through marketing at the time, it was like this new initiative. It gave us another way to think about it. And we ended up passing on that person knowing that they would be a really good person to have. That they were highly paid, and they were used to having a significant budget to go attack those issues that we didn’t have at the time. Yeah, so although we felt like it was a perfect much we decided to pass just because some of the end concurrency there.

ANNELLE [12:31] I think that was a smart decision. Because if you go from having a massive budget as a marketer to having a shoestring budget, that individual is really going to struggle and would not be happy. Then, you aren’t going to get the outcome that you want as a as a hiring company either.

JOSH [12:50] Yeah, I think from that, from that interaction was like, okay, maybe we need to post a guerrilla marketing.

[12:57] Somebody that goes out and makes things happen. Or just kind of figures it out. based on where that company was. So, what’s the next thing that we’re looking at this?

Perceived Barriers

ANNELLE [13:09] The next thing would be the perceived barriers. It’s basically what attitudes or concerns may prevent this candidate from leaving their current job to come into your company. So, you know, I’m really comfortable here, what can you offer me to make this worth my while your company is smaller than where I was before? What’s the security of the organization? What’s my opportunity for growth?

Basically, this is putting all of the objections on paper that the candidate may have. So that you understand how how to address those objections. Just like in a sales kind of position. You’re selling your company to this candidate, and whether you believe it or not these candidates have a lot of power these days. Yeah, this is how you overcome objections and win them over as your future employer.

Company Culture Check Series

JOSH [14:17] Yeah, and I know on the company culture check video series that we do. We’re interviewing people with amazing company culture.There are different ways, there are perceived barriers. People making those shifts from, “oh, well, what do I have here?” versus “what am I going to have in your organization? Is that going to be better? Is that going to be worse?” You know, “Am I willing to do a little horse trading for certain aspects, and you really got to dig into?” Those have some answers ready for it could be blindsided as a hiring person.

Multiple Interviewers

ANNELLE [14:44] Yeah, and one of the things to add about these personas is when it’s really great when you have multiple interviewers. Multiple people interviewing the same candidate. If everyone is using the same persona to define this individual, then everyone’s answers are the same. So, you’re getting a consistent response from everyone in the organization instead of one person has and another person has this thought.  Of course, you don’t want to make anything up, you want everything to be true. But if everyone’s aligned on the same conversation, the same story that they’re giving to the candidate, then they really see that everyone is aligned. It gives them a really good perspective of your company.

JOSH [15:34] We see that it takes a little bit of training to make sure that it’s a fluid process. There’s some consistency from person to person, because you don’t want one person to say it’s one way. And then there, the interviewer asked the same question. They get a fundamentally different answer from the next person who already works at the organization, because that’s probably not going to come across very well.

The Candidates Journey

ANNELLE [15:53] Exactly, which actually leads us into the next tab which is the candidates journey. We touched on that little bit before. I’m an analytical person, I’m going to want the interview process to be on time, for you to do what what you say you’re gonna do.  I want to know that your process driven which you can actually see in an interview process.

Family Factor

[16:21] Like their family as a factor in this decision. What do you offer that benefits their family? So it’s basically on this journey of interviewing, how are you going to treat me basically?

JOSH [16:40] I think there’s a definite difference in a company that looks at what that journey is and has it mapped really well and the ones who were just completely at hook. Because oftentimes, that journey starts with the first interaction. It’s either a resume coming in, or recruiter, bringing in a resume and introduce.  There’s something that happens to initiate that conversation. From then on the company’s on stage. You’re on stage or selling, you’re in front of that client, or this prospective employee in this case, and you have to make sure that’s a solid experience across the board. Because at any point in that experience, if they get a bad taste, and they’re going to be interviewed at the other jobs as well, they’re they’re going to notice that very quickly.

Company Culture

ANNELLE [17:27] Yeah absolutely. The final tab which I think you can cover better than me, is the company culture tab. So it’s matching the individual with the culture. So,

JOSH [17:41] We hammered on company culture and want to make sure that all candidates are a good match. So, we are always ensuring that we have company culture. Culture based questions that we’re asking them to make sure that that person who they are, matches who the company is, right?

Is it a match?

How they operate is going to match with how the organization operates. Whether you’re in the chick fil a for example, that servant leadership. Are they a technologist? They love technology, they really get into the live it through and through. Are they reader, are they not? What are all those different aspects that are ingrained into the company?

A lot of times, we can look at either the company culture questions that we come up. Or we can look at the company values and come up with reverse questions to match them on the values and make sure that they’re in line. So, knowing those ahead of time and making sure people are a good fit that add into that candidate persona, right? Make sure we’re getting the right match, right.


ANNELLE [18:42] Yeah, it’s basically your roadmap for hiring this individual and finding the the person who matches your organization and that you match what they’re looking for as well. So it’s, it’s aligning basically this blueprint of this individual.

JOSH [19:01] Yeah, so there’s all kinds of factors at play, and making sure that you’re not only attracting them, but you’re putting your best foot forward.  You’re giving them a good experience as they come in. You’re really selling them on the position because it’s getting harder and harder to get and retain good talent.  And then, making sure they’re a fit for the organization, right?


So, if you are hiring today, and you don’t have a candidate persona, take a look at what we’ve talked about or listen to what we’ve talked about today.  Come up with a persona, come up with a roadmap and understand how you’re going to get the right person in the right seat. So that you are hiring with the best intent. Thank you.

ANNELLE [19:41] Thank you.

JOSH [19:44] Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the epic company culture podcast with Josh Sweeney.

If you enjoyed this content, please subscribe on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher. For additional content and transcripts visit epicculture.co. If you have questions or topics you would like us to address or expand on, tweet us @epicculture1 or email us at podcast@epicculture.co.