How to build a candidate persona and why they can make you money

A huge amount of your job as a recruiter is built on marketing principles. There are even some who might argue the day to day existence of a recruiter is incredibly similar to that of a marketer.

I’d disagree to be honest, but only because you hear far fewer expletives in marketing.

Then again, you also make less money, so swings and roundabouts, eh?

Anyway, I digress.

The reason I’m stopping by today is to introduce a marketing principle to you. That principle, in truth, is probably something you’re already doing. But I’d guess you’re only doing it mentally… and if you were to formalise that thinking, you could actually make more money.

So what is it? Well, as you guessed from the title of this piece, it’s candidate personas.

And the thinking behind this strategy is borrowed from something called buyer personas. Which in marketing, essentially goes like this.

You’ve got a product, you need to sell that product to someone. But how do you form an advert? Who do you speak to in that ad? And how do you know if they’ll like what they see?

Often, you start with data for who’s bought similar things in the past. You do some research about the market, and the product itself maybe and you combine this with a few educated guesses.

From that point onwards, you can write down a few characteristics about your buyer persona. Who are they? What age are they? What point in their life are they at? How much money do they have? What do they care about? Where do they live?

All fun questions to try and answer. And you might not be able to answer them all, but the closer you can get to a single person, or group of people, the better you’ll be at talking to them. And that’s pretty important in marketing.


To market a product well, you need to get into the mind of your target market. It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling a toothbrush or a car.

The better you can mirror the people buying your product, the more likely they are to see themselves in that product and brand.

You know how this changes when the product you’re marketing is a job?

Well… it doesn’t. It’s the exact same thing. That’s the main reason you’re on LinkedIn to begin with, right? That’s where your network hangs out, so you do too.

It’s also why recruiters post updates without a hint of irony saying things like… “I always wanted to work in my passion, Financial Services.”

Or why you’ll find some who presume having a lack of personality, is in itself a personality.

It’s not, and your clients won’t think that either. They just don’t show their to you. Either because you don’t know them well enough, or they work in a particularly stuffy market.

But if we were building a candidate persona for one of those markets, it’s actually just as easy as the others. You just need to know what you’re dealing with. And for that, you need a bit of imagination, coupled with data.

What data?

Well, here’s the first bit of good news. All the things you already know about your client count as data.

Now, if you’re the great recruiter you convince your family you are, that’s a lot of info.

If, on the off chance you don’t know much about this client yet, I’m going to suggest they’re not actually a client, and more of a prospect.

But let’s say you do know them. You know the people who work there. You know what it’s like on the office floor. You know three of the people there very well as you placed them directly. You know what they do, and therefore their customer base. And maybe you even understand their market.

That’s a lot of information.

And you already use that information to think about the kind of person who’d work well there. You probably just do it internally.

You’ll probably find CVs and speak to the people behind them… but maybe the first one’s a little quiet.

“That wouldn’t work well with this team” you think. You know that cause they’re a team of characters and often feel overpowering to more timid personalities.

What I’d like you to do in this next instance is actually build out the persona of the ideal candidate. And here’s the good part… there’s usually more than one. In fact it’s highly likely it’ll depend on the manager, team, job, department and even then you could find multiple for each.

Culture fit or culture add?

Once you’ve got a few personas written down, you’ll notice one thing… all of the traits about this person fit into your existing view of the business you’re hiring for.

And that’s great, as that was the task.

But you’ll elevate yourself as a recruiter if you can build in culture add.

Does your client need a more diverse talent pool? (Yes, probably). Do they need different thinkers? Are they limiting themselves in one particular area? Could they be better hirers? Better employers?

Here’s a hint: yes, they could.

Constructing an Advert

If you’re the type of recruiter who doesn’t write ads, look away now. This part isn’t for you. But before you go, know this… you don’t know who you’ll miss out, if you never try to attract them.

Writing ads isn’t the monotonous drab affair you were taught at the beginning of your career either. It should be fun.

You have the perfect opportunity to let your ‘dream candidate’ find you, with a bit of witty prose. And this is how…

First, imagine the person you’ve created the persona for above. And now, write to them and only them.

Imagine them on the other side of the screen reading this alone. You’ll need a catchy opener to get their attention, and frankly, not much will beat using their job title.

And try to use ‘self-qualifying copy’ along the way. So, let’s say you’re hiring for a German speaker… write the ad in German. And you’ll know, by and large, everyone applying will speak the language.

Or, let’s say you want a C++ Engineer. If you start your ad by writing:

“Hey, you, C++ Engineer…”

You know for a fact everyone reading past the 3rd word of your ad will in fact be a C++ Engineer.

The rest of the ad’s a doddle. All you have to do is point out all the great things about this job, and why the person reading it would be utterly bonkers not to find out more. You can throw in jokes, puns, memes… whatever you want.

But have fun with it, and you’ll be amazed at how many of the right applications fall on your lap.

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