How to Create and Use Candidate Personas To Find Stellar Candidates: Our Step-by-Step Guide

Written by
Ed Driver
Last updated:
Created on:
May 24, 2024

How to Create and Use Candidate Personas To Find Stellar Candidates: Our Step-by-Step Guide

Attracting candidates is easy. Attracting the right candidates is a whole different ball game. According to Indeed research, almost half (43%) of employers struggle to attract qualified, talented candidates with their job postings. 

There are many potential reasons for this, from poorly written job descriptions to lack of visibility on the right job boards. But if this is a recurring issue for your company, there may be a more fundamental problem at play… 

You may not know who your ideal candidates are.

This issue can lurk in the background, impacting your recruitment efforts without you even realizing it. If you're unclear about the candidates you want to attract, how can you create job postings that speak to them?

Candidate personas are one potential solution. They’re fictional representations of your ideal candidates that help you fine-tune and target everything from job postings to outreach, offers, and sourcing.

And in this Willo guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about creating and using them.

What Is a Candidate Persona?

A candidate persona is a representation of your ideal candidate. It’s fictional in the sense that it’s not based on a real person, but it isn’t pulled out of thin air—candidate personas are always based on the skills necessary for a role to deliver its necessary outcomes.

If you’re familiar with the concept of ideal customer personas (ICPs) in marketing, then you’ll understand the parallel with candidate personas. Just as ICPs help marketers target their most valuable customers, candidate personas help recruiters attract and engage their ideal candidates.

Why Should You Create Candidate Personas?

Better sourcing 

A good candidate persona is a powerful tool for targeted sourcing. If you know who your ideal candidate is, you can make much more accurate guesses—or run more comprehensive experiments—about things like:

  • Which professional networks they’re most likely to use
  • What keywords they might include in their LinkedIn profiles
  • Which job boards or online communities they visit regularly
  • What kinds of outreach they’re most likely to respond to
  • What companies they’re currently working for

Sure, you probably have hunches about all these things already—most recruiters do. 

But a well-thought-out candidate persona takes much of the guesswork out of sourcing. With detailed knowledge about your ideal candidate, you can focus your efforts where they’re most likely to yield results.

Better job descriptions

On a similar note, a good candidate persona can also help you write job descriptions that resonate.

Different kinds of candidates will look for different things in a job description—red flags, industry buzzwords, and benefits. By understanding what your ideal candidate is looking for, you can write a job description that feels like it’s speaking to them.

The goal is to elicit a reaction like, “Wow, that sounds perfect!” from your ideal candidates. And candidate personas can be a major help in achieving that.

Efficient and effective screening

Candidate personas aren’t only useful when it comes to attracting top talent. They also help you screen candidates more effectively. 

We’ll discuss this in much more detail below, but the idea is that by knowing your ideal candidate’s traits, you can quickly identify whether a potential candidate is a good fit. You can also structure your evaluation process to quickly zero in on important details.

The result? A more efficient and effective screening process.

Enhance candidate experience

Finally, candidate personas also enable a more personalized and engaging candidate experience—especially when recruiting virtually—because they ensure that your recruitment marketing efforts resonate.

Plus, since your candidate persona leads to a more refined talent pool, your candidates will also have a better experience throughout the entire recruitment process. You’re not giving as many unqualified candidates false hope—and instead, giving them an honest and positive experience.

Are There Any Downsides to Using Candidate Personas?

The short answer—yes, but they’re easily avoidable if you know what to look for. 

To be more specific, recruiters can run into trouble if they let their candidate personas become overly rigid, inflexible, and unrealistic. It’s important to remember that while candidate personas are a helpful tool, they’re not the be-all and end-all of recruitment.

Here’s a quick overview of a few potential downsides:

  • Overgeneralization: Professional experience is rarely predictable and linear. If your candidate personas overgeneralize by assuming all candidates have followed a certain career trajectory, you may miss out on top talent.
  • Bias amplification: Bias amplification can happen without us even realizing it. If our candidate personas include characteristics that certain groups of people are less likely to have (e.g. a particular degree or certification), we may unconsciously filter out or overlook qualified candidates.
  • Stagnation: Candidate personas can become outdated if not regularly reassessed and updated. This can lead to a slowed hiring process, lower-quality hires, and a lack of diversity in the workplace.

The key to preventing these issues is to focus on what the job needs to accomplish for the organization, rather than thinking about a specific type of person. We explain more about that mindset—and how to leverage it in creating personas—in the steps below. 

How to Create and Use Candidate Personas

Step 1: Define a structure

In practical terms, a candidate persona is a document that contains information about the target audience for a specific job opening. So, the first step towards creating a candidate persona is creating an outline that you’ll use to gather and organize information.

There’s no right answer about what you need to include. That said, here’s a basic candidate persona template you can use:

  • Job Title: The job title you’re hiring for.
  • Business function: What does the role need to accomplish for the organization? 
  • Pain points: What challenges or issues will the candidate help your business solve?
  • Background: What experiences and skills does the candidate need to successfully accomplish the job’s core tasks?
  • Values: What core beliefs and principles are necessary to thrive in the role and drive toward its outcomes?
  • Ambition: Are there more senior roles within your company that this role could naturally evolve to? If so, what’s the gap between this role and those future posts?
  • Opportunities to connect: What websites, channels, media, and methods does the candidate use to gather information and stay updated on industry trends, news, and job opportunities? Which of these can you use to connect with them?

Step 2: Research and collect your data

Once you have a structure, it’s time to start researching and collecting data to fill in the details. This will involve both internal research (e.g., interviewing employees hired for similar roles) and external research (e.g., industry trends and best practices).

Internal candidate persona research

Internal research for candidate personas usually revolves around three main methods: 

  • Role needs: Look at the reasons the role was approved in the first place—the specifics of what value it’s intended to bring to the organization will go a long way to identifying candidate personas. 
  • Interviewing current employees: Your goal here is to understand what the job entails and what sources, channels, and keywords they use to look for or come across job opportunities.
  • Analyzing data from past hires: Review recruiting KPIs and metrics to look for trends. A big one to look for is channels that have historically helped you fill similar positions.

Make notes to add to your candidate persona as you go.

External candidate persona research

When conducting external research, you can analyze market trends, look for niche-relevant job boards, and ask questions in forums or groups to better understand your target audience.

Step 3: Identify role-specific requirements

After completing the research phase, you can define the essential skills, qualifications, and experiences required for the role. 

More specifically, these are the aspects you can establish for experience and professional background: 

  • Years and type of industry-specific experience required.
  • Essential education, qualifications, and certifications.
  • Essential hard skills.
  • Experience with specific tools or software.

Make sure that these inputs directly correlate to job outputs. For instance, if you’re saying “Five years of experience leading teams,” make sure you know why. What has someone learned, internalized, or what are they capable of accomplishing after five years? From both a talent sourcing and inclusion lens, you might want to describe the outcomes rather than focusing on the input of time in a role. 

Step 4: Determine cultural fit and soft skills

You’ll also want to ensure that new hires integrate well and contribute positively to your workplace environment. So, the next step is to identify personality traits, values, and soft skills that align with your company culture and the dynamics of the existing team.

To help you, here’s how you can specify your criteria: 

  • Personal attributes: This includes personality traits, strengths, and interests that make sense for the role and the team they’d be joining. 
  • Values: This is what your candidate considers important and what they’re looking for in a company; generally, these need to align with company values in some way. 
  • Motivation for applying: Understand what drives candidates towards the role so that you can better identify those who are genuinely interested. 
  • Career goals alignment: This is how the role can help candidates achieve their professional aspirations. 
  • Communication style: Consider styles that work well with your current team dynamics or if you need them for customer interaction roles. 

Creating a candidate persona is a learning process—you fine-tune as you interview candidates. It’s worth noting this stage is also where bias can creep in; for instance, saying a candidate has to be outgoing and friendly is fair, but can often result in ignoring people who are shy or nervous in an interview setting. Make sure you have objective ways of measuring these elements so you can compare across candidates and reduce bias. 

If you incorporate an asynchronous video interviewing tool like Willo, your screening process becomes a wealth of information about candidate personalities and demeanor. You can review and share video responses at any time, giving you deeper insights into communication styles, body language, and overall fit for the role.

Step 5: Develop the candidate persona profile

With your collected information, you can now draft a profile of your ideal candidate. The profile should include role-specific requirements, cultural fit, career goals, preferred communication styles, and any other relevant characteristics.

Here’s an example:

Job Title

Senior Designer

Business function

Designing innovative UIs for tech companies and leading/developing a team of designers.

Pain points

  • Implementing a more efficient review and approval process.
  • Building a cohesive design team to support company growth.


5+ years of experience in a design role. Advanced skills in Adobe Creative Suite and Figma. Experienced with projects in the tech industry.


  • Prioritizes collaboration and open communication. 
  • Loves mentoring junior designers.


Progressing to Head of Design within the next 3 years.Taking on a leadership role within a fast-paced, innovative company.

Opportunities to connectSource(s)

  1. Job post on Dribble.
  2. Direct outreach via LinkedIn.
  3. Employee referral.

Just remember the three potential risks of candidate personas when drafting yours—overgeneralization, bias amplification, and stagnation.

To avoid these pitfalls, make sure to continuously update and revise your candidate persona profile as you gather more information about potential candidates. This will ensure that your hiring process remains inclusive, effective, and efficient.

Step 6: Utilize the persona in recruitment marketing

It’s finally time to start using your candidate personas. As we mentioned earlier, they can help you tailor all kinds of recruitment marketing materials to appeal to your ideal candidates.

Here’s a quick overview of the types of content you can create using your candidate personas:

  • Job descriptions: Use the language, tone, and messaging that resonates with your target candidates in your job postings. This will help attract the right candidates and increase their interest in the role.
  • Outreach: Reach out to the right people via the right channels. Speak to them in their language using pain points, ambitions, and values.
  • Employer branding: Build an employer brand that highlights the aspects of your business that your idea candidates are looking for. This is a big one—according to the Willo 2024 Hiring Trends Report, the vast majority (83.6%) of recruiters feel that a good employer brand is important when attracting top talent.

Source: Willo 2024 Hiring Trends Report

Step 7: Align your interview and assessment processes

In addition to recruitment marketing, you can also apply your personas to your evaluation process.

Structure your interview questions and talent assessment methods around the qualities defined in your candidate persona. This ensures that the selection process is geared towards identifying candidates who have the necessary skills and experience and fit well with your company culture and team dynamics.

To help streamline your assessment process, the details included in your candidate persona can then be applied to Willo’s interview Scorecards so that they’re considered during screening and interviewing. 

This makes it easier for recruiters to focus their evaluations on criteria that really matter to the role you’re hiring for. Plus, it also helps cut down on biased recruiting practices that lead to a lack of diversity and inclusion.

Step 8: Review and refine 

Regularly review the effectiveness of your candidate personas in attracting and retaining talent. Solicit feedback from new hires and the hiring team on the recruitment experience and the persona's accuracy in reflecting the role’s requirements and the company culture. 

Update the persona as needed to reflect changes in the role, company, or industry trends. 

Wrapping Up

With comprehensive candidate personas and related job scorecards in place, your recruiting team now has a distributable map to share with other key stakeholders. The best part is that you’ll be able to leverage your candidate persona in each stage of your interview process to find the perfect fit for your company. 

When you incorporate an award-winning async interviewing solution like Willo, you can save additional admin time and collect high-quality data about a candidate through video or audio interviews, text responses, and document uploads. There’s no better way to streamline your hiring process. 

But don’t just take our word for it, feel free to check out our case studies or book a live demo to see Willo in action.

Ed Driver
Customer Concierge Executive
LinkedIn profile

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