Companies always need to optimize their business processes, and few are as important as the hiring process. Part of hiring is knowing who, exactly, you’re looking for to fill a role.
No, we don’t mean picking a specific person to try to headhunt or poach from a competitor, though that can certainly happen at the highest levels of management and executive teams. What we mean is creating a candidate profile.
This article will introduce you to candidate profiles and show you how you can work them into your hiring process. We’ll also cover some examples of candidate profiles that you can use for inspiration when creating your own.
Let’s dig in!
What is a Candidate Profile?
In marketing and sales teams, there’s a detailed description of an audience called a customer profile. Your customer profiles are descriptions of what a typical customer might look like. A store selling baby clothes might have a customer profile for a young, first-time mother, unsure of how to navigate the troubled waters of parenthood, looking for safe, comfortable clothing for their child. They might also have a customer profile for a father who doesn’t quite know what he’s doing, or a single parent struggling with a low income.
A customer profile guides the actions of marketing and sales. You know who you’re marketing to, and that allows you to know how to market to them. Advertising that is aimed at a young single mother will look different than advertising aimed at a couple on their third child. Different campaigns have different targets, and thus different copies.
A candidate profile is a relatively similar concept applied to hiring. You know what position you need to fill, so you work backward, figuring out what attributes of a candidate are important to have. It’s essentially a blueprint made up of three sets of qualities:
- Personality traits.
- Past work history and experience.
- Skills and abilities, both soft and hard.
These, combined, form a profile that is a picture of the kind of person you want to fill your role. As Harver says:
“If you’re trying to figure out what steps to take to improve your recruitment process, you can do so by focusing your recruiting strategy on your ideal candidate.”
A customer profile differs from a candidate profile in one major way: demographics. A customer profile can use demographics such as race, income level, gender, and sexual orientation as factors to influence marketing. A candidate profile cannot include any of these sorts of characteristics, because they’re protected information and cannot be used to make a hiring decision, by law.
This is fine, of course; when you’re filling a job opening, your goal is to fill the position with someone skilled and knowledgeable. Whether that person is black or white, male or female, or something outside of traditional categories doesn’t matter. As long as they can fit in with your company culture, perform the duties of their role, and help your business succeed, that’s all you need.
What Goes into a Candidate Profile?
A candidate profile, as mentioned, has three sets of information you want to look for in an ideal candidate. Typically, these are then sorted into two categories: the must-have qualities, and the nice-to-have qualities.
Must-have qualities are qualities that are required for the candidate to be able to perform in their role. For example, a successful member of your sales team might need:
- Outgoing, exuberant, extroverted personality.
- Strong written and verbal communication skills.
- Positive and optimistic attitude.
- Goal-oriented and motivated by KPIs.
- Problem-solving drive to help customers.
You might be tempted to add qualities like “familiar with our sales platform software”, but that’s not a necessary trait.
It’s difficult or impossible to train a person to have the drive to problem-solve for customers, so you look for that quality when hiring. You can always train someone to use your software.
- Here’s an example of a sales candidate profile, from HubSpot. As you can see, it doesn’t need to be complex, lengthy, or intricate. It’s simply a guide to the role, what qualities your hiring team should look for, and a template to use when drafting a job posting.
- Here’s an example of a developer candidate profile, from Sunscrapers. This is a longer and more casual-formatted candidate profile, of the type used to portray the ideal qualities of a candidate to those candidates themselves. They may have an internal-use candidate profile, used as a guide by their HR team, which is much shorter and more concise.
- Here’s an example of a general template, from CareerPlug. This candidate profile is a template with nothing specifically filled in for any role, just general guidelines for what you might want to customize for your role. You can use this as a general template and fill in the blanks for your company roles.
Now that we have some examples and an understanding of how these work, let’s work to build a candidate profile of your own.
How to Build a Candidate Profile
If you want to put together a candidate profile, you need to take the time to examine several aspects of your company.
- Your company culture. What qualities are prized or valued within your company?
- Your team culture. Larger companies especially may find individual cultures arising within specific teams and departments; your candidate profile needs to reflect the team they’ll be joining, not necessarily the company overall.
- The specific role. A candidate profile must be specific to the role; you cannot use the same candidate profile for a sales role, a developer role, and a management role, because those three roles all have different requirements.
Keeping this in mind, here’s a step-by-step process for developing candidate profiles for your company.
Step 1: Define your company or team culture, whichever is more relevant. Large companies will have overall, overarching mission statements and ideals, but each of their teams will have cultures of their own.
Smaller companies may have one overarching culture that drives the entire company because “teams” consist of 2-3 people rather than dozens.
Your job is to examine what the culture is in the most relevant sphere. You’re looking for qualities a prospective employee will need if they want to fit in and be part of the team. As Greg Kihlstrom writes for Forbes:
“To be truly successful, a brand needs to be aligned with organizational culture. Only then will the message that is being shared with current and potential customers and employees ring true and result in lasting relationships with all of these important audiences.”
Step 2: Define the role’s duties and requirements. Think hard about each quality you are tempted to write down, and categorize it into one of three buckets:
- The candidate must have this already if they want to succeed. These are qualities that cannot be trained or taught and must be previously learned or inherent to the person’s character.
- The candidate benefits if they have it, but it’s not necessary for success in the role. These are qualities that help a person succeed, but are either not necessary for success or can be trained.
- The candidate doesn’t need this, because we can give it to them. A lot of knowledge of specific institutional software, industry practices, and regulation falls into this category unless you’re hiring for a role that needs to know them, like an internal company auditor.
This list of qualities is especially important because it needs to include both hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills are things like knowledge of math and data science, or knowledge of PHP and SQL, or knowledge of Salesforce and Magento. Soft skills, meanwhile, are personality traits and qualities of them as a person, that make them successful in their role or as part of a team. Cooperative natures, outgoing personalities, optimism, and a drive to solve problems are all soft skills.
At this stage, it’s okay to brainstorm and write down far more than is necessary. Later steps will see you refining these qualities and requirements down to the essentials.
Step 3: Look at your most successful employees for inspiration. It can be difficult to put together the list of what is necessary for a role if you haven’t held that position yourself. Someone in HR might not know what makes a good salesperson, or what makes a good developer, or what makes a good factory line worker. Thus, you can turn to your experienced, successful employees in that role for an example.
You can find this information in a few different ways.
- Observe them in their role. What do they do, how do they do it, and how are they successful where others are not?
- Talk to their managers. What makes this employee stand out and succeed where others don’t? What qualities do they have that can be replicated or sought out in hiring a new team member?
- Talk to them directly. Ask them questions about what they do, what they like about it, what motivates them. What is most important for them to succeed, from their perspective?
Taking this information from a variety of sources allows you to get a varied perspective on what is required for a role. You can also discuss with managers and team leads, specifically the people who will be working with a new employee, to see what hard skills and experiences are necessary for the role.
Step 4: Refine hard skills that are must-haves. You have a large list of hard skills that are relevant to your role; now you need to refine this list into something usable as a template for your job listing, your interviews, and your entire hiring framework. As mentioned, you want to divide these skills into buckets: what you need and can’t train, what you need but can train, what you want, and what isn’t necessary.
Anything you can’t train goes in the must-have pile. This is your most crucial list and will form the bulk of your candidate profile, as well as your job listing and your interview process. If you use tools to set up pre-employment assessments or skills tests, for example, the selection of tests you run will be guided by this list of must-have hard skills.
Step 5: Refine soft skills that are must-haves. Similar to hard skills, you now have a large list of soft skills that are relevant to the role, and you need to refine that list into a usable list of requirements. Unlike hard skills, soft skills are very difficult to test for, and usually impossible to train, so you have to be more selective in what you choose as a must-have. The more must-haves you have on your list, the harder it will be to find a candidate that meets your needs.
This list of soft skills comes into play primarily in writing your job listing, as well as what your hiring managers should be looking for when they interview candidates. You can get some of this information from a cover letter, which is what Wayne Elsey says on Forbes:
“What is essential in the cover letter is to see if they took the time to understand the company and the position for which they applied. The cover letter can say it all.”
Step 6: Refine your nice-to-haves. Once you’ve picked out specific hard and soft skills to make into your hard requirements, you can start to fill out a list of nice-to-have qualities, skills, and features that set a candidate above the rest. Companies often run into two problems here.
The first problem is including too many nice-to-haves in the must-haves pile. When the must-haves pile is too long, your candidate pool gets too small, and you’ll never find someone who meets them all. The second problem is including too many nice-to-haves altogether. This inflates your job listing, suppresses certain kinds of applicants, and muddies the waters of hiring.
What you’re looking for here are a few key qualities you can use to look for, but not advertise as qualities you’re looking for. These will be key traits you can use to flag specific resumes and applications as top-level candidates.
Step 7: Figure out where your ideal candidates are likely to be, to know where to advertise your job. Now that you’ve put together your candidate profile, it’s time to put it to use. You have an accurate picture of the kind of person you’re looking for; now you need to find them. Where do they hang out? What do they do, where you can reach them?
Use your candidate profile to guide the selection of advertising methods you use to circulate your job posting. Use it to target advertising towards the right kinds of people. Use it to filter resumes and cover letters, and to bring the best candidates to the top of the pool. And, of course, use it as a foundation for your interview process, to make sure you’re getting the best possible person for the job.
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