Candidate Persona: The Dependable Deliverer

This is Part III of the series on Candidate Personas in Recruiting. Here is the Introduction, Part I, and Part II

These are intended to be archetypes of candidates. We discuss them because we want to think through how to identify, speak with, sell, and eventually close as candidates. 

Today, we move on to another  distinct kind of candidate. The Dependable Deliverer is one of my favorite people.

Dependable Deliverer: 
This worker is the kind of person they'd refer to as "salt of the earth" in days past. They are loyal to their boss, the company, and the community. Their main desire is to be steadily employed and know on a day to day basis that as long as they are doing their job, that job will be there. Accountants, warehouse workers, executive assistants, middle management, and production assistants are all jobs that have a lot of these candidates. 

Here's the fun part. They're not leaving their job willingly. The company treats them badly, underpays (or doesn't pay them), or is facing big layoffs and it means nothing. A single word that they are needed, appreciated, or that times will eventually get better is all they need to stay. 

When it really gets bad - the Dependable Deliverer is really in shock. They function best believing that hard work has a reward, and that reward is employment. That means they're stubborn when you're recruiting them, and scary when they've just been fired. When I say scary, what I mean is that they have lots of unresolved anger issues, and that comes across in the interview. It's not fair to them - the truth is they're looking for loyalty are much better workers than most types - but they'll blow a couple of interviews until an employer comes along that doesn't probe to deep into their work. 

How to identify them: 
You're pursuing them, and they never follow up. They don't call back, don't email, but will politely tell you they are open to more information. They may come straight out and tell you that they aren't looking, but unlike the Happy Hard Sell, they mean they don't want to think about it because it feels disloyal. 

Best time to recruit:
The day a boss leaves, or the day a new boss appears. 

Best language: 
"You seem like a very hard working, loyal, employee. What could we do to find more people like you?"
Also, ask them questions about the company, focusing in on what was promised. Don't tear down the company - don't sympathize - state that what the current company promised is what you're trying to do. 
And last - keep in mind these are great people for referrals. In fact, asking for referrals is a great way to get them to apply. The kind of role you fill with Deliverers is usually a volume role. Get a few referrals, treat them well, and you might be surprised to find a new application in your inbox. 

Just remember to be personal. Ask them to apply, because you "think they would do well here." 

Candidate Personas: The Motivated Mover Versus The Happy Hard Sell

Candidate Personas Series: Introduction, and Part I

When looking at candidates, it's important to look at their motivations for the job search. Over time, and with enough interviews, you can begin to identify candidates based on why they would consider your position.

This is not a cure-all. It's not a substitute for behavioral assessments or proper interview procedures. It is simply a way of thinking about a candidate's point of view, so that you can learn to identify their needs and communicate in a way that will increase your likelihood of success. This is a... basket of general attitudes. It's not candidate-specific, but as you see the patterns, you should be able to clearly place someone into a general category.

Let's take a look at three candidate personas, and then we'll look at ways to start conversations with them.

Motivated Mover:

This is every recruiter's favorite candidate. The Motivated Mover is an in-demand, talented candidate who interviews well, understands their value, makes good choices, and is absolutely looking to make a change. 

Motivated Movers have a track record of success. They ask questions about what is needed and who they'll work with because they're trying to picture success at your company. Interviews are two-way conversations. Negotiations are tough, but they're part of the decision-making process. The Motivated Mover isn't looking to just get the best deal, they're determining if your compensation policies deliver success. Throw money at this person, and they'll know you overpay to cover flaws in the business. Come in too low, and they know that you can't or won't pay for the right kind of talent.

Motivated Movers also have multiple options. They don't interview with one company. They have multiple interviews and multiple offers, which means speed is important as well. Wait too long, and a Motivated Mover will get a better deal.

This is prime candidate beef.

How to win: You need a transparent hiring process that is clearly communicated and actually followed by the company. You need high responsiveness from everyone on the hiring team. It's as simple as saying what you'll do and doing what you said.

Cons:  When all is said and done, if you're truly dealing with "A" talent, you're still only going to nab 50% of them (that's a good thing. If you win every pitch you make to a candidate, it's because you're not talking to a high enough quality candidate). 

Happy Hard Sell:

The Happy Hard Sell isn't a candidate you're going to see very often. They're as talented as the Motivated Mover, but they're not motivated to move. They're still quality beef, but they're the steak behind the glass. They like where they are, and they're not particularly interested in hearing a pitch. 

Recruiters often make the mistake of finding a Happy Hard Sell and thinking they can talk them into an interview. If you can talk them into an interview, you then assume they'll take an offer. They're attractive to managers because they are talented and exclusive.

How to win: The Happy Hard Sell isn't interested in being screened, they're interested in being challenged. If they sense that they're just another candidate, they have no reason to continue interviewing. What they want to see is a well-thought out pitch that makes sense for them. Be prepared ahead of time. Focus on the work, and not on selling. The benefits and perks and salaries need to be competitive, but they're not the hook.

The hook is the problem you're trying to solve. During your pitch, you need built in problems that the Happy Hard Sell wants to solve.

Cons: The Happy is a Hard Sell for a reason. That reason may be something you can't match. If so, you can spend a lot of time and resources courting someone who will never move. There's also an element of luck. If a Happy Hard Sell is on the verge of finishing a product, and they're current company hasn't planned out their future, they are susceptible to a pitch. That's a very hard timeline to match.

Planning Player:
This is my favorite kind of candidate for digital marketing management. In our industry, there is an 18-24 month window for advancement. In general, a manager will either be promoted within their company or they'll take a new position at another company. That length of time varies by industry, but it's a good balance between completing a project and embracing new technology and trends.

The Planning Player is clear that their career is the motivation. The promotion is recognition that they are improving, and they are protective of making a smart move. They're okay with a less-defined process, and jumping through your hoops, because they understand that's part of the process. It's not what they care about. They care about your reputation, and the chance to get a short-term win. They're also very focused on selling themself. 

How to win: The planner looks for clarity. They want to know that there aren't hidden risks. They will be sensitive to the company's reputation, and the job description, and the planned budget. The easiest way to pitch is to keep it simple. If they can quickly understand the opportunity, and they can quickly run it past their friends and family, they'll probably interview. And once a planner is in the interview, just don't mess up. 

Cons: Planning players don't like ambiguity. They don't like managers who want to shoot the breeze and get to know them. They believe if they're interviewing that the company has an interest in them. They're not prima donnas - but they're not sheep. You can mistreat them as a function of the process (they're not as sensitive to extra demands or steps), but when they're done with you, they're done. It's like a stress test. They're fine until they're not, and their seeming unflappable nature is hard to judge when they're close to being done with you. The problem is they don't pull themselves out of the process. They will go through to the end to see if they can get the offer, but you're dealing with a dead candidate who is just practicing their interview and negotiating skills.

Things To Say To Each Candidate Type

Motivated Mover: 
1) I know you're looking at several companies. Are they all the same position? Do you clearly know what you want to do next? 
2) Thinking about the company you're at now - what do you wish they would have done to make your last project more successful? 
3) This process is going good places, so let's stop and have a conversation about compensation. This is the ideal package the company would like to see. You can see it places you a very specific niche below a VP but above a typical Director. That's because they want you to have autonomy, but not fall under a normal salary band that requires a certain number of employees to manage. Now in this, you'll be reporting directly to this executive, but will have dotted lines to these three, and regular contact with senior executives during planning. 
4) What are we missing here? If you take the job or don't take it, what do we need to add to the work to make it successful. Is our timeline right? Is our project too ambitious? Maybe not ambitious enough? 

Happy Hard Sell:
1) What did you want to accomplish when you started your current position? 
2) When looking at our company's future, it was clear that the right team in the position takes more than a job description written by a recruiter like me. There's a tension between what we think we need, what we actually need, and what the right candidate thinks they need. It's kind of impossible to know where any of us are right. We need to be flexible, but everyone can't do this. It's a commitment to the right person, to give them the tools they need. 
3) We're not looking for a moon shot. It's not the impossible - but you don't get the chance very often to make a real impact. Our company has this window, but it's not doable unless we find the right person, and put the right team behind them. 
4) Does any of this sound interesting? Is it even worth you hearing more about, or is there someone else you feel would really be able to get their teeth into this? 

Planning Player:
1) I like your background. It's methodical, it's planned. You've managed your career well. Is this the move that you anticipated? 
2) The roles you've had in the past show you can succeed, but the next rung in the ladder is an important one. It has more competition, more risk, and is fundamentally different from your last few roles. The interview, the process, the negotiation - they're more difficult because there's more at stake. 
3) Many of the candidates that have been successful in your roles had a mentor. As their mentor was hired, they brought them along. Has that been your experience? I mean, it's great, until the mentor's career stalls. Have you been largely self-motivated, or have you been trained and led? How does that effect you now? How do you plan to adapt without...air cover? 
4) I don't like to dig into salary history, but I do want to ask, have you thought through what you need to take this next step? Financially, are you in a position to make a move, and is it about a specific dollar amount or a specific increase? What is the reward for your work, and why hasn't that occurred at your current employer? 



Candidate Personas: Why We Ask Candidates Questions

Part I of the Series on Candidate Personas for Recruiting

The goal of this series is to give recruiters a framework that allows them to imagine responses. You have to see the candidates as people so that you can speak to them, but you can't do that until you understand that every candidate has a different motivation. 

We can't know what's in the secret heart of a person, but we can develop categories that over time allow us to fill in the blanks with responses that are similar. 

An example from my recruiting comes from one of my favorite questions: 
Let's think about your current job. Picture where you work, think of the people you work with. And now, just tell me what you did last Tuesday. Start from the beginning. When did you get into work and what did you do?

I like this question. A lot of recruiters tell me they hate it. But you should try it. The question itself is straightforward. "Tell me what you did." An organized person will be able to walk you through the day. They may be a little perplexed, but if you push against their responses to get granular, you'll hear real responses about their day-to-day activities. 

What kind of responses do you get? 

1) Some people pull out their calendar and walk you through minute by minute. I like this. It gives me the opportunity to ask about who they work with, observe their facial responses to their co-workers, and and most important, ask questions about the impact of the work. Do they know why they are doing the work? Can they tell me why it's important? The "Tell me what you did" question pushes them to describe real world events, including, oftentimes, what motivated them to leave. While reciting a factual rehash of their day, they're also painting a picture of what they like and don't like about the job. That is what is known as 3d and 4d recruiting.  

Can you think of a question that does a better job of allowing you to learn about the candidate's real work and real motivation? Leave it in the comments if you can. 

2) Some people dodge the question. This is a huge tell for me in what kind of candidate they are. It's comical how many times someone who doesn't do much work will say, "Well, Tuesssdaaay? That was kind of a weird day for me." 

It's important not to let them off the hook. I'm not interested in them cherry-picking some perfect day that makes them look good, especially if it's the one good day of work they did in Q3. When using this question, you have to understand that they want to use your reluctance to confront someone to avoid the question. They want you to move to the next question, and because their main skill is avoiding work, they are very, very good at working your emotional triggers to get you to not keep badgering them. 

They just told you Tuesday was a bad day. What kind of recruiter wants to know about a weird day? 

A great one.

Over time, if you ask this question enough, you'll find that most people either give you great information, or they duck the question. And because they aren't used to it, they'll default to a standard response. For me, time and time again - it is the exact language, "that was kind of a weird day for me." That might not be the case for you, but you will get a response, and it will be the same one, and when you hear it for the 300th time, you'll know that you have identified a candidate motivation.

Extras and How to Keep Pushing

The primary purpose of this post was to get you to think about categories. To avoid having you make up things, you'll want to limit your initial categories to real life repetition. Patterns are helpful in recruiting, and the same response almost always leads to the same outcome. 

But I can't leave you hanging on that question, so here are some more of the basics. 

a) Don't use humor to deflate the weird day response. The candidate is trying to suck you in, to get you to listen to a story, to feel sympathy, and to give them what they want (I got this from landlords, who know that prior to telling you they can't pay rent, every tenant will want to tell you a story). Instead, reply with a dry, "Fascinating. Let's start from the beginning and talk about what you did."

That was a direct request for an answer. It was polite and directed, and there is no reason why they would want to avoid it. They worked and were paid for 8 hours that day, and they have nothing that was useful to report? Smile, but be firm. Remember, the goal is to understand what they do at work. What better way to describe what they do than a day that wasn't 100% perfect?

b) Depending on the kind of job overly technical answers or even pushback if the work they do is confidential. This isn't a bad sign. It is an opportunity. Remember that our goal is a pattern of responses that will identify categories and motivations. A candidate that is guarded could be hiding their lack of work, but I have never seen them react that way. Liars and slackers want you to believe they are good workers. They want you on their side, because it's the only way they can function. Private workers want to protect their company's secrets. Your job is to find what is not objectionable, not what they want hidden. The patterns will show themselves, but many a great candidate has been lost because they care more about their integrity than your need for information. 

c) Finally, we get to the vague and the ambiguous. This is an interview style that is prevalent in digital marketing, and somewhat in technology, and in general with creative types. The vague answer pretty  much only has two causes.

  1. They are vastly under-qualified to do the work, and really only know the definition of a word rather than it's use.
  2. You're vastly under-qualified to understand what they're talking about, and they fall into vague, broad concepts because their experience with recruiters is that talking about their work is a waste of breath. 

You didn't expect that one, did you? Well, I've been in technical staffing and marketing staffing, and I've been on both sides of this. Candidates have patterns, just like we do. The more talented they are, the less experience they have with a great recruiter. While it's possible that the problem is them, it's also likely, in a talented field, that they have been trained not to spook the horses. And you're the horse.

So. Categories. Patterns. The importance of gathering data. And the tendency of candidates to answer what they think you need to hear to advance them instead of what they asked. It's all part of understanding candidate motivation.   

Candidate Personas In Recruiting: An Introduction

Developing a persona is standard in the full marketing stack. The goal is to create a series of customer segments, create an individual who represents that segment, and then tailor messaging to that individual.

It's effective because good messaging is written to a person, not to a group. What "sounds good" is not the same as "what appeals to an individual. 

Recruiting has a real problem with this. We're obsessed with data, which means that we tend to view candidates in terms of lists, instead of as individuals.

This is good. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-07 at 3.27.02 PM


This is bad. 

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It seems to be common sense. Of course you want to talk about people as individuals instead of as a group. Then why don't we? Why do our ATS's lack pictures of the individual? Oh sure, compliance. Can't have any bias creeping in. Instead of an accurate picture, what if we had random pictures of people we could look at as we searched resumes and talked on the phone? That is literally the purpose of personas in marketing.

A persona is a lens that focuses our messaging on a real person and let's us discuss the impact of our message in terms of a real person. Does that sound confusing? Let me simplify it.

Your emails and phone calls are bad if you're looking at a list. They're better if you're looking at a person.

Lists focus are attention on what we want. Titles, companies we recognize, skillsets, keywords... when we write with a list in mind, our tone and message tends to be focused on what we want.

"I'm looking for full-stack programmers to work in our office in Seattle."

"We're on the search for great talent for our product team! B2B marketers experienced in lead generation using Marketo should apply now!"

I'm bored just writing that. 

When you focus on a picture, you take the attention off of your needs, and put it the candidate. Try these out.

"Your profile had links to code samples that were pretty impressive."

"Brian, your background in B2B marketing with Marketo could be a good fit for our team." 

They're still generic, but shockingly, they work. Candidate response to personalization works every time it's tried. That's not actually a positive thing. It means the bar for response is so low that your Yorkshire Terrier can jump over it. And those are very little dogs with tiny little legs. Don't get me wrong - response is important - it's the first step. But truly great recruiters and truly great hiring teams know how to take it further. They use a persona to create a messaging framework the candidate and the hiring team throughout the hiring process.

Customizing your personas requires you to do that most dreaded of exercises - putting yourself in the shoes of a candidate to understand their motivations. This series will help you do that. Stay tuned.