My family enjoys board games. We started our kids early with CandyLand, Guess Who, Chutes & Ladders and Trouble, moved up to Life, Clue and Monopoly, and now see them playing Ticket to Ride, Qwirkle and other variations of the board game genre. Games were regularly part of my growing up. Usually, however, these games involved playing cards. I learned Pokeno, but also, 500 Rummy, Blackjack and 7-Card Stud as a kid (my great uncle taught me to shoot dice, but that’s another story…). One game that didn’t make its way into my house was Mystery Date. I have a younger sister, but she had no desire for this game.
I remember being over a friend’s house where about 6 of us wound up playing this game as a joke when we were teenagers. It was hilarious at the time. It’s a game based upon stereotypes and caricatures. You didn’t want to get the date with a nerd; you wanted the quarterback. Absurd.
Recently, I had the chance to speak with some folks about candidate personas. The feeling seemed to creep into the “Open the door for the Mystery Date” vibe. For context, let’s use the precise definition that my friends at Beamery offer for candidate persona:
“A candidate persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal candidate. This persona is formed by defining the characteristics, skills and traits that make up your perfect hire. Creating personas help guide your hiring process and help you identify the talent that is the best fit for your organisation.”
For some, this may seem like a road to discrimination, and honestly, it may be. For many hiring managers, they want to replace or add a person to the team who is just like so and so. To be sure, there may be valid reasons why a candidate like so and so would be wonderful. But are those reasons more than skills and aptitudes? When you picture the person, is the person white? Male? Fit? Standing? As subtle as it may be, that imagery may keep bias as a systemic piece of the puzzle in the talent acquisition process. Is it deliberate? Not necessarily, but that won’t make it any less true or damaging.
This is not meant to be damning of the right usage of candidate personas. The concept of persona is a fixture of sales and marketing. It’s the answer to the “who is our audience” question. The qualifications of that candidate are valuable as products, services and messaging are delivered. To whom do we want to get to? The same question is valid for the roles we’re looking to fill. Where are those people who possess the competencies this role needs?
An appropriate starting point is with those employees currently demonstrating the knowledge, skills and abilities in work. Ask those employees about the possessed traits which have led to success and healthy performance. Use those responses to help define the persona for a candidate to be successful. Do not go into the gathering of information with a preconceived notion of what the result will be; that will skew the result and be a product of bias.
If you have hiring managers who ask an interview question regarding the reason for application to this company, the candidates themselves will introduce an aspect of clarity to the candidate persona. And add to the mix the hiring managers themselves, and you should have enough material to sketch out the competencies of a successful candidate.
When Gavroche in Les Misérables sings “Little People,” the audience is reminded of the ways in which his character has value, contributes to success and performs smartly. Yet, Gavroche is not what you might expect in a valued contributor. He doesn’t appear to be ready. It’s a truth for all of us. The external is not what defines success. Our ideal candidates do not need to look a certain way, but rather, be given the forum to succeed by application of the skills possessed, the knowledge learned and the attitude to contribute healthily. It’s time to sell Mystery Date on eBay and get it out of the workplace.