The Ideal Profile

It is the best of times; it is the worst of times, for recruiters. Millions of high-quality potential candidates are out of work, actively seeking employment. Millions of high-quality potential candidates are employed and won’t budge for fear of LIFO.

Hiring managers can afford to thoroughly assess candidates, but they still need to proactively recruit.

Successful recruiters can manage this unique employment market by melding the initial assessment and sourcing through a dual-purpose recruitment tool: ideal profiles.

The ideal profile is not about elevating nice-to-haves to must-haves in your list of job requirements. It’s about using your knowledge of a top-performer KSAs and competencies to target your recruiting and do a more thorough, objective assessment of candidates.

What Is an Ideal Profile?

An ideal profile is 4-6 easily observable characteristics (items) that top performers in a given job share. You should be able to observe them from a candidate’s resume, application, or screening interview. They need to be logically (not just statistically) connected to success on the job.

Each characteristic is written in a format similar to SMART objectives.

Here’s an example of an ideal profile characteristic for an outside sales job:

“Active in 3 community groups for over 1 year.”

It’s specific, measurable, and time-related, but how do we know it’s achievable and realistic?

These last two factors are determined by an analysis of the top-performing incumbents in the job. This analysis can be very formal: thorough job analysis, or statistical analysis of bio data information. Or, less formal: reviewing top performers’ resumes and applications, and interviewing top performers. One quick note: if you are interviewing a top performer, he/she has to frame their answers to reflect their situation before they were hired, not 5 or 10 years into the job.

Another important consideration is the availability of the characteristic in the job market vs. your needs. Remember we are serving two masters here: sourcing and assessment.

Why Build an Ideal Profile

The ideal profile can:

  • target your sourcing initiatives to where you are most likely to find candidates who possess the ideal profile characteristics
  • better predict job success than pet theories, or gut hunches, because it is based on proven top-performer characteristics or behaviors
  • increase acceptability among hiring managers who can relate candidates’ backgrounds to proven job success factors
  • set a common standard for all candidates making candidate reviews more effective and efficient while treating all candidates fairly
  • increase your recruitment process’ defensibility because it rests on job related behaviors of top-performing incumbents
  • enhance your overall recruitment process without adding to recruitment costs

Building Your Ideal Profile

Best practices require compliance. Find a champion early on who can and will motivate hiring managers to use the ideal profile.

Conduct preliminary research into possible items for the Ideal Profile, as described above.

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Your next step is to assemble a team of hiring managers, SMEs, and your champion. Based on my experience facilitating these meetings, you should be able to create a working ideal profile for one job in a single 2-hour meeting:

  • Kick off the meeting with the champion, discussing: a statement of the business/staffing challenge; what an ideal profile is; and how it will address the staffing challenge. Set the meeting objective: to create an ideal profile for such and such a job.
  • Come prepared to present your findings from preliminary research into likely items to include in the ideal profile. This will be your conversation-starter.
  • Once the individual ideal profile items are established, the formula for rating/ranking candidates needs to be established. For example, will you require all ideal profile items to be met? Or, four of five?

How to Maximize the Impact of the Ideal Profile

As a recruiter, I have always believed in an all-hands-on-deck, everybody-recruits approach. Given this, here are some ways to use the ideal profile:

  • Post the Ideal Profile in your office for co-workers to see
  • Hold meetings with management to explain the process
  • Incorporate the ideal profile into your referral program initiatives
  • Hand out wallet-sized, laminated copies of the ideal profile of target jobs to all employees
  • Discuss the ideal profile with your Centers of Influence in the community and with external recruiters
  • Place a copy of the ideal profile in new-hire-orientation packets next to the description of your referral program
  • Establish networks with community and business groups that are aligned with your ideal profile characteristics
  • Build your resume/application review around the ideal profile and structure your initial interview to determine if the candidate meets the profile items

Important Considerations

The ideal profile’s primary use is to focus recruiters’ and hiring managers’ attention on high-potential candidates. It is a starting point. The ideal profile can help you target your candidate search and more quickly and objectively review a mountain of resumes. It is not a replacement for a multi-hurdle assessment process; it is the beginning of one.

As with any assessment tool, fairness is key to avoiding adverse impact and third party interventions. Keep your metrics up to date and be prepared to make adjustments as needed to be in compliance.

Even if you’ve done an in-depth analysis to create your ideal profile, things change: organization culture and goals, products, consumer markets, the job market. Track your results. See which ideal profile items or grouping of items work best in finding high-potential candidates and predicting success on the job. Plan on refining your profiles annually or sooner in a high-volume recruiting situation.

Avoid the use of personality attributes in building your ideal profile. Focus on observable behaviors. With the exception of “extroversion,” research tells us that most of us aren’t very good at correctly identifying personality characteristics from an interview, much less by reviewing a resume or application. Remember the old saw from Psych 101, “People do the same thing for different reasons and different things for the same reason.” Stick with proven top-performer behavior on your ideal profiles.

Many applicant tracking systems give you the ability to ask candidates questions and “pass” or “reject “ them based on how the questions are answered. Your ideal profile items may be used in your ATS. However, at least initially, I’d avoid rejecting candidates based on their answers to the ideal profile questions. Where your ATS allows, a better strategy is to score the answers and start your applicant reviews with the highest-scoring candidates and then work your way down the list.

The ideal profile is a productive sourcing and assessment tool for our times. It is a cost effective way to target high-potential candidates in a fair, defensible manner. Give it a try. It may just be a far better tactic than you have ever done before.

John Miraglia is an organizational effectiveness professional with expertise in recruitment, applicant assessment and talent reviews, performance management, and learning and development. He has extensive experience in the financial services industry. He resides with his family in central New Jersey.


6 Comments on “The Ideal Profile

  1. John: Very good article. You cover many of the things I train my clients how to do. 2 things concern me however.

    First, you talk about determining KSAs of performers. In my experience you need to also look at the KSAs of your non performers to find the common denominators to begin to build hiring profiles. In addition you neglect to mention the cultural aspect of candidates needed. KSAs are useless if not used in conjunction with an aligned culture.

    Secondly, you say that the ideal profile allows you to, “quickly and objectively review a mountain of resumes.” If you have a mountain of resumes you are NOT recruiting. You’re posting ads and looking through “spam” resumes hoping that the “ideal” candidate finds you. This is not an effective strategy.

  2. Wow. This is a GREAT concept – a very good article.

    I am still soaking it in and had to read it twice but this is very interesting stuff.

  3. Thank you, John. Very practical.
    I understand there is a tool being developed which would easily allow hiring managers to create the ideal candidate criteria and evaluate candidates based on them. Managers could either come up with candiates based on the ideal profile, or rationally justify the choices already made to fulfill compliance or other requirements.



  4. This sure is a terrific plan…also if you have been following ERE for many years, you know this concept is far from new. I don’t have the articles, but back in the early 2000’s there was a series of posts on this very topic – that really jolted me out of my recruiting stupor. As an external recruiting services provider, we felt that this concept was way more effective for us than an internal function who were concerned with regulatory issues…

    We’ve only ever been concerned with providing clients with top 20% talent – period, so it made sense to “know” what to look for. It also made sense for our business from a financial perspective. It became pretty clear to me that if we could greatly improve our “candidate submitted to hire” ratio (our metric Holy Grail), we would have a huge impact on our financial bottom line – and it did.

    By drawing up Top Performer Profiles for the typical hiring we’re involved with, we were able to streamline the process of isolating talent from the top 20%. We have been doing this for more than a decade to the point where our “candidate to hire” ratio has hovered around 40% for the last 5-6 years (of the charts for the level of hiring we do…). No question you have to choose the criteria wisely – and not be draconian in applying the findings to all prospects as there are always exceptions. The benefit to what John has laid out here – to us anyway – is obvious…we’re just glad that most companies DON’T employ it… 🙂

  5. Finding the best people to get is one step, getting the best people you can AFFORD is another one….


  6. Excellent article! What a simple, yet effective, way to screen & prioritize candidates. I especially appreciate the idea about tracking “ideal profile” candidates in the ATS. The SmartSearch system would easily support this.

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