Building candidate personas to acquire and retain talent: Charles Schwab’s Jerilyn Soncrant shares her tactics

In just a few short years after starting from scratch, Employer Branding and Social Media Senior Team Manager Jerilyn Soncrant has rolled out Charles Schwab's employer branding program and their candidate personas — which are developed using four buckets of research and are used to not only acquire talent but to retain it as well.

Jerilyn's current focus is finding ways to activate their employer brand internally while continuing to elevate candidate consideration and overall competitive position in the labor market.

To do that, the team is continually creating adaptable branding content to align with their recruitment marketing strategy.

“That includes videos, infographics, blog posts, and GIFs,” Jerilyn said. “When it comes to recruitment marketing this year, we're thinking of developing some landing pages and evolving our social media strategy and campaigns.”

She said they're also working to activate the brand by boosting engagement with future and present Schwab employees to create more advocates.

We're thinking about building connections and developing training to educate and further activate our brand from within. Jerilyn Soncrant
“We're thinking about building connections and developing training to educate and further activate our brand from within,” she said.

According to Jerilyn, their big goal for the coming year is to make sure everyone in the talent acquisition and HR departments understands the brand and are incorporating it into their work.

“We want to achieve great results by making data-driven decisions,” she said. “We don't have a scorecard just yet, because we're figuring out how we want to measure our brand and the impact it's having.”

In 2017, Jerilyn began creating candidate personas to get a better understanding of the types of talent they're looking to attract.

“We're all competing for the same talent, whether it's for technology, service, or sales roles,” she said.

First, they began conducting research by interviewing candidates who had gotten far in the interview process or had offered roles but hadn't accepted. The research consisted of four buckets: candidate experience, what draws candidates to apply to Charles Schwab, their perception of the brand, and communication and positioning. “For that final bucket, we consider where candidates do their research on us, what influences them to apply, and where they apply,” Jerilyn said.

We're all competing for the same talent, whether it's for technology, service, or sales roles. Jerilyn Soncrant
Then, they take all the information they've gathered, map out the important themes they've found, and start building out the personas. “Once we have that basic information, it's easy to figure out their mindset, motivators, and pain points and apply that to a persona,” she said. “We also combine that with research we do through labor market data and new hire surveys.”

Once the team has built the personas for a talent segment, they start creating a plan on how to roll them out.

Jerilyn said they not only want to roll it out with the talent acquisition department, but also across their business partners so anyone who is interviewing for that specific talent segment has an understanding of what they're looking for and is prepared to have conversations with the candidates.

“If a talent segment's persona is interested in career growth, when they come in to interview here, the team can make sure it's a topic that's discussed,” she said. “It's all about thinking ahead and knowing how we can provide information to the candidates and let them know what's in it for them if they were to come work here.”

She added they can use the candidate persona information to inform the employee experience as well.

It's all about thinking ahead and knowing how we can provide information to the candidates and let them know what's in it for them if they were to come work here. Jerilyn Soncrant
“For example, we have a work stream within technology we've identified four journeys for. Two are candidate focused and two are employee focused. Then, once the talent segment is hired, we can offer the things that are most important to them and retain them by leveraging those employee-focused personas,” Jerilyn said.

They've created personas for a number of different work streams already, but Jerilyn emphasized it's an ongoing process.

So far, they have multiple personas for the technology, risk and regulatory, and service area groups. This year, they plan to create them for their different sales roles, including financial advisors.

“They all run in their own work stream because not every talent segment is created equal,” she said. “For example, within technology, we did a few different personas because we do so much hiring there, and different people in that group might not have the same motivations or aspirations.”

She said the personas are helping them better understand the people they're hiring and giving them the opportunity to provide the best possible workplace for that talent.

Jerilyn said the biggest challenge that comes with the candidate persona project is helping their partners learn how to use them effectively.

A lot of the things we do in employer branding in general are long-term projects, so you need to celebrate small wins throughout the process. Jerilyn Soncrant
“This year we're being more purposeful, so we're not just saying, ‘We have the persona, now what are we going to do with it? What actions are we going to take to integrate this into the work we're already doing?' So, now we're working with other folks within talent acquisition on education and rolling it out to the business, too,” she said.

According to Jerilyn, they have a group of talent advisors that represent each of the different business areas acting as advocates for the project.

“We train the advocates and then look to them to continue to expand it from there,” she said. “Because we're a lean team, we've partnered with other folks within talent acquisition, and we've found this strategy has worked in the past.”

Jerilyn emphasized the importance of setting small, achievable goals throughout a major project.

“You need to know your end goal,” she said. “But, you should set smaller ones along the way, too. A lot of the things we do in employer branding in general are long-term projects, so you need to celebrate small wins throughout the process. It helps you stay motivated and reflect on the progress you've made while still looking ahead at where you want to go.”

Jerilyn Soncrant has been a member of the Talent Marketing Board since 2018. You can connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter.