In his memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King shares advice for writers who want to create the kind of following with readers that drives them into bookstores or online every time he releases a new book.
The “Master of Horror” advises writers to create a picture of an Ideal Reader in their minds. The Ideal Reader, according to King, is the person you are trying to impress and evoke a response from. This is the person that the writer writes for.
You may recognize this advice from recruitment leaders in the form of a Candidate Persona or Talent Persona. This concept of creating personas to guide a company’s marketing, for any application, is one that HubSpot is credited as popularizing in the mainstream marketing community.
In the writing community, knowing your audience is the absolute first goal you must have in order to effectively communicate with that person in a way that gets them to flip the page or buy the book after scanning the back cover.
King has used this practice to build a cult following through his writing. Here’s what you can learn from a proven master of this technique to improve your recruitment marketing results.
Keep your Ideal Reader engaged.
Pain points, skills, and preferences are important to know, but they’re not the most reliable predictors of response or interest. Direct response settings, like an interview or a job posting, require different tools than demographic research or data you’ll find through your Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
The goal isn’t to learn everything about that person, but you should have a clear idea of what they want and what they don’t.
Stop or go. Any action your candidate takes will fall in one of those categories. Desire and fear are your best tools for controlling your Ideal Candidate’s emotional traffic light. Otherwise, they will continue browsing or drop out of the process.
Your own qualitative insight as a recruiter is invaluable to this process as well.
Know your Ideal Reader (Ideal Candidate) really well.
The nuance that hasn’t seemed to reach the recruitment community, or the mainstream marketing community at scale, is to relate that persona to a real-life person.
Stephen King’s Ideal Reader (IR) is his wife, Tabitha.
He explains: “If you know the tastes of your ideal reader at least half as much as I know the tastes of mine, it will be not difficult for you to imagine what he will like, and what he will not.”
If you are advertising a role to replace the fast-rising intern who broke your heart when they left for a different opportunity after graduation, then use what you know and can find out about that person to create the persona for your Ideal Reader.
Exit interviews, one-on-one meetings, employee engagement efforts, social media research and performance reviews are all opportunities to get the insight you need to recruit future top performers.
Know what your Ideal Candidate values.
How does your Ideal Candidate see success?
How do they recognize failure?
What do they attribute their results to?
Your Ideal Candidate could be someone you know personally or have access to find out psychological insights that reveal their motivation.
To someone who doesn’t value financial success—the “why” doesn’t matter as much at this stage—an ad for employment that highlights competitive pay isn’t going to be all that compelling.
When your Ideal Candidate reads your ad, they’re thinking about how their decision will affect their lives.
To you, a person who is being paid below market needs more money. In their eyes, they might see it as a trade-off they’re happy to make in exchange for the opportunity to satisfy a different need at this stage in their career.
How much they have in their savings account and how much debt they may be in have no relevance here unless you know how they feel about it. Since finances are not only illegal to ask about in the job interview, and research data won’t tell you the answer, appealing to financial incentives first, in every ad, is not only putting all your eggs in one basket, but you may be gathering those eggs only to give them to someone who rejects the offer because they don’t care about eggs but love baskets. The one you presented wasn’t their taste.
Frame the bigger picture.
Could you imagine if Stephen King wrote a job ad to YOUR audience with HIS Ideal Reader and style in mind? Half of your candidates would develop a fright complex every time they saw your logo.
Consider the context of the fears and desires you notice and the ones that the people close to you, who resemble your Ideal Candidate, share.
Instead of scaring candidates into applying by digging into pain points, it is far more effective to write your job ads with the intention of providing relief from their search and empowerment that helps them overcome their fear of applying to the wrong opportunity.
Taking this route will result in trickle down benefits that affect your employer brand—and your talent brand as well.