Psychographic Data: What It Is, Why It’s Useful, and How It Helps with Talent Optimization

July 10, 2019 at 6:50 pm
Miniature dress shirts with ties made out of paper.

Hiring the right people can be easier with the use of psychographic data.

The task of acquiring quality talent has become much more difficult since unemployment plummeted to below four percent last year. In many areas, talent shortages have made positions even harder to fill. Companies have had to get creative about how to find and identify talent. It just isn’t as easy as it used to be, which means more effort is required.

Companies are making many efforts to change their recruiting practices to reflect these new realities. Employer branding, offering unique benefits, and using social media has helped companies funnel talent to their open positions, but even these efforts are sometimes not enough to meet hiring needs with the kind of talent that will enable growth and development throughout the company.

What else can companies do to make their recruiting and talent optimization efforts more effective? The use of psychographic data can be helpful to improve recruiting and hiring.

What Is Psychographic Data?

Psychographics is the study of lifestyles, personality, interests, and attitudes of people. While psychographics has generally been used for marketing purposes to define the characteristics of a target market, it can also be used to fill open positions within a company.

It isn’t enough to know which group a person fits into based on their observable characteristics. What’s more instructive and illuminating is looking at a person’s actual behaviors—what they have done and are in the habit of doing.

Psychographics goes beyond creating an ideal candidate profile or looking at demographics; it is the study of what motivates behavior. Demographics looks at age, gender, race, and location. Psychographics, on the other hand, looks at personality, values, interests, and lifestyles. The data collected from a psychographic profile can show an employer how to motivate candidates to apply for their position and accept a subsequent job offer.

When used for recruiting, psychographic data helps companies build distinct talent personas for each position they want to fill. Looking at the typical characteristics, lifestyle, and concerns of a candidate for an engineering position will be different than that of a salesperson or an upper-level manager. And that psychographic data can be used to tailor the recruiting methods, job description, benefits, and other aspects of marketing for the position to attract and hire better candidates.

Recruiting expert Maren Hogan believes that psychographics, which can be used to build talent personas, can be even more important than employer branding as part of a company’s recruiting process. “It’s truly not that difficult and building these personas can change everything about the recruitment process, from the way you word an ad to where you place your virtual help wanted sign—everything about the job,” she said to Undercover Recruiter.

How to Get Psychographic Data

When marketers collect psychographic data, they can look at their social media followings, take customer surveys, and even use third-party research to create customer profiles. In recruiting, however, it’s not as easy to get accurate data because of how the psychographics change for each position within the company. Not only is the data much more segmented, but the pools for collecting data are much smaller.

There are a few ways to get psychographic data for recruiting purposes, however. Companies can conduct assessments of their existing employees to find out their characteristics, and may be able to survey applicants and candidates in some cases. Outsourcing the collection of psychographic data is also possible—outside companies will likely conduct assessments and may be able to package the data in ways that make it more easily understandable so it can be better used in recruiting.

Self-reporting has some limitations and can lead to inaccurate data in some cases. People don’t always correctly identify or understand their own characteristics and motivations, so the answers to questions may also be inaccurate. Carefully written assessments can overcome these inaccuracies.

Looking at psychographic data is a newer method of improving recruiting, but it is gaining a foothold among HR departments and recruiters as a way to rise above the crowd of recruiters and find the top talent that can be elusive at times.

How to Segment Talent Personas

Lockheed Martin Recruitment Marketing Manager Charlotte Jones says that you really can’t segment your talent personas too much. The more specific you can be, the better your personas.

“Personas may be segmented by type of function such as engineering or finance,” Jones said. “They may be segmented further by type of engineering: software engineering, specifically defined by the job requirements.”

Jones even goes on to say that since behaviors can vary so widely, recruiting and hiring staff may need to segment by location, experience level, and other very narrow and specific parameters to get the best results.

Thomspon Reuters Global Talent Brand Manager Shelby Burghardt agrees.

“You need to understand who you are marketing to, where they are located, what motivates them in their career, and what matters to them,” she said, noting that a technologist position in California may have a vastly different psychographic profile than the same position in India.

Using Psychographic Data for Employee Development

The usefulness of psychographic data doesn’t end once a hire is made. Not only does hiring top talent require more effort in today’s economy, but retaining employees can also be more difficult. When companies finally do fill a position, they want to get the most they can out of that employee and keep them as long as possible.

Psychographic data can help with employee development by revealing motivations that employers can use to help their employees. It’s not about pushing hard or manipulating employees into working harder; these tactics are likely to have the opposite effect from what’s intended. Instead, psychographic data can help companies make work easier and more enjoyable for their employees.

Five Business men in blue suits and one standing facing forward the others facing backward.

Determining a psychographic talent persona can make it easier to fill a position.

Matching up supervisory methods with an employee’s natural motivations will likely make work feel easier, meaning that productivity will likely be higher. When work feels less like a Herculean effort and more like the right fit, employees will enjoy it more and be more likely to stay with the company.

Psychographic data may be collected when a new hire comes on board, but existing employees can also be assessed to develop a complete picture of behaviors and motivations. Psychographic talent personas that are used with employees are likely to be as useful or even more useful than those used for talent acquisition purposes.

Psychographic Data and Talent Optimization

While there can be many elements to an employee’s psychographic profile, experts have broken down several profile types that inform different types of worker behavior. Knowing into which category each of your employees falls could help you make decisions about how to develop their talent, reward effort, and get them to do their best for you.

Some of your employees will be fulfillment seekers; they want to make a difference in people’s lives or even change the world. More money won’t be much of a motivation for them to stay with your company, but offering them a position of significance within the company where they can see the difference they make.

High achievers will see their position as a career rather than a job. They may have the highest salaries, and consider them a sign that they are achieving their goals, but their true motivation is the thrill of accomplishment, however that may be defined for them.

If you have employees that are risk-takers, it will be harder to hold on to them because they are always looking for the next great thing. Your best chance for retention of risk-takers is to provide as much risk as you can within their position. Offering stock options, challenging sales quotas, or opportunities to be involved in expansion and acquisition of new businesses may help risk-takers get their needs met without changing jobs frequently.

Ladder climbers want to advance within the same company and will probably only change jobs if they can’t advance within their existing company structure. Finding leadership opportunities in between advancements will probably keep ladder climbers happiest.

Keep in mind that these designations are only part of a psychographic profile, and that psychographic profiles are complex. One aspect of someone’s behavior will never provide enough data to determine a course of action with regards to recruiting and hiring. Robust talent personas must be carefully built to identify the best ways to reach candidates and employees for each position.

Assessments can be used to segment psychographic profiles in the most objective way possible. Subjective evaluations are prone to biases that can be largely avoided by using assessments that identify psychographic data which can be used to create talent personas.

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