Storytelling, It’s a Recruiters Job

For many years, I’ve often pondered what separates good recruiters from great recruiters. As a staffing leader, you’re always tasked with things like employee development and building recruiter capability. We routinely set aside budget for investments into sourcing training, ATS systems & process development to improve time to fill metrics, or some HR Generalist training course that doesn’t really apply to a recruiters day to day. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been in many sourcing trainings, worked as an HR Business Partner (attended trainings and facilitated), and I believe systems and time to fill metrics are important for certain roles. I do see the value in some of these options. However, what I see as a key talent gap in a lot of the new recruiting talent today is the inability to tell a story. A story based on facts about the company they represent and driven by passion. A story articulated in a way that causes the prospect to take notice even when the value proposition of the company being pitched is much less than the prospect’s current situation.

James Whittaker wrote in a recent post:

“Storytelling, good storytelling, is the one skill that can even the playing field. Nothing else can draw attention to the human condition or to a good cause. When storytelling is absent, the merits of a cause, no matter how important, go unnoticed and unappreciated. You see, it doesn’t matter what you know, what you have or what you need if you can’t convey it to anyone else.”

I couldn’t agree more with James’ statement. A story evens the playing field. When a story is absent, even though you may have an exciting opportunity, your efforts will fall short because it lacked a compelling story. A story built from a company’s brand, future direction, history, citizenship and reputation. Regardless of your market share or value proposition, attracting the top talent from top companies in your industry and colleges must be your number one goal. Whether you’re recruiting for a start-up or your company has been around for many years, you have a story to tell. A story about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, and where you’re going. And most important, the role your prospect can play in the story.

I’ve talked with many recruiting leaders over the last few years and they agree that the ability to tell a story is needed in our recruiters today. The biggest issue is that no one really knows where to start with training their teams to be storytellers. We go to the client business and ask for talking points for the story. We rely on marketing to put out brand messages that can help tell the story. We also go to Wikipedia to understand the story in bits and pieces. These are great places to start, but they still don’t teach us to be storytellers.

A company’s brand does a pretty good job at telling a company’s story by itself. However, the brand story is closely based on how companies make you feel by establishing emotional connections, the quality of their products, perceptions that have been formed by consumers of their products (what they say), and advertisements. Sometimes the brand is fabricated by the hands of great marketers. What the brand story can’t tell you is what it’s like to work for the company or what the culture will be like once you’re on the inside. Rarely are employee success stories highlighted in the brand story.

A company’s history, reputation, and citizenship are great data points to examine to learn more about the company’s story. History provides a great look at a company’s progression or regression, successes and losses, periods of innovation or stagnation among other things. History can also in certain cases help us predict future successes of companies. Citizenship and the social consciousness of organizations help us tap into the motivation of companies thereby giving us a glimpse into the heart of an organization. History, reputation, and citizenship are great data points to help us formulate a company’s story. Nevertheless, history like brand doesn’t do a very good job at describing the current or evolving culture and rarely highlights employee success stories.

The candidate experience starts well before an application is submitted or the recruiter interview takes place. Brand image, company history, corporate citizenship, and a company’s reputation represent some data points that help in telling a company’s story and attracting talent. However, a recruiter must bring it all together.

We recruiters have the responsibility of telling the story of the companies we represent. The same recruiters who with an innate ability read between the lines of a resume and pull out the best from a candidate’s experience to tell the story to the client. In order to get prospects to the candidate stage, we must be able to use various data points to tell our company’s story. This is more than a skills issue. The implications of not telling a story transcend beyond our ability to compete for talent, onto the product and services we sell.

For many, storytelling comes natural and is a gift. For some, it doesn’t come as easy, but the good news is that storytelling can be learned.

Here are several tips you may find helpful to get you on a path of telling your company’s story:

  • Increase your business acumen. Learn your business. Key questions to ask yourself:

    • What’s the business of the business I support or company I work for?

    • What’s the revenue growth?

    • What are the key products? And who developed them?

    • How did the company get to where it’s at today?

    • What are the strategic goals of the organization?

  • Find great stories to tell. Interview successful employees at your company to understand their stories (successes, struggles, and journeys to where they are today), ask for permission to use it for recruiting future candidates.

  • Use your own story. Why do you like working for or representing the company? What is the emotional connection the company made for you? Chances are, it will be an emotional connection for someone else as well. Connecting with people while in conversation is possibly the most effective way to build trust about you and what you represent. Being genuine goes a long way versus simply trying to sell an opportunity.

  • Model others. Read some books written by great storytellers or attend book readings or follow an active blogger in an area of interest.

  • Listen. Listen to the prospect to understand what their key drivers are. Tell relevant stories that they can relate to.

    • Example: If speaking with a software developer early in career about an equivalent opportunity at your company. You might want to tell a story about an early in career developer at your company that is now Director of Engineer only after a short period of time. You could talk about people who were in the same type of roles that have delivered industry impact or shipped products etc. Although, you’re not saying the same will happen to them, you’re showing that your company creates paths for advancement, success, and that it’s possible.

    • Before you hang up the phone, your goal should be that the candidate imagines themselves as a character in the story you told. You’re responsible for setting the stage and scene.

  • Bring it all together. Telling a story doesn’t require you to have a script or one big story that encompasses everything. Your conversation can be a series of short stories that relate with the conversation and prospect. The key is making sure they intertwine to give a sense of the big picture.

Storytelling helps us to become great recruiters. We no longer have to hard pitch jobs, but rather just tell the story of your company and let the prospect visualize their place in it.

This article was originally posted on LinkedIn on July 16th, 2014.


James Whittaker LinkedIn post Storytelling Manifesto:

Image: By koratmember, published on 28 July 2013 - - image ID: 100187298

The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not reflect the views of my employer.

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