A Story Inventory Will Allow You to WOW Top Candidates

How Stories Will Dramatically Improve Your Recruiting Results

If you want to improve your recruiting results dramatically, one of the smartest things that you can do is to ask your new hires “Why did you say yes?” during onboarding. Most recruiting leaders are surprised when they learn that the top convincing factor was a “compelling story” that clearly revealed why this firm was such a unique place to work.

In addition, because of the pressure and the blur of interviewing, a “compelling story” may be the only selling factor that they remember. However, despite the proven selling power of stories, few firms (outside of Google’s “project buffet” and Microsoft’s “spread the love”) have developed a story inventory process for systematically capturing, categorizing, and spreading authentic stories.

If your firm hasn’t yet realized the importance and the impact of a story inventory, read on.

Understanding Why Compelling Stories Are So Effective

If your recruiting function is transitioning into a data-driven approach, one of your first actions should be to determine which “selling factors” had a positive, neutral, or negative impact on a new hire’s decision to say yes. And with that data, recruiting leaders are likely to fall in love with the use of stories instantly. Most executives (and especially those in sales) already know the tremendous selling power of stories. Many learned their value from Steve Jobs, who clearly demonstrated the value of powerful storytelling. However, if your executives need more convincing, here are the top eight reasons why stories are so effective in successfully convincing top candidates.

  • Uniting an idea with emotion leaves a lasting impression — You can attempt to sell an idea using words, data and charts. But any successful salesperson will tell you that if you want complete buy in, sell the idea using emotion. Triggering emotion “seals the deal” because emotion provides a higher level of initial stimulation and long-term implantation in your memory.
  • Stories aren’t immediately judged to be a sales pitch — Candidates are almost always turned off when they perceive they are about to be subjected to a polished “pushy sales pitch.” However, few put their guard up when they are about to be presented with an exciting
  • They tell a complete story that will be repeated — Stories have a lesson to be learned, a beginning, an end, and they are an effective mechanism for getting and keeping someone’s attention. Stories entertain, are easy to remember, and that makes them more likely to be repeated to family and colleagues (even though one or more details may be omitted).
  • The highest impact stories are viewed as authentic — Tightly scripted stories that are full of “corporate speak” may have a negative impact on selling the candidate. The same goes with any story that is presented on a polished corporate video. So, to be believed and judged as “authentic,” a story can include minor mistakes, it shouldn’t contain any sophisticated language, and it should be pretested to ensure that it is routinely judged as interesting, genuine, and believable.
  • Stories will improve the selling ability of your hiring managers — Many hiring managers (and especially those that only hire occasionally) just don’t excel at selling. So, providing hiring managers with a list of stories that have proven to be effective will positively increase their overall ability to sell top candidates.
  • There are multiple opportunities to deliver stories — Stories are more likely to be spread because there are many opportunities when they can be delivered. Recruiters can provide them during initial communications and managers can deliver them during the interviews. However, because they require little time and no formal introduction, employees can also offer them during casual conversations, over coffee, or during a facility tour.
  • Stories are delivered by employees, so there is a higher trust level — It’s almost always best to have employees working in the job provide your compelling stories. Not only are future coworkers more trusted by candidates, but the stories that they deliver are more likely to be judged as accurate because employees are believable because they “live the job” every day.
  • Human delivery provides opportunities for enhancement — Delivering stories during face-to-face interactions allows the storyteller to pick and choose the appropriate story for each candidate. They can also shorten or lengthen the story based on the available time. In addition, this delivery mechanism allows the listener to ask questions so that any doubts they might have can be overcome.

Stories Are Now More Important Because Selling Has Become More Important

Look at the big picture in recruiting for a moment. In this highly competitive recruiting market, selling may have now eclipsed sourcing and assessment in strategic importance. Selling becomes much more critical when each of your highly skilled candidates have multiple choices as to where they apply and accept an offer. In recruiting language, that means that “the power” has shifted away from the firm and toward the candidate.

So, if you want to jumpstart your selling effectiveness dramatically, develop a formal data-driven process for identifying and spreading compelling stories that will excite both potential applicants and candidates. Also realize that even though much of sourcing and assessment can be taken over by technology, selling is likely to remain a human-driven endeavor. And finally, understand that great sourcing and assessment goes for naught if you don’t have an effective follow-up candidate selling approach.

When, Where, and How to Spread Stories

Most stories are presented during interviews and finalist candidate closings. But they can also be highly impactful when it comes to convincing prospects to apply for one of your jobs. And that means that stories can also be provided in narrative or video form in your corporate career and social media sites. Stories can also be spread internally in newsletters, in executive speeches, and during all-hands meetings. Stories that are circulated in the industry and business press and on employee blogs will also help build your employer brand image.

Stories should also be an integral part of any employee referral program. To help facilitate the spreading of stories, a categorized “story inventory” should be made available to employees. This allows them to discover new stories and pick and choose the stories that they find to be the most relevant. Incidentally, making your employees more aware of compelling stories as part of the referral program may also have a positive impact on retention by your current employees realizing the extent to which your firm excels in so many areas.

Action Steps for Developing a Story Inventory

Stories only add value if they are spread to others. Most companies have no dedicated process for identifying stories. Nor do they have a central depository that managers and employees can use to find all the company’s stories about the firm’s people and management practices. The best way to make the stories available is through a corporate “story inventory.” A story inventory is no more than an internal website (or in some cases an Excel spreadsheet) that collects and then categorizes stories, best practices, exciting people management programs, and awards. Space limitations prevent me from providing a complete list of the “how-to steps.” However, here are a handful of critical action items that should get you started.

Broad coverage — that cover work-related features but also product successes, who your customers are, and awards that the firm has received.

Categorize stories — when you develop a significant number for easy scanning (note the possible categories are found in the next section).

Don’t overly push stories — your employees may resist or even begin to consider them to be propaganda. Instead only suggest that searching through the stories may make it easier for them to produce referrals.

Pretest stories — whenever possible with non-employees, to identify the ones that have the highest impact.

A centralized and a local story inventory — put together a centralized story inventory covering the whole firm. Supplement it with a localized inventory that covers a specific business unit or function.

Recognition — Measure, recognize, and reward employees (and their managers) who provide compelling stories.

Metrics for continuous improvement — Survey new hires in hard-to-fill jobs to find out what specifically sold them. Use this “what worked” data to continually improve your story inventory and your overall selling process.

Identify and Spread Stories in These High-impact Categories

In my research, I’ve identified the 25 story categories with the highest impact on selling the hardest to land top candidates. These categories are listed below with the most impactful selling areas listed first.

  • I will make a difference — stories that show how an individual employee’s work has had a high impact on the company, the environment, and its customers.
  • Great coworkers — stories and profiles that illustrate how experienced and knowledgeable your employees are.
  • Great managers — stories showing how you have exceptional managers who manage using a style that is desired by potential employees.
  • Innovation — stories that reveal that your employees have successfully innovated. Also provide stories that cover how your employees are free to take time off to think, to take risks, and to experiment.
  • Freedom to choose — things that are important to employees including projects, work schedules, and work locations. Reveal how your employees are given the freedom to choose.
  • The best tools and technology — for those who desire to master their profession are almost always interested in working with the latest tools and technology. Make sure that you provide examples in your stories that illustrate that your firm is on the leading edge of technology.
  • Great products — stories about the excellence of your products and services and how your firm leads the industry. Everyone wants to work with a winner who customers love.
  • Awards received — be sure and provide stories that cover corporate programs, products, or events that were recognized with an outside award or recognition. Especially include “Best Place To Work” awards.
  • Free time — stories relating to how your employees are provided with free time to plan and to work on their own projects.
  • Opportunities to make decisions — stories of examples of how your employees are involved in decision-making. Also, stories of the types of decisions that they can make on their own.
  • Learning and development opportunities — the best employees want to learn continually, so provide stories demonstrating the many opportunities they have in this area.
  • Performance is recognized and rewarded — top performers expect to be rewarded for results and performance, so provide stories that reveal how excellent results are highly rewarded.
  • Concern for the environment — stories on how the firm and its employees are doing positive things for sustainability and the environment.
  • Teamwork is encouraged — most employees want to work in a strong team environment. So, highlight stories that show that team players are appreciated and celebrated.
  • Diversity — stories that focus on the success of diverse employees are compelling. Showing high participation levels by diverse individuals or the inclusion of diverse individuals at higher organizational levels are great recruiting stories.
  • Career trajectory — potential applicants and candidates are impressed when there are multiple opportunities for an individual to grow and move rapidly. As a result, stories that show that your firm supports career development, there are multiple career path opportunities, and that your opportunities are more accelerated than the competition are all likely to have a powerful impact.
  • The little person does well — provide story examples where “the little person” who started an entry-level has jumped multiple job levels or has been offered extraordinary opportunities. Showing how the little person (entry-level employee) matters and that they got some attention or benefit from a program is always good. Revealing the key executives who literally started at the bottom can also be impactful.
  • Employees share in company success — examples of policies or approaches that allow employees to also share in the economic success of the firm.
  • Two-way communications — provide stories relating to how your managers listen to, meet with, and systematically exchange information with their employees. Many top employees prefer transparency in a firm.
  • Job security — examples of how your firm has gone to extreme lengths to assure continuous long-term employment for its employees.
  • Pay and benefits — if your firm pays exceptionally well, or it offers compelling benefits, include stories illustrating those features.
  • Fun and happiness — because so many firms and startups are pushing the concept of employee happiness, provide stories illustrating examples of how your employees are happy and that they have fun on the job.
  • Strong corporate values — stories that show that the company actually “lives” and practices its corporate values.
  • Flexibility and work/life balance — illustrate the fact that employees have enough time to enjoy life outside of work.
  • Human interest — include stories that make your employees and executives seem “human.” Especially cases where employees, whether on or off the job, went beyond what is typically expected to help their fellow employees or local citizens.

Elements That Will Make Your Stories Significantly “More Powerful”

Make each individual story as impactful as possible. Be sure to include one or more “power factors” that can turn an ordinary story into a great one. Start by giving your people programs a great memorable name. As part of the story, include compelling quotes, comparison numbers, and show the degree of participation and the money invested. But most importantly include a “WOW” element that everyone will remember. And for written stories, finally, include a link, a picture, or a short video clip for those that want to know more. 

Final Thoughts

Over the years I have found that recruiting is “just sales, except with a crummy budget!” And it is an essential part of sales to determine which selling tools and approaches are most effective. In recruiting, I have found that if you ask new hires the factors that had the highest impact on closing the deal, “hearing authentic stories” is almost always at the top of the list. And because great firms already have many excellent stories, the job of recruiting is simply to help categorize them and make sure that they are widely spread.


If this article stimulated your thinking and provided you with actionable tips, connect with me on LinkedIn and subscribe to ERE Daily.


As seen on ERE Daily July 7, 2018

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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