Using Stories To Improve Your Recruiting Results

by Dr John Sullivan

Brace Yourselves

Take a moment to think about the future of recruiting, because it is about to change radically.

Currently the recruiting paradigm is pretty simple it includes the 5 key components of:

1. Employer branding

2. Sourcing top candidates

3. Assessing them

4. Matching candidates to the right job and then

5. Selling them on the job.

But the current paradigm is about to change. And that change will come as a result of technology advances that are currently being developed in electronic sourcing, in electronic remote assessment and in “matching algorithms”. These technological advances will mean that three of the five recruiting components (sourcing, assessment and job/candidate matching) will no longer require a human recruiter.

The Recruiter Of The Future

However, don’t despair and stop going to recruiter conferences or don’t begin studying for your real estate license yet, because there will still be corporate recruiters in the future. But their job and their focus will shift almost entirely to the remaining two “selling components” of employer branding and convincing prospects\candidates. This radical shift will mean that in order to thrive, a successful recruiter will have to excel at selling and influencing much like third-party executive search professionals have done for decades. This shift to a focus on selling will create many problems because most corporate recruiters simply don’t currently excel at selling and influencing.

 Skills Related To Selling And Influencing Will Become Dominent

Fortunately for recruiters, selling and influencing will become the one skill set that can’t be replaced with technology. Most hiring managers, and especially those that hire infrequently, are all too often poor salespeople, so they will continue to rely on recruiters to help them in this critical area.

The areas in which selling and influence skills will continue to be critical for corporate recruiters are listed below:

Market research to understand what your top prospects expect

Making your target prospects aware of your firm and the factors that make your firm a great place to work

Convincing active prospects to apply to your firm

Convincing top not-looking prospects to apply

Convincing top candidates to stay until the end of the hiring process

Convincing finalists to accept your offer

Influencing managers to focus on recruiting

Realize That The Most Important Selling Tool Are “Authentic Stories”

Recruiters, Talk To Your Marketing Function 

It makes sense for recruiting leaders to first consult with your best internal experts on selling, the marketing function, for information on the most effective selling approaches. Fortunately, the marketing function has for years been in the forefront of applying a data-driven approach to selling. So it makes sense to transfer and adapt some of their most successful approaches to recruiting.

You shouldn’t be surprised to learn that nearly everyone in marketing, sales and advertising agrees with the premise that “stories are among the most powerful mechanisms for selling ideas and concepts”.  In fact, there have been books written about why stories are such powerful selling tools.

Unfortunately, many recruiting leaders are unaware of the important role that stories can and should play in building a firm’s employment brand and in improving the effectiveness of candidate attraction and selling.  It’s simply a fact that in most cases, no recruiting ad, brochure, website or recruiter pitch can have the same power and effectiveness as an employee telling a powerful “authentic story” about the excitement that they experience while working at “their” firm.

Once recruiting leaders capture and develop an inventory of company stories covering issues that recruits care about, they can then spread them through employee referrals, employee blogs, on their career website and during conversations and interviews with prospects and candidates.

 Why Authentic Stories Are So Powerful

Let’s outline why employee stories have such a powerful impact on selling.

First of all because stories have a lesson, a beginning and an end, they are an effective mechanism for getting and keeping someone’s attention. Employee stories are powerful because they come from individuals that “live” the job. Stories revealed by your employees are similar to someone telling you about their experience at a restaurant that they recently visited, the resulting impact (whether positive or negative) of their story is many times more powerful than any restaurant ad or website could ever be.

In the world of recruiting, the stories that your employees tell are just more credible and believable than anything a recruiter or PR specialist could possibly put together.  Stories that are the most believable are called “authentic stories” because they are genuine and because they reveal a real event that both prospects and candidates would admire.

 More Reasons Why Stories Spread By Your Employees Are So Impactful

There are many additional reasons why having your employees spread stories is a powerful selling tool. Those reasons include:

 Stories Are Easier To Remember

Well-crafted stories are always interesting or entertaining, they are more easily remembered and passed on to others.

A High Level Of Trust

Friends and colleagues can get close to potential applicants, there is little resistance to a story, because the individual telling it is trusted and is not a stranger.

More Opportunities To Spread Stories

because employees have numerous face-to-face and electronic interactions 24/7, they have numerous opportunities to spread stories to many individuals like themselves.

 Longer Conversations

because individual one-on-one conversations can last longer, it’s possible to deliver detailed stories that contain much more in depth information than is possible in a recruitment ad. And in certain situations like in restaurants, in bars, at sporting events and at social and family functions, everyone tells stories. So this provides an opportunity to share something about your firm that might, in other situations or in other forms, be resisted.

Two-Way Communications

Two-way communications – face-to-face interactions and some electronic communications allow the “target” of the story to interact with the storyteller and to answer their questions.


Because the employee knows the person they’re speaking with, the employee can personalize the story and add whatever details that the receiver has an interest in.

They Don’t Expect A Sales Pitch

They don’t expect a sales pitch – because when you’re talking to an employee you don’t expect a sales pitch, there is less initial resistance to hearing a story.

 A Story Inventory Can Make Your Stories Readily Available To Employees And Hiring Managers

Stories only add value only if they are spread to others.  Most companies unfortunately have no central depository that contains all the company’s stories about their people and management practices.  The best way to

make the stories available is through a corporate or business unit “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 for use in employment branding, ” best place to work” applications, employer referrals and recruiting. The benchmark firm around the world is Google, which utilizes a “story a day approach” of providing every employee with an exciting story each day to share with their family and their connections. It has developed an internal “project buffet” website, which provides employees and managers with a comprehensive inventory of stories covering the firm, its people practices and even its products.

 Identifying Stories To Include In Your Inventory

Stories and exciting people management programs can be identified through a variety of methods.  Usually HR communications, PR, the head of employment branding and HR generalists are charged with seeking out powerful stories.  After formally compiling their initial story inventory, one well-known coffee retailer found that instead of having 65 compelling stories, that they in fact had over 360 for use in recruiting and branding activities. The stories are then categorized by type, location and the function or business unit involved, so that they can be easily found and used when a candidate has a question or a concern about a particular area.  Stories should also be assessed and weighted based on their relative “power”. And finally, it’s also a good idea to have your employees forward stories that they come across about your competitors to central recruiting, so that the team can proactively search throughout your organization to see if your firm also has (or should have) similar stories and programs.


In parts 2 and 3 of this blog I’ll be looking into how you can choose stories that will be spread, and how you can turn an ordinary story into a powerful one.

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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