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Richard Branson once tweeted: “The art of storytelling can be used to drive change”. And over the last few years, science has proven that stories are actually able to change people’s attitudes and opinions. In fact, according to neuroeconomist Paul Zak, personal and compelling stories “engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts and inspire people to take action”. The persuasive power of stories is proven to work in various sectors, notably charities and commercials.
“But what has this got to do with recruiting?”, you might wonder. Well, if storytelling is proving a powerful medium for other sectors, we can assume it will also be a powerful tool for recruiters when it comes to attracting talent to work at your organisation. It is also in tune with the emphasis Millennials now place on authentic employer branding and engagement with employees, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group.
Ok, so now we know that stories will be useful in helping us attract talent, how do we work out which stories to tell? The answer lies with your employees.
Employees are well placed to discuss issues cited as most pressing for candidates, such as work atmosphere, training opportunities, job content, job security and work-life balance. Personal stories can bring these issues to life and give recruiters a real opportunity to differentiate their company and show how they do things differently to their competitors. (How else are candidates expected to differentiate between two large accountancies, or two telecoms?!)
So, which employee stories are most effective? The vast majority of research on what makes for a compelling story capable of driving change, has yet to bed itself into the field of talent attraction. At PathMotion, we combined scientific evidence with a proprietary analysis of the most rated stories out of 10,000+ discussions on our employee-to-candidate platforms, in order to reveal key aspects of what makes a story effective. We’ve listed those key aspects below and given real-life examples in each case:
1. Be authentic
The settings and the storyteller should be perceived as real and genuine, rather than as a selling effort. To achieve this, the storyteller should avoid trying to formulate the “right” answer on behalf of her/his employer but instead share his own answer, making it as personal as possible.
- Candidate: “So why KPMG over any of the other firms?”
- Employee : “I had interviews at other companies, including members of the Big Four, and, simply put, KPMG was the most impressive. The grad scheme, the people, even the building – it just seemed like a great place to work. Also, at university, KPMG sponsored my university football team. It sounds like a small thing but it demonstrated their commitment and responsibility to others – so there’s always been an indirect relationship there. ”
2. Provide details
Being specific and sharing examples is key to make a story persuasive. It could include sharing specific training courses attended, projects worked on or extra-curricular activities which the employer encourages. Examples that are unique to the employer are the most powerful.
- Candidate: “Is there a type of formal training to become ‘the wine girl’ or is a lot taught on the job?”
- Employee : “The training includes doing the WSET2 course, plus months of hands-on experience with those who manage the vineyards, operations, winemaking, marketing and sales. My favourite part of the training was in the vineyard and the barrel halls!”
3. Share a meaningful challenge
Where relevant, sharing a specific challenge encountered by an employee and how it was overcome is much more persuasive than trying to portray a rose-tinted picture of life at the company.
- Candidate: “The tricky part of the work culture [at the NHS]…what is the dynamic between managers & the clinical staff?”
- Employee : “I had some of the same perceptions as you and was initially quite worried about how to overcome these. I’m pleased to be able to tell you that I’ve been proven wrong and have found working with clinicians one of the most enjoyable parts of the scheme.
My tactic was to be as approachable and honest as possible to maintain good relationships with clinical staff. The main complaint about management was lack of communication so I made an effort to keep them in the loop. They really valued being part of the decision-making which helped build respect.
From my experience, management trainees and clinicians aren’t worlds apart like many would think. By respecting one another’s skills, it can have a really positive impact on a team and make real differences to patient care.”
4. Share practical tips
- Candidate: “I have an interview, how should I prepare?”
- Employee: “I would suggest thinking about why you want to join [Company] especially and during the interview draw upon different experiences that you have. These do not have to be work related but something that you have experienced. Prior to my interview there were graduates from the year above that I could talk to. Take time to talk to them. I found that they calmed me down before I went in, and remember to be yourself :)”
5. Create a dialogue
Our research also shows that the most rated conversations are those where a Q&A is turned into a back-and-forth dialogue between a candidate and an employee.
- Candidate: “What kind of extracurricular activities do you look for in candidates?”
- Employee: “It’s always interesting to hear about candidate’s extracurricular activities, particularly if these activities demonstrate how a candidate lives our values (Inspiration, Innovation, Integrity and In Touch). Whilst we don’t necessarily look for extracurricular activities as part of the application process. It’s great to see someone’s passion for a hobby or interest as it shows their commitment, drive and determination to achieve a goal”
- Candidate: “So really I can just talk about any hobby if asked and try to relate it to strengths, etc., is asking about hobbies something that occurs often in interview?”
- Employee: “Yes, that is correct. It is not a frequently asked question but it is something that could be asked by the interviewer if hobbies and interests are part of your CV”
More research is required on telling compelling stories to target candidates. It is an exciting space to watch. But one thing is certain: stories can have a lasting impact on talent attraction and should therefore play a more central role in employer branding.
— Alon Laniado and David Rivel are co-founders at PathMotion, an employees-to-candidates discussion platform.