The Power of Storytelling in Recruitment

In the July issue of our HR Insights e-newsletter, I shared an article by David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom (both of the O.C. Tanner Institute) titled “Science Says, If You Want People to Respond, Tell a Good Story.” The article focused on how leaders can leverage stories to inspire their employees. But it also got me thinking about how recruiters, too, can use great stories to improve their work.

The power of storytelling and its emotional connection to the buying process are well documented in the areas of sales, marketing, and business development. But storytelling is highly underutilized as a tool that organizations can use to woo top candidates. The typical job interviews are conversations about candidates’ backgrounds, the positions they’re interviewing for, and their qualifications for those roles. During this time of record low unemployment, however, some employers forget that in such a buyers’ market, candidates are evaluating whether they even want to work for the companies that are interviewing them.

This is where powerful stories, such as tales of extraordinary employee success and accounts of a company’s impact on its community, can influence the course of the hiring process. Stories can nudge a candidate toward choosing to work for that organization (and not choosing to go to a competitor) by helping him or her feel a connection to that company. This connection isn’t based purely on emotions but is actually a physiological response caused by the release of oxytocin (often called “the love hormone”) in the brain. This hormone “is a key ‘it’s safe to approach others’ signal in the brain,” and “is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others.

Not everyone is a good storyteller, however, and over time even the best stories are often become forgotten or change to the point of being unrecognizable. Recruiters and hiring managers can’t tell powerful stories if they don’t know them (or know how to tell them). So what’s an HR department to do if it wants to leverage the power of good stories?

The solution: create a central database of stories to be used specifically for recruitment efforts and marketing jobs! Such a database can take whatever form works best for your organization (a separate website is one possibility, as is a simple Excel spreadsheet). Entries can take different forms, too, such as text documents, audio recordings, or videos.

Regardless of what type of database and files you choose, it’s very important that your system use easy-to-search categories. Without them, your recruiters and hiring managers will have a hard time finding situation-specific stories when they need them. When rolling out a program to build a story “library,” consider offering incentives to employees who contribute content, and ask current employees to evaluate the stories for their emotional impact so you have an idea of how effective those narratives will be in a hiring situation.

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