The Power of Storytelling in Recruitment

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.

Use Your Front Line Wisely

Everyone is involved in screening new hires

Professional conferences offer plenty of opportunities for both networking and information gathering. They’re great places to learn about current trends—and new directions—in a particular industry. I always come home from a conference with tons of new ideas kicking around in my head!

One idea in particular has stuck with me since I first heard it expressed in a presentation at a staffing conference last September. Allyson Young, HR and brand director of K&N Management, a Texas-based restaurant-management company, declared that receptionists can play an important role in HR decisions at any organization. That statement caused people to look up and pay attention.

It’s common knowledge that even though CEOs are the ones officially in charge of their companies, the day-to-day running of an organization is generally handled by scores of other people. These include junior executives, managers, department heads, and rank-and-file workers. Receptionists aren’t usually included in this category, though, because they aren’t typically regarded as filling a role that is specific to an organization. They answer phones, greet visitors, and do some light clerical work, but they don’t really have any input on the HR-related happenings in a company. Or do they?

Think about it: the receptionist is often the first point of contact for your organization. You’re probably already fully aware that when clients or prospective clients call your company, the first person they interact with is the receptionist. So you know how critical it is to staff that position with someone who communicates well and makes a good first impression.

But have you considered that when job candidates arrive for an interview at your company, their first contact, too, is with your receptionist? Obviously, you still want someone in that role who does a good job of representing your organization. But he or she is also well positioned to make an initial assessment of a candidate.

Does the candidate smile and make eye contact when speaking with someone? Does he or she seem authentic and approachable? Does the candidate exude confidence—or anxiety? An observant receptionist will be able to answer all of these questions.

Of course, candidates will be on their “best behavior” when they’re sitting across the table from hiring managers and recruiters. They want to impress the people who will make the “yea” or “nay” decision about hiring them. But what about when candidates are talking to someone who they likely assume has no say in the hiring process? How a candidate interacts with people they think are “unimportant” says a lot about his or her character and compatibility with the company culture. A candidate who treats a receptionist with as much courtesy and respect that’s given to an executive definitely earns some points on his or her application tally sheet.

Organizations should constantly be evaluating their hiring processes. There’s always something to improve—whether by a huge change or a small tweak. But as you think about the different roles in this process, don’t underestimate the contribution that receptionists, too, can make. They may not be executives, but they are uniquely situated to provide valuable information that HR managers and recruiters might miss. So be sure to ask for their input on hiring decisions!

Don’t Let the Skills Gap Cloud Your Judgement


In the fast-paced world of staffing, an agency doesn’t make a dime until it staffs a position. Finding the right person for the job, however, is often easier said than done. And it’s getting even harder: thanks to unemployment rates falling to their lowest point in years, fewer qualified candidates are on the job market.

The practice of “selling” jobs to candidates has been around for a while and certainly isn’t anything new in the staffing industry. Recruiters who do this try to “sell” a job to a candidate who—on paper—meets most of the minimum requirements (as they pertain to skill set) but in actuality may not be the best fit for the job.

During the 1990s this practice fell out of favor and developed a bad reputation, mostly because it’s not the best way to match a candidate to a position. With the recession firmly behind us now and top talent becoming scarcer, some recruiters are turning once again to this technique in an effort to fill open positions from a fairly small pool of possibilities.

The problem with following this trend, though, is anyone who does so runs the risk of communicating to clients and candidates alike that making any placement as quickly as possible is better than finding the best fit for both parties.

Over the past several years, the staffing industry has made great strides toward becoming a true business partner with its clients. But that progress can all be undone in short order if the focus returns to making a quick buck rather than making decisions that are in the clients’ best interest. Great recruiters and staffers know that they are successful only if their clients are successful—and put all their effort into working toward that mutual success.

So stay away from the “quick buck” approach, because it will only cause you problems in the long run. The next time you have an open requisition, keep in mind the following considerations when evaluating candidates.

It’s really not all about the money. Take the time to make sure that your client’s needs align with your candidate’s qualifications and interests. Different groups prioritize different things. Millennials, for example, often value organizations that have a great company culture and provide exceptional work/life balance. Generation Xers, on the other hand, may be busy raising their families and therefore highly value a flexible work schedule. And baby boomers, realizing that they may have to work longer than they had planned, may consider stability and retirement benefits most important.

Make sure the family is on board. Once you and a candidate agree that he or she is a good fit for a particularly position, don’t hire that person on the spot. Instead, encourage the candidate to go home and first discuss the opportunity with his or her family. For example, a one-hour commute might not look too bad to your candidate at first, but he or she may have a completely different perspective after a family discussion that examines how such a commute could affect the whole family.

How does a candidate fit with your client’s culture? As I noted above, millennials have a reputation for placing a lot of weight on company culture when deciding whether to accept a job. But the reality is that when any candidate—regardless of what generation he or she belongs to—doesn’t fit with your client’s culture, that particular employer-employee relationship will be short lived. So before making any placement offer, try to gauge what type of culture your candidate thrives in (by asking questions such as “Tell me about the worst company culture you worked in,” for example).

Before you present a candidate to your client, make sure that he or she is actually suitable—a good fit, not just a fit—for the role. Putting the time and effort into doing this up front not only increases the likelihood for a successful placement but also increases the likelihood for a successful long-term relationship with your client.


The Telecommuting Recruiter


Thanks to technology, the phrase “working from home” no longer has to be accompanied by air quotes. Gone are the days when everyone took that statement to be a euphemism for “I’m actually going to goof off.” Computers and the Internet make it possible for us to escape our offices and work from nearly anywhere, and assignment- and time-tracking software ensure that we stay on task.

Employees like telecommuting for many reasons, including the schedule flexibility, the lack of commute, and the ability to focus on work without the distractions of a busy office. Employers like telecommuting because it offers potential savings in overhead costs (most notably those associated with maintaining physical office space) and it’s a desirable perk that can help a firm land top talent.

In the staffing field, increasing numbers of both agency recruiters and corporate recruiters telecommute for part (and sometimes all) of their time. Enabling recruiters to work from home definitely benefits both the employee and his or her firm. Working from home isn’t just a simple matter of wearing pajamas all day and avoiding rush-hour traffic jams, though.  If you’re one of those lucky recruiters who can telecommute, you’ll need to follow some basic guidelines in order to succeed at your job.

Have a designated office space at home. You may be tempted to kick your feet up on the ottoman and work from the comfort of your sofa all day long, but even as you picture that scenario in your head, I’m sure you can see how it isn’t ideal for telecommuting. You need a space where you can work—and where you can keep your work-related stuff. Set aside a spare bedroom (or another out-of-the-way part of your house) as your home office.

Make sure your family knows when not to disturb you. Unless you live alone, there’s a good chance that your workday may be interrupted by family members at a time when you need to focus. Hang some sort of “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door during those times when you absolutely can’t be interrupted (while making a phone call or interviewing a candidate by video, for example).

Conduct video interviews as if you were sitting in the same room with the candidate. Dress professionally, and make sure that Fido isn’t wagging his tail or barking in the background and that the camera doesn’t reveal a sink full of dirty dishes behind you.

Use the cloud. Cloud computing has been the game changer for working from home. When I started working in the staffing industry back in 2003, employees had to be in the company’s physical office in order to connect to the database that ran off the servers in the building’s basement. Today, by storing everything in the cloud, as long as I have an Internet connection I can easily access everything I need to do my job anywhere in the world.

Maintain the boundary between home and work. When you’re telecommuting, don’t mix your home tasks with your work tasks. (For example, don’t try to conduct a phone interview while folding your laundry!)

Follow a schedule. Set working hours and try your best to stick to them. Don’t put in more hours than you would if you worked in the office (think work/life balance). At the same time, don’t schedule personal appointments for times that you wouldn’t if you worked in the office.

Take breaks. Don’t forget to step away from the computer periodically. If possible, try to get out of the house (maybe go for a short walk) during those times, so you can benefit from a change in scenery.

Don’t be a stranger. Visit the office from time to time (weekly or monthly, perhaps). You may work from home but you’re still part of your company—and you don’t want anyone to forget that. It’s good to touch base in person regularly with your colleagues and supervisors so that “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t cause problems for you.


Everyone Loses When Jobs Are Too Easy to Apply To


“Whenever I apply for a job, I feel like I’m sending my resume into a black hole. I can’t even manage to get my foot in the door anywhere!”

Have you heard this before? Or perhaps experienced something like this yourself when you’ve been on the job market?

Supposedly, technology is making our lives easier. That’s certainly true for housework. I for one am a big fan of vacuum cleaners and washing machines and am very happy that the days of beating rugs outdoors and cleaning clothes by hand on a washboard are long behind us.

It’s true for transportation, too. Without airplanes and automobiles, for example, our world would be a very different place. Just imagine how long and difficult the journey would be to get to the other side of town (not to mention the other side of the country!) without a car.

In the business world, too, technology has had far-reaching effects. It’s revolutionized how we communicate with clients and colleagues, how we make our products and provide our services, and how we handle all the details of running a business.

Technology has greatly helped the HR department in particular, by making it possible to process complex paperwork (payroll and benefits, anyone?) much more easily. Online job sites, applicant tracking systems, and other tech solutions have streamlined much of the bureaucracy associated with hiring. But have they actually made hiring better? I’m not so sure.

These days, an online job posting might draw hundreds or even thousands of applications. All the hiring manager has to do is post the ad, sit back, and wait for the resumes to pour in. But faster and more convenient shouldn’t necessarily be HR’s goals for hiring. When you’re dealing with a company’s most important asset—people—you need to assess thoroughly and hire carefully, because those decisions have long-term, wide-ranging effects throughout the organization.

And it’s hard to make those decisions when a single online job posting brings in thousands of applications. Sophisticated computer algorithms often make a first cut based on keyword searches, but even that leaves a tremendous number of resumes (and cover letters) left for HR to sort through. How many of those applications are from people who are genuinely interested in the position and actually have the qualifications to fill it? Remember, if it’s incredibly easy for HR to bring in lots of applications, it’s also incredibly easy for candidates to submit those applications. And when they do they often (though not always) do so with a “might as well send in an application, because it takes almost no time or effort to do so” mindset.

The result of all this? Job seekers experience frustration when they send out resume after resume to no avail (without quite realizing that countless other job seekers are doing the same thing and thereby diluting their efforts). And hiring managers experience frustration when they have to invest significant time and resources in evaluating huge numbers of applications, the vast majority of which come from people who are either uninterested in or unqualified for the position—or both.

Perhaps a better alternative is to make it harder for people to apply for jobs—that is, implement a process that makes it more likely that the applications that land on the hiring manager’s desk are from people who eagerly want the position. In other words, get rid of the system that lets thousands of people easily—too easily—apply for a position. Make them do more than upload a resume and cover letter and click on a few buttons.

You don’t have to go all-out Luddite and return to the days of hard-copy resumes and cover letters. But at least add enough hoops (meaningful ones, not time wasters) to the process so that applicants weed themselves out along the way. Then you increase the odds that you’ll start with the people who are most interested in and qualified for the job. And only then will you have truly maximized the efficiency (and reduced the headache!) of your hiring process.