How you can use storytelling to up your recruiting game

Man and women sitting at desk smiling at camera

7 mins, 8 secs read time

As a recruiter, you’ve probably already realized that simply posting a job listing is not going to be enough to attract top talent to your organization—it’s bound to get lost in the sea of all the other job listings out there. Similarly, a career site full of photos of your colorful open floor plan of an office (that’s equipped with a ping pong table and ample snack shelf, nonetheless) might look attractive, but it won’t set you apart from all the other startups that have the exact same approach.

It’s a sad irony—if everyone is relying on the same things to stand out, they all start looking the same.

So how can you help your company truly stand out from the sea of competitors? The answer is surprisingly simple: tell your story. Other companies may have similar job descriptions, décor, and downtime activities, but no one else has the same story. This is every company’s most underutilized secret weapon.

In January’s Talent Ops Meetup in San Francisco, Zoomforth co-founder Chris Murphy presented the novel idea of using the age-old practice of storytelling to enhance your recruiting efforts.

Read on to learn Chris’ framework for creating compelling company stories that you can use to help your company set itself apart from the competition and ultimately win at engaging top talent.

Checklist: 8 components of a compelling company story

The concept of “a company story” can be a little vague, and often when people try to discuss their company culture or values, they end up reciting platitudes that sound nice but don’t really translate to anything tangible. Even worse—they often sound like every other company’s mantra, said over and over again to the point of becoming cliché. Clearly, it’s going to be really tough to tell a unique story if you attempt to create it without any framework.

That’s why Chris and his team work with a checklist of the components they use when composing a company story. We’re excited to share this list with you now!

Note that you don’t need to include all of these components in every story you tell. And while you can start with a single story, over time you'll probably adjust and add stories to attract different types of candidates, depending on the role or department you’re hiring for. It’s a good idea to have an overall sense of where your company stands in each component so you know which exact points to highlight in your company’s story.

1. People

This includes leadership as well as the people your candidates will be working alongside every day. Why would a candidate enjoy working with your people? How can your team help them grow?

2. *Wow* Factor

This describes the first thing employees would share about the company to make their friends jealous. It could be your hypergrowth, your well-known brand, or the way your company is making a positive impact in the world. What is that cool/shocking/unique thing about your company that makes jaws drop?

3. Learning & Development

How does your company encourage and enable employees to learn and develop professionally? Does it have structured career ladders in place?

4. Work Practices & Routines

How do you get stuff done (aka GSD)? This describes your company’s approach to internal communications, meeting cadences, and approval processes.

5. Values

These can attract people to your company (or away from other companies!). What is the root of your company’s values, and what is the deeper meaning behind them? And in what ways can candidates see them in action?

6. Social Vibe

Is your company a fun place to work? What sorts of traditions do you have? Maybe your sales team plays a celebratory song on the loudspeaker every time they win an opportunity, or perhaps you have a giant stuffed animal that sits on the desk of the employee who demonstrated the most dedication to company values in the past week.

7. Space & Location

Where are you based, and what are the aesthetics of your office? Does the environment make people want to be there?

8. Perks & Compensation

What types of perks and compensation do you offer? All companies offer perks in some form, so what matters here is whether your perks reflect another component of your company. Otherwise, you’ll just sound like every other company and you’ll lose out on this opportunity to differentiate yourself. For example, Chris mentioned a satellite company that actually gives employees the opportunity to name a satellite. (How cool!).

Another approach here is to focus on perks that are targeted to a specific demographic you’re trying to attract. As an example, a generous parental leave and perks policy could be a huge influence for some candidates.

So after you’ve gone through each of the components and come up with some bullet points, you may find it useful to choose a few that you’d like to focus on in the areas where your company really shines. Perhaps your company is known for being family-friendly, offering flexible work hours, a solid work-from-home policy, excellent parental leave and perks, and a convenient suburban location. Or maybe you have a flat organizational structure that makes it really easy for all employees to lead projects and effect changes.

Whatever it may be, make sure to start your storytelling journey by taking the time to think about where you stand in each component so you have a holistic view of your company’s unique selling points. If you neglect this step, you could easily miss some really juicy tidbits that make your company’s story stand out from the rest.

Once you have a general idea of your company’s standing for each of the above components, you’re almost ready to start creating a story—but not quite. Next you’ll want to use the following checklist to measure your approach to storytelling.

Checklist: your approach to recruitment storytelling

Whenever you decide to create a story, you should consider the following 5 elements. Being mindful of these elements means you will create a story that better captures the interest of your target audience.

1. Differentiated

You can’t rely on the same factors as everyone else. (In other words, ping pong tables probably won’t cut it). Prioritize what matters to you the most, and emphasize what’s different from your competitors—not the same.

2. Visible

Your story needs to be clear. Don’t make people dig through pages and pages of text to uncover it. Imagery can help—paint a vivid picture of what it’s like to work there and be apart of the culture.

3. Credible

Think about how you can make your story believable. This can involve leveraging your brand, including testimonials, or having influencers share their perspective.

4. Personalized

If you think about all of your current employees, chances are slim that they all joined your company for the same reason. Try to identify different segments and share the stories that will resonate most with those particular people rather than trying to appeal to everyone.

5. Interesting

Put yourself in the candidate’s shoes. Share the stories that they would be most interested in hearing rather than pushing the stories you want them to hear. (There’s a difference!).

Storytelling and your talent brand strategy

Now that you’ve got an idea of some of the key components of building your company’s story, you can begin to think about how you’d like to incorporate storytelling into your recruiting efforts. Since storytelling often goes hand-in-hand with talent marketing, it’s a great idea to collaborate with your talent marketing team, if you have one.

If you don’t, consider how you can incorporate some aspects of storytelling into the work that you’re already doing, or make the case to management about why you need additional resources focused on this effort.

The work you put into the initial storytelling framework can form the basis of your talent brand strategy. After putting in the work during this phase, you can iterate on it, focusing on specific elements depending on the particular audience you have in mind. Each step will get you closer to a unique employee value proposition that ensures you’re standing out from the crowd.

Want to learn more about the basics of building a talent brand? Download our ebook “How to Create Your Talent Brand” for tips on defining your brand and incorporating your findings into your recruiting strategy.