Leveraging Storytelling to Attract and Recruit Talent #SHRM18



Employers have the potential to stand out to college talent by leveraging storytelling. At SHRM 2018, Alfredo Castro and Mardely Vega will present “Strategic Storytelling: Engaging New Talents in a Global Workplace!” I spoke with Vega, Sodexo’s VP of Human Resources for Latin America, and Castro, President at MOT Training and Development, to discuss how business storytelling can change an organization’s approach to recruiting.

“Humans are not so good with lists,” says Castro. If I tell you five steps or five topics that you have to memorize, we don’t get that. But if I tell you a story where we can combine those steps, you’ll be engaged.”

Castro’s background is in engineering so he appreciates procedures. However, he was shocked to find that different people who read the same procedure would react and behave differently. That led him to the psychology of storytelling. Many leaders can use storytelling, he says, to deliver their direction and not just rely on logical procedures or instructions.

Becoming a good storyteller

Castro and Vega have trained Sodexo employees and others in storytelling. They tell employees not to think of stories as “good” or “bad.” Instead, it’s more important to simply follow the principles of business storytelling.  Those principles include:

  • Have a beginning, a middle and the end
  • Length: make it short
  • Describe the action taken or not taken
  • Include emotions like hope and fear
  • Describe high impact and moral at the end
  • You don’t forget the numbers and procedures but you elaborate
  • Storylistening, not just telling (to “absorb another person’s story and adapt to your own life” says Castro)

A common example of business storytelling is the Hero’s Journey. Castro reminds people to highlight a “hero” in your story, who might be the organization’s leader, the customer, or another stakeholder. However, Vega reminds people not to expect a princess fairy tale. Following the above principles are more important.

“You can use the same story more than once,” says Vega, because every story has multiple lessons that can be applied in different situations.

Vega and Castro often use one activity in their training, which is to give a photo to trainees. Trainees look at the photo and tell a story about it. Instead of striving to tell a “good” story, Vega encourages people to focus on why they are telling it.

Castro and Vega each have different styles of storytelling. At Sodexo they create storytelling profiles, so people can review each other’s storytelling profile to be prepared to communicate effectively.

Applications of storytelling in business

From her days at IBM, Vega remembers the CEO starting every meeting and training with a story. For example, she would explain about being with a customer and what happened. Organizations can build their entire culture around storytelling, says Castro. And many people are using storytelling without realizing it.

The applications of storytelling are many: mentoring, coaching, leadership training, interviewing, performance feedback, and relationship building.

Sodexo found that mentoring was a good introduction to using storytelling, and now, storytelling has become part “of the DNA at Sodexo,” according to Vega. She says they track engagement in the mentorship program and has seen that it has increased. In addition, more mentors want to continue, and more mentees have grown to become mentors.

A beautiful thing with storytelling is what Vega describes as the multiplier effect. That happens when one person tells a story and the next person builds upon it. She sees this in their mentoring program, and the fact that they encourage “reverse mentoring” is likely part of that. Younger employees have stories too, says Vega, and they want to tell them, so they are launching a reverse mentoring program.



Leveraging storytelling to attract and recruit talent

Stories will spark an interest in working at your organization, says Castro. If your organization is known to be a great place to work, it’s because your employees have told stories. Stories are easy to remember and share.

Recruiters who are trained in storytelling can engage candidates more deeply with stories and more accurately assess whether candidates fit at your organization. Candidates are listening for how they will fit into your organization. Gathering stories will help to paint a picture of the work environment. Ideally, says Castro, recruiters will connect and weave their own stories with those of their candidates. It is when stories are interwoven when you’ll see whether that candidate fits.

Recruiters should tell their own story too, not just the organization’s. Storytelling is emotional, so adding a personal element adds credibility, authenticity and truth.

Recruiting is a perfect application for storytelling. For more specific insight into how storytelling relates to recruiting, we checked in with Molly Clark of Zoominfo, which helps companies achieve profitable growth with their comprehensive B2B database. She says storytelling is particularly useful in recruiting because stories “hinge on a person’s ability to relate to another human being and influence their emotions in some way or another.”

Clark sees many ways that recruiters can leverage storytelling, including “speaking to candidates, writing job descriptions, reaching out to passive candidates.” She offered a few examples of stories recruiters can employ:

  • Brand Story– Start with brand storytelling—or the story of your company’s beginning and talk about the journey you’ve taken to get where you are now. Don’t shy away from hardships or struggles—after all, everyone loves a comeback.
  • The Candidate as the Hero– Use storytelling to paint a picture of the candidate’s bright future with your company. Walk them through daily life in the position in a way that makes them feel like the hero. Be sure to include key selling points like growth opportunities and company culture.
  • Metaphors– A story doesn’t need to be long to be effective. Simple metaphors can convey key points and invoke emotion just by comparing something mundane, to something the candidate has more experience. Here’s a quick example. Talking to a recent grad about an open position, compare a person’s first job to their first car—it’s not always glamorous but its reliable. Most people can relate to that, and talking about their first car might invoke feelings of nostalgia or happiness.

When recruiting Gen Z, authenticity is especially important. Clark says, “there’s no way to fake authenticity. The only way to appear authentic is to be authentic. If something is manufactured, too good to be true, or exaggerated, it’s usually pretty apparent.”

For recruiters, says Clark, this implies that “you can’t gloss over the details or sterilize certain aspects of your company—It will not go unnoticed and it will have the exact opposite effect.” Your candidates will see right through you and choose an employer that is more authentic. “Rather than painting the ideal picture of a role, paint the real picture.” Clark encourages businesses to be brave and admit certain aspects that are “boring or thankless, but great candidates appreciate honesty. The benefits of coming across as authentic far outweigh the negatives.”

Recruiters can also keep their pool of candidates who were not hired by telling stories, with the hope that qualified candidates will remain interested if a different role opens up. Clark suggests telling a story “of a current employee who was originally turned away by hiring managers, but subsequently hired in a different, more appropriate role. This story would leave the candidate hopeful and keep the door open for future opportunities—preserving his opinion of your brand as an employer.”

Use storytelling to achieve your diversity and inclusion goals 

Storytelling has everything to do with diversity and inclusion, says Vega. Organizations that focus just on the numbers won’t reach their goals. One key piece is active listening. When you train people in business storytelling, you are also training people to listen. When you get people together of different genders and backgrounds, and have them share their stories, other people must listen.

The multiplier effect (when one person tells a story and another builds upon it) is important here, says Vega. By encouraging listening, you “bring more competencies to the table.” She continues, “If you ask a question, you have to prepared to listen.”

A key to diversity and inclusion efforts is that with storytelling, you’re not telling someone how to behave or how something must be done. With a story, you’re just sharing an experience. And just like children who understand complex concepts through storybooks, says Vega, people will understand more.

“The key to successful storytelling is understanding the audience and relating to them on some level. People want to hear stories that pertain to their particular life story, not someone else’s,” says Clark. This is even more critical if you want to attract diverse audiences. Before you tell a story, Clark suggests asking yourself, “Who does this story speak to?”

Originally published on College Recruiter.com.



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