Recruiting Great Talent Nowadays Requires Great Storytelling

Recruiting is no longer a transactional field. It’s now a creative field. This shift runs deeper than the cosmetic rebrand to “talent acquisition”. As competition for top talent continues to increase, companies have to rethink how they can stand out to draw talent. This new landscape puts increased pressure on recruiting teams to find news ways to stand out and cut through the noise – and this is mainly being accomplished through storytelling.

The change isn’t limited to industries you’d expect like technology, agency, and media. Companies in hospitality, scientific research, and beauty are all now turning to storytelling to help candidates get a more intimate view of working in their organization.

Storytelling and Social Media

The early days of social media in recruiting were a sea of the same stock photos, boilerplate text, and career sites with slogans like, “A world of opportunity”. Today’s job applicants want something more. Software engineers want to know what it’s like to write code at your company. Marketers want to understand your go to market strategy. Success in connecting with these audiences is now driven by how you can help them understand what their role in your company looks like – and get to know their future peers.

This shift is demonstrated by Celinda Appleby, Oracle’s Head of Global Employer Brand:

“When I joined Oracle, almost two years ago all of our content for talent attraction featured stock photography or graphics of robots. Our employees couldn’t identify with the personas we created. Enter a shift towards storytelling. We tapped into our employees and asked them what they loved about working at Oracle. We learned the common thread was the ability to pursue outside passions, as we foster a flexible, inclusive environment. These stories started out as quotes and over the past year have grown to videos. We learned by using their voices and images; they felt rewarded and acknowledged. Our external audiences started to see the passion come to life, as our #lifeatOracle hashtag grew organically. Now it reaches over 500M people monthly.”

No Longer Broadcasting

The early days of social media and recruiting were mainly built around broadcast. Being on social was enough. The recruiting industry hadn’t grasped the community building potential of social. Recruiters used platforms like Twitter and Facebook strictly to share jobs or updates about the company – rarely engaging in conversation. 

Matthew Jeffery, VP Head Global Sourcing & Employer Brand at SAP, discussed this shift:

“World Class Recruitment marketing has moved on from the days of megaphone broadcasting. Today is all about immersion, and central to that is storytelling. People ‘buy’ from people. They want the whole story. Real, authentic, and critically emotional. Hearing people’s stories that others can relate to is the most authentic way to convince people your company is best for them.”

Storytelling in recruiting is an emotive exercise. It’s no longer enough to use boilerplate descriptors that whitewash, and often overly polish, your culture. Companies now have to find ways to humanize their culture with stories going deeper than just the employee experience.

Storytelling as an Equalizer

The good news? Storytelling success is not driven by the depth of your budget. It’s a great equalizer for smaller companies in competitive markets.

Lever is a recruiting technology platform based in San Francisco. They compete for talent in one of the most competitive hiring environments and turned to storytelling to give themselves an edge. They put many of their employees through storytelling workshops and training. Employees were then encouraged to share their work experience and views on blogs and social media. The results from the HR Open Source case study are detailed below:

  • They saw a 240X increase in employee blogging;
  • 80 percent of their employees re-wrote their LinkedIn profiles to support internal narratives and added personalization so prospects researching them could get to know them beyond their resumes;
  • Over 50 percent of employees self-identified as brand advocates;
  • They identified which stories and message were resonating with different target audiences; and
  • Their gender diversity increased 4 percent as directly attributable to positive feedback on blog posts from some of their female staff.

Lever CMO, Leela Srinivasan, describes the business impact of employee storytelling:

“We compete with thousands of San Francisco Bay Area tech companies for talent. Empowering our people as Lever storytellers increases the chance the right candidates will remember Lever, and recall what we stand for. For instance, it’s one thing for us to talk as a brand about how we value and champion diversity and inclusion, but that message gets across in a much more real, human way when explained through the eyes of a team member like Ciara or Leighton. Through storytelling, we can strike a chord.”

Don’t Forget the Conflict

All good stories involve conflict. The same goes for brand storytelling. If the shared story around your culture and employees is all roses, candidates will see that as selective advertising at best, dubious misdirection at best.

Allow your stories to have conflict. Don’t be afraid to share the negatives of the job, even if that negative is getting spat on. Revealing the realities of your workplace, warts and all, will help candidates make more informed decisions about how they align with your company. If you hide your negatives, new hires will see that reality and retention will suffer. You’re much better off portraying an honest view of your organization. It may cost you come hires, but the ones you bring in will not be surprised.

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Written by:
Lars Schmidt is the Founder of Amplify Talent ( and Co-Founder of HR Open Source ( He's a veteran talent executive who has developed progressive recruiting and branding strategies for companies including NPR, Hootsuite, SpaceX, and Ticketmaster.
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