Employer Branding

How to Humanize Your Employer Branding through Storytelling

Sometimes companies lead with mission and values, but stories are what makes it real for candidates. In this interview, Lauryn Sargent of Stories Incorporated talks about what makes a good story and gives examples of story content that effectively communicate concepts like culture and values.

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Why stories? Why now?

We’re in a place where candidates have choices, and even in an age where there’s information everywhere, they still don’t have everything they need to know to make the best choice. They’re going 2-18 places before they apply somewhere. And employers know this: From a Glassdoor study a few years ago, more than two-thirds (67%) of employers believe retention rates would be higher if candidates had a clearer picture of what to expect about working at the company before taking the job so companies know we aren’t giving out as useful as information as we can.

I think part of it is because culture can be hard to communicate. It is nuanced and universal at the same time. Employee stories are the only way to put candidates in their shoes at their workplace and give them the experience of really working there. With this knowledge, candidates can better self-select in and out before they apply, which leads to higher candidate quality, which leads to better choices and fits. And this is important because good fits lead to engagement, which leads to happier and more productive employees, which leads to companies performing better as a whole.

So storytelling and employee stories have become incredibly popular and it’s a best practice in recruitment marketing. I think there’s a difference between a testimonial and a real life story of what the organization actually did that made life better for their employee. I think we all need to be a little more discerning and specific in our content.

What makes a good story in the context of employer branding?

Good question. At its most basic, a story must have a candidate picturing themselves as the storyteller in the story, thus imagining themselves working for your company. A story needs to be true, and from the employee who experienced it. A good story is specific, and has personal elements to it. A good story must also give candidates insight into what it’s like to work there, either universally (this is what we mean when we say we are this value, or this is our EVP) or specifically (this is what it’s like to be a woman in tech or work at this particular office or site or be in this rotational program).

As for great stories, I think we’ve got a great story when I read or watch it, and I know I don’t want to work there, but I know who to refer.

I know we’ve got a great story when we’re showing experiences that couldn’t or don’t happen other places, or at least many other places.

Give us some tips to get great stories that give candidates real insight?

  1. Prepping lightly the people who are telling the stories. So, that’s as easy as sending a few questions ahead of your interview that will lead them to tell you something that actually happened. A favorite day at work, the moment you knew you made the right decision to take the new role outside of your comfort zone, when you knew you made your best friend at work. Don’t overwhelm storytellers or overprep because you’re going for conversational, and early in our experiences doing this we would send out a list of questions we always develop together with the client. People would come with pages of typed up notes and want to read it verbatim or were really concerned with remembering what they wrote. It just doesn’t work as well when you’re going for natural and authentic on camera.
  2. The second would be, create a safe space for them to really reflect on their experience. It’s a no-judgement zone. If you’re filming, let them know you’re only going to take the best of what they say, they can tell a story several times.
  3. Another tip would be to listen for what might seem generic. Your employees aren’t thinking about and consuming employer branding and recruitment marketing content all day like we are. They don’t know that saying “Work is fun” or “My team is collaborative” or “I can bring my whole self to work” is said a lot of places. It’s all about listening, asking for an example, and then being patient as the storyteller thinks it through. It takes some practice before you’re speaking in examples. We do this every day and when we did a project like this for our own company, even I had trouble immediately speaking in stories.
  4. The last tip is to make it as conversational as possible.  If someone is having trouble, you go first. My colleague Bernadette calls it something like Tell a Story to get a story. She’s had success getting really good stories by telling one first, so it’s a two-way process.

Do you have examples of stories that effectively communicate concepts like culture, purpose, mission, and values?

Definitely. So many.

We’re finishing a project for ElectronicArts where we heard a great one. A storyteller was recalling an event he attended for EA that was close to a military base. The employee was surprised when a player of a game this employee had worked on, asked him to speak privately. He told him about his experience in the military and that he had a tough time transitioning out. But being able to connect with other people through playing the game helped him better acclimate socially, make friends and made the transition easier, and also helped him get through a hard time.

Video games can touch people on a personal level. The storyteller said he felt like he was really making a difference and it injected purpose in his work.

We’ve heard lots of stories around family culture, where colleagues rallied around them when they were going through a challenging personal time. At Kasasa, a woman had an emergency surgery told her manager she was scared, and when she woke up, her manager was in her waiting room. That illustrated their love value. At CVS Health, a woman was driving to work when her mother called her crying, because she’d just learned CVS Health was pulling tobacco from their shelves, and their family had dealt with getting her father to stop smoking unsuccessfully.

What’s your step-by-step guide to getting great stories to attract the right candidate?

  1. Identify the people your organization wants more of. That could be people who are living your values, or women leaders, or
  2. Get those storytellers comfortable. Prep, safe space. Credible, relatable storytellers are so important.
  3. Learn about their experiences at work, to illustrate workplace culture and day to day. Get an outsider to ask questions like a candidate.
  4. Pick a story medium that lets them shine, best illustrates the story, and/or resonates with your candidates.
  5. Have multiple people review the content to make sure it’s a true representation of the organization. The worst thing you can do is put something out there that’s mostly aspirational or a situation that would only happen once, because then your candidates get in and say, ‘This isn’t what I signed up for.’

What are your top tips to employer brand managers?

  • One interview day can yield so much content. Don’t just make a video, make 10. Write blog posts from the transcripts. We’ve made 27 substantive videos of varying lengths, designed a story-based job description infographic, wrote several blog posts, delivered 500+ images all from 1.5 days of interviewing so think big!!
  • Think constantly about how to stretch the content, show a story in new ways. Pick storytellers so you can use their story to target talent like them. One story about what it’s like to work for your company from an intern who is also a veteran and a woman in STEM, there’s so many places to use that!
  • If you’re on a budget, look for team- or business-specific recruiting challenges. We’ve had clients that have been able to split content costs with the business or with TA for that group.
  • If you’re just starting and need to prove buy in: frame a content buy as a pilot project. Sometimes using that word makes it seem exciting and new but not risky.

Connect with Lauryn on LinkedIn!

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.