LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting Shares Why Storytelling is a Powerful (Yet Often Ignored) Skill for Recruiters

May 11, 2017

Pat Wadors, LinkedIn’s CHRO, remembers when she was first recruited by Brendan Browne, LinkedIn’s Head of Recruiting. What she remembers most isn’t the growth figures he cited or compensation he offered—it’s the way she felt:

“You laid out the storyline of LinkedIn [and] the story of HR… The story was a little bit of history, a little bit of where we are, and then a lot about the opportunity. And I remember how I felt. I don’t remember all the facts and figures... I just remember how I felt, like ‘I can see myself solving those problems.’”

That’s because Brendan understood and used the power of storytelling. Stories can be the difference between an emotionally invested candidate and a candidate who sees you as just another interview. An invaluable skill for recruiters, storytelling can grab attention, awaken emotions, create memories, and influence decisions.

“There’s a humongous opportunity to differentiate yourself as a recruiter by telling a story,” Brendan says, whether that’s through an InMail, a phone call, or an in-person conversation.

Unfortunately, it’s a skill that most recruiters completely ignore. “The lack of storytelling is, candidly, pretty damn atrocious,” he tells Pat in this week’s Talent on Tap episode. Here’s why storytelling is an absolute must-have skill for recruiters.

Stories get attention, stir emotions, make memories, and impact candidates’ decision making

First and foremost, stories get candidates’ ears to perk up. “Facts and figures… while that might be interesting on some level, it’s not going to grab anyone’s attention,” says Brendan. You could have the most impressive offer in the world, but it won’t make a difference if the candidate isn’t really listening in the first place.

After they’ve captured our attention, stories have a way of evoking our emotions by drawing us in and making us imagine ourselves in that new, novel situation. Storytelling, Pat says, “does release chemicals, and we can’t help but become more empathetic and compassionate to the person telling the story, and you actually get pulled into the story.”

Those emotions stick—they’ll be what candidates remember more than anything else. As Maya Angelou famously said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Making memories is incredibly important for recruiters. When candidates go home, talk to friends and family about the opportunity, and ultimately make a yes-or-no decision, you want them to remember how they felt. “I’m in business of recruiting and hiring,” says Brendan, “but I’m [really] in the business of making memories.”

Tell both big stories and small anecdotes—but be sure to tailor the story to a candidate’s motivations

The stories you tell can range from the big-picture mission and vision of a company—why it exists—to little personal anecdotes that illustrate the work culture, challenges, and opportunities the position offers.

For example, LinkedIn recruiters are taught to tell the company’s story by following this framework:

  • Sharing the mission, vision, and purpose of LinkedIn
  • Explaining how the company is fulfilling that purpose
  • Talking about the opportunities that lie ahead
  • Illustrating the company’s unique culture and values through personal stories and examples

While that serves as a general framework, it’s never the same story twice: improvisation and personal anecdotes are key as you tailor the story for each individual candidate.

Any time you tell a story big or small, you want to personalize the narrative so that it speaks to that candidate’s personal drivers. That means asking probing questions early in the process, so you understand what a candidate really wants to get out of a job, why they’re interested, and how they’ll be fulfilled working there.

You don’t have to tell the story yourself—you can bring in others to help paint a complete picture

Let’s say you’re recruiting a software engineer who’s motivated by solving the most challenging computational problems. You know what drives them—but since you’re not an engineer yourself, you can’t speak authoritatively to the story of what the engineering team is currently working on.  

That’s totally fine, says Brendan. “If you don’t have a relatable story, you don’t have to tell it either,” he says, “you might have a couple things to tee it up, but have other people tell it.” You can bring in the head of your engineering team to talk about the hardest problems they’re working on, and how that candidate would contribute.

Instead of putting all the weight on yourself to be the master storyteller, you can take on the role of curator or director when appropriate. “You’re brokering the experience,” says Brendan—you don’t need to be the one to actually tell every story, but you are the person who enables and organizes them.

Better storytelling in recruiting can lead to real, measurable results

Storytelling might sound fluffy, but it translates into concrete results. Pat joined LinkedIn in part thanks to Brendan’s storytelling approach.

A Canadian senior home care company, Nurses Next Door, saw their time-to-hire drop from a range of six to eight months down to just two or three months after they focused on better storytelling via videos. They didn’t get a surge in number of applicants, either: instead, the quality of applicants rose as candidates connected with the company’s story.

Humans have been telling stories for thousands of years, and that’s because it works. By tapping into the power of storytelling, recruiters can make stronger memories and stir emotions that linger longer. When you evoke that feeling of excitement and anticipation in candidates when they think about joining your team, you’ve made your job as a recruiter significantly easier.

Talent on Tap is a weekly series where Pat Wadors and Brendan Browne break down some of the hottest topics, biggest challenges, and most enticing opportunities in the world of talent. Talent on Tap will also give you an opportunity to hear from other organizational leaders, subject matter experts, and thought leaders in the space. Stay tuned each week for the latest.

*Image from The White House

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