Terrie's Job Tips -- The Power of Stories as a Recruiting Tool

Apart from money, the main reason people join a company is because of an emotional resonance they feel after reading or hearing about some particular aspect of that company which indicates that it would be a good place to work. This aspect of recruiting is very important, because it causes good candidates to choose companies that otherwise aren’t sufficiently mainstream or famous enough to normally attract them.

Now that we’re in the Internet age, most companies use the Web to impart their corporate message, and rely on slick, professional graphics and design to present the right image to job seekers. And there is no doubt that a professional website is a minimum requirement in the modern HR department’s toolbox. The problem is, though, that since the Internet is now so accessible, everyone else’s website is just as professional looking, and they all list the same carefully prepared President’s Message and jobs and benefits. Visitors are quickly dulled by the sameness of each web site, and your recruiting message becomes highly diluted and easy to forget.

The answer to fight dull web sites is to impart a more inspiring and interesting message. In the bid for professionalism, many companies lose sight of the fact that visitors don’t just want slick web pages, they want a feeling, an atmosphere, that they can identify with. Especially for smaller companies, who have to try that much harder to attract good candidates, I advise them to use an old trick that public speakers use – which is to tell a motivating personal story.

The best stories are those that have the leader telling of a personal situation or challenge, and how they were fully tested in their faith and belief in their team and in the company’s direction overall. Like all good stories, there should be a background which paints in graphic detail the painful circumstances that needed fixing, then heartfelt comments about how the challenge was addressed – rising to a climactic event or turning point, after which there is a dramatic improvement in the fortunes of the story’s characters.

Since the objective of the story is to have the reader coming away thinking, “I could work for that person,” make sure that it includes lots of your leader’s feelings and personal impressions – all of which should be sincere and rich in emotion. In making a powerful and personal statement like this, the CEO/manager gets to impart his or her values, mission, and goals in a memorable and lasting way. I know that some leaders don’t like to show weakness in public, but I strongly believe that on the Internet in particular you only have one chance to hook the visitor, and so the more emotional and personal the message, the more powerful it will be.

Another powerful activity for your CEO to be involved in is speechmaking. I personally appear for my various companies at universities and business groups around the country and overseas at least 12 times a year. Although writing and presenting a speech is very time-consuming, I have seen some of my best managers come from direct job enquiries made after speaking engagements, thus proving the value of making a personal impression on potential new recruits.

For most new leaders, the first few speeches are nerve-wracking, and nerves alone are a good excuse for putting off doing such public presentations. However, I believe that public appearances are an essential part of a CEO/senior manager’s job, and the skill needs to be learned if it doesn’t come naturally. I suggest that those people not confident with public speaking either join a toast masters group, or start with smaller audiences and work your way up from there.

Certainly I used to get stage fright when I first started making speeches. My cure for this was three-fold: 1) I learned my topics well enough that even if the PowerPoint presentation failed, I could still ad lib for 30 minutes on the main points, 2) I stopped looking at people in the audience in the eyes – which I find to be very distracting – and instead aimed my view over the heads of the people in the back row, and 3) practice makes perfect.

Making an emotional connection with a live audience is a very exciting thing to discover as a speechmaker, and an effective leader will look for feedback to gauge how their message is being received. If I’m not getting the right body language – people sitting up, paying attention, or taking notes, then I will occasionally even drop my prepared presentation and instead switch to a series of vignettes to recapture everyone’s attention.

Interestingly in a speech, it’s not really what you say (unlike a website, where what you say is all you have), but rather how you say it and your energy level and projected emotion. If the audience feels that you are sincere, you have the passion to take the business in exciting directions, and that you are experienced enough to recover if things don’t work, then you will be a memorable beacon of inspiration in a world of otherwise flat and uninteresting company presentations.

If you’ve done your job right, at least one person in your audience will walk out of the presentation all charged up and emotionally ready to take the plunge – contacting either you or your HR department to ask about the next steps in applying for a job.