The Power of Storytelling in Recruitment

The Power of Storytelling in Recruitment

In the July issue of our HR Insights e-newsletter, I shared an article by David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom (both of the O.C. Tanner Institute) titled “Science Says, If You Want People to Respond, Tell a Good Story.” The article focused on how leaders can leverage stories to inspire their employees. But it also got me thinking about how recruiters, too, can use great stories to improve their work.

"Easier" Doesn't Necessarily Mean "Better"

the Snaplication

Earlier this month, McDonald’s and Snapchat launched a new filter called Snaplications, which lets people take photos of themselves “wearing” virtual McDonald’s uniform hats and name tags. But this is more than the usual Snapchat filter, and it goes beyond being just a public-relations campaign. It also functions as a recruitment tool: users who record ten-second videos in which they talk about themselves and then send the videos to McDonald’s get redirected to the company’s career website and invited to submit a job application.

Right now, the Snaplication is available only in Australia, and it isn’t the entire application process: an individual still has to download and fill out an application form and, presumably, then participate in an in-person interview before being offered a job. But by leveraging the power of both social media and digital technology, this campaign is a herald of things to come, and I suspect that similar processes will eventually be rolled out worldwide and may even lead to the elimination of the in-person interview. Candidates and companies alike need to consider the ramifications of this future shift.

Social media has revolutionized how we interact with each other both in our professional and in our personal lives. It’s been beneficial for recruitment in many ways, particularly by facilitating the rapid spread of information and helping hiring managers reach out to new talent pools. It’s also contributed to the rapid rise of the “easy one-click” application—which in my book is not a positive development.

That declaration might make me sound like an anti-technology curmudgeon, but that’s definitely not what I am. I’m a big fan of technology when it’s properly implemented. But I’m not a fan of adopting technology purely for technology’s sake and without giving it careful thought. Making it possible for people to research jobs and apply for open positions online isn’t a bad thing. But making it too easy for people to apply for jobs online can open a Pandora’s box of problems.

First, the increased focus on submitting job applications via quick and easy routes such as social media profiles and ten-second videos may actually make it harder for hiring managers to find good candidates. If someone is looking for a job and can send in an application with just a few seconds’ effort, why wouldn’t he or she do that? After all, casting a wide net is one way to increase the odds of landing a job, right? But all of those applications need to be processed somehow. An applicant tracking system can do only so much (and maybe not much at all when it comes to analyzing and rating personal videos), so that means actual people need to be looking at that stuff. Now imagine that the “easy one-click” method has led to a geometrical increase in the number of applications sent to an organization—many of which likely aren’t serious, and most of which will require at least some attention from a hiring manager. See the problem?

Second, “easy one-click” applications downplay one very important part of the hiring process: the human connection. These forms usually consist of just a few basic questions—not enough to yield a useful portrait of a candidate. A ten-second video doesn’t help much, either: how much can you learn about someone in that amount of time?

Third, that ten-second video can actually carry disproportionate weight in the hiring process if it’s all a hiring manager has to go on. It offers just a quick snapshot of a person with no opportunities for nuanced conversation or follow-up questions. It may cause hiring managers to (perhaps subconsciously) place too much emphasis on a person’s appearance—and worse, it can lead to racism, ageism, or sexism playing a role in hiring decisions.

Fourth, companies and candidates have long struggled to connect with each other. Streamlining the application process and leveraging social media are two ways to address this perennial problem—but  “easy one-click” applications might actually make it worse. Person-to-person communication is a key element to figuring out if an individual and an organization are a good fit for each other.

In all fairness, I should point out that McDonald’s is using the Snaplication mostly to target teenagers who are looking for short-term jobs. In those situations, some might say that it isn’t critical for hiring managers to get a “good sense” of candidates who aren’t doing complex work and are likely to be in those positions for only a brief time. Personally, I think it’s important to get a “good sense” of any candidate—but I can cede this point here.

When it comes to long-term jobs—or careers—though, candidates and companies need as much information as possible about each other. Although I applaud the creative approach behind the Snaplication (and recognize the need to come up with innovative ways to reach out to prospective candidates), I think it’s inadequate. By giving some parts of the application process short shrift, the “easy one-click” method does both candidates and organizations a disservice.

Use Your Front Line Wisely

Everyone is involved in screening new hires

Professional conferences offer plenty of opportunities for both networking and information gathering. They’re great places to learn about current trends—and new directions—in a particular industry. I always come home from a conference with tons of new ideas kicking around in my head!

One idea in particular has stuck with me since I first heard it expressed in a presentation at a staffing conference last September. Allyson Young, HR and brand director of K&N Management, a Texas-based restaurant-management company, declared that receptionists can play an important role in HR decisions at any organization. That statement caused people to look up and pay attention.

It’s common knowledge that even though CEOs are the ones officially in charge of their companies, the day-to-day running of an organization is generally handled by scores of other people. These include junior executives, managers, department heads, and rank-and-file workers. Receptionists aren’t usually included in this category, though, because they aren’t typically regarded as filling a role that is specific to an organization. They answer phones, greet visitors, and do some light clerical work, but they don’t really have any input on the HR-related happenings in a company. Or do they?

Think about it: the receptionist is often the first point of contact for your organization. You’re probably already fully aware that when clients or prospective clients call your company, the first person they interact with is the receptionist. So you know how critical it is to staff that position with someone who communicates well and makes a good first impression.

But have you considered that when job candidates arrive for an interview at your company, their first contact, too, is with your receptionist? Obviously, you still want someone in that role who does a good job of representing your organization. But he or she is also well positioned to make an initial assessment of a candidate.

Does the candidate smile and make eye contact when speaking with someone? Does he or she seem authentic and approachable? Does the candidate exude confidence—or anxiety? An observant receptionist will be able to answer all of these questions.

Of course, candidates will be on their “best behavior” when they’re sitting across the table from hiring managers and recruiters. They want to impress the people who will make the “yea” or “nay” decision about hiring them. But what about when candidates are talking to someone who they likely assume has no say in the hiring process? How a candidate interacts with people they think are “unimportant” says a lot about his or her character and compatibility with the company culture. A candidate who treats a receptionist with as much courtesy and respect that’s given to an executive definitely earns some points on his or her application tally sheet.

Organizations should constantly be evaluating their hiring processes. There’s always something to improve—whether by a huge change or a small tweak. But as you think about the different roles in this process, don’t underestimate the contribution that receptionists, too, can make. They may not be executives, but they are uniquely situated to provide valuable information that HR managers and recruiters might miss. So be sure to ask for their input on hiring decisions!

Don’t Let the Skills Gap Cloud Your Judgement


In the fast-paced world of staffing, an agency doesn’t make a dime until it staffs a position. Finding the right person for the job, however, is often easier said than done. And it’s getting even harder: thanks to unemployment rates falling to their lowest point in years, fewer qualified candidates are on the job market.

The practice of “selling” jobs to candidates has been around for a while and certainly isn’t anything new in the staffing industry. Recruiters who do this try to “sell” a job to a candidate who—on paper—meets most of the minimum requirements (as they pertain to skill set) but in actuality may not be the best fit for the job.

During the 1990s this practice fell out of favor and developed a bad reputation, mostly because it’s not the best way to match a candidate to a position. With the recession firmly behind us now and top talent becoming scarcer, some recruiters are turning once again to this technique in an effort to fill open positions from a fairly small pool of possibilities.

The problem with following this trend, though, is anyone who does so runs the risk of communicating to clients and candidates alike that making any placement as quickly as possible is better than finding the best fit for both parties.

Over the past several years, the staffing industry has made great strides toward becoming a true business partner with its clients. But that progress can all be undone in short order if the focus returns to making a quick buck rather than making decisions that are in the clients’ best interest. Great recruiters and staffers know that they are successful only if their clients are successful—and put all their effort into working toward that mutual success.

So stay away from the “quick buck” approach, because it will only cause you problems in the long run. The next time you have an open requisition, keep in mind the following considerations when evaluating candidates.

It’s really not all about the money. Take the time to make sure that your client’s needs align with your candidate’s qualifications and interests. Different groups prioritize different things. Millennials, for example, often value organizations that have a great company culture and provide exceptional work/life balance. Generation Xers, on the other hand, may be busy raising their families and therefore highly value a flexible work schedule. And baby boomers, realizing that they may have to work longer than they had planned, may consider stability and retirement benefits most important.

Make sure the family is on board. Once you and a candidate agree that he or she is a good fit for a particularly position, don’t hire that person on the spot. Instead, encourage the candidate to go home and first discuss the opportunity with his or her family. For example, a one-hour commute might not look too bad to your candidate at first, but he or she may have a completely different perspective after a family discussion that examines how such a commute could affect the whole family.

How does a candidate fit with your client’s culture? As I noted above, millennials have a reputation for placing a lot of weight on company culture when deciding whether to accept a job. But the reality is that when any candidate—regardless of what generation he or she belongs to—doesn’t fit with your client’s culture, that particular employer-employee relationship will be short lived. So before making any placement offer, try to gauge what type of culture your candidate thrives in (by asking questions such as “Tell me about the worst company culture you worked in,” for example).

Before you present a candidate to your client, make sure that he or she is actually suitable—a good fit, not just a fit—for the role. Putting the time and effort into doing this up front not only increases the likelihood for a successful placement but also increases the likelihood for a successful long-term relationship with your client.


The Telecommuting Recruiter


Thanks to technology, the phrase “working from home” no longer has to be accompanied by air quotes. Gone are the days when everyone took that statement to be a euphemism for “I’m actually going to goof off.” Computers and the Internet make it possible for us to escape our offices and work from nearly anywhere, and assignment- and time-tracking software ensure that we stay on task.

Employees like telecommuting for many reasons, including the schedule flexibility, the lack of commute, and the ability to focus on work without the distractions of a busy office. Employers like telecommuting because it offers potential savings in overhead costs (most notably those associated with maintaining physical office space) and it’s a desirable perk that can help a firm land top talent.

In the staffing field, increasing numbers of both agency recruiters and corporate recruiters telecommute for part (and sometimes all) of their time. Enabling recruiters to work from home definitely benefits both the employee and his or her firm. Working from home isn’t just a simple matter of wearing pajamas all day and avoiding rush-hour traffic jams, though.  If you’re one of those lucky recruiters who can telecommute, you’ll need to follow some basic guidelines in order to succeed at your job.

Have a designated office space at home. You may be tempted to kick your feet up on the ottoman and work from the comfort of your sofa all day long, but even as you picture that scenario in your head, I’m sure you can see how it isn’t ideal for telecommuting. You need a space where you can work—and where you can keep your work-related stuff. Set aside a spare bedroom (or another out-of-the-way part of your house) as your home office.

Make sure your family knows when not to disturb you. Unless you live alone, there’s a good chance that your workday may be interrupted by family members at a time when you need to focus. Hang some sort of “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door during those times when you absolutely can’t be interrupted (while making a phone call or interviewing a candidate by video, for example).

Conduct video interviews as if you were sitting in the same room with the candidate. Dress professionally, and make sure that Fido isn’t wagging his tail or barking in the background and that the camera doesn’t reveal a sink full of dirty dishes behind you.

Use the cloud. Cloud computing has been the game changer for working from home. When I started working in the staffing industry back in 2003, employees had to be in the company’s physical office in order to connect to the database that ran off the servers in the building’s basement. Today, by storing everything in the cloud, as long as I have an Internet connection I can easily access everything I need to do my job anywhere in the world.

Maintain the boundary between home and work. When you’re telecommuting, don’t mix your home tasks with your work tasks. (For example, don’t try to conduct a phone interview while folding your laundry!)

Follow a schedule. Set working hours and try your best to stick to them. Don’t put in more hours than you would if you worked in the office (think work/life balance). At the same time, don’t schedule personal appointments for times that you wouldn’t if you worked in the office.

Take breaks. Don’t forget to step away from the computer periodically. If possible, try to get out of the house (maybe go for a short walk) during those times, so you can benefit from a change in scenery.

Don’t be a stranger. Visit the office from time to time (weekly or monthly, perhaps). You may work from home but you’re still part of your company—and you don’t want anyone to forget that. It’s good to touch base in person regularly with your colleagues and supervisors so that “out of sight, out of mind” doesn’t cause problems for you.