These days, it’s hard to imagine recruitment without storytelling. But why? Because telling stories sells – and not just in sales. Today more than ever. The consumption of information is in a state of permanent flux, especially among young target groups like university graduates. News is being consumed differently by millennials and Generations Y and Z: what we need are authentic stories. And they have to be easy to digest, original and, above all, in a “snackable” format on the right channel. This new desire for stories reflects a basic need to quell our own curiosity with personal and emotional experiences.
It’s true that telling stories is a perfect opportunity for companies to reach out to young people. And it’s also true that storytelling can have an emotional impact on the audience you’re addressing. But let’s look at it from an interpersonal perspective: if we get to know someone interesting, then we tell them the most exciting stories or cool anecdotes from our life. Which means we give them examples of how we have experienced or perceived things, or how we acted in certain situations. And let’s be honest: when we are the ones being told such stories by others, our intuition helps us to expose phoneys and braggers very quickly, with our first reaction being to dismiss them.
So why should that be any different among young people, e.g. university graduates who a company wants to attract? Especially when they don’t yet know the company that wants to communicate with them. And that is precisely when stories become important for reaching these target groups in an original way and telling them what it’s really like to work for the potential employer. Whereby the emphasis here lies on the word “really”. And let’s not forget, young applicant target groups are the most critical clientele out there. They listen very carefully because their new job, project and future are all at stake. Companies need to take this seriously. First impressions count – just like when you’re getting to know a person. And if you tell fairy tales, whether in the form of false promises or empty clichés, you’ll soon be out. The target audience won’t feel like they’re being taken seriously – so they will up and leave and you will have missed your chance.
Beyond this, companies are quickly noticing that we have arrived in the “age of recommendation”. Trust in brands and products doesn’t come automatically, but increasingly through recommendations and testimonials. There’s a good reason why companies are meanwhile using influencers, having their products tested by them at events and consciously laying themselves open to their honest opinion in the social networks – because here too, it’s difficult to imagine anything but the truth. This is making products and services more transparent. So it was only a matter of time until employer brands also became transparent. For a long time now – whether they wanted to or not – employers have had to face direct criticism, both positive and negative, on employer review sites like kununu and Glassdoor. Through feedback from current and former employees or through reports of poorly conducted interviews. All public. All direct.
Today it’s not enough to claim in your job ad or on your careers website that you’re a good employer, offer plenty of development prospects and all treat each other fairly and with respect. Without providing any kind of proof. All of this becomes verifiable in the digital age. In real time. Which is actually a good development in a time when truth has become an integral part of marketing and when we are once again attaching great importance to real experiences. Especially in HR communication. So why not tell the true story from the outset? That is, after all, what university graduates expect, especially in a time of uncertainty about where they are headed professionally.
This makes it all the more important for HR officers to develop a willingness to communicate and an awareness of relationships. An openness to new platforms. An ability to deal with direct criticism. A lot of HR platforms openly admit that they have no process whatsoever should employees or applicants choose to voice their opinions in public. Plus, they are hesitant, or possibly even afraid of seeking direct contact. Up to now, HR officers have been limited to internal affairs, to anonymous surveys, to one-to-one meetings. Regardless of which technology the employer is making transparent in the end, it will be the people and their inner attitudes that determine which companies successfully enter into dialogue about their employer brand and which don’t.
To be able to tell the right stories, you have to know yourself really well
For true stories and credible communication with this young, critical and very perceptive clientele, the right foundations are needed. A lot of companies are still very much at the beginning. Especially those who have never really had to do much for their reputation. Here at Serviceplan we often receive enquiries from incredibly exciting hidden champions – unknown global market leaders in their specific segment, often with products that require explanation or essential technology drivers in well-known end products. The problem is that nobody notices this. If we delve deeper into such companies, we discover people with extraordinary international careers and fantastic testimonials that perfectly reflect the true core of the company as an employer. The companies themselves often don’t recognise their own potential. And as they haven’t communicated it to the outside world, university graduates know nothing about the company or the exciting responsibilities it is offering. Following our own study, we know that this ignorance leads to scepticism and scepticism leads to false assumptions along the lines of: “I bet they don’t pay very well,” “They’re in the middle of nowhere, I’ll be stuck there forever,” or “That would be a dead end for my career”. Even though it is precisely these big players out in the sticks that will often open the door to international careers with meaningful, well-paid positions. And for them in particular, it is important to tell this story well – and, most importantly, to tell the truth.
But in order to do this, companies have to get to know themselves first. This will help them recognise their potential and find out which stories they can tell and how so that they can be applied to a potential new employee. Just like in real life where getting to know someone will also backfire if you come across as contrived or fake. But if you can just be yourself and convey a picture of the real you, it will be positively reflected. Both by applicants as well as existing employees. After all, HR communication is also internal communication – the employees are the ones who are living and breathing what is being conveyed to the outside world.
I can still remember my first interview, in which I wanted to give the perfect answers to all possible questions. Here’s a classic one: “I’m totally impatient…” Of course I wasn’t chosen for the job. It’s exactly the same when companies enter into contact with applicants. Every company has their own character, which has a massive influence on its success: how the culture is practiced within the company, how the staff deal with each other, how they manage and communicate, how the product is made that everyone is working for. In a nutshell: WHAT it’s like to work there.
The first step: lie down on the couch!
Highlighting the truthful, unique core that makes your employees enjoy working for you is always the first step. The good news: everyone has it! The bad news, as I mentioned: not every company has found it yet. But that is the central strategic starting point for every aspect of communication.
Just as it’s difficult for us to describe and sell ourselves as a person, it’s also difficult for companies. The “getting to know yourself” process is therefore an imperative first step towards targeted employer branding. So for this, every company has to first “lie down on the couch”, so to speak! Partners from Serviceplan and the HR experts from Promerit regularly carry out this “therapy” using a qualitative analysis on the basis of internal and external surveys, as well as individual focus groups and interviews. The result is something like a medical history that gives the company an undistorted view of itself: what makes working in my company appealing, authentic and different? Together with the client, we condense these findings into one central term or sentence as an employer promise, the so-called Employer Value Proposition (EVP), and identify features, qualities and facts that the company can really use to fulfil it.
Only once you have recognised your own strengths will you have a foundation for successful employer branding and a credible employer story. At Serviceplan we then develop cross-channel communication based on this. Our cooperation with long-standing partners like Promerit and, for the past year also YeaHR! ensures that the communication is relevant and can be transferred to the candidate and employee life cycle. After all, one thing is certain: at the end of the day, it all comes down to substance!