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The art of storytelling in Digital Hiring...

The most regular cliche we hear in the hiring market for Digital talent is that demand outstrips supply or that it’s a candidate driven market. Whilst this is most certainly true, these days, it’s a rather boillerplate, glib statement used to create urgency and it doesn’t actually solve anything.


What’s far more interesting are conversations around what may actually solve problems for clients and help them become more competitive in a crowded market. Whilst there’s no one solution and companies that hire well normally get a combination of things right, employer branding plays an increasingly important role in the hiring prospects of any company. The whole psychological process of the prospect candidate has evolved dramatically and will continue to do so based on the ‘passive shopper’ nature of the market. Change is also based on increased emphasis on digital technology and social media to support their own respective candidate journey. Whilst it’s very difficult to encapsulate the concept of modern ‘employer’ branding in one blog, I’d like to outline the significance of effective storytelling as a key differentiator, which hiring teams need to get right.


To structure the story of an employer brand requires thinking about a business in the context of a ‘journey’. The ‘coming to being’ of any business is rather a phenomenon of human behaviour; an idea or a problem that one individual or group of individuals seek to solve that turns into a lifelong commitment. In many cases the stories of human endeavour that companies have as a backstory are phenomenal, but how often do we hear about them? In many cases, the backstory of a company coming to existence will represent the DNA, core values and employee experience that prevail today, so why not share that? As human beings we are drawn to stories as they appeal to our sense of curiosity and help us shape meaning and purpose from our actions. Without it, considering a job opportunity is nothing more than a series of shallow transactional considerations and nowhere near as meaningful.


So as hiring teams, we need to leverage on this human trait and find out the story...and tell it! Based on my years in the sector and more recent experience truly helping companies build and project a cogent employer branding message, I can provide the following basic checklist of facts that you should seek to include in your messaging to market.


For me, it’s important to gain an overall picture of the profile of the business and chronology of their business journey, which consists of the following:


Origins and purpose - what was the defining moment that brought the business into being? What was the eureka or big bang moment?! If you don’t know, you haven’t tried hard enough.


Backing and funding - is the business venture capitalist backed or privately invested in? Or was it bootstrapped? Perhaps it’s a subsidiary of a larger corporation? The economic structures behind a business have a highly material impact on the culture and business style of an organisation, e.g. venture backed businesses often have a fierce set of targets to achieve in terms of growth and revenue to please investors, which may or may not appeal to the candidates in question.


Products - It’s not enough to make generic references in relation to the specific product initiatives potential candidates will be supporting. It’s important to be specific around the areas new product development and innovation they will be part of.


Profile - This is where you pull together your standard key data points, though it’s vital to elevate the data to create a narrative. It’s not enough just to quote headcount, geographical footprint, and revenue. It’s important to work out what these data points tell you, for instance where are these data points versus 3 years ago.


Growth Projections - Linked to the above, it’s critical to know which direction the business is heading and perhaps how this relates to the basis for hiring. What is the ramp up to do with? Is it new product innovation and if so what growth level are projected? Does the company have an IPO in sight in which case, what's in it for the candidate?


Culture - This is typically an overused statement; unless you can actually define the culture, there’s no point referring to it. Areas to consider closely are leadership style, i.e. is this a business that manages its staff closely through detailed, high cadence reporting or does the business endorse wholesale delegation and promote autonomy. Relating to the current climate, the company’s response to the drive towards ‘Work from Home’ versus the office needs considering. Of increasing relevance are considerations around ‘purpose’ led missions that define the culture, based on sustainability principles such as ESG (Environmental, Social, and (Corporate) Governance.


This is not exhaustive, though I feel this does serve as something of a guide towards what ‘good’ should look like when presenting an opportunity. I would also add, it’s important not to shovel everything in one go! It’s important however to be well informed about the whole picture and convey it in an appropriate way. That first interaction is absolutely critical and it’s important to enhance the impact of the interaction based on an authentic, compelling, easily digestible storyline that draws out curiosity in the potential candidate. The difference between doing this and not, is literally the difference between making a dream hire and not, because it has to start somewhere and it’s normally based on a simple dialogue of this nature.


From there you get the opportunity to build interest through reinforcement of the key messages based on a greater understanding of the candidate's own requirements. This can be supported through well informed updates or perhaps even through pertinent news content online; get creative! Of course, it's also up to the employer to provide an attractive and meaningful candidate journey, which is consistent with the claims made. For instance there's no point in calling yourself a values driven business if you don't provide comprehensive and timely interview feedback, though this is a whole different area of discussion!


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