The Three Types of Stories That Win Great Talent

I grew up in a recruiting household. My dad, a college basketball coach when I was young, had the challenging job of recruiting prospects to a then-unknown school called Boise State.

The team members he brought in were like our family. As the players often came from far away, they would come over to our house for Thanksgiving, weekends and barbeques. And putting together this cohesive working team, my dad will say today, was the hardest thing about building a program that went from the bottom of the league to the top of the league.

handshakerecruiterThe key variable? Trust.

Because, of course, if you work in talent, your job goes far beyond winning over the best candidates. You have to depict your employee brand, representing the essence of your company in an honest way, showing the ins and outs of who works there and why – and, most importantly, finding a good fit for your culture.

This is not an easy task. You carry the torch of that culture and reveal its essential properties, just at the right time and in the right way to the right people. And without trust you’re dead in the water. No amount of money or perks will offset its lack.

Recently, I came upon a New York Times study, which explored trust between people. The study found that:

63% said that with people you don’t know ‘you can never be too sure.’
37% said that ‘people would take advantage of you if they could’.
But get this: 85% said that people they know ‘try to do the right thing.’

The best way to build trust? Go from ‘someone they don’t know’ to ‘someone they know.’ Create connection through your stories, the ones that deliver your key messages. Develop your stories, the journeys that reveal your team’s challenges, values, and assets. Show some vulnerability (a key variable in developing trust) in your stories, and reveal the changes your team members have brought to life. Become known. Your candidates have to see the vision for a new life that you’re representing – and why they should become a part of it. Have a rich set of stories to deliver an authentic sense of culture, connection, and opportunity.

This will make your job a lot easier, less sale-sy – and a lot more fun.

Here are three types of stories for talent leaders:


What do your values actually mean? Integrity? Commitment? What do you mean by transformation? Are they words on the wall, or stories coming alive every day that you can represent? It is a great thing to have clearly defined and honored values. But just repeating values isn’t very convincing to people that are looking from the outside in. You’ve got to bring your employer brand to life. And as Dina Medieros, Manager of LinkedIn’s Talent Brand says, 83% polled agree that your employer brand has a significant impact on the ability to hire great talent.

LinkedIn as a company recognizes this and thus has created a company-wide culture building initiative called InDay, which gives employees one day a month to do anything they want to build the culture. Depending on the monthly theme, this may include inviting parents to work with them, practicing meditation, or packing squash at a local food bank. Basically, it’s a massive platform to creating values stories. (Full disclosure, LinkedIn is a client…but I love this program so much I had to mention it.)

And take Zappos. They are so committed to building the right team that they offer $2,000 to new employees to quit. This standard is a great story opportunity that brings to life Zappos’ commitment to finding the right fit.

So as you convey the essence of your company, don’t just list things off. Know the stories that can carry your values and reveal your brand. SHOW the difference through stories that deliver why you’re different. These stories may not be posted or written anywhere, but they are known. Ask around for stories that give life to your values. Work with your origin story and see what is revealed. SHOW who you are, don’t tell who you are. Brought to life, these values become memorable differentiators. 


What are the challenges of your candidates right now, and how can you respond to them? Hurdles stories help talent leaders guide candidates over various challenges or hesitations. They also help build a more sophisticated approach to understanding the hurdles themselves. And your company is a live petri dish for these stories – so ask around as specifically as you can for the various hurdles employees have faced. Perhaps the candidate is looking for a leadership opportunity, but isn’t sure she’ll find it with you?

As Chris Bell, Executive Recruiter at Microsoft, suggests: “You might want to tell a story about an early in career developer at your company that is now Director of Engineer only after a short period of time…”

But get into the detail…drop into the challenge of that person’s journey, not just the happy ending. It’s the trial that makes a good hurdle story pay off.

Whatever the direction, remember you’re dealing with real pain points, so the hurdle story you reveal should really acknowledge the trial that your main character faced before the turnaround, not just a straight line to a solution.


The stories of key insights and lessons in your own journey. One of these should depict why you do the work you do – and you should be able to tell this key story in several different ways and for several different reasons.

Here are some of my tips on developing your personal insights into high-impact stories.

It’s worthwhile to note that this kind of work can be supported by a clear commitment from managers to care for and maintain the team’s storytelling. This might mean trading off who leads meetings with a story, developing a useable storybank, and/or having one person who is the go-to story-keeper.

Again from Chris Bell: “Before you hang up the phone, your goal should be that the candidate imagines themselves as a character in the story you told. You’re responsible for setting the stage and scene.”

And with a collection of these three types of stories that you can pull out at will, your connection with candidates will be stronger, trust will be established more quickly, and you’ll be a greater asset to the team that you serve.

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