The Hunger for True Stories or: “No More Fairy Tales!”

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Marketing has been a major feature in recruitment for a long time and storytelling is surely the latest in a series of buzzwords, after authenticity and content marketing, used to provide a working description of this new trend. “Telling stories” sells well – and not just in a sales situation. The way information is consumed is constantly changing, particularly by young target groups such as university graduates. News is now consumed differently and not only by millennials, or Generations Y and Z; authentic stories are more popular than ever. However, they must be original, easy to digest, and above all, snackable on the right channel. Due to these changes in the consumption of information, traditional news portals will undergo drastic change. Publishing houses are busy testing new formats for this young clientèle in order to adapt.

The new hunger for stories reflects our fundamental need to satisfy our curiosity with personal and emotive experiences. It is correct that telling stories is the perfect way for a company to address young people. It is also correct that stories can imbue this contact with emotion. Storytelling is now an essential part of recruitment.
But why? Let’s apply some logic and common sense. When we meet someone who interests us, we tell them about our lives through cool anecdotes or through stories that are as gripping as we can make them. That means: we simply present examples of how we experience or perceive things and how we dealt with certain situations. Let’s be honest about how quickly we use our intuition to expose braggarts or imposters. We react by turning away. We react by turning away. Why should that be any different for young people such as university graduates? Particularly if they do not yet know the company that wants to communicate with them?

This is exactly when stories are needed to address possible candidates and tell them how working with the potential employer really is. The emphasis here is on “really” – these target groups of young applicants are our most critical “customers”. They are on full alert because their future, their new job or their project is at stake. Companies must take this seriously. First impressions are important here: anyone telling fairy tales (no matter whether they take the form of false promises or run-of-the-mill empty phrases) stands no chance! Anyone on the receiving end will feel that they are not being taken seriously and will vote with their feet.

And then companies will soon find that we have arrived at the “Age of Recommendation”. Confidence in brands and products doesn’t just happen; it comes from recommendations and reviews. It’s not for nothing that companies use influencers to test products at events and that they face up to their honest opinions in the social networks – because ‘truth’ has become essential here too. It makes products and services more transparent.

So why not tell true stories straightaway?

It was only a question of time before employer brands also became transparent. For a long time, employers have been facing direct criticism – positive and negative – on evaluation platforms such as kununu or Glassdoor in the form of reviews by existing or former employees or in confrontation with reports of job interview experiences which went more or less badly. All out in the open. All straight-up. Today it is not enough to claim in a job advert or on a career website that a company is a good employer, offers a wealth of opportunities for development and cultivates a culture of fairness and respect, without any evidence at all. In this digital age, everything is checkable and in real time at that.

It is actually a positive development if truth is now an essential component of marketing and what is experienced or felt, what is genuine, once again have value, especially when it comes to communications from HR departments. So why not tell true stories from the start? Because that’s what university graduates expect, particularly in the decision-making phase, while they are still uncertain where their career journey should take them.

It is all the more important for personnel staff to develop a willingness to enter into dialogue and a consciousness of relations. An open attitude to new platforms. Dealing with direct criticism. Many HR departments freely admit that they do not have a process should an employee or applicant comment on them publicly. They are also wary, if not downright afraid, of seeking direct contact.

Personnel work has up to now been confined to “internal issues”, anonymous surveys and private meetings. No matter what technology is used to make an employer transparent: it is humans and their inner attitude to transactions and dialogue that will decide which companies successfully enter into conversation about their employer brand and which do not.

Storytelling presents a special opportunity for “hidden champions”

The “true stories” of convincing communication with this young, critical and very bright clientèle need the right foundation. Many companies have not yet really started, particularly those which up to now have not needed to do much to be well-known. Many companies have not yet really started, particularly those which up to now have not needed to do much to be well-known. At Serviceplan, we frequently receive enquiries from incredibly interesting “hidden champions” – unknown global market leaders in a specialised segment with products that need to be explained, usually technology drivers for familiar end products. The problem is that no one knows about them. Taking a closer look at these companies, we find people with unusual international careers with fantastic experiences to report which accurately reflect the true heart of the company as an employer.

The companies often do not recognise their own potential. As they frequently have rarely, sometimes never, shown this side to the outside, university graduates do not recognise the company nor are they aware of the exciting jobs on offer. Our own investigations have shown that this non-familiarity leads to sceptical thinking and incorrect assumptions, along the lines of “They’re sure to pay badly”, “They are at the back of beyond, I’ll never get away from there” or “That’s where careers go to die”. But it is precisely the big players in the provinces which often open the door to international careers with meaningful and well-paid jobs. It is particularly important that they can tell their story well and above all without embellishment.

To do this, companies first have to get to know themselves, to recognise their own potential, learn which stories they can tell and how they should tell them, so that they fit together. As in real life, a getting-to-know-you exercise is doomed as soon as you make a contrived or false impression. If one remains oneself and conveys an image of how one really is, the result is a positive reflection on both employees and job applicants. HR communication is therefore simultaneously internal communication because it is the employees who embody what is communicated to the outside.

I can still remember my first job interview in which I wanted to give perfect answers to possible questions. “I am very impatient….”. Of course I didn’t get the job. It is the same when companies come into contact with applicants. Each has their own character which exerts a huge influence on success. How the corporate culture is expressed, how people treat each other, how one conducts oneself and communicates. And of course how the product for which everyone is working is produced. In short: what the work is LIKE.

The first step: lie down on the couch!

The starting point is always this true and special thing at the core which brings a shine to the eyes of the employees. The good news is that everyone has it. The good news is that everyone has it. The bad news  is that not every company has found it yet. However it is the central strategic starting point for every communication. It is as hard for a company to describe and sell itself as it is for a person. When our agency is asked for help, the first unavoidable step of systematic employer branding is “getting to know yourself”, when every company has to “lie down on the couch”: When our agency is asked for help, the first unavoidable step of systematic employer branding is “getting to know yourself”, when every company has to “lie down on the couch”: using a qualitative analysis by means of internal and external surveys and individual focus groups and interviews. On a case-by-case basis, we do this either with our research agency Facit in the Serviceplan Group or with our partners in the HR business. The result is a history with an authentic perspective of the company. “What makes working in my company ‘attractive’, ‘authentic’ and ‘different’?” Working with the client, we condense these findings down into a key term (or sentence) in the form of an “Employer’s Value Proposition” and identify the characteristics, properties and facts with which the company delivers on its promise.

The EVP at Serviceplan

Serviceplan promises  “ownership”. We have ourselves practised what we have advised other companies to do. Using a qualitative survey, we found out that people working for us, from interns to the managing partners, find the opportunity to use their abilities to make something their own subject. For example, at Serviceplan there are eight colleagues who started as interns or trainees and today are Managing Directors running their own agencies. That’s why we defined the EVP with “ownership” – a promise which we deliver on with a wide spectrum of services for our colleagues.

A company will only have a basis for successful employer branding and a “credible” employer story when it recognises its own strengths. At Serviceplan we are developing cross-channel communication on this basis and have been working for over a year with personnel specialists YeaHR in order to ensure transferability and relevance to the Candidate and Employee Lifecycle. At Serviceplan we are developing cross-channel communication on this basis and have been working for over a year with personnel specialists YeaHR in order to ensure transferability and relevance to the Candidate and Employee Lifecycle. Because if we have learnt one thing, it is that substance is crucial.

 

This article was published in the Recruiting Journal on May 5th 2017.