Leveraging The Power of Stories

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Humans love stories. For millennia they’ve created songs, poems, art, novels, movies, and other expressive forms to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Stories have been a part of human existence for so long because they enable us to pass on knowledge, bring us together, and help us create communities.

Their ability to unify makes stories powerful tools in any recruiter’s toolbox. With their carefully formatted lists of dates, locations, and accomplishments, the traditional resume can provide a pretty good overview of a candidate—but that view is incomplete. For that reason, hiring managers have long complemented reading resumes and cover letters with conducting interviews, office visits, and the like to get a fuller sense of what an applicant is like. But now it’s time to add another valuable layer to these types of interactions: stories.


Today, most of the business world has realized how important checking for “fit” is when assessing applicants.

Stories can play a key role in those assessments because they give applicants a chance to go beyond “multiple-choice test” responses (e.g., “select one of the following pre-generated possible answers”) and instead choose their own words and content.

For the past several years, many companies have dipped their toes in the waters of storytelling by asking applicants to talk about some of their past experiences. For example, asking applicants to “describe a time when X happened” has long been a standard interview question. Most of the time, though, that line of questioning addresses only a fairly limited set of scenarios:

  • ●Describe a time when you had to solve a difficult problem.
  • ●Describe a conflict you had with a colleague or manager and how to resolve it.
  • ●Describe one of your most significant accomplishments.

Sure, applicants’ answers to these prompts can yield some useful information about how they would act in certain workplace situations. But why not take the opportunity to explore other scenarios as well? Learning more about the applicants as people with unique personalities can help an organization get a better sense of their fit. When coming up with these kinds of questions, think outside the box:

  • ●If you didn’t need a job at all and could spend your time doing anything you wanted, what would you do?
  • ●When you were a kid and went outside to play with your friends, what kinds of things did you do?
  • ●If you could be a character from any book or movie, which would you choose and why?

Be creative! The idea is to glean the kind of information that isn’t readily available on someone’s resume. And remember: just as you’re learning about a candidate, he or she is learning about you at the same time.


Measuring for fit works both ways! When you consider whether a candidate is a good fit for the organization, also consider whether the organization is a good fit for that candidate. It’s important to make sure that understandings and expectations are aligned on both sides of the hiring equation before making any offers.

Rather than throw out a list of dates and accomplishments, use stories to tell a candidate about the organization. What is the company’s history? How was it started? By whom? And why?

Instead of just showing candidates photos of the workplace, tell them stories about what happens in the workplace. Focus on a few events that offer a good view of the organization’s “personality.” Obviously, you don’t want to draw attention to any failures (unless those failures led to huge successes or innovations!). But don’t stick only to tales about big sales, new products, and growth from the company perspective. Think about the people involved in those accomplishments and work them into the narrative.

When you use stories to give applicants a sense of the work environment, their potential colleagues, the company’s ethos, etc., you give them the information they need to determine if—from their perspectives—they and the organization are good fits for each other. Identifying and measuring common ground before hiring helps reduce later turnover when new hires realize that their new gigs just aren’t for them.


Because stories have been around for so long, incorporating them into the recruitment process may, at first glance, seem a bit like taking a step backward. But including stories is actually an innovative strategy because they open up new ways to assess and share information! With the hiring market predicted to remain extremely competitive for the foreseeable future, organizations need to seize every opportunity they can to attract the interest of top talent and persuade those candidates to come aboard.