Should HR Be Telling ...


Storytelling in HR

I’m not referring to fiction or fabrication.

The question relates to the role of storytelling techniques in the HR function.

The question also happened to be the thrust of my talk at the Alexander Mann Solutions (AMS) conference last week in Hong Kong.

It turns out that one can make an argument for HR more than any other function needing storytelling. After all, the ability to recruit and retain talent often determines the success of a company.

Of course, HR wants to be persuasive in its communications.


In a world in which companies compete for talent with the ferocity of nine-year olds after smashing open the piñata, one would  expect HR to lead the charge in applying storytelling techniques to their communications.

Not so fast.

It’s human nature to resist change, and from my unscientific observations, the language of HR still takes its cues from the mahogany row handbook drafted during the Reagan administration. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule, but most of today’s HR communications depend on the same uninspired language.

My talk at the AMS conference zeroed in on the job journey captured in the following illustrations:

Job_Journey infographic- storytelling in HR

Every interaction is an opportunity for HR to influence the candidate’s perception of the company and the actual job.

Take something as seemingly simple as the auto-generated email that confirms receipt of a candidate’s resume or application. Here’s an example of how 99 percent of these emails read:

Generic_email- job application confirmation letter- storytelling in HR

Forget differentiation.

Just adding a shard of human warmth would improve the note. Ironically, the above words came from a creative services company.

John Ciancutti, who has hired hundreds of engineers in building world-class teams at Netflix, Facebook and now Coursera reiterated:

“Every touchpoint in every phase of your process should drive toward that result.”

With this in mind, here’s the note we recently implemented for candidates to confirm receipt of their application:

Hoffman Agency job application confirmation letter- storytelling in HR

We don’t expect our auto-confirmation email to prompt the candidate to channel Jim Carrey with a “So they’re telling me there’s a chance. Yeh!!!”

We do believe that allowing our voice to come through the note helps the candidate get to know us a little better.

And the better that candidates know us, the more likely they’ll sign on the dotted line.

Side note: Alexander Mann hired a graphic recorder to capture each of the talks at the conference. Here’s the “picture” from the talk.

Lou Hoffman- Should HR be storytelling

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