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The science of storytelling in recruitment

Authentic storytelling can drive new talent to organisations, according to speakers at a PathMotion and Immersion Neuroscience event

Paul Zak, neuroscientist and founder of Immersion Neuroscience, spoke about how effective storytelling can affect brain chemicals and drive people to take action.

He gave examples of how advertisers use neuroscience to create stories, and said recruitment platforms can be similarly innovative.

Storytelling is a way to get people to care about something and provoke authentic emotion. We have an opportunity to transport people into another world, and when we do that we can build tension. In our daily lives we avoid it but in storytelling it keeps us interested,” Zak said.

“We can break the tension by giving the audience something to do – ‘apply to this job’, ‘donate to this charity’, ‘buy from this brand’, so when we’re storytelling we lead people up to this cliff and before they jump off you give them something to resolve the story.”

PathMotion and Immersion Neuroscience released data before the event showing that employee stories are 20% more immersive than recruiting through career sites alone.

To understand immersion levels the study examined participants’ physiological data – such as heart rate and oxytocin levels – using neurosensors and software.

Real-time engagement with prospective employees was found to be the most immersive approach, with 95% of participants saying the content was highly relevant or relevant.

Rob Farace, senior programme lead in resourcing at the NHS Leadership Academy, spoke about how his team uses video software, live chats, and social media on its candidate platform. He said that the software allows candidates to speak to people on leadership programmes to find out if this route is suitable for them, which builds an ‘authentic’ experience.

“We have an awful lot of people apply to us, we have an awful lot of people who don’t apply to us, and that’s great. Because part of that is about helping people know if it is or isn’t the right job for them,” Farace said.

“What’s fascinating is that our jobs page on our corporate site is hardly visited at all, but our live chats have been so effective in talking to people about the scheme and the organisation. We can involve many more people, and talk directly to candidates about what’s involved. For us it’s about authentic branding, and giving people real-life insights.”

Tom Chesterton, co-founder of employer marketing business Tonic, added that employers must be cautious in how they approach storytelling, warning that people can spot a “fake” story.

"When we’re thinking about our commodity, which is recruitment, we need to think about how we can tell the story; you need to think about what makes you unique. Authenticity is in the eye of the beholder, everyone will take away something different from your story,” he said.

“You have to make a decision about whether your story is real or fake. If you’re giving people a story that isn’t reflective of what they’re buying that story will fall flat on its face.”