A Magic Beans Cure for Your Painful Hiring Headaches

7 Ways Storytelling Can Really Improve Your Hiring Results

2 July 2017

Hiring headaches causing you pain?

  • Tired of interviewing order-takers with buckets of qualifications but no fire in souls.
  • Desperately seeking independent-thinking, creative humans instead of robotic drones.
  • Your hiring process is netting cold hiring cold fish candidates.

It may not be you. Your interview process might be the cause of your pain.

Need to find a cure for your harmful hiring headaches?

Cookie-cutter candidate interview processes don’t cut it anymore. Let’s be honest, did they ever?

Cookie-cutter candidate interview processes don’t cut it anymore. There's a better way. Click To Tweet

Don’t get me wrong; standard processes can be a great help. But when they turn into rigid rules they can end up backing you into a corner. When you rely heavily on rules you deny yourself access to a rich treasure trove of information to help you make the right hiring decisions.

Don’t set out on a fool’s quest. There is another way.

Try this. Sprinkle storytelling into your interview process to improve your hiring results.

You can uncover the real individual behind the coached, rote-learned candidate responses to the typical competency-based interview questions.

Sprinkle storytelling into your interview process and improve your hiring results. Click To Tweet

Hurry interviewer, you’ll want to get your hands on these magic beans.

How to Hire for Buckets of Personality and Skills with Storytelling

Read on for 7 magic beans of storytelling and give your hiring headaches the heave-ho!

1. Change your interviewing lens: Use storytelling as a fresh way to see your candidate. People love to tell stories. Give you candidates what they love. Turn your interview into a platform for your candidate to tell their story.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou, in her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Stories transcend national origin, race, cultural differences, paving the way for an authentic emotional connection between the storyteller and the listener.

Storytelling brings the comfort of the familiar and will help put your candidate at ease. A relaxed candidate will more likely spill the beans about their real experiences, hopes and ambitions.

It is hard to fabricate stories convincingly. Even a rookie interviewer can sniff out when a candidate’s story begins to drift from facts to the realm of fairy tales.

Take advantage of storytelling techniques in your interview process.

2. Your Purpose: You must become a story-listener and story-connector to uncover your candidate’s Unique Value Contribution (UVC) potential. 

Of course you must go all out to pinpoint relevant skills, qualifications and experience.  But you must not stop there.

People want to feel seen and heard. They want to trust that they matter and are welcome.

When you do this genuinely you will increase the chance of your new hire valuing your business. In return they gift their skills and energy to make a meaningful contribution to its success.

You are well on the way to giving your hiring headaches the heave-ho!

3. The Hero: The candidate is the hero of this story! Therefore interviewers have a smaller speaking role. Listen more and talk less.

The 80-20 rule definitely applies here. Ask relevant questions, then spend 80% of your time listening and 20% of your time probing deeper into your candidate’s story.

Listen keenly to find the golden thread and breadcrumbs leading to those passion projects. Keep your ears pricked for the hobbies, interests and side-gigs.

Do your candidate’s eyes light up when they talk about them?

That’s your clue. Follow the trail down that rabbit hole as passion projects are often where people hide their most precious treasure – their natural talents and authentic selves.

Does the content of their story reflect the values of your organisation’s culture?

4. Build tension and anticipation: When you ask your candidate a question that is their personal invitation to share their story.

Be patient interviewer! Resist the urge to rush in and fill the pause with your words.
The silence is good. Give the storyteller time.

Hang in there because at the point where the silence becomes unbearable, your candidate fills the void with their tale.

Continue to be patient. Build trust. They may start slow, faltering at first. Hold fast as they pick up the pace, allowing their tale to tumble out. Be on the lookout for inspirations, motivations, unexpected connections, challenges and triumphs.

Make your notes. Let the story flow. Keep it conversational. One well designed and precision timed question can reveal much value. This is the treasure that can help find the right employee for your business.

It is time to retire your rapid fire interrogation style interview from service. Let’s agree on this.

This style is more like a staged exam setting. The candidate has already revised the common questions and regurgitates rote-learned responses to pass the standard assessment.

Instead, create the atmosphere for a meaningful and genuine conversation. You want an open, deep dialogue that encourages the candidate to reveal the answers to these 5 questions:-

“Who are you?”

“What is your story?”

“What are you willing to contribute to grow the business?”

“How can you make a positive impact on the team.”

“How can we learn from each other?”

5. Follow a Framework not Script: The conventional interview follows a rigid script of questions that relate specifically to the role – specific skills, required behaviours, organisational values, experience, qualifications etc.

Story connector interviews are not scripted questions lobbed across a table at the candidate by the interviewer. Instead of a script, the interviewer / story connector uses a framework to invite their candidate to tell their story.

Your goal is to extract valuable facts and emotions from your candidate’s story (their hopes, triumphs, ideas, passions and principles). To do this you may need to follow where the candidate’s story leads you.

6. The Questions: Go beyond the typical 20 questions about what they did in the past or are doing currently. You know the ones; the same old, well-worn CV / Resumé and Job Description focused questions.

Instead choose 3-4 custom-designed questions from your framework guide your  candidate’s story flow.

These broad but spookily specific questions will set the scene and open up interesting pathways to be explored. Encourage your candidate to tell you more. It matters. They matter more.

Next use probing questions to sniff out the promising qualities, willingness to contribute. Go deep and explore passions, potential career paths and the authentic personality of your candidate. With each meaningful nugget of information,  your hiring headache should begin to ease.






Danger: A compelling story always has a frisson of danger. And storytelling style interviewing is no exception.

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells a cautionary tale that warns that if we lock in AND hear only a single story about another person, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Watch and heed.

Danger lurks in hiring processes left without rigorous review and redesign when needed. Don’t risk leaving yourself open to bias, assumptions, preconceived ideas stuck in false cultural scripts and media stereotypes – race, religion, gender, culture, political affiliation, social standing.

Be mindful, interviewing can be a nasty bubbling brew of subjectivity, bias, dubious decisions. Take care this could be another source of a painful hiring headache.

Your defense begins in being aware of conscious and unconscious bias.  Listen how Kristen Pressner, an HR Executive at Roche, pulled herself back from the brink of her own bias.

Take action to prevent your interview process being derailed and hijacked by bias and prejudice.

Here are 5 from Stephen Taylor, in his book ‘Employee Resourcing’ now revised and updated to ‘People Resourcing’

i. The Self-fulfilling prophesy effect: Interviewers ask questions designed to confirm initial impressions of candidates

ii. The Halo and Horns effect: Interviewers rate candidates as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ across the board as a result of a first impression despite evidence to the contrary.

iii. The Personal liking effect: Interviewers make decisions on the basis of whether or not they personally like or dislike the candidate.

iv. The Similar-to-me effect: Interviewers give preference to candidates they perceive as having a similar background, career history, personality or attitudes to themselves.

v. The information overload effect: Interviewers form judgments based on only a fraction of the data available to them about each individual candidate.

Magic Beans to Cure Your Hiring Headaches

It is hard to defy conventional thinking and step away from established ‘best practice’- even when you are not getting the desired results.

If you are serious about curing your hiring headaches, you could do worse than giving these storytelling techniques a shot.

Give them a try. Let me know how you get on.

Perhaps you are already using the connective power of storytelling in your interview process. How is it working for you?

Psst! Do you want to get a head start in creating your own treasure trove of story-connector interview questions?

Download my Creative HR hiring guide “How to Hire Remarkable Employees with Fire and Desire” It’s FREE.

You will get 30 super skills interview questions with powerful story-connecting properties. Add to it and create your own swipe file of story connecting super skills questions.

More inspiration for this storytelling-themed blog post.

‘Why Leaders Need To Be Great Storytellers’ Christine Comaford, founder Smart Tribes writing in Forbes.

Until we meet again down The HR Rabbit Hole…




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