How to Tell a Story: The Most Crucial Skill in the World

I’d like to tell you a story.

In fact, everyone wants to tell you a story.

You see, being able to do so, is the number one most crucial skill you can have as a person.

As a Recruiter, it’s even more important.

Why?

Because, if you can’t captivate an audience, your understanding isn’t shared. Meaning not only will no one understand the plot of your story, but critically, why it’s relevant and actionable.

Every story you’ve ever heard is a plea for action.

Some stories are short.

The story you hear on TV from Marks and Spencer won’t just say “We’ve got loads of Chickens in, come and grab one.”

They show you the chicken, cooked. Smothered in gravy. Piping hot. Waxing lyrical, with superlatives aplenty about the way this specific chicken is going to revolutionise your dinner. Neighbours will be jealous. Time stops. You’ll probably whack it on Instagram. It’s no ordinary chicken. It’s an M&S chicken.

That’s a story.

The history of a product someone wants you to buy. With emotive content that draws on your senses. The action? Hopefully, you’ll go and buy a chicken. And perhaps some stuffing.

Now admittedly, I’m pushing the boundaries a touch.

I’m not suggesting M&S is going to win at Cannes Lion next year, any more than I’m likely to be playing Glasto.

So, let’s make this a bit more real, with a bit of advice for your own stories.

Recruitment Stories

You get a job called in from a client down the road. You know the company. You know what they want. You know the type of candidate that fits well.

You could go to LinkedIn and write a short story. It might be something like this…

“Looking to speak to Java Consultants in London. £50k Urgent Opportunity.”

This story says: “Hi. I’m recruiting. Want £50k? I’ve got £50k. You probably know London, so I won’t tell you about it. Everything you need to know I’ll tell you on the phone. You’ll have to Google my number. I haven’t included a picture, because despite this website’s capability to offer that, I can’t be arsed. Oh, and be good at Java.”

So who responds?

Active candidates. In your network. That you know. People you would’ve contacted if they were a good fit. But you didn’t.

Not necessarily a bad thing. There are plenty of people who don’t have jobs that are brilliant.

But, what service are you offering if you send a client a list of people they could access themselves?

Also, if you were your client and built a business from scratch, and someone advertised your business using eleven words, what would you think of their capability?

Scroll Story

Craft

I read an intriguing article by Gaby Hinsliff at The Guardian last year about how young children in UK schools are bashed over the head with grammar lessons. Their studying is heavily weighted on certain skills that come at the expense of more important ones, like storytelling.

It’s an interesting topic. I’ve never used Pythagoras’ theorem in my adult life. Even when writing an obtuse anecdote about not using it.

Grammar’s important.

It carries your message. If you’re sharing something online, you have more digital tools at your disposal than ever before. So make something read correctly.

But as a side note, learning the difference between they’re, there and their is easy.

They’re is they are. About someone.

There has the word here in it. Here is a place. So is there.

Their, has the word heir in it. The heir of something has entitlement. Just like theirs. It’s theirs to have.

But, the simple truth is, even poor grammar on a job ad isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Most people will forgive you.

Poor grammar does tell its own story too though. It says, I haven’t got time to check this grammar, or worse, I simply don’t care.

If you don’t care about writing a short ad with correct grammar, what else don’t you care about? It’s a level of ‘slap-dashery’ that must be present elsewhere in your life.

Like not chasing feedback.

Or writing salary expectations down.

Asking about interview protocols.

Or forgetting some amazing company benefits, because you didn’t write them down.

Check it

First of all. Check this article out. We’ll wipe the slate clean if you download Grammarly or start using a spell checker.

But secondly, learning how to tell a story will make you stand out. Whether it’s written in a job ad, spoken on the phone to a client, crafted in iambic pentameter or amusing graffiti on a toilet wall.

To tell a story… first of all… you need every part of the plot. 

If this particular story is a job, you’ll need every bit of information pertaining to that job. Everything. The company’s part of the story. The past, the present and especially the future.

So’s the Boss. The team. The location. The perks. The office. The office dog. Even the car park. It’s all important.

How important it is to your audience is unknown.

You don’t know who you’ll be regaling this classic to, so don’t miss any of the most crucial parts.

The best way to find out this info is to work for the company. If you don’t do that (and as a Recruiter you probably don’t) the next best is to live it once, by visiting.

Otherwise, it’s not your story. It’s a story someone told you once.

Old Book

How to tell a story

There are, in very wide terms, six types of story that have ever been told.

1. Rags to Riches (rise)

2. Riches to Rags (fall)

3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)

4. Icarus (rise then fall)

5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)

6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

When you’re talking about a job, company or candidate, you’ll only be using one of these. Which one is dependent on how you want to frame the conversation, but you can use any one you want.

Example Story 1: Selling a candidate

Hailing from a small town, she put herself through University in Oxford harbouring aspirations of making her fortune.

She studied hard and put everything into her career. She’s now risen through the ranks of a tough business, battling dragons and witches and succeeded against all the odds. But, out of nowhere she’s hit a glass ceiling and is thinking of leaving the industry.

This story so far is Icarus. But there’s a twist. 

Your client can provide the ultimate rise. The happy ending. She’s perfect for their team. She’s local, and she’s desperate to meet them and prove her worth once more.

Does your client want to be part of this story?

Course they do.

Everyone who hears this story would be. The candidate sounds like a plucky go-getter who’s going to succeed. She fits a vacancy and where better to succeed than with them?

Or… you could just send a CV highlighting key skills and hope for the best?

Example Story 2: Selling a job

A man starts a business with a truly incredible idea. He gains investment and gets his idea off the ground. He’s not only solving a common problem, but actually helping the planet at the same time.

The business goes from strength to strength. Times are good.

Until… he hits a snag.

The one skill he needs, he doesn’t have. After all of the good work he’s done up to now, if he can’t bring this skill in-house not only will the business fail, but so will the environment.

“Unless, you save the day?”

Would your candidate be interested in working for a life-changing startup with stock options, a great salary and genuine job satisfaction? Who wouldn’t?

But if you only describe the salary and the location, everyone’s scrolling past that on LinkedIn.

This is how framing your story can help you. Context means everything. 

Once you’ve decided how you’re going to frame your story, you’ll be able to work out how to deliver it.

You can start in the middle. You can make it emotionally charged. You can appeal to their senses. Whatever you do, make sure you include the information that really matters.

And make it about them.

Because otherwise, however good this story is, no action will follow.

Storytelling scholars would tell you to include: Circumstance, Curiosity, Characters, Conversations and Conflict. Your conflict in most cases will be solved by the recipient taking action.

Most Recruiters will have placed candidates in jobs with only a small increase in salary. Every time, these candidates will have been offered the same money to stay where they are.

That tells you money alone doesn’t provoke action. Context does. 

Theatre Empty Audience

ACTION!

To reiterate my point at the beginning of the article, every story ever told is a plea for action.

In my stories, that desired action’s probably a chuckle. Maybe an aggressive InMail.

In recruitment, you’re almost certainly not hoping for a chuckle. You want an application. Or an interview request. Or an offer. Or an acceptance.

But something.

You need something from this story, otherwise you wouldn’t be telling it.

The action is much easier to control if you’re in person or telling it on the phone. But if you’re writing a job ad or an email, remember this is a story with actions you have no control over.

So take your time.

Think about the craft. Consider the direction and the context. And use a spellchecker if you’re writing it.

The key thing to remember in recruitment is: Everything’s a story! So you might as well tell a great one.

I guarantee it will make you more money.

Fin