If you’re a Google, Meta, or Apple, you can generally attract top candidates based solely on your reputation. However, if you’re an early-stage startup — one that may not even have an established product yet — you don’t have that same luxury.
Fortunately, people have been using storytelling to create meaning and inspire others for years. Knowing how to sell your startup’s story effectively can help rally people around your mission and vision long before you have a product, capital, or product-market fit.
Not a born storyteller? No problem. Use the step-by-step below to understand how you can tell better stories, and where you can infuse storytelling into the recruiting process.
Ensure your company story can easily be found on your website
People don’t want to work at companies; they want to work with a great team, make an impact, and belong to a larger story. So make sure your company’s About page shares that story — staying far away from corporate-speak and exploring what makes your company inspiring.
When you use storytelling across your website, try to keep in mind the building blocks and characters that can be found in a good story:
The villain: What’s the dragon your company is trying to slay? What makes it a worthy villain? How is it terrorizing people (i.e., your customers)?
The gang of heroes: What makes your company’s team the best people on earth to slay this dragon? How does the protagonist — your next candidate — fit into the mix? (And remember: in books, heroes all have their flaws. Be human.)
The plotline: What events make this moment in time the perfect time for your startup? What challenges will your heroes face? What opportunities are buoying them to their next success?
For example, Shopify has never billed itself as a simple online shop builder. Instead, it’s a brand that’s “empowering independent business owners everywhere” to earn more, support their families, and buck against the Amazons of the world.
Let candidates peek behind the scenes on your Careers page
Don’t simply list your open roles on your Careers page. Let candidates know what it looks and feels like to work at your company. Using photos, videos, and copy, share information on:
The team: Who works at your company? From leadership down to new hires, what makes them stand out?
The culture: Does your team typically grab lunch together or drinks after work on a Thursday? Does your company embrace No-Meeting Mondays or quiet mornings for focused work?
Your values: What does DEI mean to your company? Do you give back to any charities? How are you making an impact?
Work processes and practices: What tools do you use to manage work? How do team members communicate with each other? How do you document and share project results?
Learning and development: How do you invest in your people? How do you encourage growth across the company, both independently and together?
Salary, benefits, and perks: Do you have a transparent salary policy? How often are salaries reviewed? What are vacation times, parental leave, and medical benefits like? Do you give employees free membership to your own product? What’s the breakdown between remote and in-office work?
Looking for some inspiration? Drift does a phenomenal job of storytelling on their Careers page.
Capture storytelling moments across social media
When candidates look at your posts across Instagram, LinkedIn, and even your own blog, they’re passively taking in the story you tell — so tell a good one. Take pictures of the team when they’re brainstorming at a stand-up, celebrating a teammate’s birthday, meeting an interesting visitor at the office, or raising their glasses to your Series A at a team dinner.
CommerceBear, a Toronto startup, does a good job of sharing company events, job postings, product updates, holiday gifts, and team photos to their LinkedIn page — letting potential hires get a peek behind the scenes before they apply to the company.
Make your employees your best storytellers
Just like you’re more likely to believe a product review that comes from a consumer rather than a product description written by a marketer, your company story is most believable to candidates when it comes from existing employees. So use their stories!
Encourage employees to leave a review on Glassdoor where they can share their hiring experience and what it’s like to work at the company.
Conduct mini-interviews with employees that you can share on your Careers page, having them detail their favorite part of coming to work.
Encourage leadership to positively call out their team members on LinkedIn or other social media after a work success. This helps them build their brand, and gives candidates a peek at the collaborative spirit at your company.
You can also leverage a partner to tell your story. No partner to lean on for this? Describe their persona in your narrative and make them part of the story. See how Slack did just that early on with one of their introductory video. And that’s where marketing and HR branding overlap. Your story, your brand voice, and your tone should be consistent across your marketing channels and your recruiting channels.
As your startup’s leadership, this also all applies to you. Lead by example: post frequently on social media sharing the story of your company, your teammates, and the impactful work you’re doing.
Take a peek at Coconut Software’s LinkedIn page, and you’ll regularly see employees posting about their four-day workweek, the company culture, and events and partnerships. This gives prospective employees all the validation they need when considering a role at the company.
Even a short and low-production video featuring employee advocacy goes a long way in creating a lasting first impression. See how Coconut is giving an employee the mic with this short video about their 4-day work day work week.
As you grow, storytelling continues, and as the founder, it’s your job to keep the dream alive and innovate with new and bold stories. See how AirBnB did it with the concept of the inspiring concept of “infinite time horizon” for the company, and how they communicated it in this 2018 open letter.
“I know that a lot of companies are thinking about being long-term oriented, but an alternative way of thinking about it is being infinite. Being an infinite company is an idea that my friend, author Simon Sinek, has been discussing with me. Simon explained that a company’s purpose is to advance its vision, and since a vision is a mountaintop you never quite get to, you should have an infinite time horizon.”