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Q&A: Author Joe Lazauskas Shares the Secret to Successful Employer Branding

How do you get the attention of busy people who may not even know they’re looking for a job? Tell them a great story, says Joe Lazauskas, author of the new book The Storytelling Edge

Q&A: Author Joe Lazauskas Shares the Secret to Successful Employer Branding

Joe Lazauskas

By: Anne Fisher

Back in 2010, fresh out of college and “in love with digital media,” Joe Lazauskas noticed a curious thing.  “So many companies and brands were getting super excited about social media,” he recalls. “But they had absolutely nothing to say.  They clearly needed some good stories.”  

Fast forward seven years, and Lazauskas, now editor-in-chief and director of content strategy at online branding firm Contently, has co-written a book (with the company’s co-founder Shane Snow) to help fix that. 

Called The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming Into the Void, and Make People Love You, the book generated enough buzz to rise to the top of the list among HR books on Amazon—weeks before its publication. Perhaps that’s because recruiters know that they need new ways to attract candidates. Well, there’s good news on that front.

“Scientists have recently discovered that good stories produce oxytocin in our brains, which is an ‘empathy drug’ that draws people in,” Lazauskas notes. “If you think about the incredible noise online today, great stories are really the only way to build an employer brand that gets people’s attention.”

That’s not too surprising, when you consider that Contently has worked with some of the world’s biggest employer brands—including GE, Marriott, American Express, Microsoft, IBM, and Walmart—to “tell stories people love, instead of making ads they hate,” Lazauskas says.

The best stories, he contends, are those that intrigue or impress consumers while also wowing the talent your company needs, attracting the best and brightest to want to work for you.  

Monster recently spoke with Lazauskas about how skilled storytelling draws the audience in—and how it can bring your employer brand to life. 

Q.  In your book you point out that all great stories share four traits. What are they?

A.  I’ve given a talk about this that is now on YouTube. The first element is what we call relatability. Tell a story about a situation that your audience can relate to, something that resonates with their own circumstances or something they have experienced. 

Second, you need an element of novelty. Make sure that story is interesting and even surprising, not the same stuff they’ve heard before.

Third is tension. Aristotle said that the key to great stories is creating a gap between what is and what could be, and then closing that gap and opening it again and again, until the conclusion. This is what keeps people at the edge of their seats. 

And fourth, fluency matters. Tell your story in plain, simple English. Don’t use big words and business jargon just to try to sound smart. The best writers in history wrote at an elementary school level. 

The best employer stories are just that—real stories. The worst are bullet points of business jargon that people just gloss over. Be real and relatable.

Q. One example in your book is those television commercials where a young engineer is talking about his new job at GE. How did that help GE’s employment brand?

A.  At first, GE wasn’t even thinking of those spots as a recruiting campaign. They just wanted an interesting, fun way to talk about being a digital industrial company. 

The story followed a fictional engineer named Owen as he tried to explain his cool new job developing breakthrough code to his befuddled friends and family, who think he’s going to go work on a train.

The spot is self-deprecating. It doesn’t take itself too seriously. But in just 40 seconds, it communicates to engineers that they’ll do important, innovative work at GE, while also having fun, without explicitly saying any of that. 

As a direct result of those commercials, the number of engineers applying for jobs at GE shot up 800%.

Q. Why do you believe it was so effective?

A. Part of the reason that story worked is that viewers—consumers as well as engineers—“got” what the friends in the commercial didn’t quite grasp. The best stories make people feel smart, which makes them want to work for you, because they’ll feel like your company is a place where they can grow.

Q. How should a company’s consumer brand and its employer brand align? In GE’s case the two lined up accidentally, but should employers aim for a “spillover effect” from one to the other?

A. Clearly, there is a connection. If people admire what you make or what you do, they’re predisposed to want to work for you. 

For instance, I built a blog called “The Content Strategist” at Contently.com that has given us a great reputation with clients and prospects, but the “spillover” is that many people in our audience are hungry to work here, because the blog has become a go-to resource that content marketers say makes them better at their jobs. 

That reputation is how a lot of our most talented hires come to us. They see Contently as a place where their careers could take the next leap. And that’s the message you want your storytelling to convey to prospective hires, whatever business you’re in.

Q: What practical advice do you have for recruiting pros looking to build an employer brand?

A. I'm a Millennial. We're the largest subset of the population, and everyone is figuring out how to attract us as employees. 

Well, Amex came out with a survey recently and found that among Millennials surveyed in the US, 81 percent said a successful business needs to have a genuine purpose, and 78% said the values of their employer should match their own. 

Even more interestingly, more than one-third said that success means having a positive impact on society, and over one-third said they would sacrifice advancement or responsibility at work if it meant they were doing that.

So say you're a company that is doing good in the world. How do you use that to attract employees? You need to tell your story. You need to tell stories about your mission—why you do what you do. What drives you. And you need to tell those stories in an interesting way that people will discover on the channels where they spend their time—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. 

If you want a great example of this, check out Charity: Water. They have virtually no budget, but their smart use of video makes thousands of people want to drop what they're doing and work for them.