Interrupting the intermission: Alison Hunter shares tips on optimizing the time between signing and starting with storytelling

“Storytelling is a communication tool that can be used in the pre-onboarding phase to ignite the imagination and nurture a fledgling sense of trust.”

Alison Hunter
HR Tech Editor at SelectSoftware Reviews
Alison Hunter - storytelling


Tired of losing potential candidates to a cold and robotic hiring process? At times, it can be challenging to balance metrics and human connection. 

But what if I told you there’s a way to do both? Recruiters, say hello to storytelling

By using this powerful tool in the pre-onboarding phase, you can ignite candidate imagination, foster a personal connection, and build trust – all while meeting your targets and boosting candidate experience!

The positive, downstream effects of storytelling (engagement, retention, effectiveness, etc.) are all built upon the foundation of trust and safety established in the first pages of the unfolding story. The story of the recruiter/employer and the employee is simple and uniform.

Here’s the story every recruiter and employer should tell every new hire:

What lies before you is bristling with opportunity. Your success means more to us than its impact on our bottom line. We are aware of your needs and will see that they are met, so all you have to do is focus on your endeavors. You are in a place where you can relax, focus, and do good work.  

Storytelling should be used throughout the employee experience, but my focus will be exclusive to a narrow time frame in this article. 

How to leverage storytelling in the pre-onboarding phase?

Step 1: Carry the narrative 

Recall how the anticipation built as the days dwindled: as your first day at a new job approached, words couldn’t capture your sense of hopeful, fearful, optimistic excitement. 

It’s a thrilling time for all of us, and it usually passes without much contact with your soon-to-be employer. This is odd.

Add to this the abrupt transition: from the high-touch treatment of the interview and offer stages, the candidate is abandoned in the hands-off intermission of the pre-onboarding state.

Why not replace that silent intermission with the early history of an awesome future? 

You can keep building momentum and moving the plot forward with storytelling. You can maximize the impression with minimal effort and ensure the new character is integrated masterfully. 

Step 2: Give them something to think about

Rather than risking the cooling of their enthusiasm, keep the company positively present in their minds. Your presence and the continuation of the storyline are important here, not the exact way it is expressed or felt. 

Here are a few tricks to deliver a great story, keep the plot moving forward, and make it rich and personal:

  1. Use a consistent voice:

Designate a person from your recruitment team to carry out the sole function of narration. No onboarding checklist items should be assigned to them: this person is the narrator of the early history of an awesome future. 

  1. Techniques to move the plot along:
  • Foreshadow – Offer up some details about an upcoming event. Go easy on specifics: the point is to build intrigue, not to spoil the ending. 
  • Elaborate – Go deep into company values. Explore the elements of integrity that inform your values and how they are expressed in your work culture.
  • Flashback to founders – Offer insider insight into the company’s history. Share a few new details or a chapter of the founder’s story. The narrator can introduce other important characters, and those characters can add detail and richness to the story. 
  1. Introduce central characters: 

Build the bond between the new hire and their soon-to-be team by asking their cohort to share their stories. Topics can be pulled from prompts or drawn from the unique experiences of the company’s employees. The narrator can also bring the new hire into the process. 

  1. Kindle internal monologue:

Invite the new hire to focus on their future with the company. The goal is to deepen their sense of trust and safety by having them imagine good outcomes in the near and deep future. 

After clarifying that this is optional and not meant to be shared, give them prompts to explore and record their initial thoughts, impressions, and hopes for their role. Encourage them to revisit this document periodically and act on any misalignments. 

Step 3: Give them something to talk about

No rule says the post-hire and the pre-start phase should be entirely hands-off. This period presents an opportunity to build trust with new hires and set a strong foundation. 

By utilizing storytelling techniques during this time, recruiters and employers can emotionally connect with fresh recruits and inspire them to become great storytellers for the company in the future.


Alison Hunter

With 10+ years in Human Resources and many more as a professional writer, Alison Hunter brings an authoritative editorial voice, first-hand industry knowledge, and a people-first perspective to SelectSoftware Reviews in her role as HR Tech Editor. Her experience includes recruiting, interviewing, hiring, employee relations, employee development, DEI, compensation and performance, and more.

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