Talent on the Rise Podast

The Competitive Advantage of Great Storytelling in TA with Mike Miller of Chipotle

Jun 20, 2022 - Joe Matar

Episode Highlights

  • The value of great storytelling skills in building a career in talent acquisition
  • Building a great candidate experience 
  • Asking thought provoking questions
  • And more!

    Listen Now & Read On for the Episode Summary

    Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
    | iTunes | Soundcloud

    From Screenwriter to Screening Candidates: How a Good Story is a the Heart of Great Hiring

    When Mike Miller was a recruiting manager at Red Bull in the middle 2000s, his boss gave him a challenging assignment: to rewrite the employee handbook to make it something that people would actually want to read.

    “My first thought was, what is the [Reb Bull] brand to me,” recalls Miller, who is currently Director of Talent Acquisition at Chipotle. He thought about the cow that represented the brand. “In my mind, the cow was a little sarcastic but kind of loving and had a good spirit, and I thought, what if the employee handbook was written in the first-person voice of the cow explaining what it’s like to work at Red Bull.”

    Miller made it so, and the revamped handbook was a hit. What made it work, Miller says, was the introduction of storytelling. In Miller’s hands, what was previously a dull review of policies and procedures became a fun and compelling narrative that matched the high-energy vibe of the Red Bull brand.

    The employee handbook project taught Miller a lesson that he’s carried with him throughout his career: namely, that storytelling is a powerful tool for talent acquisition professionals, not just in writing employee handbooks but for every facet of the talent acquisition and retention process.

    Crafting a Narrative

    At Chipotle, Miller makes it a priority to incorporate narrative into the candidate experience.

    “The way candidates experience and learn about a brand isn’t radically different than how we learn about a band, or a restaurant, or our favorite sports teams,” Miller says. “They’re probably not going to the website or career site and pouring through every detail, every hyperlink in every tab.”

    Instead, candidates are drawing on their own experience at Chipotle restaurants and on what people say about the franchise on review websites. And so, the TA professional’s challenge, Miller says, is to build an experience for candidates that’s personal and engaging.

    “How do we make sure that there are personal touch points in the recruitment process,” Miller says. “It’s so important that we have real engagement with candidates and that we mitigate and remove delays in the [interview and hiring] process.”

    Miller’s goal for the TA team at Chipotle is to achieve this sort of personalized candidate experience by crafting a story that connects with candidates. Much like the employee handbook he crafted for Red Bull, his approach to TA at Chipotle is to do the extra work it takes to couch the candidate experience within a compelling narrative.

    “It’s very easy to do the elevator pitch,” Miller says, “But I’m really striving to have genuine connections with people.”

    Getting Internal Stakeholders to Tell Their Story

    Miller uses narrative not only to better connect with job candidates but also to foster strong working relationships with the departments for whom the TA teams finds new teammates.

    For example, Miller has a long track record of working closely with marketing teams to help them find the best candidates. Instead of simply running with a job description drafted by his marketing colleagues, Miller prefers to have an in-depth conversation about who, exactly, marketing is looking for, and why.

    “I’ll say to them [marketing], I’d love to understand what you’re trying to build,” Miller says. “What’s your vision over the next 18 to 24 months? And then I sit back and listen and hear amazing things that are nearly impossible to not get excited about.”

    In other words, Miller says, he gets marketing—or whichever functions he’s working with—to tell their own story—a story about how they see themselves and what they’re trying to build and accomplish. And it’s through that narrative that Miller gains a deeper understanding of how his team can help realize that aspirational story by finding and hiring a candidate that best fits the vision.

    Asking Thought Provoking Questions

    Another question Miller likes to pose: If the person we find for you is deemed highly effective our outstanding after a year, what three main things will they have accomplished.

    “The answers are not only really interesting but often transformative for the company,” Miller says. “And then you become a thought partner, you’re having amazing conversations with leaders about their dreams for the group, for the team, for the department.”

    Another benefit, Miller says, is that when you have challenges with the talent search, you can go directly to the stakeholders and work with them to solve problems. The discussions you have with your internal subject matter experts about the candidates they’re looking for inform the discussions you have with job seekers—all of which contributes to the overarching narrative that Miller strives to create to inform the talent acquisition process.

    Experiencing the Narrative

    For Miller, storytelling doesn’t only encompass what candidates read about Chipotle or discussions they have with Chipotle recruiters. It also entails candidates’ personal experiences with Chipotle restaurants. In fact, for Miller, there’s no difference between the guest experience and the candidate experience.

    “I’ve yet to talk to a candidate who doesn’t love Chipotle and whose family doesn’t love Chipotle,” he says. “And so, if a candidate goes into a restaurant and it’s backed up and it’s not a great experience, they’re going to be less inclined to click ‘Apply’ or reach out to us for an opportunity.”

    In other words, Miller sees the process of crafting a compelling narrative as a holistic process very much incorporating how candidates feel about the brand based on their experiences as guests. No matter how carefully and creatively Miller and his team tell their version of the story, a subpar experience can skew the narrative in the minds of candidates.

    Evolving Storylines

    The takeaway, for Miller, is that while TA professionals need to be data-driven, they are not—or ought to not be—mere order takers. Instead, they are, fundamentally, storytellers and story seekers who play a crucial role in attracting the best candidates by attracting them to the story that lies at the heart of the what makes the brand unique.

    “I’ve learned the value of metrics, but my native default mode is to always ask, how do we craft a story,” Miller says. “And that has everything to do with connecting with people, because everyone has a story to tell.”

    This article is based on an episode of Talent on the Rise, Brazen’s podcast about transformative leaders and how they got a seat at the table. Subscribe in your preferred podcast app. 

    Check out the full episode on your favorite podcast app:
    | iTunes | Soundcloud

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