How Airbnb used Storytelling to Create a Unique Candidate Experience


“Belong Anywhere” is Airbnb’s company tagline, representing its mission to build a trusted community of people and places to stay. So, imagine if a candidate applied to the trusted, community driven brand, just to hear nothing back? The impact on Airbnb’s brand could be huge, so it was important that Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere” tagline, represented every part of their business, including recruiting.

In 2011 Airbnb had a recruiting process that was hard to manage and often didn’t give candidates the best candidate experience. Their recruiting process was as simple as this: if the candidate’s name was marked in bold in their applicant tracking system, the resume hadn’t been viewed, and therefore would be looked at. If it wasn’t, it was presumed looked at, and never got picked up again…..

Jill Riopelle, Head of Recruiting for Airbnb, identified a need for change, so when Joe Gebbia, Airbnb’s Co-Founder, came to her with the idea of storyboarding, they began to look at how they could improve their recruiting processes and in turn, create a great candidate experience.

CEO Brian Chesky, came up with an idea of storyboarding, following reading the autobiography of Walt Disney, where Walt used storyboarding to bring characters to life. Airbnb then applied this to their own company by mapping out the interaction with both hosts, and guests, which forced the business to look at the entire experience, from start to finish. Why couldn’t the same be applied to recruiting?

Integrate storyboarding to your recruiting process. Click To Tweet

What is the storyboarding?

Simply put, storyboarding is a way to craft, learn, and tell your business stories. It can be applied to most areas of business, and helps you to define a clear path, vision and goals, that can then be looked at in close detail.
There are 3 key principles to think about when you create a storyboard:
1. Define critical moments that are universal
2. Focus on ideals, this should be the ideal story (try not to let current practices pull away from that)
3. Think about what the customer, or in recruiting, the candidate, wants and remain true to that

Back to Airbnb…

Putting this method into practice, the recruiting team at Airbnb followed the principles above and mapped out the story under each part of their recruiting process, using post-its to storyboard. At each stage they asked a series of questions:
  • What do we want the candidate to know?
  • What do we want to know about the candidate?
  • What does great and not so great look like?
  • What about this stage is unique to Airbnb?

What did they find out? 

For a great candidate experience, Airbnb found out they needed to cover some key areas:
  • Rejection Rejection at any point in a recruitment process is key, how you reject that person, and then the impact that has on your employer brand is huge. At that point, Airbnb were rejecting most candidates via an automated email, and as they were rejecting 98% of people that came to them, this was a hugely important area to tackle.
  • Continuously Setting Expectations – How could they make sure that clear expectations were set so candidates understood each part of the journey?
  • Brand Voice Airbnb found that some of their communication, especially the automated emails, were not synonymous with their brand.
  • Uniqueness – Airbnb’s recruiting processes were not especially unique so how could they make sure that all of their candidates had a unique candidate experience?
Storyboarding is a way to craft, learn, and tell your business stories. Click To Tweet

What did they do? 

  • They put in place a robust applicant tracking system that allowed them to map out the candidate journey at every stage and make each step unique to Airbnb.
  • They created opportunities for lots of feedback and open communication using an FAQ site for candidates, and a feedback system where candidates submit their views on the process (both pre and post hire), that Airbnb can also use to rectify things that go wrong (sending out notes or coupons in the event a candidate is disappointed).
  • Every communication Airbnb recruiters now send out is personal and on brand so that candidates feel a special part of their story.
  • Airbnb built a team of recruiting rockstars and made sure that anyone that touches the candidate experience is fully trained, armed with their templates, and becomes an ambassador for their employer brand.

If you would like to discuss how storyboarding and employer branding could work for your business, reach out to us on, we would love to hear from you!