How To Tell Your Story on a 'Best Place to Work' Application

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa

photograph by tec_estromberg

Getting on a "Best Place to Work" list is not just a matter of having great programs and practices. It's a matter of conveying this fact to whomever is compiling the list. Application processes for these lists vary, but nearly all include at least one invitation to describe your company's programs, policies and practices in an open-ended format. The questions may be text-limited or truly wide open, but they all have this in common: they put the onus on you to decide which information will best tell your company's story, and how to get that information across.

Here are a few tips for doing just that, based on many years' experience helping companies with these kinds of applications:

  • Remember your audience. Most companies have "insider" acronyms or names for programs, employee groups, titles and departments that are so commonly used within the organization you might forget they don't mean anything to an outsider. The same goes for industries. If, for example, you work in insurance, you may be accustomed to discussing positions or career tracks or regulations that colleagues in other insurance firms understand perfectly well--but no one outside that world is likely to have a clue what you are talking about. Try to review your words with an outsider's perspective, and define your terms.
  • Don't forget the "what." If you want to carry your reader with you, start by letting them know what you're talking about--then go into the whys and hows. This may sound obvious but you'd be amazed at how often communicators in every field plunge straight into the why without ever defining the what. (Just try reading the website of a company you've never heard of and figuring out exactly what it is they do.)

For example, say you have a program called Convergence Tremors. You might think you are describing it when you say:

Convergence Tremors streamlines systems and processes and promotes innovative solutions...

In fact, I haven't the faintest idea, based on this, what Convergence Tremors is-- is it a branding campaign? A set of online tools? A career development curriculum? Again--remember your audience, which may know nothing about your company and almost certainly has never heard of Convergence Tremors--and begin with the basics. (For more on getting to "what"--and on Convergence Tremors--check out my blog post on the topic from a few years' back.)

  • Use specific examples. Your company offers the option for employees to spread their parental leave intermittently over the course of a year? Tell the story of someone who used the leave that way, and why. You have a program encouraging employees to make suggestions for improvements? Describe something that was improved based on one of these suggestions (and, ideally, how the employee was recognized for their contribution). It's the old adage: don't just tell--show.
  • Include the unique details that bring your story to life. If you had a wellness fair, where was it held and what did it feature? Did anything about the event and how it was organized tie into other campaigns or themes you are promoting? Were there representatives from your benefits vendors? Did any local community health or wellness practitioners have booths? Were there games or prizes to promote attendance and involvement? What kinds of games and prizes? How many employees attended? Were their families or members of the community invited? What kind of feedback did you receive? Did you see any uptick in benefits enrollment or usage?
  • Skip the fine print. Most company policies have certain rules and restrictions. Your legal team likely requires you to spell these out in official documentation. But there's rarely a need to include them in awards applications--everyone knows that certain restrictions will apply. An example I often see is companies with tuition reimbursement programs, who insist on including the information that the reimbursement only applies if the employee completes the course with a satisfactory grade. Yawn. That's pretty much the way it is at all companies--omit it! (However, if your company reimburses employees even if they don't complete a course, or if they leave the company mid-course, that would be something to mention.)
  • Connect the dots. Every company has an identity. It may be connected to your history, your mission and values, your products or services. It may be simply a matter of style. Perhaps you call it your brand. Ideally, your employee programs, policies and practices reflect this identity. Make sure you point out this connection. It's what makes your organization unique.

Follow these guidelines and you'll be well on your way to painting a picture for your readers, giving them a true understanding of what is special about your company, and why it deserves to be on that list. After all, you can't win if you can't tell your story.

Robin Hardman is a writer and work-life expert who works with companies to put together the best possible "great place to work" competition entries and creates compelling, easy-to-read benefits, HR, diversity and general-topic employee communications. Find her at