Feb 04

The Problem with The Purple Squirrel

In the recruitment space, perfection has a cute name. A candidate with the exact educational background, precise set and amount of experience, as well as all the desired certifications and qualifications needed to fit a job’s requirements, is called a purple squirrel. This rare, almost mythical creature is a trophy in the talent acquisition world. But is the purple squirrel worth the hunt or is it too good to be true?

The Hunt

Often, hiring managers are looking for the perfect candidate because they believe he or she will be able to seamlessly transition into the role and quickly elevate the business. Of course, this is rarely the case. Transitioning into a new role or company takes time, training and onboarding.

Sometimes, hiring managers are literally looking for a mythical creature. Especially in the technology space, innovation forces skill sets to constantly evolve. Even your best recruiter won’t be able to find a candidate who has 20 years’ experience in a field that has not even existed that long. It is simply impossible. Other times, innovation moves so quickly that hiring managers themselves don’t even know what the exact requirements for the role should be and yet candidates are ruled out because they don’t display perfection.

Why You Shouldn’t Wait for The Purple Squirrel

Finding a purple squirrel during the recruitment process is a recruiters’ proudest moment but being asked to specifically identify a purple squirrel candidate who not only falls into the range of compensation but is also readily available and willing to make the move, can be a recruiter’s worst nightmare. Additionally, this chase can be a big mistake for any company.

Imagine pouring money and time into the search for the perfect candidate who then never materializes. This process will cost the company not only the time a recruiter spends on the sourcing and outreach process, but also the time that could have been spent on another open position. Furthermore, if a recruiter’s focus is only on finding the purple squirrel, other fantastic candidates will be overlooked and other important priorities, such as diversity in the hiring process, will fall behind.

So, instead of chasing mythical creatures what are the alternatives?

  1. Align with your hiring manager

Having an open discussion with your hiring manager is key. When the purple squirrel hunt isn’t feasible, work with your hiring manager to discuss options such as on the job training and skill development to identify a necessary set of skills. Then work through the unrealistic list of must-haves and instead include a few nice-to-haves as well.

  1. Plan ahead

There will always be hard-to-fill positions and hiring managers will often push for perfection. Identifying applicants who show potential, and employees who can be upskilled is necessary to fill future openings. Psychometric testing can also be used to test for qualities and personality traits that are desired for a role. If you do come across a purple squirrel but there is no opening, discuss with management how they can be brought on board even without a current vacancy. At Research Partners, we offer executive search services that can help you plan for unexpected circumstances. By combining our extensive candidate network with unparalleled research expertise, we uncover many hidden talent pools that are not visible through the usual LinkedIn search.

  1. Don’t underestimate dedication

If the perfect candidate is nowhere in sight, consider bringing on someone who has development needs but brings with them a very strong desire and passion for your brand and goals, product or service, and customers. Desire is something that can’t be taught, and dedication is the foundation for a willingness to learn and for success.

  1. Shift focus to “culture add” candidates

Instead of searching for the perfect candidate who is a cultural fit for your organization, look for “culture add” candidates. Instead of thinking about hiring someone who will fit right into the business, ask yourself which candidate can add to your culture and business to bring in a fresh new perspective. Look closely at those with unique values, communication styles, and interests. Because in the end, innovation is fueled by diversity.

Though perfection is a stellar goal to strive for, finding a purple squirrel is often simply a measure of luck rather than a measure of success. Focusing on finding the perfect candidate, might cause you to overlook a potentially game-changing hire.

About The Author

Natalie Heilling is an International Executive Search Consultant and Co-Founder of Research Partners running various recruitment campaigns across Europe, North America, and Asia while helping clients reach their hiring targets with peace of mind. Natalie has worked in Technology and eCommerce for the last 20 years and helped US companies confidently establish themselves in Europe and emerging markets.

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