Recruiting for purple squirrels (and why we should care about other squirrels)

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4 mins, 43 secs read time

The Mythical Purple Squirrel

Purple squirrels don’t exist in wildlife. They also often don’t exist in the workplace. The term “purple squirrel” is a distinctly recruiting vernacular used in Talent teams to describe a candidate that’s perfect for one particular job. They bring all the exact requirements and highly specialized qualifications, experience, and salary expectations for a position. Sound too good to be true? That’s because it usually is.

Purple Squirrel Problems

Hiring managers are often set on securing these highly qualified candidates because the expectation is they’ll immediately elevate the business. Hope lies in their ability to quickly take on their role with minimal transitional issues. This may be true in some cases, but the reality is that most new hires will need at least a little bit of training when adjusting to any new role.

Sometimes, hiring managers are looking for candidates with a combination of skills that are incredibly rare, or flatout impossible. Especially in IT, skill needs are continually evolving and it’s impossible to always be up-to-date on every latest innovation. Other times, hiring managers aren’t even sure what the exact specifications for a role should be, yet are ruling out candidates who don’t fit the mold precisely.

The Purple Squirrel Candidate Hunt: As Told by Recruiters

As previously mentioned, needs in certain industries are constantly shifting. For this reason, some recruiters have even been tasked with finding non-existent candidates.

Sara DeBrule, Global Marketing Recruitment Lead at HubSpot said a hiring manager once told her they were “Seeking an engineer with 30 years of AI experience,” which is comical since AI is such a new technology.

When these candidates do exist, they may have some crazy demands.

Lars Schmidt, Founder of Amplify Talent and Co-Founder of HR Open Source said that when he finally found the purple squirrel he was tasked with finding, the candidate had a Mariah Carey-sized list of demands, requiring “a house in the Hollywood Hills and two BMWs.

Valuing (and Catching) The Next Best Squirrel

When we’re so focused on finding these mythical purple squirrels, we lose track of reality, as well as prioritizing diversity in our hiring process. We then miss out on other stellar potential hires. Here are a few tips to hiring an amazing candidate who may not seem as rare, but will certainly be a bright addition to your organization:

  1. Get real with your hiring manager.

    Sometimes the purple squirrel ask just isn’t feasible. Hiring managers and recruiters should be able to have an open and honest discussion about priorities for a job search. Have your hiring manager narrow down a list of a few key skills that are necessary for the role. The thinking should shift from an exhaustive list of “must-haves” to include a few “nice-to-haves” as well. On the job skills training is always an option. This type of dialogue strengthens the relationship between a hiring manager and recruiter and allows everyone involved in the process to reassess expectations and keep a realistic mindset.
  2. Look for “culture add” candidates.

    Rather than focusing on searching for a candidate with the exact required experience, think about finding someone who encompasses and aligns with your organization’s values, and who might be able to add to a new perspective. The idea of a culture add is incredibly beneficial to the success of a business. Innovation comes from a diverse and inclusive environment, and what the industry should be striving for.
  3. Prioritize candidates who are passionate about your mission and goals.

    One of the most important traits that a new hire should have, is an alignment with your organization’s mission and goals. A person with the perfect experience may not always possess this. That desire to drive toward the same goal is something that can’t be taught, but is instrumental in their effectiveness to apply their role to your overall business goals. Bringing in a person who needs teaching, but has a desire for your mission is the basis for a dedicated and engaged employee.
  4. Consider talent from different industries.

    Sometimes the right fit won’t come from an obvious place. Companies are often missing out on great hires when they reject someone for not having worked in a specific industry. Make sure you aren’t ruling out great candidates even if they’re coming from a profession on a different part of the business spectrum. The ability to learn and adapt their unique skills is key. Consider the value of bringing someone in from a B2C creative agency into a B2B marketing team. That infusion of agency hustle and new ideas can be a winning combination and energize the current team.
  5. Onboard and train to retain.

    Invest the time in the beginning for the best long-term results. It’s no secret that companies with a strong onboarding strategy have better retention rates. Take the time to train new hires who may not have had the requirements you were initially looking for, and develop them into masters of their craft. Convert your attractive job candidate into a successful long-term employee by providing opportunities for growth through learning & development. When you do this, you create loyal employees who stay, instead of wasting time and resources on the search and recruitment of what may as well be a unicorn.

It’s important to remember, snagging a purple squirrel is often daunting, and isn’t a measure of success - it’s often a measurement of luck. So take a step back and look at the vast array of candidates available to you, because you may be overlooking your game-changing teammate.

Interested in more information on ways to optimize your recruiting process to hire top talent? Check out our eBook to learn how.

Micah Gebreyes

Micah Gebreyes

is a Senior Manager of Content Marketing at Greenhouse where she develops and leads the content strategy for Greenhouse blogs, social media and thought leadership newsletter, Modern Recruiter. When she's not working to bring the brand story to life, she enjoys spending time with her Pomeranian, Cashew. Keep the conversation growing with Micah on LinkedIn or through the Greenhouse LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.