Don't Hire Purple Squirrels


In the recruitment industry, a purple squirrel refers to that elusive perfect candidate, someone who meets every possible job requirement. They have extensive experience and highly specialized qualifications, yet are somehow willing to accept relatively low salary and benefits packages. It seems almost unfathomable that this ideal target is somehow available on the open market and hasn’t been locked in long-term by some other lucky company. The only catch: this person doesn’t exist.

Finding the perfect candidate who fits the needs of the organization and can step in and have an immediate impact would obviously be a great coup for any company. Unfortunately, placing unrealistic expectations significantly limits your retained search pool and setting the bar too high means you may overlook some great candidates who may lack some of your ideal qualifications but actually could offer more to your business long-term due to their other skills and potential.

Even if you happen to find someone who comes close to meeting your lofty expectations, these candidates are surely aware of the demand for their services. Meaning they are either unattainable or have exorbitant demands of their own. Don’t forget, just as you are evaluating them, these highly skilled candidates are evaluating you as well. And if you aren’t prepared to offer the types of enticements they feel they can demand - such as high salaries, extra vacation or unusual autonomy, for example – then you could still end up right back where you started.

The bottom line is that 9 times out of 10, businesses need to lower their standards. Companies should accept, and even embrace, the idea that every new hire will benefit from some level of training. In the tech industry, in particular, it is essentially impossible to remain completely up to date on every new innovation or development. Trying to find someone who checks every box usually just results in a lot of wasted time and money, and sometimes ends with a panic hire of someone who isn’t nearly as talented as some of the early candidates who were passed on. This ongoing trend of employers holding out for someone who matches unrealistic expectations has led to overall workplace hiring taking longer than ever.

The Solution

Being more flexible and open in the hiring process doesn’t mean you have to abandon your ideal requirements, only that you need to be less rigid about them. It is important to prioritize your list, and those candidates that meet the most important ones should not be eliminated from contention if they happen to lack some of the other, less crucial, criteria.

It is also essential to give your hiring manager or retained search specialist the freedom to use their judgement rather than match a specific qualification template. Sometimes finding people who offer something your organization currently lacks can more than make up for some of their other shortcomings. Discovering a candidate with a unique ability to train and learn new skills means they can probably develop both the missing skills and provide future value in ways that may not even be apparent yet.

Two traits that are criminally undervalued in most hiring processes are enthusiasm and passion. A candidate who matches your approach and philosophies means you will have everyone pulling in the same direction toward shared goals. This type of chemistry can be far more important than the specific skills they possess at the time of hire.

Another good rule of thumb is to be open to candidates from other industries. Employees who have had success, regardless of their specific job, often also have the ability to adapt and thrive in new environments. Provided the proper time and training they can bring both potential and a new perspective.

In the end, being willing to train prospective employees and provide opportunities for career growth and skill development are the best ways to develop a loyal, effective team. Spending all your time searching for a mythical purple squirrel is a poor use of resources and unlikely to yield any useful results.

Conducting the hiring process is a task best left to the professionals. Fortunately, the experts at Search Consultants Inc. have been specializing in retained search for over 15 years and are the pioneers of the modern engaged search innovation. Contact us today and start attracting quality applicants that fit your needs.

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