Are you hunting Purple Squirrels?

The Purple Squirrel is a term used by recruiters to refer to the most elusive of candidates matched to the most difficult of job requirements. A highly sought after and elusive Purple Squirrel candidate possesses the perfect match of education, experience, and qualifications to fit a job’s diverse requirements like a glove;  it is therefore assumed that this prized candidate can immediately assume the job’s responsibility with little or no training and perform with enhanced productivity.

Recruiters dread the “setup-to-fail” Purple Squirrel candidate search because it can be nearly impossible to satisfy a hiring manager’s unrealistic expectations for these job openings. And it is a growing problem. The current buyer’s market for talent has led to hiring managers with expectations that are unreasonably selective where qualified candidates are passed over with the hope of finding more closely matched candidates or even ones with lower compensation needs—a really frustrating no-win situation for the recruiter and the candidate. It is a tragedy that more people aren’t working while so many jobs remain unfilled for months while organizations conduct exhaustive searches for their Cinderella of candidates. This is not an entirely new problem. A few years back I was involved in the sourcing of candidates for a company with many job openings. Our team was excited about the size of the opportunity with this new client but we failed to realize that this client had engaged us in a Purple Squirrel hunt. This client’s expectations were so impossible to meet that after several months of unrewarded efforts we parted ways. When we discussed the situation with the client he mused that a workforce of perfectly matched employees would enable his businesses unit to function with fewer workers and greater productivity.

So why shouldn’t we be incredibly demanding and selective in hiring? What’s wrong with this thinking?

Extended candidate sourcing expenses can exceed the incremental training costs for traditional candidates. Purple Squirrel jobs are so difficult and time consuming to source that the cost-of-hire for a Purple Squirrel can often exceed the incremental training cost for hiring less well-matched candidates. Time is money and wasted time leads to missed opportunities. Wasting excessive amounts of time interviewing and sourcing the Cinderella of candidates can leave your department or organization lagging in productivity or even behind schedule in other areas of the business altogether.

Technical capabilities have overwhelmed your sourcing criteria. If you are recruiting Purple Squirrels you are likely weighing the technical capabilities of your candidates too heavily. Candidates should be evaluated in a balanced manner where qualities such as cultural fit, self-motivation, willingness, adaptability, aptitude to learning, and the ability to work in teams can be just as important to long term job success as a specific degree, certification, and targeted industry experience. Weighing technical qualifications too heavily in the recruiting process can leave you open to turn-over and cultural and morale issues down the road.

You can’t predict the future so don’t paint yourself in the corner by hiring a one trick pony. Markets and organizations change and so do job duties. A better employee is so often the one that can adapt to change, learn new skills, and rise to future challenges.

Been there and done that already. Employees perform best when challenged with growth assignments. The whole concept of a finding a perfectly matched Purple Squirrel candidate is counter to the concept of a growth assignment. Do you want an employee that is willing to settle for a job that really isn’t that challenging, growth-oriented, or provides them with a learning opportunity?

For Pete’s sake…let the stale air out and bring some fresh in. Promoting from other departments or sourcing from outside your industry has real benefits. You gain employees with fresh perspective, access to sources of new talent, and ideas; this in turn creates fertile ground for positive change. Any additional training or startup costs for hiring newbies can be defrayed by lower initial compensation requirements.

Don’t let the parade pass sourcing Purple Squirrels. Here are four recommendations to limit your organizations exposure to the wasted time, effort, and the missed opportunities that accompany Purple Squirrel hunting.

1)      Set a fixed reasonable duration for sourcing candidates for each job opening. Use a talent management system like PeopleGuruTM to define reasonable durations (like 90 days) for sourcing open jobs. Hold HR, recruiters, and hiring managers accountable for executing within these defined time intervals and escalate the recruiting process using workflow notification events at defined points throughout the sourcing window.

2)      Encourage hiring diversity, equality, and balanced candidate evaluations by defining corporate-level hiring standards such as cultural and physiological evaluations along with job specific evaluation criteria; enforce these standards via automated online questionnaires and ratings with assigned balanced scoring and knock-out criteria ensuring that the job-specific requirements do not overwhelm the candidate sourcing process. This has an added benefit insomuch as it ensures that candidates are evaluated in the same manner and judged using the same criteria.

3)      Engage internal candidates first. Release new job openings to employees via employee self-service for at least two weeks prior to accepting outside candidates. This will ensure that your internal candidates get priority consideration and foster a culture of achievement.

4)      Track cost of hire accurately. To accurately track costs of hire you have to consider all recruiting costs including internal and external costs. Use your HR or recruiting system to assign costs to each phase of the recruiting process and not just the external costs. Track internal costs by allocating expenses and overhead to the internal resources consumed in addition to external costs. Only this approach will provide a true picture of your total cost of hiring for each job opening.

Purple Squirrels may sound adorable and harmless; I assure you they are not. For job seekers and recruiters alike it’s a growing nightmare of unfilled jobs waiting for a dream Cinderella candidate that really doesn’t exist.

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