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.

So you think you want to go with my competition? Why I could say I told you so, but won’t…

Their lower price is not what it seems.

The old expressions are true that “there’s always a catch,” and “a low price usually equals inferior products or service.” In our business of Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services, new customers come to us for a variety of reasons. The number one reason is frustration with service. We see clients that are just tired of painful and inferior help desk support, and sometimes others have more tenuous and complex system difficulties, and even some face significant compliance penalties.

Getting service is like finding Waldo.

Our competition has become data-processing-centric with service as an afterthought. And while the data processing aspects of the Benefits Administration, HR, and Payroll software services business are vital, I don’t believe that it is reasonable to expect our customers to be experts in our business. We see it as our job to be there to guide our clientele through the process of getting the most of our service and product capabilities. How many times a month or a year do you make a change to a Paid Time Off policy or 401K match algorithm? I’m sure that for you it will not be that often, but, for us, we see these things every day. Our service model encourages our customers to engage us to assist in these types of events for your convenience. In our model, you can help yourself or be helped—either way is fine by us.

Don’t get sold a billed of goods: Implementation, schmimplementation.

We’ve been doing this for fifteen years. Our sales process engages our prospect to include enough information to understand our prospect’s needs. We generally skip the boring PowerPoint®, and limit ourselves to five minutes on “where we came from,”“who we are,” “what we stand for,” and “where we are going.” We spend adequate time justifying the project and defining project success criteria upfront. We follow-up our sales process with a client onboarding team that continues and validates the initial due diligence and works toward the orderly achievement of the defined project success milestones. We do focus on education so our clientele can get the most of our systems and services. And finally our systems and service are flexible and scalable so you are never painted in a corner or outgrow its capabilities.

System conversions are expensive and time consuming—don’t make the wrong choice. Of course it’s nice to see a prospect return to us after few months with our competitor, but I hate the fact that time and money were wasted in the process.

They won’t love you as much as we do.

I know this sounds corny, but it’s true. We bend over backward for our clientele. Your account manager is and will be knowledgeable and accessible because your account manager won’t be overloaded with too many clients—by design. In fact, client retention is a major part of their compensation structure. It is their job to keep you happy and retained. We strive to keep our employees’ interests aligned with our customers.

We are mature, reliable, and user friendly.

This is a business where focus, experience, and maturity counts. Is our competitor really worthy of your business? With fifteen years of singular focus in the Human Capital space, we know this business and can serve your needs in this area. Our systems are state-of-the-art, easy-to-use, and accurate. They work well for thousands of clients all over the USA. We manage all things compliance related in-house—it’s too important to leave to a third-party processor. We are not perfect, and I’d be skeptical of any firm that tells you that they are. We fix our mistakes, stand behind our company, and provide real service guarantees.

Terminations with poise and grace

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So you find yourself in the unfortunate position of being the bearer of bad news. Here are a few things that I have found will make the whole experience of terminating someone a lot easier for all those involved.

Don’t make it personal. Simply state the facts and leave out additional narratives. Explanations like:  “Your position has been eliminated due to a restructuring” or “You failed to meet the objectives of your performance improvement plan” are reasons enough for this final conversation. The focus of your discussion should be on turnover of work and post-termination benefits. Avoid promises to provide personal references or future job opportunities to non-performing terminated employees. Save your favors for the people who deserve them.

Be private, nice, and sincere. Find a private and quiet place to conduct the termination and check your anger and frustration at the door. It’s too late to save the employee’s job so criticizing their past performance isn’t going to help your cause or be constructive in any way. Try to find a sincere way to thank the employee for their contributions and efforts. You can empathize with the employee’s situation but steer clear of offering advice on what they should do next.

Don’t rub salt in an open wound.  Termination compensation can sometimes be a complicated affair. Is there accrued and unused vacation, unexercised stock options, or unpaid overtime? Provide the employee with instructions on contacting the company after termination and allow the employee to challenge your computations. Document your decisions regarding claims for additional compensation. This is one place that being the Grinch can really come back to haunt you. Err on the side of caution and pay the employee everything due to them at termination or shortly thereafter. Lawsuits are expensive so providing the employee a reason to file one is not wise. When necessary, take extra time to explain to the employee how their termination benefits are calculated and obtain their agreement of your math thereof.

Save the termination interview questions for a much later date. Time heals all wounds so give the employee a few weeks to cool down before asking for feedback.

Save the security guards for reality TV shows. It’s generally a good practice to escort the employee out quietly. If handled properly, terminations rarely get out of hand so having menacing security presence is only going to make you look weak and insecure.

Document everything beforehand and prepare for the worst. Make sure you have your ducks in a row before you pull the trigger. You can use the following points as suggestions for your future termination events.

  1. Employee File. Is the employee’s file updated with all the necessary documentation regarding events leading up to and including the termination? Has the file been reviewed by HR and legal?
  2. Notification. Are you prepared regarding coworker and customer notifications? Has your IT department been notified to disable login accounts, remote access and to safeguard and protect intellectual property? Have you planned for how incoming email and phone calls will be handled?
  3. Company Property. What keys, badges, or company assets are in the employee’s possession? Don’t forget about customer lists, billing records, and other company information that the employee may have.
  4. Post Termination Expectations. Do you have a separation agreement prepared? Is the employee subject to non-compete or non-solicitation for a period? You should cover these and your expectations of the employee post termination.
  5. Comply with Special Termination Laws. You may have a requirement to coordinate COBRA benefits at a State or Federal level or pay the employee their final paycheck upon termination. Compliance penalties are expensive and time consuming so outsourcing these activities is often the best solution for most companies.

Use these few simple suggestions effectively for your next termination to reduce uncertainty, anxiety, and liability and to increase your confidence during these unpleasant but necessary duties of a being manager. Your company and former employee will appreciate your handling of the most difficult of situations with poise and grace.