Purple Squirrels (Perfect Candidates) vs. Talented Candidates

Are you wasting your time chasing purple squirrels?

In the world of human resources and recruitment, a “purple squirrel” refers to the elusive perfect job candidate, that one person who so perfectly fits the open position that they can be 100% productive from the moment they start. These candidates possess the perfect mix of skills, education, and experience are nearly impossible to find in an ultra-competitive industry. However, much like purple squirrels in nature, that perfect candidate remains more myth than reality. Companies often throw good money away when looking for the perfect candidate for an open position. Due to the lingering effects of the recession, hiring managers are still picky about their hires, and many jobs remain unfilled.

The cost of hiring the wrong person is extremely high, especially when you factor in many of the costs. When the right candidate doesn’t materialize, the common solution is to keep searching, using even more resources and more money all to increase the chances of finding Mr. or Ms. Right. So let’s address the real reason these roles stay unfilled for so long: the perfect candidate(s) are extremely rare and/or don’t exist. The reality of this myth is that for every purple squirrel hire out there, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of open, unfilled job openings. If the purple squirrel doesn’t show, you’ve spent a lot of money and time, both in terms of how much time the recruiter spent on the opening and the time of those impacted by the opening (managers, colleagues, and the company).

Now, note that I’m not suggesting you go the other direction and hire a warm body. It is time, however, to think much more strategically about purple squirrels and the pursuit of perfect candidates everywhere.

Let’s discusses how time spent seeking the perfect candidate can be more strategically focused:

  1. They’d better analyze what the job market looks like: If you’re a company and you understand the competitive landscape, you can better decide on a winning strategy. Your chances of getting top talent across the board is next to nothing, but your chances of getting one or two very talented people is much better, and you’d spend the rest of your time finding capable, but not top, talent.
  2. A better focus on training and retention: In some cases, it will be impossible to find even good matches for all of the positions you need to fill. Sometimes that can be because of location or stringent parameters hiring managers put in place to find that perfect candidate. I’ve found using training programs to supplement the lack of a candidate that is not spot on for the role. Keeping existing employees happy and onboard is the cheapest form of hiring. Retention would have to become a huge strategy to avoid hiring.
  3. A more honest evaluation of what the organization needs: With a better understanding of the job market and what’s available, along with recruiters who are empowered and enabled to find those folks in a timely manner, hiring managers and recruiters will be able to have a really honest discussion about priorities.

This is about planning and preparing for the best realistic talent acquisition outcomes. Hopefully, with this information, you can better understand your situation to aim for more realistic candidate expectations. Remember: that perfect candidate probably doesn’t exist, and if they do, it’s a needle in the haystack.