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The Purple Squirrel: Why Employers Can’t Fill the Roles They Need

Posted By: Moses Robles on October 15, 2021

You have an open position for the ideal candidate and a vision for who that candidate should be. They are out there. You know it. Your 23-page job description is very specific, so that should smoke them out. Your recruiters will find them. In some remote town near the corner of Where-the-hell-is-that and I-think-I’m-lost.

You’re looking for the “purple squirrel,” a metaphorical term used within the recruiting industry to refer to the hard-to-find and rare “perfect” candidate who possesses a very specific set of skills, experience, and qualifications. The problem is that the requirements are too specific—so specific that there are likely only one or two candidates in the entire universe who can fill the opening.

the purple squirrel candidate is rare and difficult to find

Finding perfect-fit candidates is difficult enough that you shouldn’t make it even more complicated. If you’ve been having trouble filling a professional role at your organization because you’re requiring a long set of restrictive qualifications and experience, you’ll end up frustrated as you discover that the purple squirrel will be very difficult, if not impossible, to find. In the meantime, you’ll overlook and allow to slip by some very good candidates.

Here are some of the factors that contribute to creating a purple squirrel:

Your Job Description Is Too Long and Restrictive

We touched on this before. One of the reasons why you’re having difficulty finding the right person for the job is that your job description is just too long and asking for a combination of qualifications, experience, and skills that simply are rare.

How you describe a particular role affects the number and type of candidates you get. You need to be creative and flexible when issuing a job description so that it’s compelling enough to interest qualified candidates.

It should also clearly state what would be expected from a candidate to avoid any confusion during the application process that could result in your interviewing candidates unfit for the role. Furthermore, you shouldn’t restrict the description by mentioning just the technical or industry-specific skills that only a few people would have.

Remember, on-the-job training is a great way to prepare employees who meet most of your criteria for a role. Don’t limit the number of applicants you get by being overly specific in the job description—you can cross-train or train up a smart, enthusiastic professional who “gets it” and is willing to learn.

recruiting your team

There’s No Observable Career Path

Another reason why you may be having trouble recruiting candidates is that you’ve not defined a career path for your applicants. Let’s suppose you interview a person who fits the bill. Yet when you make them an offer, they refuse because they don’t see much growth in the role.

If you’ve experienced a similar incident, it’s time to develop a concrete road map for your employees and potential applicants. Interviewees typically inquire about the nature and extent of career progression, so make sure you have a solid and convincing answer that will help you hire the best person for the job.

You’re Not Putting Yourself Out There

It’s great to promote and grow within, but the downside is that the culture becomes stale. Bringing in new blood through diversity and inclusion programs with new perspectives and ideas creates more energy throughout the organization.

Depending on the position, if you’ve only been posting job listings within your internal departments and hope to hire someone from your existing workforce, you may have a harder time finding the right candidate. Every organization can benefit from an infusion of new blood.

It's important to realize that your company and your industry are not that difficult to fathom, and people from outside your company or industry may learn both quickly AND bring a fresh perspective. So don’t limit your search to just internal candidates.

Recruiting outside your company also lets the world know who you are and what types of people you want in your organization, which reflects well on your brand.

Avoid the purple squirrel by keeping your job description as simple as possible, and look for smart, flexible professionals who have the essential soft skills to adapt quickly to a new environment.

In the end, you’ll find that these types of candidates provide so much more value than those who are already “perfect.”

About Brookwoods Group

Brookwoods Group is an executive search firm in Houston that can help you find perfect-fit professionals for managerial, leadership, executive, and specialist roles in engineering, communications, health and safety, and quality control. Contact our executive staffing agency in San Antonio today to learn more.