Stop searching for the purple squirrel

by Stephanie Zillman24 Jan 2013

The formula goes something like this:

Vacant position + job advertisement = hire the perfect candidate.

Yet according to one HR thought-leader, seeking the so-called ‘perfect candidate’ is a trap fallen into far too often.

Lance Haun, a former HR and recruiting pro turned author, says companies continue to throw money down the drain in the hunt for the perfect candidate for an open position. While the cost of hiring the wrong person can be cataclysmic, so too is the cost of spending months and months on the hunt, adding resources such as outside recruiters to the search to aid chances of securing Mr or Ms Right.

Huan wrote in the Harvard Business Review this week that at the crux of this problem is the "purple squirrel" dilemma. It’s a term many in the business use to define those rare candidates that fit the job specifications so perfectly they’re almost mythical in nature. “These candidates are near-impossible to find in ultra-competitive industries and possess the perfect mix of skills, education and experience. A good purple squirrel will work for peanuts (also known as the pay and benefits you're willing to offer) and just happens to live in the same town as your company,” Huan said.

But here’s the rub. Too often, those candidates simply do not materialise. If the purple squirrel doesn't show, you've spent money and time on a fruitless endeavour. It cost you:

  1. The time the recruiter spent on the opening
  2. The time you, your team, or the recruiter could've spent on filling another opening, and;
  3. The time of those impacted by the opening (managers, colleagues).

Is it time to re-think transferable skills, and ditch the purple squirrel?


  • by Tony van Rensburg 24/01/2013 3:37:22 PM

    Yes, I agree. The purple squirrel is like a mirage and even when you think you have found one, you can't nail them down and other employers will also want to feed the squirrel. My approach has been - 70% fit to job/person spec is acceptable and 80% is a great outcome.

  • by Brian D 24/01/2013 3:43:30 PM

    How perfectly true, now just to spread the word.

  • by Peter A 24/01/2013 4:54:53 PM

    All correct, provided you have the attitude 100% correct otherwise the Line Manager and HR will spend many hours on performance management.

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