Hire better by redefining your purple squirrel

A client of mine recently struggled to find the perfect candidate for an open managerial position. They wanted someone who had outstanding technical and managerial skills, but this combination was proving impossible to find. They were also a small nonprofit organization, so the perfect candidate had to be willing to work for a salary that was well below market.

Recruiters often use the term “purple squirrel” to refer to the perfect candidate for hard to fill positions like my client's. Like purple squirrels, these people are often difficult, if not impossible to find.

It’s time to get real
A recent post on the Harvard Business Review blog advised companies to stop searching for the perfect candidate because it is often a futile effort that does nothing more than waste time and money.

In my client’s case, searching for a purple squirrel had caused them to leave an important position unfilled while they searched for someone who didn’t exist. They found a fair number of people with the required technical skills but not the managerial skills or vice-versa. On the rare occasions when they found someone who appeared to have both, they quickly learned their budget was nowhere near that person’s salary expectations.

It was time for my client to face reality if they wanted to fill this position. 

Redefining your purple squirrel
When my client turned to me for help, we were able to create a solution in just two hours by using a worksheet to profile of an ideal, rather than perfect candidate.

This simple tool, available for free on my website, works by differentiating between qualities a successful employee must have and qualities you'd like an employee to have. For example, a call center employee must have the ability to effectively communicate with customers over the phone. It would be nice if they also had experience using the call center's customer relationship management software, but this isn't essential since training is available to new hires. 

The worksheet helped my client realize they had confused wants with needs. They wanted someone with outstanding technical skills, but technical skills weren’t essential to the job. They were hiring a manager, not a technician, so what they really needed was someone with enough technical knowledge to effectively manage their team.

Assessing organizational fit
In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins famously suggested that successful companies focus on getting the right people on the bus. The worksheet helps you go beyond job-specific criteria and identify what type of person would be a great fit with your organization. In other words, who are the right people for your bus?

In my client’s case, they realized that the only way to find someone whose salary expectations fit their budget was to find a manager who was truly passionate about their mission. Further analysis revealed that all of their successful employees had this trait in common, regardless of position.

My client was able to hire a manager to fill their open position within days of redefining their purple squirrel. Best of all, they were really excited about the person they'd hired and didn't feel as though they had settled on someone who wasn't qualified.

Check out this short tutorial video below if you'd like to see how this tool works (click here if the embedded video doesn't appear). When you are ready, you can download the worksheet and give it a try.