Are you chasing purple squirrels?
A purple squirrel is a term from the recruitment industry used to describe a job candidate with exactly the right education, qualifications, experience and skill set to perfectly fit a role’s requirements. A purple squirrel candidate should be able to pick up a role with no training and no downtime.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? That’s because it usually is. Just as purple squirrels don’t really exist in the wild, completely perfect candidates who match every wish don’t really exist in the workplace. You may see the very occasional ‘perfect’ candidate, but more often than not that’s down to luck, rather than successful recruiting, and it’s generally not worth the effort seeking them.
Why do employers look for purple squirrels?
Employers often get fixated on the idea of a perfect candidate as they want someone who can grasp a role immediately and get started with no drop in productivity. Employers are also worried about making the wrong decision – it generally costs a company 33% of an annual salary to replace an employee and this makes people cautious when recruiting.
Even interviewing lots of excellent candidates doesn’t help some companies to make a decision, as they are encouraged to believe there might be someone even better out there. It’s easy to believe that spending just a little more time on recruiting could help you find someone who’s absolutely ideal for your role, but this approach to recruiting can seriously backfire.
It’s much harder to recruit
Focussing solely on those candidates who tick every box on your person specification can really narrow down your candidate pool. For example, an FMCG firm looking for a Brand Manager with years of experience in exactly the same role at a direct competitor in the same country could be missing out on great candidates who have transferable skills from another sector.
Low unemployment and high numbers of vacancies means the market has swung in the favour of candidates. If you see interview suitable candidates but don’t want to commit in case you find a ‘perfect’ contender, it’s highly likely that they will go elsewhere, leaving you to start the process from scratch and wasting time and money. And in the unlikely event you do unearth your perfect squirrel, they are likely to have extremely high salary demands.
The average time to hire for marketing, advertising and creative jobs in the UK is already 27 days. Extending the process for longer than a month is likely to lead to the very drop in productivity you were trying to avoid by searching for a perfect candidate. It’s also likely to put extra pressure on the rest of the team who have to cover, which, in a worst-case scenario, could lead to a cascade of resignations.
Your diversity will suffer
Ruling out candidates who aren’t exactly the same as the previous employee is a classic way in which companies limit the diversity of their employees. Candidates with different backgrounds and different skill sets could benefit your company in unexpected ways and turn out to be a better bet in the long term, even if you do have to spend slightly more time training them up.
When you’re putting together a person specification, but sure to divide requirements into ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’. Hard skills can always be learnt on the job – recruiting for soft skills and cultural fit is much more likely to find you a better long-term employee. Plus, investing in employees by giving them training and development opportunities makes them more loyal and committed.
When you use a specialist recruitment consultant like the Tarsh Partnership to help you with your job search, they’ll be able to give you realistic and impartial advice about your chances of finding a faultless candidate. Remember, if you find a candidate who’s not a purple squirrel but nearly there and you’re not sure how they’ll work out, you can always offer them the role on a temporary or contract basis to start off with.
Ultimately, if you are adamant you need a candidate that fulfils every requirement, you are going to have to wait for them to appear and it is highly likely that you will have to increase your offered salary to secure them. We believe that it is more cost-effective to concentrate on the best person you find for the job, rather than a perfect candidate who may not actually exist.