The Elusive, Ever Hard To Find Purple Squirrel

Scenario - 1 week to schedule nearly 30 interviews, gain multiple momentum steps on many requirements, and making simultaneously multiple offers, screening more candidates to keep pipelines full, all while getting ready to move your 30-40 requirement desk to the point where manageability might even be realizable.  How can you do it?  How do you find the elusive, hard to find, perpetual purple squirrel time and again, or do you need to - will the candidate with those coach-able soft skills, and some of your hard skills be enough?  In this scenario you also have multiple people to get status updates to, reports, and what not.  You also have those whom want their status updates via Instant Messenger, email, and phone?

It is as you define it.  Is this level of bandwidth impossible?  Enter the super-recruiter, the ever pleasing, ever juggling, multiple requirement busting, balancing and moving recruiter.  The one whom will work hard at all hours of the day to please everyone in their immediate environment.  A yes man, a submissively meek and focused individual whom will be more than likely able to pull a 60 hour work week for almost months on end.  No - burn-out will not be this recruiter's lot - err rather well it will be.  Alas, that is not a sustainable situation.  

In this scenario do you have to find multiple purple squirrels?  Do you need to create that super-smashing string that delivers the silver bullet of a candidate with A-Player written all over that super-star resume? Perhaps - you may need some of this above.  Dedication, flat out creativity, detail orientation like no other, and the power of your mental fortitude and overall commitment to the fill that will make this even possible?  Do you garner that multiple hiring, and multiple offer month to drive home the point that you will rise to the challenge with such a proverbial pedal to the metal approach as this?  At times my friends this may be needed.  But something even more important lurks forward that is vital to your sanity. What oh what could ever that be?

Here is what it will take.

2 concepts and 2 important focus points:

  • Manager Control
  • Candidate Control

You can find the proverbial purple squirrel - but here's the kicker - you might have to set and reset expectations.  This oh recruiting/staffing master is your greatest test.

Perhaps some of this sounds familiar:

1. The deadline.  The manager wants this person hired in just a few short days - but you have interviews, background, offer and negotiation to consider. Time to show them the average time to fill metric once again.

2. The Offer Budget.  The finance officer has put a very small budget in place saying it is "necessary to maintain our competitive advantage".  Huh?  The HR Department is signing off on each offer and opening checking "headcount" against a giant spreadsheet.  It might just be due to have a quick summary of historical offer statistics and job market data specifying the "market is heating up" or the newspaper that coins the phrase - "This market is red hot".  Money.  Time to pull the CEO/HR Head into one room and really show them the money.  Once you get these things worked out - and gain the proverbial discretionary hiring budget with commitment that there is some lee-way for the superstar purple squirrel.  That just may save you some time.

3. Candidate shopping for their 2nd, 3rd, and 4th offer by the time your department finally makes "it's decision".  Time to flatten that interview loop. Oh yeah that interview loop - it's okay right to have it be 5 interviews, and a presentation, oh and one more interview to make the decision and putting and delaying your decision by 1, 2 and 3 months?  Hardly.  Flattening that interview loop is paramount.  When necessary just have enough folks to make that decision happen in a timely manner.  If this is your company above - you are losing the talent war.

4.  HR/Manager comes to staffing to express we just had a huge hiring need that just opened up multiple positions in a short period of time.  You fill all these roles only to learn that there are 20 more of them.  Hmmm.  Turnover.  What a word.  How are we taking care of those folks we bring on?  Are we setting them up for success in a strong boarding process?  Are we taking enough notes in the "exit interview". If there is a glut of positions that are "replacement" roles, time to dig out that calculator, review the decisions, and decide how best to retain folks.  Are your people truly advancing quickly?  Are they seeing the career potential in front of them?  Does your job truly meet the economic needs?  Is this role that has turnover frequently carry a true career path or a dead-end scenario?  Time to look at the succession planning strategy, the organization design and the overall big picture eh?

5. Macro Environment - I could discuss this one day and night.  Who is it in any business that is not affected by world economic fluctuations, the seasons, the ebbs and flows of consumer demand et al?

6. One more - Phone, Email, and Instant Messenger.  Sometimes you might just have to prioritize these - whom are your A priority focus points, your B Focus points, and C Focus points - in affect urgent to least urgent folks to provide status to?  You may just have to say at some point - I must recruit/source/screen - these activities are what I do and what I must focus on first to get to the goal.  Give a timeline and stick to it.  Re-Define, Re-Set, Re-Kindle expectations.

Here is where your recruiting thinking cap must come on.  I once had a wise Professor in college that gave us as part of our Final Exam - Cause and Effect questions.  Domino effects.  In the haste of human nature to make decisions I think this is where you as a recruiter add value.  Give the scenarios, the cause and effect circumstances and how those fit together for the strategic decisions that will save the time and money that our competitive business world demands.

Think long and hard.  Here are steps that will make your life easier, and may even allow you to enjoy that 40 hour work week, and accomplish so much more so your day to day comes to life.

Think of the hiring cycle - the funnel so to speak.  The beginning of the requisition process - this above all is king!


In the beginning of the intake session, or the initial requisition discussion you take the time to plot out the ground game.  Here is where you can speak and set expectations, set a recurring meeting where Mr/Mrs. Hiring manager is made aware of the challenges and interview steps that allow you to fill the role.  You clarify the fact that a purple squirrel may not be needed after-all.  You may just find a coach-able, train-able candidate whom might have some of the key hard skills, and the right mix of soft skills where you can teach that great candidate with the solid right attitude everything you need them to do.  Is that better than waiting 6 months to find the slam dunk purple squirrel candidate.  YES!  Speaking and setting the expectations of the hiring manager as to how long it can take to fill a job IF they are open minded, that is where the magic begins. You commit your manager to choose from 3-5 of the best candidates.  No more.  You do not allow them to take a bonafide journey through requisition open land without holding them accountable.  Send the message early on that you will seek the alliance of the manager's boss.

Then you source and source, screen and vet, and set the next stage of expectations - hopefully you have some referrels along the way:


In the screening phase you outline to the candidate the salary, the time the interview cycle will take, vet location, vet interests, and see how likely a candidate would be to accept the job.  You should know by the time the manager is ready for the decision what carrot will be necessary to close said candidate.  This will save you time and help the candidate when you keep your promises, and try to circle back as to timing.  This will be hard.  If you had a situation where your bandwidth overwhelmed you, try and get back as soon as you can. If you made a mistake apologize and make candidate experience flourish by your ability to close the loop.  Strive for this.

Strive for this on both sides of the managerial and candidate equation.  That's a strong push on the recruiting front, but helps you be efficient.

How vital to set and reset expectations at every segment of the hiring life cycle.  How also important to help coach your managers along the way to realize the "state of the job market place." 

Your voice needn't be swept under the rug, rather - you can take control of your day by just taking a little time to value the candidate/hiring manager gentle and kind steps that will be needed.  Kid gloves sometimes are necessary.

And then there is job forecasting - surely an art in and of itself, it takes into account the historical ebbs and flows of the business, the seasons where hiring is highest, and sets forth a virtuous cycle of strategic recruiting of passive and active candidates even before the need arising.  So when the requisition does come for that ideal profile you will have already identified them way before you have the need.  A virtual bench of talent on the ready at many a time.  This can be done through college recruiting, the strategic engagement of Professional Associations, and candidate value proposition.  Knowing your brand inwards and outwards and making your company so compelling that candidates are fighting to get to your door.  This also can be accomplished through your company brand ambassadors, current associates on Social Media tools, exceptional client partnerships, and referrel partners.  Ongoing is this.  This most strategic of approaches must be embraced from the top down to be successful. 

Finally - you are your own best guage.  Remember always keep your very heart in the game and make the candidate and hiring manager experience truly exceptional.  That standard is what makes great recruiters the top of their game.  And at the end of the day you may just have time to chase and bring into your company a few of those hard to find, proverbial competitor based purple squirrel candidates to the offer negotiating table.  It's all in your approach, and all in your recruiting technique.  I still firmly believe a recruiter can take control once they source their requirements after setting the right expectations and go for the offer, close, and negotiation that makes recruiting truly rewarding.  That's the goal always and that is precisely why I do what I do.

Mike Rasmussen is a Proud Talent Acquisition Recruiter at ADP.

Views: 298

Comment by Matt Charney on July 23, 2014 at 12:53pm

Great post, MIke. Curious as to the entomology of "purple squirrel." I mean, why that color and that animal? But you nailed the concept behind it - thanks as always for an awesome read (and advice).

Comment by Keith Halperin on July 23, 2014 at 2:51pm

Thanks, Mike. I learned a long time ago that it is vital to make sure hiring managers' expectations are realistic and to keep them that way. If they aren't: there's trouble ahead....

Keep Blogging,



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