The Purple Squirrel Syndrome - May it Rest In Peace

A few years ago this interesting article appeared on about a mysterious purple squirrel that a Pennsylvania couple had captured:

Indeed, according to this 2012 article the couple was in awe - neighbors came by to visit, and they had for a brief time something incredible in their midst.  And then this quote by Harold Cole - wildlife officer for the Pennsylvania Game Commission made a striking statement - one that I ponder as I write and delve into my blog this evening: "We're not going to do a manhunt to look for the purple squirrel."

And I take this as my mantra - may the concept of the Purple Squirrel Syndrome rest in peace, may it's eulogy in a tight labor market be whisked away quickly, may it's memory ever be so short lived.  For I will not and I quote "do a manhunt to look for the purple squirrel."

Why?  May you ask?  What do I have against purple squirrels? 

First let me define the Purple Squirrel Syndrome.

Definition: Purple Squirrel Syndrome: Adjective - Purple Squirrel - in recruiting and staffing circles in the staffing agency/corporate staffing world - the candidate that checks ALL boxes, especially or in other words the PERFECT candidate, the one whom possesses all core skills, soft & hard, whom are very hard candidates to find let alone convince to come and work for your company. Purple Squirrel Syndrome - the tendency of a hiring manager/hiring committee to seek this all encompassing perfect candidate, setting the bar to an almost impossible standard, or difficult standard to fill which elongates your time to fill, unquestioningly causes a search to go longer than it should, or espouses hiring for a standard of fit that is beyond core skills to unnecessary levels of pre-determined fit, when such items may not constitute or truly be valid determinations thereof.  The impact of this level of selectivity causes candidates whom are good and capable professionals to seek work elsewhere, in a new candidate's market when the labor market is vastly more competitive than it ever has been.

And so here is our dilemma these days.  Hiring Managers - post the Great Recession got accustomed to an Employer's market, when the market came roaring back to life ending the Great Recession, the candidates out of work at time of the Great Recession found work, and standards surrounding hire almost took on a euphoria of higher selectivity rates.  This higher standard came to include: a desire for candidates whom stayed in role longer, a desire for completed degrees, a desire for greater selectivity.  Fast forward now almost 6-7 years later, the market is now or has now shifted to a candidate market again.  When some labor markets - (Salt Lake City alone is at 3.5% unemployment), found lower unemployment rates, and when managers chose candidates with higher standards, the challenge then becomes one of rebalancing to the labor/talent market place to find that greater packages are going to candidates in unprecedented numbers.  Wages are rising, skill gaps growing, and candidates now have 2, 3, 4 offers in hand and shopping for a 5th. 

It is here I say to hiring managers everywhere let your Purple Squirrel Syndrome die, it is time to wish it adieu, it is time to go to a 70%, 30% rule - that is 70% of the skills hold as a hard standard whilst allowing for flexibility, that is 30% open to flexibility on soft skills.  Hold to 70% of your original standard, or even 60% for what you will find is - with a tighter labor market you are no longer the only option on the table for the candidates, and even passive candidates will not be entirely swayed by a selectivity that draws out your process when a candidate gets an offer every other couple of days.  Your competitiveness to close the desired candidate "while you interview a few more candidates" or "want to see a few more resumes" when your first original candidate had most everything you needed and then some, when they came from that coveted competitor, or when you found industry experience that enlightened your mind, or when you wanted that person to "fill your succession planning" funnel and you "wanted to hold out a little longer, but oh please keep this candidate warm." Then, when the candidate is gone this hiring manager/hiring committee wakes up realizing that the candidate they had met much of the criteria.  It is here dear friends where Client Education comes into play, it is here when the focus must change to a culture of "What's in it for my organization" to a mantra of "how do we create a win-win for the organization and for the candidate?"  It is here where I gladly call for the Purple Squirrel Syndrome to rest in peace.

Let it be said that as Baby Boomers retire then the demographics will shift even more, and an employer's choices will be even more important let alone available.  The time for going for the hire might not be after the 23rd interview, but may just be at the 2nd, or 3rd or even dare I say it - GASP! - the 1st interview.  It is here where education may be involved, where data might need to be taken into account.  Consult all your sources, pull the trends, buckle down, and send articles to the unbeliever.

When partners call for a Fortune 500 candidate, when a candidate in the local start-up, or recent grad may be due, well then that is when the calling of recruiting can blossom all the more, it is there that with a little creativity, you may be able to redefine the cultural standard.  When your clients insist on making it more difficult for themselves, a little creative ingenuity including a passion for getting to the fill quickly will be what is needed in those staffing moments. 

Beware those that come calling whom say that "staffing is going to the way-side", or whom say that staffing skills are obsolete.  Tell me regarding those whom see automation completely taking over every facet of staffing, well can a computer make a match or negotiate offer terms?  We shall see.

But the Purple Squirrel Syndrome, the absolute perfect candidate is a myth.  Better said, it is a standard that at times should be strived towards, but realizing that not everything always meets the eye - one notable example: not all titles in every industry are the same, you can't divide supervisor from manager for instance when they are indeed one and the same definition to many organizations. 

Well pardon me while I go to wish farewell to the Purple Squirrel Syndrome, it is indeed a myth after all - and it may be necessary to overcome and fight the battle of limiting the Purple Squirrel Syndrome on many occasions.  May your staffing outcomes be bright, and hopefully your setting or resetting expectations up front can indeed remind hiring managers of the one truth - that they are human, that hiring decisions should factor in soft skills, and that desires, focus points, etc to get to the fill, the match, the offer require clarity in communication between hiring manager and recruiter.  Only then can the Purple Squirrel Syndrome be overcome.

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Comment by Jackye Clayton on January 20, 2016 at 3:40pm

We should have a ceremony of some sort!


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