What is a Purple Squirrel?

A purple squirrel is a term that refers to a perfect candidate, the “too good to be true” individual that is incredibly difficult to find and may not exist. Far too often, recruiters hope to find the perfect candidate with all the right qualifications, attitudes, and expectations for treatment and compensation. Often this hope is crushed by reality.

Where Did the Term “Purple Squirrel” Come from?

In the early 2000s, the term purple squirrel began to emerge in conversations between recruiters. In 2012, a book was published by Michael B. Junge about how candidates can turn themselves into purple squirrels titled, “Purple Squirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews and Master the Modern Job Market.” This further fueled conversations about the elusive and mythical creature.

Why Do Recruiters Search for Purple Squirrels?

Though many argue that purple squirrels do not exist, many recruiters still search for them. Why?

  • They require little training. A purple squirrel will have all the necessary qualifications including their readiness to start work with little to no training. In an ideal world, job candidates are fully qualified if they can start a job at little training cost to the company. This includes the cost to train them and pay them for learning during their first few days or weeks instead of producing right away.
  • They add value to business immediately. It typically takes new hires months or even years to truly add value to the business. New employees are often given easy tasks to get them started and it may take them time to figure out how to add value. Purple squirrels take very little time before they start adding value to the business. For example, a sales associate purple squirrel would be able to bring in new customers and outshine more senior peers within the first few days or weeks of working.
  • They are affordable. Purple squirrels are also considered to be perfect candidates because their salary expectations fit into the lower end of what the company would like to pay. This is one of the main reasons why purple squirrels are so rare. Nowadays, job candidates know their worth and companies fight tooth and nail to obtain them at nearly whatever cost.

Challenges to Finding a Purple Squirrel

While purple squirrels are incredibly desirable for recruiters, they are unbelievably challenging to find. Typically, employees who are perfectly qualified and have a good attitude either aren’t interested in specific companies or want a very high starting salary. On the other hand, many job candidates who are easier to find may not be perfectly qualified.

Requires Time and Patience

Purple squirrels are not usually on the lookout for a job. They are commonly job candidates who are recruited from other companies or sources while they were not actively searching for a job. It takes time, effort, and patience for recruiters to find, engage with and convince purple squirrels to make a transition to their company.

Hard to “Catch”

Purple squirrels often know what they want and what they are worth. This makes them incredibly hard to “catch.” They are generally challenging to identify, tough to attract, and difficult to appease. Recruiters must think fast and creatively in order to snatch them up before they are gone.

High Competition

Every recruiter would love to find a purple squirrel. This means they are in high demand. Other companies make it challenging to attract the elusive purple squirrels because competition makes them expensive. When one company sets a high bar for salary or other compensation to attract a purple squirrel, it becomes even more challenging for other companies to match or one-up.

The Next Best Squirrel

Because purple squirrels are so elusive, many recruiters and hiring managers recommend moving on from searching for the “perfect” candidate and looking for candidates who will still add value to the business. A candidate does not have to be perfect to bring value and succeed in a role.

Step 1: Determine What You Need

The first step to find value-adding job candidates is to know what you truly need. Talk with the hiring manager to determine what the job really entails and decipher what skills are necessary in a new employee. From there, you can develop a plan and begin seeking out candidates who will bring the value you are looking for. Consider the three most important characteristics you would find in a purple squirrel if you were to come across one.

Step 2: Use Your Value Proposition

An employee value proposition is critical to attracting value-adding talent. To determine what will most likely attract a purple squirrel-like employee, decipher what is most appealing about what you have to offer. This may require market research or surveying your current employees.

Step 3: Appreciate Your Employees

People love to be appreciated. If they feel they are second best or second-rate, they are more likely to feel discontent in their jobs. It is critical to appreciate employees for what they bring to the table and share this appreciation with them. Without doing so, you’ll struggle to hold onto the employees you never noticed were your hidden purple squirrels all along.