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What is a Purple Squirrel?

Oct 29 , 2015

This is the closest thing to a purple squirrel we could find.

In recruiting and hiring circles, a purple squirrel is the term used for the almost-impossible ideal job candidate that has all of the qualifications for a particular job opening, lives in the exact right location to be hired, and is willing to work for a low salary considering the qualifications possessed.

Of course, purple squirrels rarely exist in the real world, but the fact that luck or chance occasionally drop one into a recruiter's lap makes them search all the harder for more of these rare creatures, convinced that if they look long and hard enough, they will be able to find another one.

Purple Squirrels Are a Myth

There's nothing wrong with looking for the best possible candidate for your job opening. Having high standards is good, and a great deal of your company's success rides on the quality of the employees it hires. It's all a matter of degrees, though, and the purple squirrel represents an extreme version of high standards that usually leads to paralysis rather than excellence.

The main dynamic that leads to the purple squirrel search is fear. Having been disappointed by hires that didn't work out or candidates that seemed promising but fizzled within weeks of coming on board, hiring managers become determined to eliminate risk by requiring that candidates be exactly what they are looking for in every single way. One small deviation is enough to get someone tossed into the rejection pile.

Quality hire or purple squirrel? Only time will tell.

The High Cost of the Purple Squirrel Hunt

On the surface, the costs of purple squirrel hunting don't seem that high. A position that stays open for months or years means saving money on that position's salary, right? But a few things are bound to happen when a needed hire doesn't occur.

--Overtime costs may eat up as much or more than the new hire's salary would have been. After all, the work has got to get done whether a hire is made or not. And chances are, someone is going to get paid to do the work.

--Existing employees may get burned out. Even if the department is salaried, there can be a cost to not hiring over a long period. As the existing department employees are forced to work longer hours to cover the open position, they may get burned out, take more sick time, or just quit in frustration. The effects of overwork are real and could end up being more costly if other employees leave or can't keep up with the workload.

--The company may lose opportunities or fail to grow. Hiring more workers means being able to take on more clients and projects. If hires are not made, it stands to reason that the department will be more limited in its capacity to grow and expand.

Compensating for Imperfection

Being willing to spend more on recruiting efforts and investing in training for new hires are some steps companies can take to avoid prolonged hiring campaigns. According to recruiting expert Lance Hahn, hiring the perfect candidate is overrated and more costly than setting a time limit for your candidate search and then hiring the best candidate you've found in that time frame.

GDH Consulting doesn't promise purple squirrels to the companies we help, but we can use our talent network and resources to help your company make quality hires.