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Are you still searching for that elusive ‘purple squirrel?’

While insisting on hiring such candidates may not be the best strategy, there are some things you can do to help find high quality candidates

By Brian Kreissl

Isn’t it so often the case after you’ve heard of something for the very first time, suddenly you start hearing it again and again?

Well that’s certainly been the case for me lately with the trendy recruitment catchphrase “purple squirrel” — which I only heard for the first time a few weeks ago.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we in HR seem to be particularly fond of our jargon and buzzwords. Therefore, it can be hard to keep up with new and emerging terminology in our profession.

But while this particular term may be new to me, the concept certainly isn’t. Basically, a “purple squirrel” is one of those extremely rare candidates who has absolutely everything required to be highly successful on the job — and possibly even more.

A purple squirrel isn’t just your typical “A” candidate. In fact, such individuals are more like “A++” candidates.

Difficulties finding a ‘purple squirrel’

Just like a real life purple squirrel — which is extremely rare to non-existent in the wild — a so-called “perfect candidate” is almost impossible to find. Yet most recruiters know a purple squirrel when they see one, and filling every vacancy with such candidates is something recruiters and hiring managers generally aspire to.

But because they’re so rare — and because such high flyers will often be able to demand salaries well in excess of what the job pays — holding out for a purple squirrel candidate can do more harm than good.

I’m not saying it isn’t a great feeling when you do find a proverbial purple squirrel, but I believe by insisting on hiring only such candidates, recruiters are setting themselves up for failure. Purple squirrels are often so hard to find, holding out for one of them can mean a vacancy will end up being left unfilled for a year or longer.

As I have commented before, many recruiters, hiring managers and employers these days seem to be too picky when it comes to selecting candidates. And because employers are now less willing to provide new recruits with training, the expectation often is new employees need to be able to hit the ground running with little or no training.

In many cases, hiring a slightly less than perfect candidate and training and developing that person to overcome her minor shortcomings could be a better strategy. That’s especially true in the case where a vacancy is left unfilled for an extended period of time, and someone could have been on the job all that time acquiring skills, knowledge and experience and actually getting the work done.

However, in spite of the potential problems associated with insisting on hiring only purple squirrel candidates, finding such a person will make you look like a star. Therefore, in most cases it’s still worth at least trying to fill vacancies with candidates who come as close as possible to the hiring manager’s vision of the ideal candidate.

How to find ‘purple squirrel’ candidates

The following are a few suggestions to help you increase the quality of new hires so you can at least come close to hiring a perfect candidate – or even manage to occasionally ensnare a genuine purple squirrel candidate:

• Use multiple channels to source candidates. Don’t rely solely on job boards or the “post and pray” method of sourcing.

• Set up employee referral programs and get your employees working on your behalf to help you find top-notch candidates who may not necessarily be actively “pounding the pavement” looking for work.

• Attend industry events and tradeshows. Get to know all the well-known players in the industry or profession.

• Join user groups and online forums, and follow influential bloggers and people who are active on online forums and are thought leaders in their fields.

• Don’t forget internal candidates or people already in your applicant tracking system’s database.

• Consider direct sourcing one or two candidates from your competitors — either on your own or through a headhunter.

• Use social media to establish genuine conversations with job applicants, search for candidates and post jobs.

• Be willing to consider non-traditional candidates who may nevertheless possess all of the knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies to be successful on the job.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at For more information, visit  

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Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • RE: Purple squirrel?
    Tuesday, February 5, 2013 5:10:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
    I agree with you that there is just too much jargon and buzzwords in HR. I also agree that many people have a negative opinion of HR these days.

    Nevertheless, the term "purple squirrel" isn't really meant to be "cute" or "cuddly." Instead, it speaks to the rarity of purple squirrels in the wild, since some people claim to have seen them. The idea is that such candidates are just as rare as real-life purple squirrels.

    And it looks like the term is here to stay, with Harvard Business Review having published an article on purple squirrels (and why companies shouldn't focus on hiring the "perfect" candidate - see

    This is why people hate HR. Purple squirrel? Seriouisly. Why can't our VP of HR just call them top talent? Why come up with cuddly names? It's a joke making HR look silly.