Purple Squirrels Aren’t Real: Time to Stop Chasing Them

Unicorns, purple squirrels — whatever you want to call them, perfect candidates don’t exist. Time to face the facts and make better use of your time and resources.

The hiring process is difficult enough. We all know it can take quite a while to sort out everything from approval to job descriptions, to candidate sourcing, to interviews and reference checking and finally, the offer stages. Why then, would you add additional roadblocks to make this process that much harder by searching for roles and candidates that you know do not exist?

It’s far more common than you might think. Recruiters are handed job descriptions for a new position with a caveat: “We know this person doesn’t exist.” Essentially, you’re having your talent team set off on a hunt for a purple squirrel.

Before kicking off these searches, it’s time to take a step back and start asking yourself a few questions about the hiring decisions you’re making. Recruiters can only be as effective as their hiring managers set them up to be. You need to know the position in and out before the search gets started so you know exactly what it is you and your team will need. Only then will you find the right person.

Get Real: What’s This Position Actually All About?

One important question we all tend to overlook in the initial stages of the hiring process is “Why is this position actually being created?” Often, we get budget for a hire and immediately feel the need to use it before we lose it. That’s all well and good until you realize you’re pushing to make hires you don’t need. Take a step back and look at why you really need this hire — not just at the present, but six months and even a year from now.

Here are some basic but important questions to ask:

  • What will this person’s value add be?
  • How will they help drive the business forward?
  • Will they be adding new value or simply freeing up and extending a team’s capacity?

It’s also important to know exactly what the role is. Too often we create job descriptions in reverse order: Title first, then description. That is absolutely the wrong way to go about it. The result is thinking about what the role is supposed to be, rather than what it actually is.

Instead, start with by envisioning the day-to-day. What will this person do? Who will they work with? What are they responsible for? Building this out first should lead you to the right title, and it will help you make sure you have the right job description and the right role. You’ll also be able to have clearer conversations with candidates, and you’ll be better equipped to sell them on a role they’ll be excited about.

Stop Fooling Yourself: If the Role Doesn’t Exist You Probably Shouldn’t Create It

Seriously. Is there someone currently doing this specific job right now, anywhere else? Can you (or your recruiter) realistically source and attract candidates who have the background you’re looking for? If not, think about the roles they are currently in, and what it would take to allow them to realistically transition into the one you’ve created. What skills do they need to develop that will make this role a natural progression for their careers? Do those things make sense, or are you asking too much?

You should also stop and consider whether the role you are hiring is realistic for one person, or whether it would be be filled by two people. Often, especially in growth stage companies, we try to take shortcuts and blend two roles into one. It’s a great idea in theory, but if this is something you’re looking to do, make sure there’s precedent. For example, combining front end and back end development into one role can equal searching for a rockstar full stack developer!

Is This Job Even Appealing to Candidates?

Our natural inclination is to believe that any and every candidate should want to work for our company. However, the most important part of any job opening, I think, is to ask yourself if your job is one that the best candidates will be drawn to.

Will they look at the job description and be excited by the day to day work? Are there reasons to be passionate about it? When they talk to you about the role, will they match your enthusiasm? It may sound silly, but you already work at your company and you’re living the day-to-day, seeing the value of the work you do. It can be easy for us to forget that we still have to sell candidates.We want to believe that every candidate should be begging to work for us, but that’s just not the case in today’s competitive market. Remember, there will always be another company for a candidate but there might not always be another candidate like this for you.

Bottom Line

Hiring is hard enough, especially for startups. Make your life just a little bit easier by developing a crystal-clear idea of what you’re looking for before you get started with a search. And make sure you can honestly say what you’re looking for is more real than a purple squirrel.

Image courtesy of Jeff Kubina (note: the color of the original image was changed)

Katelyn LaGarde
Katelyn LaGarde
Recruiter, Sales & Marketing

Katelyn Lagarde is a recruiter at CloudHealth. She was previously a Talent Specialist at OpenView.
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