The Dangers of Chasing Purple Squirrels

purplesquirrelAmong recruiters, purple squirrels are candidates that have (according to Wikipedia):  ”…precisely the right education, experience, and qualifications that perfectly fits a job’s multifaceted requirements… In theory, this prized purple squirrel could immediately handle all the expansive variety of responsibilities of a job description with no training and would allow businesses to function with fewer workers.”

In the analytics community, this beautiful dream is quite common… the perfect candidate who will make all of your problems disappear with a single hire.

Purple squirrel searches are born when a new role is opened without checking to see if the combination of qualifications exists in the talent marketplace.  The dangers of skipping this step are severe since it prolongs the hiring process:

  1. The performance of the team suffers
    1. Initiatives are put on hold, losing momentum and time while the search drags on
    2. Pressure and workloads build on the rest of the team
    3. Uncertainty grows – especially if the vacant role is a leadership position
  2. Bad branding.  By the time your purple squirrel job is open for 3-6 months, dozens of prospects will be contacted.  The HR team will have the role posted all over the web.  The perception grows in the marketplace that your team “doesn’t get it.” For the next several years many of those people will associate the ridiculousness of the purple squirrel search with your brand… reducing your appeal in the marketplace.  Analytics professionals know a few things instinctively about any team looking for purple squirrels:
    1. They are probably not data-driven or else they would know that this person does not exist. It is going to be difficult to make an impact because they do not value analytics highly enough to have a more mature understanding of the function.
    2. Analysts are not likely to have “a seat at the table.”
    3. You probably have a turnover problem.
  3. Hugely expensive.  As purple squirrel searches drag on they drain valuable time, focus and resources from HR and your own team as they interview candidates that don’t meet all of the qualifications.

There is no harm in starting a search with a very narrow focus and shooting for the perfect candidate, but it is expensive and damaging to continue on that way for months.  You must start the search with an understanding of which qualifications are the highest priority.  As time passes, you should shift to look for the best overall athlete that has a combination of skills and experience that can make them successful… if not perfect.

Some hiring managers seem to consider purple squirrel searches an indication of uncompromisingly high standards.  They drive and drive to an unlikely or impossible goal as the rest of the professional community considers it a sign that they lack understanding.

Some seem to make a full-time job out of recruiting purple squirrels.  After all, they can’t be expected to deliver results without the help of these key, albeit imaginary, resources.

Experienced and expert hiring managers know that they will have to divide up responsibilities across the team and train / develop the rest of the skills and experience that they need.

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