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Chasing the Illusive: How the Purple Squirrel Phenomenon is Reshaping Recruitment

Chasing the Illusive: How the Purple Squirrel Phenomenon is Reshaping Recruitment

In the intricate world of recruitment, a term echoes through the corridors of HR departments and executive offices: the Purple Squirrel. 

This mythical creature represents the perfect candidate - a fantastical blend of skills, experience, and qualifications that exists primarily in the wishful thinking of employers. 

Just as the term suggests, these candidates are as rare as a purple squirrel in nature, a mirage often borne from unrealistic job descriptions.

Let's delve into this with an analogy that might sound absurd but strikingly mirrors reality. Imagine an NFL team that insists on recruiting players exclusively from local colleges, each capable of sprinting a 40-yard dash in under 4.5 seconds. To add to this, they must also wash their own uniforms post-game. This scenario, as ludicrous as it sounds, is akin to the unrealistic expectations many employers place on their potential hires.

The pursuit of these Purple Squirrels leads to three significant setbacks:

1. Long, Costly Hiring Processes

The search for this perfect candidate can become a prolonged and expensive quest. 

Firms often spend exorbitant amounts of time and resources, only to realize that their criteria need realignment with the realities of the talent market.

2. Unfilled Positions and Lost Opportunities

Key roles remaining vacant can severely impact a company's growth trajectory. 

The repercussions are manifold - from lost revenue to dips in productivity, especially when these roles are pivotal to achieving organizational objectives.

3. Increased Pressure on Existing Staff

The ripple effect of unfilled positions often means increased workload for the current staff.

This can lead to heightened stress levels, potential burnout, and even staff turnover. In sales-driven roles, the cost of missed opportunities can be particularly detrimental.

Actionable Strategies

So, what should CEOs and CHROs do when their job criteria seem to be a blueprint for a Purple Squirrel? Here are some actionable strategies:

  1. Refine the Criteria: Focus on the core responsibilities of the job. What skills are essential, and which ones can be developed over time?


  1. Redefine the Role: Sometimes, it's prudent to split a single role into two distinct positions, especially if it demands divergent skill sets.


  1. Reassess Compensation: Align your offer with the current market standards. Remember, top talent often comes with a price tag that reflects their worth.

  1. Broaden Your Horizons: Look beyond your industry norms. Fresh perspectives can be a game-changer.

  1. Embrace Remote Work: Expand your geographical scope by offering remote work options. The perfect candidate might not be in your backyard.

Final Thoughts

The Purple Squirrel syndrome is a wake-up call for businesses to reassess their recruitment strategies. It's about striking a balance between ideal qualifications and market realities. 

By doing so, organizations not only streamline their hiring process but also open doors to a diverse pool of talent, potentially more vibrant and effective than any mythical creature they initially sought.

About The Author

Ann Clifford

Ann Clifford

Fractional Chief Recruiting Officer

Ann Clifford is a recruitment innovator, transforming the hiring landscape with the dynamic Tiger Eye Hiring Process, passionately dedicated to elevating Sales, Engineering, and Operations talent.

Read Ann's bio. 

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