Redefining What a “Purple Squirrel” Candidate Means

The concept of a “purple squirrel” — the ideal job candidate who checks every box on your hiring managers’ wishlist for new hires — can lead some talent acquisition pros to think the traits, skills, and experience levels of these prospects are must-have job requirements.

In other words, any lead who doesn’t perfectly fits the job description for a particular role isn’t worth engaging and advancing in the recruiting process.

The truth is there is no one, correct definition for a purple squirrel. A “perfect” candidate will mean one thing to one hiring team member, departmental leader, or people manager and something completely different to another.

Your goal as an organization should be to convene with all relevant hiring stakeholders to determine what the optimal candidate looks like for each role you need to fill and business unit for which you need to add headcount.

That means regular check-ins between your TA team and other hiring decision-makers across your business are a must to ensure you’re aligned about what kind of prospects your recruiting staff must source and engage.

purple squirrel job candidate

How to rethink what a “purple squirrel” means to you and your talent acquisition team

“The perfect candidate does not exist,” executive search firm adviser Claudio Fernández-Aráoz recently told Harvard Business Review. “Even if the candidate does exist, it’d [not a given that they would even] consider taking the job.”

Instead of looking for this nonexistent, flawless individual, Claudio recommends letting data guide your search for the right candidates to engage for open roles.

With analytics regarding hired and passed-on candidates as the North Star for your talent sourcing efforts, Claudio noted you can ensure you don’t even reach out to or screen poor-fit prospects, let alone bring them onboard.

With that in mind, here’s how you and your talent team can learn what a realistic purple squirrel looks like to your org based on your unique hiring and business growth goals by leveraging TA insights in your recruitment approach.

Research what type of job prospects turn into high-quality hires

There are two data-driven ways to determine who your optimal candidate is:

  • Chat with and secure quantitative data from human resources (via their HCM/HRIS) to evaluate the performance data for employees you helped engage and advance in your recruiting cycle to see what qualities top-performers and “weak” hires have, based on manager assessments.
  • Speaking of managers, set aside time with team leaders to get qualitative insights regarding staff members you helped hire for their business unit. These candid conversations can be used in tandem with the aforementioned data to paint a clearer picture of the “model” candidate.

Accounting for both data types can give you a complete picture of the current performance and productivity levels of employees company-wide — and, in turn, deciding if you need to alter your sourcing approach and avenues.

quality of hire talent acquisition

Discern whether you’re hiring a diverse array of professionals

Consider the diversity recruiting efforts of talent acquisition teams with LeverTRM.

The dynamically updated EEO and DEI dashboards in Visual Insights show them the diversity makeup of their candidate pool (by individual recruiter and as a team).

Let’s say these dashboards show subpar diverse candidate data (i.e., few diverse leads overall or a “leaning” toward prospects of one type of underrepresented group).

Lever customers can then revisit their distinct sourcing and candidate evaluation approaches to ensure they better find and engage more diverse individuals moving forward.

The positive ripple effect of sourcing, nurturing, interviewing, and — ultimately — hiring more diverse people is diverse job seekers will see that, which can give you an edge over other employers who don’t prioritize DEI in hiring.

Do this, and Employ Director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Richard Butler said your TA team and company can “appeal to a deeper, more diverse candidate pipeline.”

Learn if internal candidates make more sense for certain roles/teams

Not every purple squirrel is going to be a net-new candidate you and your talent team must proactively source. Some may already exist at your company.

Speak with people managers often to learn which of their staff members have expressed an interest in (or simply have a knack for) certain kinds of work outside the scope of their current role. Then, save this insight in your applicant tracking database.

Should a role open up that aligns with the career-related goals of existing employees with the applicable skill sets for said position, you can reach out to those folks first before turning your focus to external candidates (if needed).

Moreover, you can use AI recruiting tech to identify existing workforce members who may be of interest for an available role. Recruiting expert Jeanne MacDonald wrote for HR Executive how some orgs now “use predictive analytics to shortlist promising internal candidates.”

internal recruitment

Discover commonalities among qualified candidates in your archive

Another way LeverTRM users are able to learn what a purple squirrel looks like for a given role or business unit is by evaluating data associated with all candidates — those they’ve passed on (e.g., silver-medalists who came close to an offer) and those who were ultimately hired.

The always-up-to-date candidate profiles in LeverTRM feature an array of useful info and details regarding each previously engaged prospect (not to mention applicants who’ve submitted resumes and detailed cover letters).

These leads can be “rediscovered” with just a few simple clicks in LeverTRM.

Our prospect archive enables talent teams to store historical info tied to candidates and revisit that data as needed (and with ease), thanks to our powerful candidate database search functionality and tagging system (e.g., “Unresponsive,” “Withdrew,” “Offer Declined”).

Revamp the job qualifications your hiring team deems “must-haves”

Outside of using advanced recruitment tech like LeverTRM to resurface prior prospects you’ve interacted with and analyzing data for your candidate database, you can also redefine your purple squirrel definition, so to speak, by redefining what your requirements for certain roles.

Thankfully, there’s been an “emerging degree reset” among many employers over the past decade or so. Numerous orgs have realized may “middle-skill” and “high-skill” roles across their companies simply don’t require a four-year degree.

Thus, they’ve eliminated that mandate for these jobs in their postings.

If your business has yet to do so — and seen “underwhelming” candidates apply and be engaged for active roles recently — it’s time to work with your C-suite and hiring managers to reassess whether it’s worth requiring certain degrees or certifications for some positions.

In other words? It’s likely worth examining if the current interpretation of the purple squirrel for important jobs throughout your org — whether it be engineers and developers or BDRs and account executives — needs a refresh.

Take the tour of LeverTRM, our complete ATS + CRM solution, to discover how your TA team can refresh your recruiting approach to better attract and hire top talent.

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Further reading