Career Corner: Cutting the Horn Off the Unicorn

Purple squirrels are hiring managers who want to find the perfect applicant. – Courtesy photo

By Angela Copeland

I saw the perfect profile for a recruiter recently. It said, “I am not a ninja/purple squirrel/unicorn hunter, nor someone who hires ‘rock stars.’ I am a strategic and tactical recruiter, meaning I partner with leaders and we hire – at scale, for the niche skills required to make the difference to a business.”

Have you ever heard of this phrase – “purple squirrel”? In the world of the job search, it is a reference to a hiring manager who wants to find the perfect applicant. They’re looking for that once in a lifetime candidate that will bring everything they want to their business and more. The person is often also referred to as a unicorn, a ninja, or a rock star.

The problem is this. This purple squirrel hiring strategy is completely unrealistic. It relies on an environment that no longer exists in 2019.

You may wonder what I mean. Well, think of it this way. The dot-com crash happened in 2000. This is around the same time that started to be the way companies hired. Other sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Glassdoor have also come onto the scene, but the process has remained largely the same.

Employers are able to input a large list of criteria and in return, they can find a candidate who has the qualities that they’re looking for. When the job market was terrible, this worked perfectly fine. You could upload a list of, say, 30 skills and get a handful of people who matched.

The issue today is we’re in the middle of the best job market we’ve seen in 50 years. Unfortunately, many employers haven’t adjusted the way they hire. I have to think this is due in part to one thing. People who graduated from college around 2000 are 40 years old now. They are hiring managers. And, for those that age, they’ve never truly experienced a job market where the company wasn’t in control.

They’re stuck on finding those perfect unicorns and it’s showing. The time to fill jobs is taking longer now than it did in the past. Employers are having a harder time finding the perfect person. That’s because job seekers have more choices.

So, what’s a company to do? Stop searching for the perfect candidate. Start looking for great candidates. Look for leaders. Look for motivated, dedicated, smart employees. Because, meeting the criteria on a checklist doesn’t measure how dedicated or excited a candidate may be.

You might be surprised, but a yellow squirrel can get the job done just as well as a purple one – maybe even better. Just because someone has a resume that’s non-traditional doesn’t mean they won’t fit the job or your organization. Take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Don’t stick to a checklist only approach. You’ll do yourself, your business, and your candidates a huge favor.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at

November 7, 2019

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Angela Copeland

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