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Purple Squirrels and Unicorns Don’t Exist

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If you want to move through the recruitment process – read this! If you want to find the right candidate for your job – read this!

For years I have always said that my best hires were people I met along the way and just had to hire.  And, I often hire them even when I do not have an opening. The reason: They understand what the organization is about, plain and simple – they just get it.

Most companies looking to fill a position set out to match a person to a job description that often is based on the credentials of the incumbent instead of the current need of the company. In other words, they hire a clone of the last person in the position. But will that yield the perfect candidate? Do you really want the same competencies, skills, knowledge and experience, or could you up your game?  Hiring right is a cornucopia of skills, abilities, knowledge and fit.

Hiring the wrong person for a job costs money and time, so there is a need to get it as right as possible the first time. In the world of professional recruiting you will hear search consultants remark that clients want the “purple squirrel” or a “unicorn”- and neither exists. Although you cannot find a mythical creature, you can get close to finding a great candidate. Good search firms come close to finding the “unfindable” and here’s how.

A strong search consultant is just that, a consultant. He or she takes the time to understand what you and others truly want and need from the role. Wipe the slate clean, forget about the past, and ask, “What do you want from this new employee?”  “What should (and should is the operative word) the incumbent be doing, what should they be achieving, and what does ultimate success look like for a person in this role?”  “Where do they exist?” They rarely, if ever, exist on job boards. They need to be found, and finding takes time and an astute understanding of the ideal profile of the person who will fit the requirements of the position and, more importantly, the culture of the team and the company.  Round pegs do not fit into square holes, no matter how hard you try.

Once candidates are developed they are presented.  “Developed” is an important word here. Most job seekers are not good resume writers, nor do they fully express their accomplishments or qualifications.  Rarely do they do justice to capturing their cultural traits. The interview screening process is critical to capturing the true essence of the candidate. This vetting process is intense and tests first for the confirmation that the applicant understands what the position and company do. Candidates who have done their homework on the company not only have the critical understanding of the company and the role, but have differentiated their interest in the job.

We routinely set up a few screening questions to weed out the less than serious applicants and, at the same time, we evaluate their writing skills and intellectual capacity. Scrutinizing how the candidate will tackle the new role indicates how he or she thinks and how he or she will act in the new position. Questions like, “What will day 100 look like, what will you have accomplished?” and “When we announce tomorrow that you will join the company what will your network be saying?”  We often request responses to practical scenarios of tasks related to what’s needed on the job and what they have done in the past.

Credible stories and examples provide validation of the candidate’s experience and his or her ability to duplicate past successes. These stories can also be corroborated when speaking with references or the candidate’s network. References are a pedantic part of the process. All clients want them and all references are prearranged and prepared. They can be just sentinel if not conducted properly. The more the search consultant can test the real stories, the more he or she can ascertain authenticity and viability of the candidate.

While it is not possible to find the mythical candidate for a position, a strong consultative recruiter will come close and who knows, maybe there will be a purple squirrel out there. For job seekers frustrated by not making it through the rigor of the hiring process, take heed and differentiate yourself, match your qualifications to the position requirements, know the culture and your potential fit and be realistic. You can’t make yourself into a purple squirrel!

Sharon Imperiale
CCI Consulting

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