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Alison Doyle

The Mystery of the Purple Squirrel

By June 19, 2012

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SquirrelMost squirrels aren't purple though there have been reports of a real purple squirrel in Pennsylvania. Most job applicants aren't purple squirrels either. Most candidates are like this little guy with his hand out - they are the ones trying to get the attention of recruiters and hiring managers.

What's a Purple Squirrel you might ask? It's the term recruiters use to describe the absolutely perfect candidate. A Purple Squirrel candidate for employment is often rare and very difficult to find, hence the terminology.

I always wondered how the term "purple squirrel" was coined and today I got an email which helped solve the mystery.

Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant Richard A. Camilleri wrote to me to share his purple squirrel story:

  • I was in process of delivering a presentation to a corporation where I developed a staffing plan of unique skills for a client 'project' engagement. This represented a resource plan that encompassed 15+ consultants and a work plan well over 1 calendar year.
  • During the presentation, I had been walking through the 'work plan' and the 'resource plan' for the engagement. The work plan required specific services to be conducted by selected people from Keane, Inc. (our consulting firm) and the client receiving the final software systems we were developing for them.

The quote (as best I can remember it) was:

  • "Please understand that your specific needs are tailored to your unique organizational plan and technology platform and the technical skill requirements are like finding 'purple squirrels' in the market place. However, we believe we have developed an approach that will satisfy your systems plan and your business objectives."

And hence a term that doesn't really seem to tie in with job searching and hiring was coined. Who would have thought that a real purple squirrel would have come along all these years later?

To learn more about Purple Squirrels and how to recruit them, or if you wish you could be one if you're job searching, read Dr. John Sullivan's The Strategic Recruiting of Purple Squirrels, Innovators, and Gamechangers. It explains how important they are to organizations and how traditional recruiting doesn't work to find them. It's a terrific read for those on both sides of the hiring desk.

Image istockphoto.com/Andrey Popov

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