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How to recruit a purple squirrel

Posted by Rowan O'Grady, Hays Canada President, on Thursday, Jun 14, 2018

Blog graphic: How to recruit a purple squirrelFor those not familiar with the term, a purple squirrel is a term used in recruitment to describe a candidate that is near impossible to find. It is someone who has a set of niche skills, experience and background to do a specific role.

But, if you are being asked to find that mythical candidate don’t give up hope. Here are 5 simple steps to help you in your search.

1. Reassess which attributes are essential
Really drill down the requirements of the role so you can establish what skills and expertise are absolutely necessary in your new recruit and what can be learned/trained on the job.

For example, you can teach someone who’s digitally savvy how to use an unfamiliar email marketing platform, or someone who doesn’t have a specified degree may have the professional success that speaks volumes about their ability.

Steve Jobs was famously rejected by HP, simply because he didn’t have a college education. I think we can all agree that HP are regretting passing up that particular candidate.

2. Research the market
Once you have the essential criteria for your purple squirrel, it will be easier to start your search.

Some simple market research to gather intelligence will help. How many purple squirrels actually exist? Where are they? If you cannot find someone locally, could you pay for someone to relocate from another province or country? Remember to think about salaries and how in demand they are. Working with a resourcing expert will help provide these insights.

3. Develop a personalized sourcing strategy

Now that you’ve pinpointed your audience and gained valuable intelligence on them, you need to figure out your approach.

In our recent What People Want report, we found that only 11% of candidates are actively looking but 89% are open to taking on a new opportunity, that means you need to go beyond just posting a job ad. Some will look for recommendations in community forums on social media, others will only respond to a direct approach.

You need to use your knowledge of the purple squirrel market to develop a personalized sourcing strategy. Once again, a resourcing expert can recommend the best tactic.

4. Make yourself attractive
Once you have reached your purple squirrel, you need to position yourselves as the employer of choice. Chances are, there will be other companies wanting to hire this unique candidate, so make sure you emphasize your Employer Brand and Value Proposition in the job criteria and throughout any on-going correspondence.

Take this opportunity to highlight some attributes that other employers might miss, such as company culture, training programs, charity efforts, social activities, flexible working and progression opportunities. The selection process is a two way street, and the candidate ultimately wants to know that they will be happy within your environment.

5. Manage stakeholder expectations
After following these steps, you should be able to gauge your options, potential time to hire and overall likelihood of being able to find a purple squirrel. Make you sure you feed this back to stakeholders as they may have a different perspective. By keeping stakeholders aligned to your search, you will avoid any disagreements when it comes to actually making a final hiring decision.

Basically, if you need to find a candidate with a niche set of skills, you should distil the essential criteria, work out how and where to find your target audience, make a personal approach and be truly authentic about selling your business. Following these stages will hopefully help you to secure and retain that ever elusive purple squirrel or at least someone who can do the job just as well.

Get even more tips for hiring in the Hiring Essentials Handbook.


Talk to Rowan O'Grady, Hays Canada President, on the Canadian labour market.

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