Finding Leadership Talent – No Purple Squirrels


You know what the exactly’s are.  Whether you are a job seeker, a Hiring Official or someone screening applications, the exactly’s have most likely become a part of your life. 

It starts with a list, mental or physical the list has what you need…exactly.  I want exactly this or I want exactly that.  “The perfect candidate for this job starts with them matching 100% of what I want exactly…then I have to see if I like them.  “That is usually followed by the statement “I am prepared to wait however long it takes to find exactly what I want.”

That entire scenario is based on the premise that the perfect candidate and employee exist.  Perfection is hard to find, so hard that I would suggest it borders on nearly impossible.  In today’s economy, it seems based upon a belief that so many are unemployed that “perfect” is waiting to respond to my your job ad.  Yet here is the rub.  Many employers think that the perfect candidate is either currently employed or unemployed for no less than 5 or 6 months.  Money Magazine suggests some 3.6 million Americans have been unemployed for longer than 6 months. (Another 7 million have taken part-time jobs just to make ends meet, usually minimum wage or low-skilled jobs)  So over 10 million well qualified American workers unemployed or underemployed.

How can anyone involved in the Job search process, most especially employers, avoid falling into this trap?  Let us begin by strongly suggesting the elimination of the nefarious and notorious “checklist.”  Whether physical or mental that list that says “only those with 7-10 years of experience”, meaning those with 11 or more are not serious contenders; “Only those with a Bachelor’s Degree in a specific major” meaning anyone without those exact educational credentials is a serious contender all others have wasted the hiring company’s time; Must have experience in <insert specific industry here>”, you get the idea.

A new term has emerged defining the search for the perfect candidate, the “Exactly.”  They call it Purple Squirrel Hunting.  In short, how many Purple Squirrels have you seen?  I suspect not many.

I am not suggesting hiring anyone who can fog a mirror.  I am suggesting you look more closely at what is really important to your company.  So what do you do?  Let’s start with the most radical but simplest of solutions; eliminate the list.

Eliminate the list and what do you have?  Real skills necessary for your business.  Certainly, you want your next HR VP to have HR experience, your next VP of Finance to have Accounting experience and so on.  Core fundamental skills are important, yet how important is being up on the latest fad, being from the greatest company and so on?  Accounting, like HR, are not only easily transferable skills, but the industry they come from is essentially irrelevant.  That holds true for almost any position you recruit for.  What is important are skills that benefit your business and its growth.

 How good was the person at problem-solving?  Can they adapt to new environments, are they able to manage conflict with positive outcomes?  Are they “in the box thinkers” or are they “intrapreneurial thinkers” meaning they are innovative thinkers who can turn ideas into profitable finished products and services through calculated risk taking and innovation. 

 What about the ability to learn?  Very few companies have any expectation that their next hire will walk in the door and with no training or “onboarding”, as it is commonly called, be 100% effective on their first day.  Many have orientation periods, sometimes called “probationary periods” where performance, culture, rules etc. are absorbed by the new hire with the expectation that they will learn, grow and perform over some period of time; usually defined as 6-months to one year.  Further, if you aren’t offering growth and development training to your employees you are both hamstringing your company and driving your employees to better opportunities.  ( ‘s research shows that 57% of the workforce plans to look for a new job in the next 12 months…many for advancement and growth opportunities).

 Finding the right employee for your open position should never be a quest of epic proportions.  Finding a good employee who can benefit your business should, in comparison, be a thoughtful exercise in locating the proper mix of all skills needed for the position.  Since 2009 the average time to hire has increased by 65%, ranging now from 30-58 days for skilled labor, to as long as a year or more for senior leadership.  Much of this is attributed to the search for the exactly.  Can your company afford to go a year or longer missing a Key Leader?

 Answer this simple question…how much profit and productivity do you lose by waiting for the exactly?  Further, if you can wait for the “exactly” that long, how badly do you need the exactly?