Recruiters Are You Chasing Purple Squirrels

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The job market has gotten complicated lately – and not just for people out hunting for work. For those of us on the other side of the equation things are just as challenging — try and remember the last time you had an honest-to-goodness “easy to fill” requirement to work on.

Laundry list job descriptions, constantly moving targets, and under-resourced hiring managers are just par for the course these days. And that’s just the beginning. You’re also expected to be an expert in job boards, social media, referrals, and networking, all while delivering fabulous candidate service, making hires, and keeping abreast of new trends in talent sourcing.

Sounds easy, right? Yeah, not so much. So what’s a headhunter to do when the goal is always changing, high quality candidates are elusive, and there’s literally no end to the number of ways you can search for talent?

Personally, I find it helpful to take a deep breath and remember it’s not about the client or the market or the tools or even the talent. That’s all distraction and noise. What it’s really about is delivering results, and delivering results is all about the fundamentals. What fundamentals, you ask? To me, there are just a few: questions, expectations, focus, creativity, and unstoppability. You won’t find the last one in a dictionary, but to me it’s a legit word.

Managers always have a huge list of wants. It’s our job to dive deeper and find out what they actually need. If someone dumps a huge list of required skills on you, dig in and ask questions:

–   Of those criteria, which 2-3 are most crucial to success? and

–   Which of these would you be most comfortable with an applicant learning on the job?

Those help eliminate extraneous requirements. If the list is still ridiculous, try reframing with “Does that mean if I find a candidate with A, B, and C, but they don’t have X, you don’t want to see them?” You can learn a lot about hard parameters by highlighting what sort of talent might be missed by staying overly rigid.

An in-the-trenches reality check can be an equally valuable tool. Sometimes the best thing to say is “Alright. If the candidate absolutely needs all of that, you can expect to spend ___ on salary and have a search that lasts ___ months. Can you live with those parameters?” If they can, great. Do your best to kick butt and deliver faster than promised. If not, you have a basis for renegotiating the criteria and coming up with a more manageable target. Either way, expectations are set in a way that empowers a win.

Once you know which flavor of impossible you’ll be hunting, it’s time to get down to it and search – but where best to invest your time? Job boards? Social media? LinkedIn? Networking? Something totally new and different? Turns out it doesn’t matter. Not in the slightest. Top performers focus on results, not methods, and that means the “how” is pretty much irrelevant. The right strategy can – and often does – change from hour to hour and search to search. Keeping focused on the outcome allows for adaptation throughout the process.

Which brings us to creativity and unstoppability. Recruiting is an iterative and endlessly innovative process. The harder the search, the more likely you’ll have to stretch your imagination to come to the right results. Being able to get “unstuck” is core to success, and here again questions can come up huge. Some of my favorite slump-busters are:

–   What haven’t I done yet that I know to be effective?

–   Where might someone like this hang out that I haven’t yet looked? and

–   What resources haven’t I tapped that might be a game-changer?

Sometimes it’s a subtle shift in direction that leads to success, other times it’s a 180-degree turn. Regardless of what gets you there, it’s helpful to remember that purple squirrels and impossible circumstances are secondary, and the answer isn’t some new and shiny tool. At the end of the day it’s all about you, and as far as I’m concerned that’s incredibly good news.


Michael Junge

Michael B. Junge is the author of Purple Squirrel and a member of the leadership recruiting team at Google, Inc. Previously, he was a five-time Recruiter of the Year with a national staffing firm and helped hundreds of clients land positions with blue-chip companies. Michael can be found online at


This entry was posted on Friday, April 20, 2012 6:46 am

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