The Purple Squirrel

Almost as rare as a Yeti sighting, the term “purple squirrel” is used by those in the executive search industry to describe a job candidate with the precise range of qualifications—the right education, experience, and set of skills—to perfectly match an in-demand job’s requirements.

The Purple Squirrel theory is that finding the perfect candidate for a position requiring a highly specialized skill set, often in markets with a supply and demand imbalance, is as hard as finding a purple squirrel.

Lou Adler, author of Hire with Your Head often discusses “job stretch” as part of the framework for employers to consider.

“Job stretch” might be thought of as the difference between what a given candidate’s skills are and the “purple squirrel” for that particular job.

Beware that our “purple squirrel” may also have a mercenary mindset. Albeit a harsh concept, anyone who has done ALL of the work needed for a given in-demand job will receive the highest compensation since there is no job stretch involved.

Another worthwhile way of thinking about this gap is considering the “Jobs to be done” theory explained by Clayton Christensen.

Job statements, (expressed as [verb] + [the object of the verb] + [contextual clarifier] as in “Implement, customize and support a QMS”) focus our attention on the outcomes desired of the work performed, rather than the specific skill set or background required to do the work.

Although “Jobs to be done” are much broader principles centered around marketing, innovation, and meeting customer demands, a job statement can act as an enabler to think more broadly about how to accomplish any given task or set of tasks.

What methods are you using to attract talented applicants to your “jobs to be done” while still maintaining “job stretch” for those hires?

If you’d like some help figuring that out or understanding how you can overcome some of these issues, contact us.