· 2 min read · News

How to recruit a 'purple squirrel'


Recruitment managers are increasingly looking to hire the ultimate game changer, the supreme innovator – what is known in recruitment circles as a 'purple squirrel'.

These people are the rarest of individuals, extremely talented and often with an eclectic mix of core skills: education, competencies and experience.

However, these individuals are often mavericks and a challenge to manage, which means they may not be perceived to be team players. They can be integrated more easily if the whole team understands this before the new hire arrives, and is prepared for the unconventional. They may also have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, so hiring managers will need to be prepared for more than a little apparent arrogance – even if this is often due to a lack of social confidence. 

The recession is one of the reasons behind the increasing interest in these candidates. Financial difficulties for business have created a plethora of available talent. While there may be an abundance of candidates with the right mix of skills, cultural fit and experience, hiring managers are increasingly more particular about the calibre of person they want.

It is understandable that business leaders would want to fill a senior vacancy with the ultimate game changer but conventional recruitment methods are often not suited to finding these talented workers.  

Organisations can get hung up on attributes which may be less appropriate for hiring these individuals. Take business gurus such as David Ogilvy, Philip Green and James Dyson. These people would have failed conventional recruitment methods because none of them possessed a university degree.

Traditional recruitment approaches often lack the level of innovation required to capture the interests of purple squirrels. Rather than HR concentrating on competency-based recruitment, the approach needs to be aspiration-based.

A key question hiring managers must consider is what outstanding and surprising results they want to achieve and then who can produce them. This opens up a much more lateral view of the process leaving the recruiter more receptive to people who would normally not be considered for the role.

For business leaders looking to recruit this kind of talent, it is essential to understand what attracts these people. Game changers know what they want and where they want to be. A lucrative financial package and the opportunity for career advancement are rarely deal clinchers.

These individuals are often in demand and worth pursuing because they can fundamentally change a company’s direction, performance and profitability – often for the better. Disruptive talent searching, rather than conventional recruitment methods, is needed to attract them. 

Hiring a purple squirrel can be a challenging process which demands significant extra input from the hiring manager, but those prepared to put in the groundwork, be adaptable and innovative, will reap the benefits.

David Dumeresque is a partner at executive search consultants Tyzack Partners.