When to Hire the Mauve Squirrel


You’re at a critical time for your business and it’s time to make a new hire. This person is going to be amazing and take your business to new heights. They’ll have a vision. They'll think about the big picture. Oh, but they’ll be detail-oriented too, of course. And they'll have technical chops. And they will certainly collaborate across departments. What do we have here? The mythical purple squirrel!  

Does this sound familiar?

  • 3 years of enterprise outside technical sales experience.
  • 2+ years of programming in HTML, JAVA, SQL, etc...
  • Double blackbelt in karate.
  • Loves long walks on the beach.
  • Sings karaoke, but only Beyonce songs.

Here's the thing about a mythical purple squirrel: it doesn’t exist. Often times in the interview process, we find great candidates who would be perfect for other jobs. If you're like me, I tend to focus on where a candidate’s experience may be lacking, and believe there just might be someone out there who’s the total package. My gut says don’t pick the first one that could competently do the job. Hold out for that perfect person, the one who knocks my socks off. Just a few more interviews. They’re  out there, we just have to find them. The purple squirrel, the needle in the haystack. They’re out there, somewhere…

By the time I get to my third (or 10th) hour-long interview for a highly-skilled position, my assessments all start to sound the same. I've considered which skills make them each a perfect fit, and I’ve thought about what weaknesses might crop up. The problem is, each candidate is different, and comparing experienced, skilled, qualified people against one another can be like comparing apples and oranges. The apple isn’t as sweet as the orange, but the orange…well it’s pretty tricky to peel.

For me, the key is to focus on a few core assessments. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does this job need to accomplish in the first 90 days?
  • Does this candidate have the experience to guide those first 90 days and beyond?
  • Does this candidate have the technical skills they need in order to be successful?

If you’re happy with how a candidate stacks up according to those metrics, that’s a fantastic start. Although, I've had candidates get past this phase in the interview process only to have the most powerful word in the human language pop up. No, I'm not talking about the word "love," I'm talking about the word "but."  As in, "I really think they'd be great, but..."

  • "... I don't know if they will be able to manage a team in two years once the department grows."
  • "... they probably won't take our offer because they are too qualified."
  • "... they've only worked at big companies before, and I don't think they’ll fit into our small company culture."

It’s natural to want to see what kind of talent is out there, but more often, you’ll go back to a candidate you saw in the beginning who was, pretty darn good. People often return to the car dealership to buy the very first car they test drove after seeing what else was out there. Don’t let hesitation get in the way of inviting a great candidate to join your team. If the key decision-makers are on board, and the candidate checks all the boxes, chances are you have someone who will be set up for success in the role. Indecision or stubbornness are not virtues in the hiring process - they only get in the way of strengthening your team. If you refuse to settle for anything, in the end, you settle for nothing.

So, they’ve got high-level experience and are a cultural fit, but they didn’t know that one software program. Or, they have all the technical know-how, but have never managed people. That’s what I like to call the “mauve squirrel.” Not exactly the mythical purple squirrel, but definitely a cut above your garden variety brown squirrel. The great thing about a mauve squirrel is that they can become a purple squirrel over time. With the right candidate who’s eager to learn, you may find in a year’s time that you can’t imagine how you lived without them. Keep your standards high, but don’t forget that people aren’t perfect - don’t overlook a mauve squirrel that could be just what your business needs.

Topics: Talent Acquisition

Updated December 21, 2018