Why Employers Look For Purple Squirrels

employers look

A purple squirrel is rarely found in nature – that’s why recruiters use the term for candidates that have combinations of skill sets that are also rarely found.

A purple squirrel is a C#, SQL, and developer, who has financial markets experience, and speaks German. His brother (also a purple squirrel) is a Financial Analyst with SAP FICO, Hyperion, Excel Macro, and VBA skills, Pharma experience, and has done some market research.

As you can see, purple squirrels are hard to find, which is one reason they are so valuable to companies and recruiters.

Why would an employer look for employees with such diverse skills, especially when they typically look for specialists?

Let’s not get confused … The purple squirrel candidate is definitely not a generalist, and doesn’t wear multiple hats. This candidate is a multiple subject matter expert, and expert at more than one function.

Purple squirrel needs can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Job combination: As companies contracted, they combined roles to cover the work handled by those who were laid off.
  • More needs than approved headcount: Purple squirrel needs can be created for new positions when a company has a new project, that requires multiple skills. However, the department (or manager) has only a limited number of approved headcount additions, and not time or budget for ramp-up or training.
  • Gaps: As the department has staffed, most of the skills needs have been filled, but not all. The remaining unmet skills created a “Frankenstein” position to fill the gaps.
  • The last person had these skills: If the position is a replacement, and the person leaving was a three headed monster, the manager likely wants another three headed monster.
  • Replacing consultants: As companies are just starting to dip their toe into the hiring pool this quarter, one way hiring managers can justify headcount is by replacing consultants. The hiring manager may be looking for a purple squirrel to handle the primary job and also continue the consultant’s work.
  • Software combinations: The multitude of software that works together causes needs for people who have worked with all of them. Fewer employers want to train today.
  • Because they can: Some hiring managers look for purple squirrels, believing they can pick up some free skill sets in the market. These skills may not fulfill immediate needs, but may allow the manager able to take on additional responsibilities (example: employees with social media experience). In a normal market, the hiring manager might be reluctant to look for this combo position but believes purple squirrels are out there since the market is poor today.

How to determine when a company is really looking for a purple squirrel:

  • The combination of skills looks like some shouldn’t belong in the same position
  • Long hard skills requirement lists
  • New positions
  • Small and start-up employers – who can’t afford to split positions

5 ways to successfully transform yourself into a Purple Squirrel:

1. Describe close accomplishments and experiences 

Don’t lie. Instead use the hiring manger’s language to describe describe even minor projects and responsibilities that may solve employer problems.(see: .

2. Describe even your minor accomplishments confidently

Don’t use words like proficient (signifies minimal experience), light, minimal when describing your experience. Why make yourself look “light” when you don’t have to?

3. Describe Accomplishments over experiences

Whenever possible, describe what you accomplished, rather than what your job responsibilities were. This allows you to demonstrate what you did outside of the day-to-day of your job.

4. Understand underlying problems

The more information you have at understanding why the hiring manager wants a purple squirrel, the better you can be at describing your own background to fit the employer’s needs. First you have to understand the needs.

5. Don’t stretch

If you only have 2 out of the 3 major requirements, don’t waste your time. With the number of people looking today, the company will find someone with all 3. Instead, spend your time chasing opportunities where you are a fit.

About the Author

This article was contributed by Phil Rosenberg.  Phil is President of ReCareered, helping great people break through the challenges of modern job searches. Phil managed the Chicago suburban Financial and Technology consulting practices for recruiting industry leader, Robert Half International.