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* reflections on the concept of “purple squirrels”

January 31, 2019

I learned a new word several years ago from one of my students–“purple squirrel.” It may help explain at least some of the reason between he and I we’d by then unsuccessfully applied for over 350 carefully selected jobs with customized resumes and cover letters, all without success… According to Wikipedia, “‘Purple squirrel’ is a term used by employment recruiters to describe a job candidate with precisely the right education, set of experiences, and range of qualifications that perfectly fits a job’s requirements…. The implication is that over-specification of the requirements makes a perfect candidate as hard to find as a purple squirrel.” During a downturn in the economy or for any field for which there are too many highly qualified candidates, this may reflect just how picky recruiters can be for the person they are looking for to fill a job. It’s not so much of a deal for all of those of us who are viewed as neither purple nor probably in some cases even squirrels.

In a world of leaner organizations a “purple squirrel … could immediately handle all the expansive [and wider] variety of responsibilities of a job description with no training, and would allow businesses to function with [even doing more with] fewer workers,” at least theoretically. 

On the other hand, some words of hope as Junge (2012) also argues there are also those who argue “the effort seeking them is often wasted… and that being more open to candidates that don’t have all the skills, or retraining existing employees, are sensible alternatives to an over-long search.” In fact, no less than Elon Musk wrote in 2012 that organizations not look for “purple squirrels.”  

So here I am. As someone who is eclectic, more of a utility player, I am need of the someone who is looking for that. Where art thou?!

[For more information see Google recruiter’s Michael B. Junge (2012). Purple Squirrel: Stand Out, Land Interviews, and Master the Modern Job Market.]

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