You Will Never Find the Perfect Candidate

Stop searching for purple unicorns and do this instead.

“My daughter will love this!”

In all my years of training leaders, that comment was a first.

But, then again, it was also the first time I had ended a training by passing out a few dozen cupcakes decorated as purple unicorns.

Earlier that day, we had somehow lured 20 managers away from their jam-packed schedules to join us for a full day of training.

It was clear that some of them were less than thrilled to be spending a day with HR, while others welcomed the change of pace from the strategic planning they’d been entrenched in for weeks prior.

Regardless of how they felt about the day ahead, they were here. And, if there’s one thing learning and development professionals love more than anything else — it’s a captive audience!

The topic of the day? All things talent acquisition. This group had one thing in common; they were all hiring managers and leaders of people.

But, why the purple unicorn cupcakes?

In the recruiting world, a purple unicorn is a term used to describe the perfect candidate that certain hiring managers are uncompromisingly and neverendingly in search of. Forget about the “nice-to-haves.’” For these hiring managers, everything is a “must-have.”

There’s only one problem.

Purple unicorns don’t exist.

Neither do perfect candidates. And, if you’re a leader of people, you should embrace the fact that you will never hire a 10/10.

Here is what you should do instead:

Aim To Hire A 7/10

The first time I hired someone on my team, the Director of Talent Acquisition gave me some wise advice. “If you’re lucky, you’ll hire a 6 or 7/10 and develop them into a 10/10.”

There will always be things that are “must-haves” for any job. If you’re hiring an Accountant, they likely must have their CPA. If you’re hiring a delivery driver, they need a valid driver’s license. Before posting a job you should know what skills, experience or education are non-negotiable.

But, the rest of the things that would be “nice-to-have” are just that; preferred but not required. No candidate has it all. Instead of hiring someone with these, you should expect to dedicate time and energy to developing these skillsets in new team members.

Don’t have time to spend training new hires? That leads me to my next point.

Read Your Job Description

If you’re in a leadership position, training and developing others is literally your job. Sure, there is other work you are responsible for delivering on, but if it weren’t for the sake of leading other people, there would be no reason for a “Manager” to exist.

Frankly, if you aren’t spending a significant amount of time teaching, coaching, and developing your team, then you’re probably not doing your job. And you definitely aren’t doing your team any favors.

So, figure out a way to find the time. Delegate more. Prioritize differently. Make fewer commitments. Learn when to push back and say ‘no’ to requests. Whatever you do, don’t neglect to develop your team.

Balance Performance With Potential

Performance is the extent to which someone has successfully achieved the objectives of his/her position in the past. To gauge someone’s past performance, you might ask interview questions that begin with:

“Tell me about a time when…”

Potential, on the other hand, is the extent to which someone can be a high-performer in a more senior or leadership position. To gauge someone’s level of potential, you might ask interview questions that begin with:

“Tell me how you would approach this theoretical problem that you haven’t actually experienced yet…”

Just because a candidate has been a high-performer in the sense that he checks-off all the job requirements through experience, doesn’t mean he is competent and/or motivated to do the job well.

Additionally, there are plenty of candidates out there who are, but who may not have the exact degree or identify as having the exact personality trait you list in a job posting.

Performance is important, but so is potential. Be sure you’re not only searching for one at the expense of the other.

Consider The Candidate’s Perspective

No exceptionally talented candidate leaves one job to take a new job doing the exact same thing somewhere else.

The whole point of changing jobs is to have the opportunity to learn something new, do something more challenging, and take on increased responsibility. If you make more money in the process of doing it, all the better.

If you only ever look for talent that has already done the exact job you are hiring for, then you’ll probably only ever find talent without the motivation to do more.

If you’re like most of us, the day will come when you ask your employees to go above and beyond, and it’s great to have people who can rise to the occasion when you do.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, you can certainly keep searching for those elusive purple unicorns.

Let me know if you find one that’s not in the form of a dessert, balloon, or toy.

As for me, I’ll be over here developing my team.

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