Focusing On Filling That Open Position Perfectly? Better Think Again

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Jun 7, 2011

I’ve filled very few recruiting requisitions perfectly but I’ve still managed to please a lot of hiring managers.

Some of the credit goes to them and some to me, but most of it goes to the organizations I worked with who didn’t necessarily want the purple squirrel. Ah yes, the magical purple squirrel — that unattainable creature that you just can’t ever find.

So what does a recruiter do? Do you hide a can of purple spray paint under the jumbo bag of M&M’s in your desk? Or are you confident enough to present the right candidate, even if they aren’t purple.

The Blue Squirrel

I was reminded of the many times I filled purple squirrel roles with non-purple squirrel candidates when I read a post by Jessica Lee over at Fistful of Talent titled “Maybe That Purple Squirrel Could Actually be a Blue Squirrel? She said:

This candidate who was not on the mark, or what the hiring manager and team thought they wanted and needed. But I trusted my gut. And I took a chance. And I presented a candidate who wasn’t necessarily that exact replica of the needle in the haystack we thought we were searching for … but actually, it turns out she was.

We’ll *fingers crossed* close this deal later in the week. And I’ll walk away remembering something so very simple but really quite powerful – don’t be afraid to draw outside of the lines at times. And don’t be afraid to test the limits of what your hiring managers are looking for or believe they need. It won’t work for all searches or all hiring managers – but you’ll use your best judgment – and go for it when it makes sense.”

As a recruiter, you have permission to think about the role and the requirements before you bang your head against the wall. And if you’re good enough at your job, they will listen to you.

Thinking outside the box

Now Lee calls this using her gut but I’d put it a bit higher on the body (in the brain specifically). The fact of the matter is, when you have been embedded in an organization for a while and you know the players and the culture, you know where and how to push. And how you approach it politically is probably as important as anything else.

There is another skill there too. Knowing your jobs well enough to know where there is flexibility and where there isn’t. There is some technical knowledge there that you need so that your suggestions for bending requirements aren’t laughed out of the room.

You don’t have to be a technical expert in the field you are recruiting for but you should to be able to tell fairly quickly whether a person is close enough to be considered for that purple squirrel role.

Your legwork is important, too

If the role is super critical and is purple squirrel-ready and you’ve got a candidate that is close in an area but not quite there, there is only one thing you need to figure out: are they beyond reproach or even exceptional in other areas? As an example, I had a programmer candidate who had limited experience in one of our critical programming languages. But they had home run experience in another programming language that we used and was such a lock culturally, I didn’t give them the option.

We hired him and it was a smart move. We could have spent months looking for that perfect, ideal person. Instead, we had a person who was a slight stretch in one area but a slam-dunk in those other areas.

If you present a candidate and there are other things that come up though (like a stretch skills candidate plus a bad cultural fit), you can just forget about it. You didn’t do your homework and you paid the price. And if you present enough of those bad fit candidates, you’re going to spend a lot of time searching for that perfect candidate every single time because the hiring manager doesn’t trust you enough to be flexible with requirements when it is smart.

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