By: Jill Reynolds, Quantix President and CEO
“I’m holding out for the perfect candidate.” We hear this phrase or something similar on a regular basis from clients and prospects. Is the “perfect” candidate really out there and if so, how long does it make sense to hold out for perfection? Honestly, the perfect candidate is not likely to cross your path with record lows in IT unemployment. In fact, your perfect candidate is likely working for someone else. By leaving a position unfilled for an extended period of time, the unintended message being sent is the position is not real and the employer is merely testing the market or the hiring manager is just too picky and impossible to please.
In the recruiting industry, we call the unrealistic search for the perfect candidate a “Purple Squirrel.” It is called that for a reason, Purple Squirrels don’t exist. Harvard Business Review had the following to say:
Let’s imagine a fictitious future where all job openings had to be filled in no more than 60 days. In this future, if you miss getting someone hired or you wait too long, you lose the position for good and your business has to adapt. What would change? Those purple squirrels would disappear. Very few companies could fill jobs in a timely manner while also chasing the scant possibility of snatching one of these rare creatures.
I can guarantee that a senior software engineer with seven years of experience in all of your programming languages is not going to walk through your door and say they are willing to work for your desired salary. Purple squirrels aren’t measures of success. At the very best, they are a measurement of luck and at the very least, they are the sad result of a poor understanding of the employment market and a company’s recruiting capabilities and consequences.
While employers are holding out for the perfect hire, they are missing out on high-quality candidates that are a solid fit for their organization. What about considering a “strong” candidate? I’m not suggesting that you compromise on quality, but rather adjust your expectations to a more realistic level. Typically when an employer is describing the “perfect” candidate, they are focusing only on their technical skills and experience and not on the candidate’s soft skills and personality traits. If you indeed found and hired the perfect candidate, only to find out their ego was compromising the productivity of your team, ultimately you’ve determined they weren’t the perfect candidate after all. Have you prioritized the skill sets and experience the position requires? If 10 different skills are included on your job description, but the bulk of the responsibilities could be handled by meeting six of the requirements, perhaps the other four skills should be viewed as “nice to have.” As you consider candidates, explore their ability to integrate with the team’s culture and their capacity to learn new skills. These are high value traits in an employee, but often not evaluated and considered in the hiring process.
It is important to find the right skills for the job but more important to find the right person for the job. This exercise is about is planning and preparing for realistic hiring outcomes. Even if you are still hoping to find the “perfect” candidate, perhaps you will consider adjusting your aim for more realistic candidate expectations.