3 Sure-Fire Ways To Find And Attract Purple Squirrels


You want the perfect candidate… A super smart and talented person who will shine in a role and be an asset to the business.  You set out to find them but the hunt leads nowhere except down a few blind alleys. Your search for a ‘purple squirrel’ has been nothing more than an expensive exercise in futility.

‘Purple squirrels’ is the name given to the type of candidate that everyone wants. A person who possess the requisite skills, lives near to your company and will work for peanuts. These people are so rare they have taken on a mythological status – like a unicorn.

However, unlike a cute and colourful rodent these employees do exist – and they can be found.  What’s more, the search doesn’t have to be a costly voyage of discovery where you throw money at an expanding army of recruiters.

So, what does it take to be a whip smart and successful purple squirrel catcher?

1) Keep your ‘must-haves’ to a minimum

Sure, you’ve got to come up with a segment of the global population you’re interested in, but if you’re too detailed at the start you may eliminate purple squirrels too early.

To see why, let’s look at a real example for a company that needs to hire for operations at a Singapore Bank:

Maachu has 562 banking operations staff on our system.  Out of them, 227 have over 2 years’ experience – still a good pool to draw from.

However, the third criteria starts to really affect the size of the pool

  • Those who speak Chinese: 81
  • Those who select ‘Trade Processing’ as one of their skills: 62
  • Those who currently work in ‘Asset Management’: 15

If you were to add another requirement, it would reduce these numbers even further. And the chances of your purple squirrels being among less than 10 candidates are very slim indeed.

So, what can you do about it?

  • Keep requirements simple. Candidates may not recognize in themselves the qualities you seek.  Also, they could be trained to fit the bill – or the hiring manager may overlook ‘essential’ requirements for candidates who fill every other criteria
  • Avoid any unusual combination of skills.  Pick one ‘root’ skill as a must-have and then drill down to find special skills.

For example, software developers may have great experience in finance, but very few (<1% on our system) have a financial degree. So, your root skill is the programming and then look for finance experience instead of a finance qualification.

  • Browse instead of search. When people search, they tend to over-specify.  To get around this, we provide our clients with a tool to do a high-level search on candidates (e.g. ‘I.T.’ or ‘Finance’) and then show all candidates in that category.  Then, you can drill down, requirement by requirement, to find candidates with more specific skills.

2) Go to where purple squirrels congregate

If you’re using anything other than digital media, you may be looking in the wrong places. A recent report shows US adults spend more time on digital devices than any other media. And for Singapore, usage of the internet per week is twice that of television. (Source: Nielsen)

And though Purple squirrels may well be online, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw an electronic net out there hoping to catch a few.  City dwellers see up to 5,000 advertising messages a day and ignore most of them.

So what can you do about it?

You can improve your chances of reaching your intended audience by reviewing the channels you use to deliver your message:

  • Measure your corporate recruitment page: Do you know where your site visitors come from? Or what percentage finish your application process? What can you do to improve?
  • Track emails: Do you know how many people actually read them? Email tracking clients such as Bananatag let you see whether people are opening your emails so you know if you’re getting through.
  • Try LinkedIn: See someone you like when surfing LinkedIn? You can engage them directly using LinkedIn InMails. This can be costly, but you only pay for the emails which are opened by the candidates.
  • And if you need help… consider using Maachu. We spend all day, every day improving our candidate acquisition and engagement – and we use every digital platform under the sun! Sign up for a trial here.

3) Seduce purple squirrels with a message that makes them want to reply


According to a recent report the average email user receives 147 messages per day and deletes 71 (48%).  Your message should be something that immediately engages your candidate and elicits a response. Even a negative response is better than none at all!

But how can you do this?

Marketing guru Dean Jackson advises that any message should have three qualities in this age of gnat-like attention spans:

  • Keep it short. Make sure that what you want people to know is said within the first 10 words.  Your candidates may decide whether to read an email from the preview – so open with something attention-grabbing.
  • Personalize. Putting your candidate’s first name in the subject line improves email open rates dramatically – and it lets them know the email is not spam.
  • Make it clear that you’re expecting a reply. Sounds obvious, but always be sure to include instructions on what you want them to do. Come up with an interview time? Send more information? Whatever it is be sure you’re clear – and the chance they’ll do it will rise.

Purple Squirrels Found!

Purple squirrels are notoriously difficult to get in the door, much less hire. But if you use any of the above techniques, you will dramatically increase your chances of getting your message to them – and getting the response you want.

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