What are purple squirrels and unicorns?

In a world of fantasy, animals are beautiful, magical creatures capable of bringing good luck and charm. Everyone loves them. In the world of professional recruiting, being asked to find purple squirrels is every recruiter’s worst nightmare.

The term “purple squirrel” emerged in the recruitment sector in the early 2000s. It implies finding an ideal candidate for a specific job. They will have all the highly specialized qualifications, skills, experience, and salary expectations for a position. Of course, they’re also interested in the company you’re hiring for. But they’re hard to find. (Do they even exist??)

Then comes the “unicorns.” The ever-elusive unicorns possesses an arsenal of desired qualifications and skills, a natural drive and ambition, natural flair for leadership – all of which combine perfectly to make a star performer. If you haven’t been able to find that one unicorn, it’s because most are happily engaged in the job they do and not actively looking for new positions.

purple squirrels unicorns in recruitment hiring professional HR

What is it about purple squirrels and unicorns that make them every recruiter’s worst nightmare?

It’s a herculean task to find purple squirrels and unicorns. But these extraordinary individuals do exist. It will, however, take the right recruitment strategy to get them on board with your proposal.


Even when you find one, it’ll always be a passive candidate who is considering for a certain position, but not actively seeking a new position. If they’re interested in what you have to offer, you must woo them in order to get them to agree to an interview with the company you’re hiring for.

In most cases, purple squirrels and unicorns know their worth. If you’re interested in hiring one, you’ll have to set aside plenty of time and be willing to shell out a substantial amount from your company coffers.

Apart from time and resources spent in the lengthy and arduous hiring process, purple squirrels and unicorns don’t come cheap. We’re not talking of compensation and benefits here.

Purple squirrels and unicorns are aware that they are as rare as the bluest moon and will often make demands such as housing and travel expenses. Some might even ask for the hiring authority to make policy changes in order to create a work environment to best suit their needs. This might not always be in the best interest of the company.

If you’ve been task with finding a purple squirrel or a unicorn, here are some ways you can implement to save time and resources:

If you work with an organization that regularly hires people with specialized skills, it would be advisable to create a plan to action which will help you have easy access to the ideal candidate. Most of the time, purple squirrels and unicorns are out there, but they’re simply hard to find.

Whether you want to stay up-to-date on HR news, read in-depth insights on HR trends or find new ideas on strategy, innovation, and leadership, The HR Digest Magazine is here to suit your needs and help you stay more informed.

Diana Coker
Diana Coker is a staff writer at The HR Digest, based in New York. She also reports for brands like Technowize. Diana covers HR news, corporate culture, employee benefits, compensation, and leadership. She loves writing HR success stories of individuals who inspire the world. She’s keen on political science and entertains her readers by covering usual workplace tactics.

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