In between traveling Europe and hiking the Appalachian Trail, my consulting firm offered me a part time gig recruiting folks. In that extremely short week I learned two valuable bits of information: active recruiting is not my thing, and the meaning of the purple squirrel.
According to Wikipedia:
“Purple squirrel” is a term used by employment recruiters to describe a job candidate with precisely the right education, set of experience, and range of qualifications that perfectly fits a job’s requirements. The implication is that over-specification of the requirements makes a perfect candidate as hard to find as a purple squirrel.
Right now you’re probably thinking, so, that means pretty much impossible, right? Because purple squirrels don’t exist. Wait. Do purple squirrels exist? I’m glad you asked. Wikipedia has something to say about actual purple squirrels as well.
In 1997 a purple squirrel was spotted in Minnesota, then again on May 4, 2016. I mean, that actually isn’t hard to believe, not in the home of the Vikings, Prince and Purple Rain. In fact, one theory suggests the 2016 purple squirrel was dyed by fans of Prince, who died a few weeks earlier.
In 2008, Pete the purple squirrel was seen bopping about Meoncross School in Stubbington, Hampshire in the U.K. Some people tried to explain away his magical fur as a result of his stomping grounds, a building with old photocopiers; Pete just had a thing for toner cartridges. But the real believers, the ones who saw Pete with their own eyes, knew this was straight-up malarkey.
In 2012, a purple squirrel was captured in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, after which he became the hottest thing on the internet (I must have missed this phenomenon), quickly establishing his own social media accounts. He was released two days later. Again, people attempted to logically explain the magic purple fur with local hydraulic fracking and the ‘ole chewing on pens theory.
Later that same year in Pennsylvania, a hunter captured and released a purple squirrel while on a deer hunt. Photographs of the squirrel led to more theories as to the reason for the exotic coloration.
So, to answer your question, while there are no such things as purple squirrels, technically…there are. (Unicorns, there’s hope for you yet.)
Back to recruiting. In theory, this coveted “purple squirrel” would handle the large variety of responsibilities of a job description with basically no training, allowing businesses to function with fewer employees, though it is commonly asserted that the effort seeking them is often wasted. Some people say being more open to candidates who don’t have all the skills, or perhaps retraining existing employees, are two sensible alternatives to this fruitless search. Because damn, those purple squirrels are hard to come by.
I can vouch for that. I’ve been looking for my own personal purple squirrel for years. And they weren’t wrong, it’s been a long and grueling search. I too, often felt effort seeking my purple squirrel was wasted. I even tried being more open to candidates who didn’t have all the “skills and requirements,” though I found retraining other squirrels to take on the role of the purple squirrel was just as futile. I tried brown squirrels, black squirrels, gray squirrels, red squirrels, even a few of those crazy albino ones. While several of these squirrels were most definitely sensible alternatives, in the end I wasn’t willing to settle. I held out hope for my purple squirrel, even though I knew he was pretty unlikely to exist, or if he did, it was pretty unlikely I would find him.
That’s the thing about purple squirrels. You know exactly what they look like (purple + squirrel), so when you see one, you pretty much know when you’ve found it. There’s no confusing it for a brown squirrel or a red squirrel, for it is so uniquely purple and without a doubt, a squirrel. And a few weeks ago, I opened my door, and there it was, my purple squirrel. I didn’t even have to capture him, he just walked right in, and he’s been hanging around ever since.
Like others who’ve spotted a purple squirrel, I’ve spent the past month trying to explain away his fur, reason with logic over his existence, but the closer I look, the more vibrantly purple the fur becomes. And the craziest thing, he probably just looks like a regular ‘ole squirrel to other people, human even. But I assure you, he’s definitely a purple squirrel.
Imagine that, they really do exist.