The Purple Squirrel

By Stacey Wood, CTS | Manufacturing Recruiter | Contemporary Personnel Staffing

“Hi Stacey.  I have a request.  I need a candidate that is flexible to work 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shift without notice and possess a CDL with the ability to do warehouse duties as needed.”


“Also, they will need an Associate’s degree in Electrical or Mechanical Technology.  In addition, the right person has to have experience in this field.”

“You bet—we’ll get on it immediately.”

“Oh wait!  They have to be an experienced, certified welder as well.  We want to interview starting tomorrow.”


She wasn’t kidding.  This is indicative of several potential employers in the current market.  Years ago, recruiters used the term “purple squirrel” to depict this dilemma.  Essentially, the “purple squirrel” is a metaphor used to express the unrealistic requirements of any given client to secure the exact fit for a role.  Simply put, it does not exist. 

or do they exist?

Today, client companies are not only looking for the right fit for their organizations, but the “perfect” fit.  It’s simply not enough that a candidate’s skill sets, aptitude, education, experience, and attitude are all in line with the job description and company culture.  Rather, an employee must have the ability to multi-task and perform several jobs at simultaneously.

At present, companies are under extreme pressure to find fewer workers to produce more goods and to produce those goods more efficiently and effectively in less time.  Thus, for example, a machine operator must also now be a programmer as well.  Further, it is likely that he/she will also be performing the tasks formerly done by a Quality Auditor or Inspector.  Consequently, candidates that have been out of the job market aren’t qualified for new openings.  Moreover, they would likely not even be able to secure their former positions given the new job criteria and experience required.

In addition, employers are increasingly adamant about these seemingly unrealistic expectations.  Thus, with an unemployment rate of 9.8% and a market saturated with millions of unemployed workers, companies are growing more selective and taking far longer to commit to filling a need.  In the event an organization can’t find that “perfect” person, often they will promote from within with stronger confidence in a proven performer.  All of these factors contribute to the growing frustration of all parties involved, as well as the high unemployment rate.

In case you were wondering, I still haven’t found that skilled welder with both a CDL and an Associate’s degree in Electronics or Mechanical Technology willing to work all shifts with a year of practical work experience.  Thus, my hunt for the “purple squirrel” continues…..and hey…if you know anybody, you know where to send them.  Wish me luck!

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