A new creature has appeared on the employment scene – the dreaded purple squirrel. This semi-mythical creature is a job applicant who has an exact match for everything that an employer wants in a long, complicated job description. Rare and elusive, many an unfortunate recruiter has been seen pouring through the jungle of applicants, trying to find this creature of legend.
What is a purple squirrel?
While employers are always looking for a strong match to the job description, a purple squirrel goes way beyond the normal expectations of a typical professional. For example, while a high end Executive Assistant typically has advanced skills in Microsoft Office, travel arrangements, meeting organization, office management and project coordination. By comparison, her purple squirrel cousin would possess all of those skills, plus graphic arts experience, marketing expertise, HR knowledge, technical writing skills and IT troubleshooting abilities.
Sound impossible? Possibly. But recruiters are looking for the multi-skilled professionals in all industries, not just the administrative side.
How it evolved
One of the effects of the recession was that employers were forced to reduce staff, which increased the amount of work on all the remaining employees. To get everything done, staff members were cross-trained or forced to pick up other duties outside of their normal job description.
As time went on, managers came to rely on the multi-skilled individuals more and more. What was once a “temporary request to help the company get back on its feet” is now expected on a daily basis.
When the highly skilled worker leaves, the managers are forced with a difficult situation – hire two people, or hire one person with this often odd-ball mix of skills. Of course, employers are still trying to control costs, and only offer one job opening. Thus the hunt for the purple squirrel begins…
Dying yourself purple
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to anticipate the requirements for a purple-squirrel job; the mix of skills desired is individual for each company.
While in the past, one could easily take an MS Office class to increase their marketability. Now, trying to decide which skill to add to your portfolio can be more difficult. One employer may want graphic design programs, such as InDesign or Photoshop. Another may be more interested in accounting help. Yet another may want guidance in benefits administration.
In other words, you don’t know exactly what shade of purple most employers want.
If you find that most of the jobs in your industry are turning into purple squirrels, watch for the trends on the most requested skills. Next, consider which one of these you could reasonably add to your skill set. It is much easier to learning something new if you have an interest in the subject matter.
If you are looking for some affordable classes on a wide variety of subjects and computer programs, check the Colorado Free University. They offer short, intense workshops on everything from MS Office to Event Planning, and business writing to nursing skills.
Still unsure about the skills you need? Coyote Visions in Lakewood offers classes on their trademarked Key Element Detector system, which is a process for determining the essential abilities for any job, regardless of industry or experience level.
Shoot the squirrel
The biggest problem with a purple squirrel job is that the HR department is doing the screening. Never rely on just submitting your resume to the HR department – they are the ones looking for the exact match, making it more difficult than ever to survive the screening process.
Instead, make a conscious effort to get your resume in the hiring manager’s hands. Be sure to highlight your strengths and abilities, especially as they relate to the job at hand.
By reaching out to the hiring manager, you can educate him about your potential instead of just your past. After all, the real essence of a purple squirrel is the ability to adapt and learn – show them how you are committed to your own professional growth.
About the Author
A former corporate recruiter, Donna Shannon has been teaching job seekers since 2004, and leads the Brown Bag Job Search Group on Meetup.com. Her book, “Get a Job Without Going Crazy” is available on Amazon.com and the Tattered Cover Book Stores.