Skip to content

Recruiting the purple squirrel (and other choosy job candidates): 6 tips


Are you looking for what recruiters call a “purple squirrel” to join your team? A rare breed of job candidate, these people are often highly skilled and possess a desirable combination of education, certifications, experience, knowledge and skills.

Perfectly matching your exact qualifications for a new hire, these candidates can prove elusive. In fact, after a few failed attempts at attracting them, you may feel like you’d have better luck finding an actual purple squirrel lurking around. (Hence the phrase.)

They’re not the only kind of choosy candidates, however. Indeed, you may simply be seeking a high performer with a great track record and a proactive, self-starting attitude.

What do these types of valued workers share? In a nutshell:

  • They understand their worth to the marketplace.
  • They’re usually currently employed.
  • They’re often passive candidates in that they’re not actively looking for another job.
  • The balance of power is typically tilted in their favor. Chances are, you need them more than they need you.
  • They have time to consider their next career move – they’re in no rush.

Market factors can lead to candidates being choosy as well. Worker selectivity is especially pronounced in labor markets defined by increased job openings and low unemployment.

So, how do you attract and win over choosy job candidates?

There are seven fundamental ways you can make progress.

1. Advertise strategically and creatively

The days of posting jobs to national boards such as Indeed, CareerBuilder or LinkedIn and then sitting back and waiting for applications to arrive are long over.

That’s not to say that these sites are ineffective. They’re an incredibly important part of any recruitment strategy because they provide a vehicle for reaching the largest number of job candidates.

But these sites aren’t enough. You must dig deeper, especially if you want to reach the elusive purple squirrel and other choosy job candidates. Why? Because they’re often passive candidates, they’re less likely to be looking on job boards at all.

Instead, get creative in how you find and engage candidates. Target the following resources:

  • Specialized job boards, such as Rigzone,, or
  • Industry- or job-specific groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, MeetUp, etc.
  • Industry associations
  • Social media, such as industry hashtags on Twitter
  • Your professional network (for referrals)

With specialized job boards, keep in mind that every industry has its A-level sites, B-level sites and so on. The better the site, the more respected it will be within the industry and the higher the quality of candidates.

Note that the most respected sites will likely charge more for job postings. Plan your budget accordingly.

2. Make your website and application process user friendly

Your website is among the first places that people will go to learn about your company.

Your entire website needs to make a good impression, frankly, so that it conveys all the qualities that purple squirrels and choosy job candidates seek in a business: professionalism, legitimacy and respected status.

Your website should be clean, attractive and modern in design – and user friendly. In other words:

  • Information should be easy to find.
  • Pages should load quickly.
  • The site should be compatible with mobile devices.

The career section of your website – especially the process for applying to jobs online – is critical. A process that is too clunky or lengthy may cause desirable candidates to lose interest.

To prevent this, implement an applicant tracking system to help you streamline the application process, become better organized on the back end and communicate with applicants efficiently.

3. Actively manage your company’s employment brand and reputation online

Your online presence isn’t limited to your company website. There are also your company’s social media channels to consider. As with your customers, you want to engage prospects with interesting and useful social media content while projecting a desirable image.

Harder to manage are the third-party online sources over which you exert much less control. This includes job-review sites such as Glassdoor. You can be sure that prospects are looking at this information, too – and it’s helping them form opinions about your company.

Maintain awareness about what current and ex-employees, as well as job applicants and customers, say about your company online so you can address any negative comments quickly. Set up Google Alerts, in which you’ll receive a notification every time your company is mentioned.

In responding to any feedback, be polite and professional, even if you feel the criticism is unfair. A thoughtful, respectful response will go a long way toward garnering credibility and goodwill.

Remember: If you acquire a poor reputation online, the purple squirrel will scamper off with the other choosy job candidates to focus attention – and career ambitions – elsewhere.

4. Ramp up your networking efforts

Seek out professional organizations that cater directly to your targeted employee pool and attend their networking events. You can find many of these organizations through a simple Internet search.

Networking events can be a good way to meet qualified candidates, as long as the activities are relevant to pertinent industry professionals. Not all recruiters or hiring managers take the time to attend these functions, so you may have a great shot at standing out – and more so if your company hosts or underwrites the activity.  

By engaging with top talent at professional networking events, you have the chance to demonstrate to current and potential prospects your interest in them and their careers.

Short on time? Face-to-face interaction is ideal, but it’s not always necessary to go to a physical location. Try participating in groups online that are dedicated to a specific industry or job type. Social media can be a great place to mingle and network in your spare moments.

5. Make purple squirrels and other choosy job candidates feel important

Everyone enjoys an ego boost. So, make prospects feel sought after.

When you initially contact a prospect, don’t send a generic job description and simply ask if they’re interested. It may come off as impersonal and spammy.

Instead, tailor your message to demonstrate that you’ve done your research and are impressed by them.

You can do this by:

  • Studying their LinkedIn profile and other public social media accounts to get an understanding of their background, interests and goals
  • Emphasizing the aspects of the job that they’ll probably be most excited about
  • Explaining how their qualifications align with the position

Once a prospect has agreed to engage in the recruitment process, timely communication and personal acknowledgement are key. No one likes to feel ignored or rejected. If a job candidate doesn’t hear back from you or thinks they’re out of the loop, they may feel insulted or annoyed. They may move on to the next opportunity.

In your communications with desirable job candidates, remember: It’s not about your company, it’s about them. Adjust your messaging so that prospects understand what opportunities a new position may hold for them.


  • How critical the role is within the organization and department
  • What important knowledge and skills they may flex at your company
  • How this role might positively impact their career
  • How much exposure a new hire will have to high-visibility projects and management, which can impact the speed of their advancement within your company

Even if one of you eventually decides that the available position isn’t the right fit, that doesn’t mean the prospect won’t be perfect for a future opening. In the meantime, they may refer other people in their network to you.

For this reason, treat every candidate with respect and courtesy throughout every stage of recruiting. When someone has a poor experience with a company, word can travel fast among their peers.

6. Aggressively promote what makes your company most appealing

You’ll be most apt to entice purple squirrels and choosy job candidates by spelling out what sets you apart from other companies. This may be a competitive benefits package or a high-value perks program. Emphasize these attributes in your job postings, targeted recruiting outreach and candidate interviews.

The better your benefits and perks, the more attention you’ll receive.

Do you have a stellar company culture? A workplace where people enjoy spending their time, feel valued and supported, and want to stay and grow for the long term carries real weight. If you’re confident in your culture and your team, offer to let candidates speak to team members.

Of course, the all-important factor is pay.

What do well-qualified prospects consider a great salary? For starters, determine what’s standard in your industry and among your competition. Do what you can to accommodate that salary range. If you can’t afford the desired salary, compensate for it in other ways.

Know that in some states, such as Colorado, you will soon be required by law to include a salary or salary range in all job postings. You don’t want to repel strong candidates at the outset by posting a too-low salary – and earn a reputation as a low baller.

Summing it all up

Gaining the attention of – and then attracting and hiring – the purple squirrel and other choosy job candidates demands a more sophisticated, innovative recruiting strategy. Why try reaching extraordinary candidates with ordinary efforts? With a little research, networking and proper messaging, you may just land your dream employee.

For more information on how to win over the most elusive and selective prospects, download our free magazine: Building a better team: The Insperity guide to attract, recruit and hire top talent.