Candidate Crush Saga: Courting “Purple Squirrels”

candidate crushImagine yourself back in high school with a big crush on the homecoming queen. (We’ll do this from the male perspective just for demonstration purposes.) You really like her. She’s smart, pretty, fun and every guy would kill for a date with her. So what do you do?

Send her a letter pronouncing your undying love? No.

Walk up to her and plant a big ole kiss, right on the lips? Um, no.

Get down on one knee and propose right then and there? Of course not.

You have to court her! (Yes, I realize this isn’t 1875 and there’s really no such thing as courting anymore, but stay with me…) You need to flirt a little. Make eye contact across the room. Create a little allure, a little cache.

Get her attention. Make her wonder. Make her curious. Make her interested.

Once that’s happened, maybe you say hi as you pass in the hall. Maybe you ask her a harmless question about homework. Maybe you smile genuinely and introduce yourself. Get some conversation going.

Only then is it okay to ask for her number, ask for a date, see where things go. She’s the homecoming queen for goodness’ sake. You can’t just go up cold, ask her to prom and expect her to accept. This one’s gonna take a little time… a little effort. But it’ll be worth it.

This SAME concept applies to recruiting purple squirrels.

They’re in high demand. You can’t just blast them a spammy, impersonal email and expect them to respond. They get 10 of those emails a week from lazy recruiters. That’s never gonna work.

You can’t just tweet them a job title and link to your job posting and expect them to stop what they’re doing to apply online. No way. Not gonna happen.

You can’t send them the same InMail message three times in three months and expect this strategy to suddenly work. Forget it.

You’ve gotta COURT them, just like you would that high school cutie… And you’re gonna do it over social media.

Over the next week or two:

– Favorite their tweet and/or retweet them once in a while. (Not every tweet. You’re not a stalker. The homecoming queen would never go out with a guy who follows her home and hides outside in her bushes.)

– Join some of the same LinkedIn groups or Google+ communities. Choose ones that are directly relevant. Chances are, other purple squirrels hang out there too! (I once knew a guy who dated one cheerleader just to get closer to THE another cheerleader on the squad. Yep. Tricky, huh?)”

– Like, share, comment, +1 their posts once in a while. (Once again, only once in a while… not all day, every day. We’re “flirting” here, not sucking up or looking desperate.)

– Find a blog post they’ve written and share it online or leave a comment. (Ah, the modern day version of the love letter! Haha)

– Consistently help others in your network and show that you’re a giver, not just a taker. (Who can resist a nice guy?)

By now, you’ve likely gotten their attention. They know you’re interested. They’re probably wondering when you’re gonna hit ‘em up about a job. Don’t do it. Don’t cave. It’s too soon to ask to prom or propose marriage.

It’s time to get a little conversation started.

Get ‘em to respond. Anything. A simple ‘thank you’ for tweeting their blog post could be the crack in the dam that you’ve been waiting for. Maybe ask them a quick question over Twitter. Something innocuous even. Show that you are interested in the same techie stuff and like to talk shop. Maybe you reel in the hiring manager or one of the hiring team members and get them to engage with the purple squirrel online. (Even play a little Cyrano de Bergerac if you have to… You provide the script that your techie coworker sends to the purple squirrel.) Whatever works! Get creative.

When it IS time to leave a voicemail or reach out over email, don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t go in for the kiss quite yet. Don’t send them a long, boring job description and ask them if they want to interview about your job. No. No. No. That doesn’t work with purple squirrels.

  • Clearly identify yourself and your company, but make your message all about the candidate.
  • Personalize your communication. Make it specific to them.
  • Use their name and spell it right.
  • Let them know that you’re really impressed with their background and say WHY you’re impressed. (Hey, it’s not a lie. You MUST be impressed to be jumping through all these hoops, right?)
  • Maybe reference a recent article they wrote or shared online.
  • Maybe do a little online research to find a common interest to talk about and break the ice.
  • Let them know that you’d love to chat sometime. Keep it conversational but don’t say too much. Loose lips sink ships. Keep it somewhat open ended. It’s okay if they’re wondering what you wanna talk about or which position you might be calling about. Don’t give away too much yet. We’re courting here, remember?

So what’s the ultimate goal of all this work? To get them to agree to chat on the phone.

That’s it. That’s the holy grail at this point. A phone call.

Once you DO have them on the phone, you can chitchat a bit about their background, conversationally ask them questions to learn a bit more.

Be interested. People like to talk about themselves, especially if you’re genuinely interested. You might ask them for referrals since they’re clearly well connected and an expert in their field. See how the conversation is going and play your cards accordingly.

Let them know that your company is doing some amazing things and always looking for A+ players whether a position is posted online or not. Tell them that you’d be happy to tell them more if they’re ever interested. This is a purple squirrel. They’ll let you know if they’re interested or not. You don’t have to spell it out. They get it. Leave the ball in their court.

If it’s going really well, go ahead and talk about your req. Be good at reading your candidate and react accordingly. Be interested and professional, not desperate and pushy.

Best case scenario? They’ll want to chat with your hiring manager and the wheels will be in motion. (No, don’t insist that they apply online or send you a resume first. Ask but don’t insist. This is a purple squirrel we’re talking to here! Download their LinkedIn profile or find their bio online… get creative. Oh, and remind the hiring manager that this is purple squirrel call… a very different conversation than your typical phone screen!)

Even if the candidate isn’t interested, you’ve now made a very strategic connection in your target area. They will remember you… in a good way. They will keep you in mind if they’re ever curious, having a bad day at work or ready to make a move. They might even send names your way in the meantime. It’s been known to happen. (And if you link up on LinkedIn, you’re now connected to the purple squirrel’s connections and all of THOSE people’s connections. That’s a great mix of quality AND quantity.

It’s kinda like getting turned down by the homecoming queen but getting phone numbers from every other member of the homecoming court… not too shabby! ;)

When in doubt, remember the dating analogy and you’ll be fine.

Make it about them and go slow. One slick move or pushy maneuver could turn them off. A little bit of restraint and patience could pay off dividends!

What are some of the things that YOU’VE done to court purple squirrels? What tactics have you employed to reel in those hard-to-find candidates?

Originally Posted At StacyZapar.com

StacyZaparHeadshot-SmallStacy Donovan Zapar is a 15-year recruiting veteran for Fortune 500 tech companies and CEO of Tenfold Social Training, a B2B Social Recruiting training company for talent acquisition and staffing teams around the world. She is also the Most Connected Woman on LinkedIn with more than 40,000 1st-level connections, making her the #5 most connected person out of 259 million users worldwide. She is a monthly contributor to LinkedIn’s Talent Blog and served as Technical Editor for Wiley’s LinkedIn Marketing: An Hour a Day.
Stacy speaks regularly at HR / Recruiting conferences globally, including #truLondonLinkedIn Talent Connect and Sourcing Summit Australia. She is #6 on Huffington Post’s Top 100 Most Social HR Experts on Twitter and #7 on ERE.net’s 50 People Most Retweeted by Recruiters on Twitter. Feel free to connect with Stacy on LinkedIn and Twitter (@StacyZapar).


  • Some Guy

    I'm sorry, but the idea of courting a purple squirrel is a bit much. This article is no different from a 13 year old girl closing her eyes and dreaming about her magical wedding with Prince Charming.

    Purple Squirrels are as realistic in workplaces as Prince Charmings are for women. They both belong in the fiction section of the bookstore. Magical thinking will not find you what real, live workplaces are looking for.

    Perhaps just treating well-qualified candidates with a modicum of respect when you find that they meet most of your 27 dreamy wishlist criteria…instead of beating them down with the same lack of respect that every candidate gets.

    HR should get out of the business of recruiting, and leave it to the hiring managers to cultivate candidates through their networks.

    HR, through their keyword fetishes, ridiculous wishlists, psychometric babble, inability to understand the very sector in which they are hiring, and their over-reliance on sitting on their butts (waiting for a computer to shred 99% of the resumes that come through their systems) is nothing but an impediment to hiring.

    I think Nick Corcodilos (http://corcodilos.com/blog/6827/employment-in-america-wtf-is-going-on) and Peter Capelli (http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/03/why-employers-arent-filling-th/) are spot on.

    HR is no good at hiring.

  • Alex

    Recruitment Assistance
    with a new flavor.

    REFVerify.com offers
    an entire new approach of the social networking platform with the idea of “Know
    Who You Do Business With”. This concept is introduced with built-in security
    and authenticity checks of previous or current employments. By using these
    features, REFVerify overcomes the most critical issue in our society today,
    such as bogus references and unconfirmed skill sets. At REFVerify, all identities will be asked to
    confirm their employment information using their past or present employers.
    With identities now confirmed through REFVerify, we have now established a
    comfortable environment for employers and candidates to create working
    relationships


41