Often considered mythical and existing solely in fairy tales, unicorns are very much real in the magical world of recruitment! In fact, it is one of the primary reasons why companies partner with us – our ability to find talent that no one else can…

What is a unicorn?

Not to be confused with unicorn status attached to billion-dollar companies, unicorns or purple squirrels (recruiters are big animal lovers) are terms used to describe an ideal or perfect candidate who has the right combination of skills and experiences – they are hardworking overachievers who are well respected and often characterised as being a ‘T-shaped’ person. Believed to be rare or non-existent, finding one is akin to reaching the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Often referred to as purple (due to being so rare), unicorns can also be pink (passive candidates who are not actively looking for new opportunities) or having wings (active candidates who are currently job seekers). Pink unicorns are highly prized and considered the most difficult to find.

All puns aside, we’re referring to people with the right mix of skills, competencies, and qualities that when hired, will contribute significantly to the workplace and be a key driver of growth for your business. They are the type of employees that will help your company reach its potential.

Why are they so elusive?

A lot of employers who are looking to attract unicorns make the fatal mistake of publicising the fact they are on the hunt for the elusive and highly sort after “perfect” employee. You’ve probably read a unicorn job description or job advert – overly specific requirements and at times unmeetable standards that exclude or discourage otherwise qualified talent.

In today’s job market, finding people to fill roles is challenging. If you’re a business looking for the very best people, well things just got complex.

Sourcing, attracting and retaining top talent requires a lot of focus and much like actual unicorns, these types of candidates appear impossible to find. In fact, you may just have one working for you right now and not even realise. It’s easy to become too rigid about what “great” looks like, particularly when filling an existing role and creating a picture of the type of person you need. This is where bias can creep in and you miss opportunities to secure talent that will make a real difference, simply because they weren’t an obvious choice, or you were looking in the wrong places.

It’s heart breaking to see an employer miss out on catching a unicorn, or one that is so narrow in their focus for a “perfect” candidate that others (equally talented and with oodles of potential) are overlooked.

Tips for finding unicorns

Decipher Group is a market leading, independent recruitment firm. Our reputation is built on our connections and networks, and our ability to consistently bring new candidates to the table. We are unicorn whisperers and happy to share some of our tips for attracting top talent:

1. Be clear on “what” you need not “who”

A big part of our job is bringing an objective lens to the recruitment process, working closely with our clients to scope roles that look beyond the immediate needs of a business unit and consider what skills the wider organisation must acquire to succeed in the future. While at the same time, leaving some room for the candidate to shape the role.

Being clear on the capabilities required to be successful in a role, means everyone involved in the process will be on the same page and this will help immensely in your search. You’ll know it when you find a unicorn but it’s important not to be distracted by their brilliance. A new hire will only deliver value if there is a need for them in the business.

2. Know your employer brand

There are many factors that contribute to creating a compelling employee value proposition, which might involve anything from competitive compensation and tailored benefits to career-development opportunities and a reputation for stellar leadership, through to meaningful work, a commitment to diversity and inclusivity, sense of purpose and values alignment.

Because they are highly valued, unicorns are likely being supported and happy in their current role (hence the reason they may not be actively looking for a new position). To tempt them into making a change, they’ll want to have a clear picture of the role and opportunity and this needs to be done in an honest and open way. Creating a magnetic workplace that attracts talent is a great attraction strategy but don’t fall into the trap of thinking everyone wants to work for you. Remember that a recruitment process requires a hint of self-promotion from both an employer and potential employee.

3. Unicorns are difficult to spot

This may seem obvious given their elusive status. There’s no arguing that top talent, particularly passive candidates who are not currently looking for new roles, are challenging to uncover but what we’re also referring to here are the biases that distract us from seeing what’s right in front of us.

Perhaps on paper the candidate looks great but doesn’t interview well (or vice versa), maybe their background is completely left field to your expectations, or their potential outweighs their experience – your inability to spot and hire the “most right” candidate that fits the role and your organisation can result in you missing out.

The approach, strategies, support and advice offered by an external recruitment partner or your internal HR team, provides insight into what you really should be looking for in a candidate as well as methods for assessing suitability. And importantly, what their potential could mean for your business.

4. Your effort doesn’t stop once they are hired

Unicorns are high performers and while they can bring a new energy and inspiration to the workplace, they can also be perceived as a threat to some employees. Let’s be clear, what we’re talking about here is a new hire that will exceed expectations and raise the bar for everyone. It can be a major move to bring a unicorn into your business.

Onboarding is a big deal with unicorns, this isn’t a one-time orientation, but rather doing everything required to ensure they become a fully functioning member of the team for the long-term and this starts long before their first day on the job. It’s not about making them “fit” with how your business operates; remember that you hired them because they are unique.

Unicorns are also self-starters with drive and ambition, so it is important to keep them motivated and supported through development and ongoing opportunity for growth. This also extends to identifying the unicorns (a.k.a high potentials) who could be currently hiding in your business. Remember, they can be hard to spot.

5. It takes a unicorn to find a unicorn

Sourcing top talent is an absolute craft. It makes sense to tap into the toolbox of skills offered by an external recruitment partner because finding people is their job! But the real art of recruitment lies in a person’s ability to engage with others in a meaningful and authentic way. It’s about understanding the company and opportunity and then finding the perfect match with a candidate based on their career path and future aspirations. It is a challenging and complex process where you are advocating for both parties and that requires a certain level of expertise, tenacity and candour.

What else to consider

As we’ve eluded to, your idea of what constitutes an ideal or perfect candidate could be holding you back. As could your determined focus on finding this elusive set of skills and attributes in a single person – sometimes simply filling a role vacancy is actually more critical.

In most cases, finding ideal candidates can push out a recruitment process because of the need for an extended search stage. Remember these are people who are in-demand so there’s also a lot more discussion and negotiating required to convert them to a motivated (and committed) role applicant. Even if you are successful in securing them, there will always be another employer trying to tempt them to make a change. You need to reward them appropriately and keep them engaged and challenged in their work.

All of this energy and focus can sometimes mean you overlook candidates, particularly those who have the winning quality of ‘potential’ – or rather, competence over credentials. There will always be non-negotiables when it comes to the skills required in a new hire. But it’s also important to assess candidate suitability more broadly, for example looking at transferrable skills, considering the relevance of education/degrees, or identifying what can be taught on the job. Not only will this widen your talent pool, but it means you’ll bring new hires into your business with the necessary attributes that will enable them (and you) to thrive.

Need help?

Decipher Group has a proven track record of sourcing hard to find talent for a range of organisations. Our job is not to find you the first candidate, it’s to find you the best candidate. Let’s talk.

The Decipher Team

To stay on top of current recruitment trends and technologies follow Decipher Group on LinkedIn.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Share this story

Our insights to your inbox

Subscribe and we’ll update you with our latest news and insights.

our people

Your first
port of call