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Purple Squirrels Are Rare – Hiring for Transferable Skills Instead Can Be a Boon for Business

Posted on: January 31, 2017

Categories: Hiring | Interviewing

By Lisa Hildreth, VP of Accounting/Finance and HR Services

How much time do you spend hunting for elusive “purple squirrels?” This breed of job prospect is known for its combination of education, job experience and qualifications. But even employers who constantly peruse available talent sometimes have trouble finding the perfect candidate when a job becomes available.

Here’s the good news: your ideal match is out there. You may just need to review candidates with a different eye; knowing how to look for transferable skills and broad experiences can be a real boon for your business.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, finding a purple squirrel can be about as easy as, well, finding a purple squirrel. That’s where knowing what you’re looking for comes into play. Here are three top transferable skills to look for in a job candidate.

1) Good Communication Skills

Regardless of industry, your employees need to possess solid communication skills to effectively do their jobs. This is important for any employee who regularly deals with clients or customers; these people must be able to communicate effectively, efficiently and in a friendly, professional manner. They should also be adept at communicating over a variety of mediums: phone, email, online and in person.

But strong communication is equally important for employees who don’t interface with external constituents. How functional would your workplace be if your team members didn’t have the ability to work well with and alongside other employees, managers and subordinates?

As an employer, you can begin gauging a candidate’s communication skills from the moment you receive the resume. Can they write effectively? You can assess them further in a phone interview. Are they well spoken? Finally, an in-person interview reveals even more.  Do they make eye contact? Do they have confident body language?

These early cues can clue you into the type of employee the candidate will be and how they will interact with their peers.

2) Initiative and Motivation

When hiring, two other desirable, transferable skills to evaluate in potential employees are motivation and initiative. If you haven’t found your purple squirrel, your eventual hire will likely need additional training, guidance and time to get up to speed in their new role.

But hiring someone who is motivated to do the job and do it well can reduce ramp-up time and benefit your business for the long haul. Motivated workers are generally eager to settle into their role, take on responsibility and learn the skills they need to succeed.

While it might take some time before a new employee feels settled enough in their job to take initiative, a strong hire should eventually be able to do exactly that. When screening candidates, it can be tricky determining who has a can-do, get it done attitude. But it’s certainly worth asking for real-life examples of ways they’ve shown initiative. The candidates who possess true initiative are more likely to evolve into employees who seek out opportunities to grow, learn, achieve and add value to your company.

3) Problem Solving

One of the great things about hiring job candidates who aren’t purple squirrels is that their unique backgrounds and range of experience can bring new ideas, methodologies and, in some cases, a whole new mindset to the organization.

Hiring employees with demonstrated abilities to problem solve (especially on the fly), present innovative solutions to problems and think outside the box can be a real game-changer. Every employer dreams of employees who refuse to spin their wheels and instead find creative solutions to the issues at hand.

To identify this valuable skill, ask potential hires how they go about solving problems both in work settings and in everyday life. Those who have the ability to see through challenges can be a great addition to your workforce. 

In a Nutshell: The Truth About Purple Squirrels

A long, fruitless quest for purple squirrels can leave employers feeling blue. Instead, focus on a holistic approach to hiring. Dive into to your job candidates’ abilities and competencies beyond just hard skills. Doing so will help you create a more functional and productive workplace.


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