How to Find Top-Performing Hires

A Candidate with the Propensity to Learn May Beat A Purple Squirrel

Perfect Candidate vs. Empty Seat

When looking for top-performing hires, using an IT staffing firm to hire contracted IT professionals has become a popular strategy for many companies. This is particularly true of those companies looking to manage resources based on the number and size of current priority projects. When specific expertise is required for a particular project, working with an IT staffing service is an excellent solution for finding qualified candidates with the right skills at the right time.

Staffing agencies provide the ability to fill in that empty seat as soon as possible by only sending the client candidates they should be talking to; professionals that meet or exceed vital benchmarks, have the correct skillset, and fit the client’s culture. However, what many companies are looking for in a single candidate someone with the skills to fill multiple positions or one who can quickly acquire numerous skill sets –the mythical Purple Squirrel.

The Purple Squirrel

Years ago, when a company would request a Java candidate, and after a few days, the IT staffing firm could find a nice selection of suitable candidates. The company would interview the top candidates and decide on which one would best fit their needs and culture. Filling the empty seat with a qualified candidate was timely and seamless.

More recently, companies are coming to recruiters with position descriptions that include a long list of highly diverse skills and tools. This results from clients combining what used to be separate roles, and thus skillsets, into a single position —for example, wanting a Full Stack Java Developer that knows Angular, React, RDBMS, Mongo and CircleCI with a pay-grade of a mid-developer.

As companies continue to add these diverse specific requirements for tools, skills, and previous experience to their list of must-haves for the position, they begin to create what’s known as the “Purple Squirrel.” Finding this “perfect candidate” is incredibly rare, and a top-performing candidate with a specialized skillset like this will most certainly require a premium rate. IT recruitment firms can typically find candidates that meet core skills requirements, but few IT professionals will have all of the skills being required.

The Empty Seat

Before a company engages with an IT staffing firm, likely, they have already tried to find a resource via their internal process, and they have already spent 4+ weeks with an empty seat.  Once hiring a staffing firm, candidates are typically submitted within two weeks of the request, and then the company selects candidates to interview.

The company goes through the interview process with the candidates over the next week. With their list of extensive skills and requirements, the company frequently will reject each candidate as they do not bring the entire gamut of the requirements and highly specialized qualifications or experience listed. This means another 1-2 weeks go by before additional candidates are found, and the company has the chance to interview them.

Meanwhile, the empty seat is still open and putting a strain on productivity, amongst other things.

Creating the Perfect Candidate

In IT, skills needed are continually evolving, and it’s rare for professionals to be up-to-date on all the latest technologies and innovations continuously.  Before ruling out candidates who almost fit the mold but not precisely, companies should consider how quickly a resource can gain the skill set they may lack. Developing the perfect candidate may be the most time and cost-efficient method of filling the position.

If a candidate meets 70-80% of the role requirements and can be productive in the core skills needed, the company may be better off with them than waiting for a candidate who brings all or nearly all of the desired skills.   Finding a candidate with a propensity to learn is a highly valued characteristic in IT because of the rapidly evolving landscape.  For example, there are multiple tools within JavaScript frameworks.  If the company is looking for someone with Angular experience and the candidate has Node.JS experience, the skillsets are similar enough that the learning curve is minimal. In this case, the company should select a candidate who can learn and make incremental gains each week to become the perfect candidate within a short period, rather than spending 2-4 months searching for the ideal candidate. Companies are wise to re-evaluate their job requirements when they realize they may be looking for the Purple Squirrel.

Final Thoughts

When a seat remains open too long, someone eventually needs to step in and fill it. Other employees may end up taking on more work and become stretched thin, making their output suffer. This is why measuring a candidate’s ability to learn and developing that candidate may be the better approach vs searching for the “perfect candidate.” Besides, offering professional development is an excellent way to retain top talent and boost onboarding morale.

At QAT Global, we specialize in connecting some of the industry’s top technical talent with clients to deliver the right expertise at the right time. We understand that in IT especially, the right resource with the right skill set is needed to make a project successful. Flexibility is a crucial component of our search, which means we also look for candidates with the ability to adapt and excel that also have the willingness and propensity to learn. We have found the willingness and propensity to learn to be key success factors for IT professionals overall.

If you are considering utilizing contractual staff to meet your IT needs, searching for your ideal candidate, or looking to discuss project outsourcing options, contact QAT Global for a consultation today.