Be a Purple Squirrel

Have you ever thought about being a purple squirrel? Whether because of your calculated genius, or sheer luck, you may already be a “purple squirrel” and not even know it. You’re just doing the best you can with your talents, and BAM! – it happens.

In the recruiting world, the “purple squirrel” is a metaphor for the ever-elusive “perfect candidate” – that candidate with exactly the right qualifications and experience to match the difficult-to-fill job vacancy.

Purple Squirrel

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The trick, of course, is that you need to find a way to make the right person aware of your exceptional talents at precisely the perfect moment to land the interview, much less the job. Landing that ideal position isn’t always in your hands, but there are things you can do to improve your chances.

Since my first six years at the agency were spent scouting the amazing talent we’ve hired, allow me to share a few insights that may help you if you’re making career moves – especially if you’re interested in a particular Dallas-based ad agency with a blog that you happen to be reading right now.

Know Thyself

First things first – you have to know yourself and discover what you truly want out of your career. While this can evolve over time (and sometimes feel like a moving target), you need to develop a long-term plan and avoid veering off course just because something easy falls in your lap. You won’t know, until it’s too late, just how much that “easy” detour will cost you in the long run. I have repeatedly encountered individuals who really wanted an opportunity in advertising, but they took a position that was “easy money” for a year. Of course, one year became several years, and the next thing you know, they are eight to ten years down the road, with no industry experience and competing against fresh college graduates for entry-level opportunities and not making the cut.

Know your talents and what really drives you. What are you really good at and what do you enjoy most about your work and the work environment. If the thing that gives you joy is designing for the digital space, then focus your efforts on finding that position that gives you the opportunity to design and grow in your craft. Put in the hard work and sacrifice to design, even when it’s not a sexy project. Be sure to maintain focus on the right type of opportunity and don’t be sidetracked by the opportunity to make great cash working for your buddy’s dad in a role that doesn’t further your design talents. You are likely to have a tougher time getting back on track later than if you just stay the course.

Homework Doesn’t End After School

It’s important that you know your industry as well as your target companies. Regardless of whether you’re new to your industry, make sure you’re following industry publications and blogs. Join the conversation and stay connected with the constantly changing environment. Whether it’s during an interview or casual encounter with an industry professional, you will need to be able to speak comfortably and insightfully about what is happening in the industry.

Research the companies at which you seek opportunities. Avoid the shotgun (blasting your résumé to any and all openings) approach to the job hunt, and really understand how each opportunity helps meet your career goals and what value you can provide to that particular business. It’s not enough to know that a company has been selected as a “Best Place to Work.” Put in the time to find out why the employees nominated that company for such an honor and what makes it special and unique. Know how it’s similar or different from its competitors. What sets that company apart within the market? What makes it unique? And once you understand the ins and outs of that company, do a little soul-searching to determine whether those are values you seek and if the company can offer the type of role that keeps you on track to meeting your goals.

Just because people speak highly of a particular organization doesn’t make it the right fit for you and your plans for the future. Take the time to research and get the insights, and evaluate whether it suits your needs and interests. By doing this research, you reduce the probability that you will become a job hopper. Be selective about the opportunities you pursue, and you’re more likely to find the career satisfaction you seek without having to jump ship every couple of years.

Networking Isn’t for the Faint of Heart

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Put forth the effort to make meaningful connections with people who have insights into the company and dig deep to find out the things your competitors (other job seekers) may not be able to find out. Notice I said “meaningful” connections, not just “Hey, man, can you send my résumé to your company recruiter?”

Comb through your entire network and figure out who you know who could help you make a strong connection, and then ask for introductions. And realize that once the introduction is made, it’s all in your hands to make something of that relationship. Don’t rely on someone else to get your credentials in front of the person who makes the hiring decisions. Nobody has as much to gain as you do, so you should be the person putting in the time and effort to get to the right contacts. It’s fine to ask a friend to share your résumé with the company’s internal recruiter, but have a plan to follow up. Don’t just sit back and assume that the “pass off” included a ringing endorsement that you are exactly the right candidate. (In fact, it was probably sent via email with no introduction at all, let alone a shout from the rooftops: “Call this person right now! We’ll be a better company with him/her on our team!”)

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because you have a connection with someone at a company where you want to work, “you’re in!” People are often surprised to find that an employee referral candidate is expected to know more about the organization than the average person without a connection, and if they neglect to do their research, it can have a negative impact.

Never Underestimate the Power of Internships

Internships open doors and provide critical experience. Internships are quite often your best channel for discovering your optimal career path. How better to understand what certain positions require, make industry connections and discover what you enjoy about your day-to-day work experiences?

Don’t be surprised if an internship exposes you to aspects of the industry of which you weren’t previously aware and leads you in a slightly new direction. Recognize the opportunity and consider signing on for another internship in the alternate discipline to fully experience that role before making any long-term decisions. Internships are a great way to experience a position without overcommitting. It’s acceptable to decline a permanent position after an internship ends if you discover that it’s not the right role. It’s not as acceptable to bail on a full-time job after three months.

Growing into Your Career

I recall my older sister telling me years ago that she admired that I had reinvented myself while building my career. Coming from someone whom I admired for her very successful military career, that comment took me by surprise. I envied the fact that she found her path early on and had managed to be so successful in the military. Although I expected to have a 20+ year military career myself, after seven years of service, I discovered that it wasn’t as much of a fit for me as I expected and my talents were likely better suited to another path.

It took some time, hard work and self-discovery to find myself where I am today. More than once, I had to take a step back to move forward. My path wasn’t straight, but with each move I made, I identified and sought out specific opportunities to address my career interests, and each opportunity built upon the previous experiences. Last summer, after six years of recruiting amazing talent and showcasing all the reasons they should join this great agency, I managed to take another step toward advancing my own career. For several years, I wanted to move into a role that allowed me to contribute to our client work. It’s an opportunity I wasn’t aware of before coming to this agency in 2007, but have had my eye on for some time. I finally made the request and am now managing digital work for agency clients. And I’m thrilled. I’ve made four big career moves in 25 years, and this is the one I hadn’t originally expected, but I am so thrilled for the opportunity to continue to learn and grow in my experiences.

You don’t always know where the road will take you, but if you have a focus and work hard to educate yourself to be competitive, you might just end up being a purple squirrel.


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