Stop (Coddling Hiring Managers), Collaborate, and Listen

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Oct 20, 2016
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

Recruiters and their HR partners have all experienced recruitment challenges on tough-to-fill roles. Some of these roles can be so difficult they’re called “purple unicorns,” and finding candidates for them can be incredibly daunting.

The challenge of the purple unicorns often begins with hiring managers acknowledging first that purple unicorns are hard to find and that managers may not be fully aware of the available talent for the skills they seek. When looked at as a whole, the combination of specific skillsets they seek would appear to require perfect candidates, while actual candidates are anything but. Factoring in relocation needs makes this situation even more problematic. Mix all of this with the need to find the right fit for the company culture, and it’s easy to understand why so many recruiters end up wanting to pull their hair out.

Like the rest of us, hiring managers are human and far from perfect. We all make mistakes and from time to time stumble into the same traps. Hiring managers are under huge pressure to hire the perfect candidate no matter the industry. None of them want to make mistakes. They have the right intention — they may just need some coaching and collaboration to find the right solution.

Working on these roles can be fun and rewarding. There is a great sense of accomplishment when they are filled. Even when extremely difficult positions are not filled, each one offers a valuable learning experience. It’s challenging for recruiters to who carry too many of these roles

This is where talent acquisition and/or HR have a real opportunity to be collaborative and act as true talent advisors. Recruiters may not be experts on the roles or technologies, but can certainly be experts on the market of available candidates. That is why educating hiring managers is so important. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often, instead of being consultative, recruiters end up coddling them, believing the job description is perfect and the manager knows 100 percent what they want. As any parent of a three year old can tell you, coddling is exactly what is happening.

It’s not easy to be consultative. Much depends on both the hiring managers’ and the organizations’ culture, as well as the specifics of the purple unicorn positions in question. Additionally, there may even be generational factors at play when it comes to assessing candidates. The role may actually be defined correctly for that organization, and the search for the right candidate will simply take longer than expected. Managing expectations is critical during the early stages of the search. Unfortunately, we still see more positions falling into this category than there should be.

We must stop coddling hiring managers and take greater ownership in defining our roles. If we do not, we must be willing to face the consequences of longer fill times and delays in hitting important business objectives.

For technology firms such as Google, eBay, Symantec, and others, seeing purple unicorns when hiring engineers is fairly common. Sales roles also seem to be another job function known for producing them. Surely, there is a long list of purple unicorn roles that span virtually every industry imaginable.

Here’s a three-step approach to build a collaborative relationship with hiring managers and making all those purple unicorns much more manageable and hiring goals more realistic.

Review the job description and collaborate with the hiring manager

The fear of making a mistake is very high among hiring managers, especially for their mission-critical hiring. Recruiters have to understand this and find ways to collaborate, and use supporting data.

Use data to support your case

Tools like Wanted Analytics, TalentStream, and others use job postings as a measure of demand  and can provide a valuable picture of recruiting supply and demand. .

Candidate inventory tools definitely help with the development of sourcing strategies but can also support setting expectations with hiring managers, especially with purple unicorn roles.

For example, TalentStream data showed that a search for a Security Architect in Richmond, VA had a 78 percent difficulty score. This meant there were nine times more postings than available candidates with the skills required! Finding the right candidate in this case would require collaborating with hiring managers ahead of time to pre-set expectations.

Build functional expertise on your team

A recruiter may lack the knowledge of a degreed engineer, but can certainly know enough to ask the right questions. They should read blogs, interview candidates, and use other approaches to improve their knowledge of the roles.

Without a basic understanding of roles, plus business acumen, becoming a true talent advisor is much more difficult. Knowing the role and being able to speak to a company’s values as well as their products and services are critical steps to becoming more collaborative with your hiring managers.

And, while LinkedIn training is valuable, really understanding the day-to-day realities of the role and how performance is measured will provide a big advantage when dealing with candidates and gaining credibility with everyone involved in hiring process.

Here’s an example of a condensed job description for a DevOps engineer in Silicon Valley in which there were multiple openings. These can be tough roles, and this position became a purple unicorn. A collaborative approach paved the way for success.

DevOps Engineer

ABC Tech Corp is looking for a passionate DevOps Engineer to join our Engineering Solutions teams.

Original RequirementsA Collaborative Approach
Required Skills:


Ansible, Vagrant, Puppet, and Chef (Ansible mandatory)

A search on LinkedIn or other tools shows no combination of these four tools in DevOps Engineering. Work with the hiring manager to define the role more clearly. The requirements specified skills not reflected in the talent market.

Current application of scripting abilities in Python, Perl, Ant, Linux shell (all mandatory requirements)

Candidates currently working in DevOps engineering don’t apply their scripting abilities as part of their daily responsibilities. 80 percentof the candidates interviewed (over 50) — who were Sr. DevOps Engineers — had not used those scripting languages for years. Managers should know this when interviewing candidates and even during the resume review process.

Knowledge of data center management, systems management, systems monitoring, networking and security is required

When pipeline challenges come up within a desired area, expand the search, which in this case included strong DevOps engineering candidates from other industries who possess network and security backgrounds or data center knowledge from previous professional activities. This approach expanded the pipeline by 25 percent.
Preferred skills:

Experience with C (expert level)

A large number of candidates interviewed for this position were proficient with other programming languages (i.e. Java and C++). A large percentage of the candidates also had proficiency in SQL, helping expand the pool.
Experience with Ansible (at least four years)Ansible hasn’t been around for that long. Lowering the desired amount of years of experience in Ansible increased the pipeline of candidates a great deal. This change immediately improved results.

Show the hiring leaders that the candidates who were interested and qualified were not as senior as they expected. This requires the foresight to adjust one of the roles to be more mid-level than the other openings. Additionally, another location with tech-savvy candidates was found and after some encouragement, the company eventually opened an office in that location.

Consider having your team members come from technical areas prior to becoming recruiters. For example, we have a doctor and former nurses on staff to help support our medical and biotech recruiting. This type of expertise plays a major role your training and development efforts.

This article is part of a series called How-Tos.
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