Be the Purple Squirrel

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Jun 22, 2011 in , , | No Comments

Are you a “purple squirrel”–the candidate who possibly does not exist?

If you aren’t sure, you’ll want to read on. In U.S. News & World Report which featured the article, “How to Stand Out From the Crowd and Kick-Start Your Own Recovery”, by Liz Wolgemuth, the elusive purple squirrel was discussed.

Purple squirrels are highly specialized people, so much so, they may not exist! Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? But it’s true. Evidently, at the height of the recession, employers were seeking the impossible employee to find. Now that we are seeing a recovery of sorts taking place, non-specialized jobs are beginning to open up again. But in light of the major shift that has taken place, is the purple squirrel still being sought in a more realistic form? The short answer is, yes.

Become Strategic

Wolgemuth states in her article, “…today’s workers cannot expect the workforce to return to what it was. Many will need new, specialized skills to accomplish what companies require as they strive to do more with less. Job seekers will need to be strategic and–hardest of all–will have to stay positive, despite suffering extra-long stints of unemployment.”

America is facing a deficit in people to fill positions, such as engineers. Nurses, technicians, skilled trades workers, IT staff, and machinists also rank as positions difficult for employers to fill.  Susan Traiman, director of public policy at Business Round-table, says, “Coming out of the downturn, employers increasingly are going to be looking for people with credentials or certifications.” She continues by saying, “I would say that math and science, even in the fields like health care, are almost prerequisites.” I’ll add that you must have a credential or certification from an institution which is accredited and recognized by employers in your field. Do see posts I’ve written regarding trade schools and other for-profits which go into detail about this subject.

Growth industries are requiring more from their employees; high level technical competence, problem solving and communication skills. This means the American educational system must bump up solid math and science education in high schools and recruit students for math, science and engineering in college. The U.S. defense industry requires employees to be American, yet the number of foreign students disproportionately in graduate-level science courses shows America is failing to attract it’s own to this vital field.

The Right Direction

When trying to determine what certifications are needed in your field of interest, Wolgemuth suggests checking with employers or read the online postings to see what they are seeking.

The University of Missouri looked at 327 job seekers 20 to 40 years old efforts to find employment. If they developed a plan and followed it and kept a positive attitude even later in their search, all had a powerful impact on being successful. “Conscientiousness appears to be the key”, states Wolgemuth. And that’s not all, the article mentions self-discipline and dependability affected a job search in setting goals and developing a winning plan that landed them offers. Researches concluded, “Perhaps, conscientious job seekers conducted better quality job searches by scrutinizing their fit with prospective employers more carefully or more effectively following up with employers.”

Additionally, a positive outlook helped them to feel more confident, or cope better with the stress of unemployment, assisting in their better interviewing skills. These people are the ones that pick themselves up and dust themselves off, not allowing anything to defeat them–even unemployment. Having the ability to bounce back obviously puts a job seeker in a great position to be persistent and not give up in the face of adversity.

Other Advice

It pays to have someone you know refer you to an employer. Usually, someone who is referred is well qualified and will be loyal to the company longer (saving them money). Once again, the power of networking is obvious.

What you don’t know can hurt you. For example, 46% of newly hired employees aren’t successes after 18 months. What is the main cause? A lack of interpersonal skills. Here is where your ability to look honestly at yourself helps, while being willing to learn and change what doesn’t work in your favor. Asking others for honest feedback is one way to find out how you are doing. If you presented at a recent meeting, ask your co-workers if you were clear and able to get your point across. Find books and tapes to assist you in weak areas, this enables you to always be willing to improve. By doing so, you prove you are an employee with staying power. Remember, a flexible employee willing to improve is also considered someone positive.

Be the “purple squirrel” in the office. Acorn penchant not required.

For information on this topic and more, see US News.