For as long as I can remember, employers have written job postings that describe candidates that don’t exist. Oh sure, there is one person in the world that is a perfect fit of the described position but that person is already employed. So when I say they don’t exist I mean they are not looking for a new job. A conundrum recruiters have encountered so often they have a nickname for candidates that would match these far fetched requirements, a purple squirrel.
Do you have the DNA of a Purple Squirrel?
Purple squirrel is a term used by employment recruiters to describe a job candidate with precisely the right education, technology experience, circumstantial experience and wide range of other qualifications that perfectly fits a job's requirements.
It takes one to know one. A candidate from within an industry can easily spot a purple squirrel job posting. It’s a little harder to notice if you are not in that field. You know the job postings is overly optimistic when you see two skills or experiences next to each other that usually don’t occur together in real life. If you read a posting and grow skeptical that anyone would meet these criteria, then the employer might be seeking a purple squirrel.
Our June Guest, Lee Schnider, has built his career on branding. Which comes across purple squirrel dilemmas all the time. Sometimes a purple squirrel wants to be a duck. And sometimes a duck wants to be a purple squirrel. In either situation, the branding narrative dictates how recruiters, hiring managers, and even other candidates view you.
“If you don’t have a narrative people are going to seek to create one anyway” -Lee Schnider
“If it walk like a duck, talks like a duck, then it’s probably a duck” - Justin Dux
So how do you influence your career narrative within your chosen field?
Remember this acronym to help evaluate what activities will lead to a reputation, or D.N.A, of a purple squirrel.
D) Discoverable media. How searchable is the content you create? Your talk at a recent conference will have little impact on your future unless there is a powerpoint deck you can share publically or a video. With a few edits you can often modify a deck you made for an internal meeting for public release.
N) Narrative completion. When searching for your own public narrative ask yourself if there are any gaps or media you need to remove. Lee uses the example of a lawyer turned restaurateur. That lawyer’s narrative is likely easily searchable for legal matters but might be non-existent for restaurant owner expertise. Thinking critically about your narrative is like checking your pulse. It is simply a reflection of a moment in time. Check your pulse in the middle of a run and it will be very different than laying on the couch watching Netflix. For that reason, check your narrative often by imagining what the public concludes when they stumble on content you created..
A) Accumulation. Harry Potter wasn’t written in one weekend. And neither will your career narrative. This podcast episode was released with an intent to make you aware of your career narrative, in the context of personal branding, so that you can start to make choices that influence your narrative. You’ll need to accumulate multiple pieces of online media before a narrative becomes complete and most observers conclude the same thing. Don’t be the guy that talks about blogging in an interview only to have the hiring manager search up an article your wrote that morning before the interview. Your discoverable media should earn you credibility over time, not overnight.
Lee offers a few suggestions to influence your narrative. I have also brainstormed some of my own based on what I learned from Lee.
- A podcast
-Consider micro platforms like Anchor.FM
-Find a podcast that you could contribute as a guest.
-Even 4 episodes per year will accumulate into a powerful reputation
- A powerpoint
-We all make decks for work from time to time. Even if you don’t, consider capturing a project recap in a powerpoint and sharing it on LinkedIn’s Slideshare to be easily found on your profile.
- Write a blog/article
-Some of the best articles share how you learned something that helped you do your job.
-1 article or blog post is not enough, try to write 4-6 a year minimum. They don’t have to be long.
- Record a Video -Review a tool you use regularly on Youtube.
-Make a short video explaining how to use a tool. For example, in this year alone I have searched up video tutorials, and found them, for softwares like Excel, Salesforce, and Audacity. The creators of those videos instantly earn narrative credibility in those softwares and fields where those tools are commonly used.
Curate and Connect Knowledge:
- This is where your social media posting comes in. -Share LinkedIn posts of good articles (that you fully read)
-Sharing posts by other leaders in your industry, especially celebrating their success
-One of the most important narratives we curate is our Resume. Be selective about the jobs you accept because they could make or break your resume narrative. Remember though, if your resume does not have the narrative you want, an interview or cover letter is designed to help address those concerns.
- Attend conferences and write about what speakers share
-You earn social points if you help connect others to people with the answers. Sharing a summary of what you learned at a conference with attribution to the speakers can help you in the process.
- Write lists or checklists
-Links to videos that have taught you about your field.
-Classes where you gained valuable insight into your field.
-Blogs or authors you follow
- In today’s job market, someone you hire could be hiring you in 5-7 years. Same goes for someone you help with industry specific career advice once or twice per year. Consider finding a few high-potential people you want to see succeed in your industry and see how good it feels to help them. Even if this doesn’t immediately lead to job offers for your personal career search it can be a rewarding distraction in the long term.
“Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile.” ~ What purple squirrels say to lucky squirrels
Lee mentions an important point to end on. Our hobbies, or passions, can be important to our careers too. You shouldn’t feel the need to keep your hobbies hidden from the internet because you’re working on your career narrative. Quite the opposite. Lee calls it, “Discovering you sideways”. People will not always find you from the path you expected.
You may write about a collectible card game or curate a highly visible album of home ideas on pinterest. At some point, people who share your interests will also share your industry for work. And when that happens you already have a strong bond to that person through your fandom for a shared area of interest. I’m sure many jobs have been offered to a Green Bay Packers fan instead of a Vikings fan when all other qualifications were equal.
No matter what brings people into your narrative, strive to create media that helps them realize who you are when they get there. And that doesn’t have to only be a professional reputation. Interesting people have hobbies, interests and passions that go way beyond the skills they use to pay the bills. Interesting squirrels have purple fur and following on instagram. Okay, maybe not instagram but purple squirrels have spent years accumulating valuable skills in a rare combination and recruiters find them through various means of discoverable media.