How to Catch a Unicorn – or would you rather have a Secretariat?

What does a unicorn have to do with staffing? It turns out quite a bit, if you are searching for that one-in-a-million fantastic candidate.

Unicorns are beautiful creatures, always white, that look just like horses except for one thing: They have one pointed horn growing from the top of their heads. They have appeared in artwork and stories for centuries. They are heroic and desirable and claimed as symbols of royalty and purity.

And yet, we’ve never actually seen a unicorn. That’s because they are mythical creatures. The stuff of imagination and dreams.

Secretariat was also beautiful. He was a big chestnut horse, magnificently powerful and sleek. He was a champion among champions, winning the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in 1973 and breaking all kinds of records. He didn’t appear to be hindered at all by the lack of a horn.

Secretariat was a living, breathing, running horse. The stuff of history and accomplishment.

In the recruiting world, we all desire fantastic, heroic candidates to meet our staffing needs. Everyone seeks the best, and that’s as it should be, unless in fixating on the perfect candidate of our dreams – the root word of fantastic is fantasy, don’t forget we miss the excellent, if slightly less flashy, real talent.

Let’s look at some elements of the hiring process and see where the quest for a unicorn can hinder success at finding a champion.

If you're looking for a unicorn you may miss out on the excellent, if slightly less flashy, real talent.


What’s in your job descriptions?

A good one covers responsibilities, skills, competencies, and desired outcomes for the position. Sometimes the lists of requirements are so long and detailed that it seems like the only persons who need apply must embody a combination of Martin Luther King’s powerful communication skills, Bill Gates’s innovative business acumen and Mother Teresa’s unselfish dedication to others.

Think about it, though. Even the most confident person would have to have a false, inflated sense of self to think they’d measure up to a description like that. And would they even make a good team member with that kind of an ego? Probably not.

Instead of composing an extensive laundry list of a job description that discourages actual stand-out candidates from applying, be realistic about the duties described and identify your must-have requirements. Then consider leaving some room for individual strengths to be discovered and explored in the interview process.

What are you willing to pay a unicorn, or better yet, a Secretariat?

An employer will lose credibility by seeking highly qualified team members but paying at only an entry-level rate. Leaving unicorns aside (because after all, they’d probably be paid with the pile of rubies hidden away in a cave guarded by a dragon), when you expect the best, you must offer a competitive salary.

How strongly do you insist on a spotlessly clean record?

What if a candidate’s background includes a negative experience? Caution is wise, of course. In seeking the best, however, do we automatically throw out applications that aren’t free of failure? Or do we first consider what the experience was, how long ago it happened, what might have been learned from mistakes and what character and skills may have been demonstrated since then?

And finally…

How much maturity are you expecting out of the gate?

Even Secretariat was not always a champion. He was nurtured and trained, and he grew into one that exceeded everyone’s expectations.

In the search for great team members, we encourage you to look for winning champions. Secretariat was real. Unicorns are not. Don’t miss the champions while seeking the myth.

What are the qualities you are looking for in your champions? We love the challenge of the quest for the men and women who will take your business to the next level. Reach out to our recruiters to share your needs.

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