Are you looking for a purple unicorn in the talent pool? This mythical hire is impossible to find, but if you adjust your search parameters and REALLY take a look at who you need for the job, you can find the correct fit. Annelle Barnett explains!

EP 72 – The Purple Unicorn – A Mythical Hire

Welcome to the epic company culture Podcast, where your host, Josh Sweeney will give you the business leaders, HR professionals and company culture aficionados, the knowledge you need to take your company culture to the next level.

Purple Unicorn- Mythical Hire

JOSH [0:15]

Hello, my name is Josh Sweeney, and welcome to the epic company culture podcast. I’m joined today by our cohost Annelle Barnett. Good morning. Thank you for joining us on season two, which is all about company culture and hiring. Today’s topic is the purple unicorn.

ANNELLE [0:33] I like the purple unicorn.

JOSH [0:34] You like the purple unicorn. I have to say purple and unicorns are not typically in my vocabulary. So we’re gonna have to lean on you to tell us a little bit about what a purple unicorn is.

Why Purple Unicorn

ANNELLE [0:47] Okay. Essentially, a purple unicorn is the mythical character that a lot of my clients and a lot of companies are trying to hire. I’ve seen it 100 times. I’ll get a job description with 50 different job skills that this one individual is supposed to have.

Then, after we discussed this position they tell me that this person also needs to only be paid $50,000. So, it is a very mythical creature that it’s purple, it’s not just a unicorn. It’s just an impossible person to find. It’s a person that doesn’t exist and often companies and my clients are looking for that purple unicorn.

Cause of Mythical Hiring

JOSH [1:39] Gotcha. So what do you think? What do you attribute to this search for this mythical being? I hear lots of other roles where this person has to have all kinds of skill set in one, somehow not be paid $180,000 a year and all of these things. Why do you think people are asking for this? What makes that happen?

ANNELLE [2:00] Well, I think often, they’re asking for this is the absolute best case scenario. If you can find this person, and that’s incredible. It’s typically smaller companies that are asking for this individual, because they’ve got a lot of roles that they need to fill. They’re hoping that this one person can potentially fill it.

[2:23] Part of the challenge with that, though, is  no one is going to have 100% of the skills. So, they also aren’t going to be specialized in any of those skills, because they’re being asked for so many of them. I mean, there are people who exist that have a little bit of everything. But is that really the right hire?

JOSH [2:48]Yeah, we definitely want to be intentional about what problem we’re trying to solve in marketing or in any role. I know just from the personality and behavior analytics we look at is people are good at one thing, which makes them have struggles in another. That’s actually why we want them, we want them for their strengths. We can mitigate their struggles by adding another team member that has their struggles as a strength.

It’s a pretty tough situation. But what can you put as the job title? Is this like marketing generalist? How does that normally come out?

Mythical Hiring Outcome

ANNELLE [3:25] It’s often probably listed as a digital marketing manager or coordinator. That title is a real title but it’s just adding all of the different parts of marketing into one person. And it’s truly not even in the best interest of a company, even if they find this individual. Because if someone can do everything, then they’re going to get bored really fast when they’re doing everything that they did in a previous role in this new role.

Then, they aren’t going to be challenged.  They aren’t going to be stretched. They aren’t going to grow in their position. In the long term, that’s actually going to be negative for the company. Because then the company is likely going to need to hire somebody else sooner rather than later, because the person will get bored and want to move on.

JOSH [4:18] Yeah, definitely. Are you seeing that people who have like this huge breadth of knowledge are a lot of times in like a leadership role? So that they can manage multiple team members that specialize. Or are they in smaller organizations where the breadth of knowledge is actually just good? Because the company may not know tactically where they need to focus.

Two Options

ANNELLE [4:43] I guess there are two directions to answer that question. You do have like a marketing generalist who could be the leader of the organization. Who can either outsource or higher end individual who can do all of the different functions that that a company is looking for. So, you have an individual that has the knowledge of each of the different areas.  But for one individual to be able to do those things every day, it’s a whole different story.

JOSH [5:20] Yeah, they can manage it. But they’re not going to be able to execute on it exactly.

If they can execute on something, they’re going to execute on the one or two items that they just have the most experience in.  Whether it be email marketing, social marketing, or sometimes maybe what’s the easiest stuff like that. Or you’re just going to get a little bit of this, and a little bit of that. There’s not gonna be any kind of consistency across the board.

ANNELLE [5:36] Because  one day, they’re going to be recording a podcast like we are today the next day they’re doing video work. The next day they’re doing blogs, and the next day at social. You can never really get deep in any of those areas. Each individual is so scattered and doing multiple things, instead of really focusing on a few high value activities.

Switching Cost

JOSH [6:11] Yeah. We always say that there’s a switching costs. There’s a cost per person to switch from item to item each day or each week. Sometimes it’s just a moment that they take to have to shut down all their stuff. The tools they’re using for social and put up some other tools for print marketing, or whatever it might be.

Then, they have to be decent at each one of those tools. It costs time to switch.  If anything else is thrown in there, it’s also learning how to get it done with a whole another bag of worms. Yeah,

ANNELLE [6:46] Yeah and they’re spread too thin. They’ll forget to follow up on the thing that they did last week. Or they’ll forget to analyze it so that they can improve upon it and make it better.

I’m a small business owner, myself.  I totally understand why companies want to hire the purple unicorn. Truly, if I could find the purple unicorn, I hire them too. But what I’m telling you is that the purple unicorn doesn’t exist. It’s better to go ahead and recognize that. Realize it and come up with a strategy for getting all of those different activities filled or fulfilled than it is to actually look for the purple unicorn and waste your time.

JOSH [7:34] Yeah, definitely. Let’s take a moment to talk about the strategy around this.

Be Intentional

If you can’t find the purple unicorn, you really need to be extremely intentional about what role you need to fill. In our organization, we we spend a lot of time figuring out where we think the biggest ROI is going to come from.

Let’s say, in the marketing department, what role does that person need to specialize in. When we launch the podcast, videos, and the company culture check series, we say “okay, we need an editor. Basically, we need a media expert.

They can go in and edit videos, edit audio, we don’t need them to shoot it. We don’t need them to record it. We just need somebody who can edit those and get them out in a way that’s helpful. So, I hired a full time video and audio editor.

Then,  the next step from there was “okay, now that we have that, what else do we need?” We had to look and say, “well, do we need somebody that is a marketing manager to manage their time?” “Well, no, it’s only one person, hey, we don’t need a manager yet”. And then we said, “okay, well, what’s the next step?”

What is the ROI

What we did was tried to come up with, where do we think the ROI is? Where do we think the majority of our leads are going to come from? Do we need an email marketing automation experts?

We looked at that, and we dug into email marketing and said, “Well, you know, what are all the numbers on email marketing? How much is this going to cost? Is that going to drive leads like, well, we don’t think we’re there yet”. I don’t think email marketing is going in. To some extent, marketing automation is going to drive the results at our size. So, who’s next? And we just had to roll down the list and say “what are all the roles that we think we’re going to need in the next year or two and then prioritize those based on our result?” And I know in our organization, we have really one mission in marketing, and that’s to generate leads that turn into closed one deals that is it.

[9:28] What we find is, there’s a lot of action.  Like a lot of marketing people I’ve worked with her or social.  They’re engaging, they’re fun to talk to and very creative. So, you get all of these different campaigns that look beautiful, but then it’s like, “Okay, well, how much did we spend, at the end of the day? How much time did it cost? How many leads that agenda?”

Then, from those leads how many closed deals? When we really started analyzing that, we looked at the marketing we were doing and said, “We need to stop spending time over there”. I need to stop trying to do that. That’s not getting to our target audience.

Be Extremely Tactical

I think that’s the struggle with a small businesses.  When you’re thinking about marketing is this big global thing. You want the purple unicorn, but instead you could be extremely tactical.  You could be the sniper instead of trying to bring in the, the whole Marine Corps.

ANNELLE [10:25] Well, I think from a marketing strategy, especially for a smaller organization to come up with three to five, really, three, if you can.Have your true go to market initiatives.  The things that you really think are going to make the biggest impact and really double down on those, instead of trying to spread yourself too thin. And do a bunch of different tactics.  Focus on the concentrated effort, and then hire people that align with those efforts.

Then,  also with a job description or when hiring people to somewhat avoid the purple unicorn syndrome. Have it specifically written in the job description.  These are absolute skills. These are the absolute things that we have to have. Have a list of nice to haves.

Skills to Have

So if they happen to have those things, and that’s great, but they definitely have to have these at a minimum. If you indicate that on the actual job description, it really helps the candidate because some of them won’t apply because they’re missing 10 different things that you’ve listed on the job description. But those really may be insignificant to you.

JOSH [11: 41]But three, right?

ANNELLE [11:43] Exactly. But they won’t even apply because they’re overwhelmed by what this job description says. But if you have the, you know, these are the absolutes and these are the nice to haves.  Then, they’re more likely to make the investment of their time to submit an application for your position.

Doubling Down

JOSH [12:00] Yeah, I really like what you said earlier about doubling down because there’s a lot of other challenges when you’re spread too thin. Like for example, you know, given that we’re in the software space, and we’re doing company culture and have this software platform that helps with this. There’s a cost to software.  There’s a cost to actually leverage the software.

I had a friend that worked at Par dot years ago before the eloquent like the Salesforce acquisition, all that stuff happened. He said, “Well, you know, marketing automation starts at 1500 a month”. And I said, “Okay, so what’s the time commitment?” He goes, “if you don’t have somebody focusing on it full time, you’re not going to get value

ANNELLE [12:39] and you’re wasting your writing hundred

JOSH [12:42] 1500 dollars. And after working in some marketing automation systems, it’s 100% true. It’s like, I need 1500 dollars a month. And then, the person that’s going to come in at $60,000 a year to make sure that I’m using my 1500 dollar software.  

Now, the economic starts to switch, economics start to move around.  And say, “Okay, what does that look like?” Yeah, you know, I need three times my revenue off that initiative for me to have this person in the software in these expenses. So, I need to be this initiative and marketing automation alone.  Those numbers need to bring in well over $200,000 revenue. Yeah, that’s a fundamentally different conversation really doubling down as opposed to just having a tool.

ANNELLE [13:27] And frankly, you’ll have a hard time finding them for 60,000. Yeah,

they’re pretty high demand people right now, right?

JOSH [13:35] Yeah. Awesome. So anything else we want to go over around the purple unicorn?

ANNELLE [13:40] I think that covers it. Awesome.

Are you looking for a purple unicorn?

JOSH [13:43] Well, if you are looking for the purple unicorn, our recommendation is to get a little more tactical.  Look at how you can take the generalist role.  Figure out what is highest and most important on your list.  What’s going to generate those leads and go find the exact person with the exact skills you need based on your organization and your marketing initiatives. Thank you.

ANNELLE [14:05] Thank you.

JOSH [14:07] Thank you for tuning in to today’s episode of the epic company culture podcast with Josh Sweeney.

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