How to Hone Your Talent Search Without a Futile Quest for the Purple Squirrel

by Rachel P

Finding the right talent to work with is one of the biggest challenges that brands face, whether that talent is a freelancer or employee. When it comes to building a long-term professional relationship though, some clients or talent managers may inadvertently find themselves on a quest for a “purple squirrel”.

A purple squirrel, or unicorn, is a term used by recruiters and human resources professionals to refer to highly-compensated employees who, unlike most Americans, have their pick of jobs because their skill sets are incredibly coveted and/or rare. For instance, a large technology firm could be seeking software engineers knowledgeable in Python and C# and compensate this talent well with credible salaries appropriate for the geographic region and generous benefits. But what would separate a standard salaried engineer job that simply pays well from a purple squirrel position would be if several more layers of rarity and complexity were added the job post, such as having specific industry experience, management experience, have eight different certificates, and fluency in Arabic and French to boot.

Sometimes, these purple squirrel positions call for such an esoteric mix of skills that they sit vacant for over a year at a time while the firm will pay 10-20% more per year in salary in comparison to the gray squirrel jobs.

Now let’s flip the table to working with freelancers. Seeking out a purple squirrel happens here too, but with incredibly different dynamics.

How Obscurely-Niched is Your Talent Search?

There’s a phrase “niches equals riches” when it comes to both talent and finding a niche market to sell goods to. But there is such a thing as being too niche. There’s several reasons why those purple squirrel seekers at large companies find themselves not filling the position for such a ridiculously long time. Because well yeah, the expectations are ridiculous. Even if the pay is going to be great, pay alone is not the motivating factor for a lot of people to take a permanent job. The motivation is a tad different when it comes to freelancing.

While employers take liberties with their purple squirrel searches, many people who couldn’t get gray squirrel jobs suddenly find that everything that was a liability in job searches is now an asset in trying to get freelance work. Writers can fill all kinds of niches with their variegated professional and life experience, along with hard and soft skills.

If you’re seeking a writer with specific industry experience, you’re probably still in gray squirrel territory. If you want a writer in an industry known for smart professionals who can’t write or don’t have time to, it’s a gray squirrel with a few purple spots. If the writer you’re seeking out has worked in at least three specific industries and knows how to work in WordPress and HubSpot, and has a gigantic following on Twitter or Medium, you want a purple squirrel.

You need to be honest with your expectations of the gig and relationship. How many of those purple squirrel traits are direly necessary to get the job done? Remember, a lot of freelancers are hustlers who often have all these extra skills out of coincidence and may not advertise them upfront. Focus on the most crucial skills and experience needed to find the right writer.

You Can’t Get a Purple Squirrel at Gray Squirrel Prices

Like those recruiters at tech giants, you could find yourself waiting a long time for the right talent. Because purple squirrel freelancers’ skills and experience are rare, they also probably have lots of clients they’re already working with and have turned down.

Once you’ve narrowed down the direly necessary criteria and what you expect from the writer, you also need to keep your expectations reasonable. An experienced writer is going to charge more than a new writer, and you’re not going to get very far asking a writer to take less pay than the rate they posted on their profile. Purple squirrels get more with both jobs and freelance gigs for a reason.

If you want to buy a Chanel purse, the saleslady is going to laugh at you if you expect to pay TJ Maxx prices. We’re going to do the same here, even though I’m technically a blue squirrel and not a purple one.

 

Learn more about working with freelancers by following the WriterAccess blog!

 

Prior to taking up the game development and writing hustler life, Rachel P. worked as a tax advisor. She still retains an Enrolled Agent license for tax law writing purposes. Rachel has 10 years of tax practice experience ranging from retail tax preparation to white-shoe firm, and solo practice. She worked with Prometric and high-ranking IRS directors in developing the Enrolled Agent exam for three years running, determining minimum competency requirements for Enrolled Agents along with creating and editing exam content. She also worked with Pearson to develop educational tax law content for use in online adult education programs.


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