Unicorns and Leprechauns: Stop Waiting for the Perfect Candidate

By Kristen Harris

Quick quiz…which of the following really exist?

a. Unicorns
b. Leprechauns 
c. Purple Squirrels
d. Perfect Candidates

Sorry, it’s a trick question. The correct answer is “e. None of the above.” Just like unicorns and leprechauns, no matter how strongly you want to believe, perfect candidates simply don’t exist. No single person has all of the skills you want, the specific years of experience you desire, fits smoothly into your culture, gets stellar reference reviews, positively impacts your business from day one, and wants to be paid exactly what you’re offering. 

I hear you protesting—you believe you HAVE found the perfect candidate. This wonderful, magical person seems to be everything you wished for. Am I saying you shouldn’t hire them? Of course not! Snap them up now before your competitor does. Just be aware, no matter how perfect they seem, here is always something you’ll need to work on. And that’s okay. Imperfection equals opportunity. 

Maybe you believe it’s worth waiting for that perfect person to show up. Please don’t. It’s a futile exercise that eats up valuable time and resources. You could wait forever to find the “perfect person.” Or you could hire someone who is a very close fit, develop them in a few minor areas, and see results quickly. 

When hiring there are always concessions or compromises to be made. The important thing is to know where you’re compromising, and what it will take to develop this candidate to where you need them to be. 

My best advice when adding a new person to your team is to look for the BEST POSSIBLE FIT and then fill in the gaps. What does that look like?

• Find a person who has most of the skills you want, and is eager to learn more.

• Look for someone with the right kind of experience doing the right types of work, without getting too hung up on a specific number of years. 

• Be very particular and focused about screening for culture fit. If they fit your culture, embrace your values, and buy into your mission, they’ll be excited and enthusiastic about learning what they don’t know. I can’t emphasize enough how important culture fit is; the right fit is different for every company.

• Listen very closely to reference reviews; what the reference doesn’t say is as important as what they do say. Also, ask around, don’t just call people provided by the candidate. Reach out to your network; ask people you trust about past experiences and interactions with this person. 

• Consider the potential impact this candidate can make on your organization, and what it will take to get them to that point. How quickly will they be productive? What kind of time and resources will it take to get them there?

• Be realistic and flexible on pay…to a point. Do your research to make sure what you’re offering is appropriate for the role, and consider the value this person will bring to your organization. How does that value compare to what they’re asking for?

No matter what role you’re looking to fill, perfect candidates don’t exist. Find the best possible fit for your needs, identify the areas where they’ll need to improve, and help them grow. Get as close as possible to perfect. In an imperfect world, that’s all you can ask for.