Career Fitness: About Purple Squirrels and Unicorns

Recruiters have a name for those they consider the best candidates. They call them purple squirrels. Investors have a name for companies that quickly become business success stories. They call them unicorns. Both creatures are rare and highly valued – and that’s exactly how you want to be seen, as well.

In today’s job market, being qualified is not enough to land a great job. There are just too many competitors who can meet the stated requirements for an opening, too many individuals who look-alike, at least from the imperfect perspective of a recruiter. The trick to being successful, therefore, is to stand out in the herd – to look like a rare and valuable creature.

How can you do that? Adopt three characteristics and emphasize them on your resume. But remember, that first verb in that statement is as important as the second. To be believable as a purple squirrel or a unicorn, you actually have to act like one.

Transforming Yourself into Something Rare & Valuable

While there are a range of characteristics ascribed to rare and valuable candidates, three are particularly important in today’s job market.

Be a work-in-progress.

Regardless of the academic degree you hold and the years of experience you’ve had, act as if you still have a lot to learn in your field. The pace of at which knowledge is now advancing is so rapid, the half life of your expertise is measured in months, not years. And employers know that. They know that workers become obsolete almost overnight. As a consequence, they value those rare candidates who take responsibility for keeping their skills and knowledge up-to-date. These individuals demonstrate that commitment by enrolling in an appropriate academic course or training program, even while they are looking for a job. They then promote their ongoing participation in personal development on their resume.

Be a thought leader.

Employers are facing unprecedented competition in both domestic and international markets. They believe the only way they can come out on top is to employ workers who bring innovation and creativity to work with them every day. They want people who can think outside the box or, even better, find a different box altogether for doing their job. For that reason, they search for candidates who remain active in their field, even while they are looking for a job. These rare individuals invest time online in actively participating in one or more forums devoted to exploring new ideas in their field and/or solving occupational challenges. They then promote that commitment to continuous improvement on their resume.

Be a person of talent.

Your talent is not your field of work or even your area of ‚Äč‚Äčexpertise. It is your innate capacity for excellence. For example, it might be the ability to disaggregate complex tasks so they can be more effectively accomplished or the ability to communicate complex ideas so that they are clear to everyone. Employers are desperate for such talent, but have a very hard time finding it, largely because so few people actually know what their talent is or how to work with it. For that reason, they search for individuals who display their talent, even while they are looking for a job. These rare individuals find a way to keep their talent employed (eg, in volunteer organizations or their professional society) and then detail that experience on their resume.

Today’s job market is a crowded place where it’s very difficult to stand out. You can, however, rise above the horde by acting and then positioning yourself as a rare and valuable candidate – a purple squirrel or unicorn.

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