Forget about the purple squirrels and Miss Americas. Even if you could find them, and hire them, veteran tech recruiter Steve Ward opines "hiring perfect people is bad for staff retention" in this LinkedIn post.

In his piece, Ward says these are the key recruitment challenges at the moment:

  1. Staff Retention is Poor
  2. The typical time-to hire is too long 
  3. The Candidate is more in charge than ever because of choice
  4. Good Candidates are snapped up quickly in this growing economy 
  5. Employer branding and reputation is discarded as process and poor communication restrict candidate care 
  6. Everybody wants to hire people who will "hit the ground running" 
  7. Training employees appears to be a luxury 

Ward states this all stems from the fact too many businesses try to find - and hire - THE 'Perfect' Candidate. And it all starts with a Job Spec

"It's usually the same one as the last person who held the role. And in fact, the last 5 people who held the role. The bad news is, it is used as a hiring decision box-ticker. If you put 7 person spec items on it, all those things are necessary. If you put 37 person spec items on it, in most cases, all of those things are necessary. Is this realistic?" 

The second problem according to Ward? The CV

"Some of the best hires I have made for myself or clients, have had 'awful' CVs. But who hires a piece of paper anyway? Particularly with the pre-assessment of a (good) recruiter who has found the truth beyond the text - that CV is merely a sign-post to a potential hire."

Ward feels another issue is that, as a general rule, many companies don't invest in people the way they used to. 

"Our survival instincts as multi-recession survivors mean we act with short term in mind and communicate as such to our employees. Maybe we are resigned to low retention as the culture shifted, and so we merely accept the annual career movers and don't plan a future within the business for them anymore." 

Hire the 80%ers

So what is Ward's advice to solve the recruiting and hiring woes? Hire people at 80% capability. 

"They are not perfect. They have things to learn. But they will appreciate the opportunity, will take joy and pride in the new things they learn, and are likely to repay that with loyalty and more engaged performance and productivity. They are an advocate of the brand, they have career opportunities ahead of them within your organization and they give off this energy in transactions with third parties."

Ward recommends choosing candidates on upward trajectories in their career. You hire faster, he says, leaving smaller gaps of non-productivity and shortening the time-to-hire. Also, their salary demands will be less. 

"Of course, there are exceptions. Of course, you will have to invest in training. But people 'want' you to train them, its what they expect! So, this is just my thought. I believe we are passionate about having the right people for our business, for longer. Recruitment is challenging enough at the moment."

Another opinion

Lance Haun is editor of and a contributor to and Before writing about HR and recruiting full-time, he was an HR and recruiting pro for seven years.

He also writes in this Harvard Business Review piece that companies shouldn't hire the perfect candidate. 

"Companies often throw good money after bad when looking for the perfect candidate for an open position...Who can blame them? The cost of hiring the wrong person is extremely high, especially when you factor in many of the hidden costs."

Haun says when the right candidate doesn’t materialize, the common solution is to keep searching, add more recruiters, or tap a search or staffing agency to help increase the chances of finding Mr. or Ms. Right. 

However,  keeping a job open for months, redoubling a company’s recruiting efforts, don’t actually address the core reasons why it is hard to find the perfect candidate, he continues. One of those reasons Haun says is that perfect candidates are too rare to bank on.

"Purple squirrels aren’t measures of success. At the very best, they are a measurement of luck and at the very least, they are the sad result of a poor understanding of the employment market and a company’s recruiting capabilities and consequences."