In the world of recruitment, there’s a term that gets thrown around a lot – the “Unicorn Candidate.”

This is the perfect candidate that employers dream of finding – someone with the exact skills, experience, and personality traits needed for the job. Someone who will hit the ground running, and carry out their role standing on their head whilst also being the perfect cultural fit for the business. But is this search for the perfect candidate a realistic one? Can any recruitment team, whether agency or internal ever truly find a unicorn candidate? And are employers creating problems for themselves by insisting on finding one?

In theory, it makes sense – if you can find someone who ticks all the boxes for a job, then surely they will be the best person for the role. But in reality, things aren’t so simple. The idea of a perfect candidate assumes that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment – that every job requires the same set of skills and attributes and this is simply not the case. Every role is unique, and what works for one job might not work for another.

Over the years, we’ve learnt that the odds of finding someone who flawlessly aligns with every single requirement are slim. Skills can be learned, experience can be gained, but personality? That’s grown over a lifetime. Insisting on a perfect fit can lead to overlooking exceptional candidates who might bring a different perspective or a unique strength to the table.

Furthermore, the concept of the unicorn candidate is based on the assumption that people are static, unchanging entities. But if there’s one thing we know, it’s people and we’ve learnt that people are complex and they change over time. A candidate might be perfect for a job today, but what happens if the company’s needs change or the candidate’s circumstances change. Five years ago, no one could have predicted that so many people would be working in the way they have been and are now and the idea of a unicorn candidate does not account for all the variables.

Can a recruitment team ever truly find a unicorn candidate?

The answer is no – not in the sense that they will find someone who is perfect for a job and business in every way. However, this doesn’t mean that recruitment agencies cannot find excellent candidates. The key is to focus on finding someone who is the best fit for the job, rather than trying to tick every box on a wish list.

The trouble with unicorns

The obsession with finding the perfect candidate can be a major roadblock in the hiring process. Here’s why:

  • Overly specific job descriptions. Job descriptions often balloon into shopping lists of desired skills, each one seemingly essential. The truth is, most roles can be tackled by individuals with transferable skills and a willingness to learn.  Focusing solely on a rigid checklist might overlook a candidate who could excel with a little guidance. 
  • Unrealistic expectations. Employers often have unrealistic expectations about the candidates they are looking for. They may expect someone to have a certain degree of education, to have worked at a top company, and to have all of the latest skills, but this isn’t realistic, and it sets employers up for disappointment. 
  • Ignoring company culture: Focusing solely on skills and experience can overshadow whether a candidate aligns with your company culture. A brilliant but disruptive hire can do more harm than good. 
  • Demotivated team. When the bar is set impossibly high, it can send a discouraging message to your current team. You’re looking for the unicorn, so are you implying that none of employees possess the potential to excel?  Focusing on growth opportunities within your existing team fosters loyalty and a culture of growth. 
  • The cost of waiting. The relentless hunt for the perfect candidate can leave positions vacant for extended periods. This stalls projects, demoralises existing team members, and puts the company at a competitive disadvantage.  You might even end up settling for a candidate who isn’t quite right, leading to performance issues and a higher long-term cost.
So, what’s an employer to do?
  • Reimagine the job description: Identify the core skills crucial for success in the role. Look for candidates with a strong foundation and a willingness to learn and highlight the opportunities for growth within the role. 
  • Embrace Team Dynamics: A well-rounded team thrives on diversity. Look for candidates who complement existing team strengths, bringing fresh ideas and perspectives. 
  • Invest in Development: Don’t expect a candidate to be a finished product. Invest in training and development to help them grow into the role and reach their full potential.
  • Streamline Your Hiring Process: A fast and efficient hiring process keeps the best candidates engaged and reduces the risk of losing them to competitors.

By shifting your focus from the mythical to the manageable, you’ll open yourself up to a wider pool of talented individuals.  Remember, a great team is built and a diverse collection of people and skill-sets is far more powerful than a single, solitary “unicorn.”

So, the next time you feel the urge to hunt for a unicorn,  take a deep breath, revisit your requirements, and embrace the potential within a pool of strong, well-rounded candidates.

Do you have a vacancy to fill? We know a thing or two about recruitment and our team of expert consultants can help you find the best fit for roles in Administration, Customer Service, Sales, Finance, Marketing and IT. Call 01908 229589 or email