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In Search of the Purple Squirrel

When it comes to identifying the difference makers from the rest of the crowd, behavioral interviews have fallen out of fashion and proven not to be predictive of performance.
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The purple squirrel is a mythical creature.

Similar to unicorns, purple squirrels exist only in the imagination.

However, the term purple squirrel is often used in reference to describing those hard-to-find, rockstar employees that we've referred to in this series as 'difference makers.'


This blog is part of a series that is dedicated to finding a greater understanding of the contribution of human capital assets (people) to the overall valuation of a business enterprise. If you're just joining us, welcome to The New ROI: Return on Individuals.

If you'd like to learn the "why" behind this series, you can click here and if you'd like to join a community of people who believe that people are a company's most valuable asset, you can click here.

The last chapter of this series was featured in Inc. Magazine as "How Great Leaders Keep Top Performers Happy and Productive", which discussed ways to keep your difference makers happy and retain them. Remember, the difference-makers are the rockstar employees that drive the value of an organization.

In this chapter of The New ROI: Return On Individuals, we discuss how to find and attract those difference-makers in the first place.

To gain some insight on how to go about doing this, I visited with Dave Nast of FocalPoint Coaching. According to Dave, things like best-in-class products and services or leading brands can attract top tier candidates initially. Great benefits, flexible hours, stock options, equity, swag, and a lifestyle that speaks to work-life balance are all expected as the bare-minimum requirements if you truly want to attract the cream of the crop.

But, he says, "savvy difference-makers know how to research and network any potential employer. In this age of transparency, they will find current and former employees on LinkedIn and network with industry insiders to get the scoop on what it's really like to work there."

So, what actually attracts a difference-maker is... other difference-makers. The one's that evangelize throughout the market and their networks.


As we discussed previously, difference-makers desire organizations that will invest in their professional development through training, coaching, tuition reimbursement, and other benefits. Top performers also tend to get bored easily, so they are attracted to opportunities that will keep them challenged, learning, and on the cutting edge of their industry and function. They are drawn to corporate cultures where they will be regularly recognized, whether it is through unexpected/discretionary bonuses and awards, and/or announcements and credit/acknowledgment.

As a former headhunter, Dave views the selection of best-fit candidates as a mad alchemy of art and science. The 'art' of selection is the skill acquired over years of experience, so let's talk about the science.

The Science of Selection

When it comes to identifying the difference makers from the rest of the crowd, Dave says that behavioral interviews have fallen out of fashion and proven not to be predictive of performance. Candidates who are skilled at improvisation tend to ace these types of interviews that have questions that begin with, "What would you do if...?"

Competency-based interviews are in vogue and focus on the background, experience, skills and knowledge of the candidate. These types of interviews have questions that begin with, "Tell me about a time when...?" which begs for real stories and experiences. The competency-based interview gets at what is in the candidate's 'briefcase,' so to speak. This is better, but it's only predictive of performance 6% of the time.

When you add a behavioral assessment (which gets at what is in the candidate's heart) to the interview, it becomes 23% predictive of performance. And when you add a cognitive assessment (what's in the candidate's head) in addition to the behavioral assessment, it becomes 51% predictive of performance.


So, the key to hiring difference-makers is to gain access to their head, heart, and briefcase during the selection process. The use of Psychometric Analytics in hiring has been in fashion for awhile now. But, like fashion, what's old is new again.

According to Dave, the leading solution, and the only one validated to be used for hiring and selection, is The Predictive Index (PI). PI is 60 years old but there's a lot that's new; as millions of dollars have been injected into the solution. With over 500 validation studies, 8,000 customers, and more than 2.5 million people taking PI each year, it is one the most scientifically valid and reliable solutions for hiring. Dave adds:

Data is good, but as a guy who's placed over 500 CEOs in my day, I think about the candidate experience. Top performers and difference-makers that are in high demand don't want to spend hours taking a bunch of assessments.

PI only takes about 5 minutes to complete and provides more than just best-fit selection statistics. What differentiates PI is that the user can create something called Performance Requirement Options ("PRO"). This is essentially a Job Profile for the candidate.

The ideal game plan would be to administer this to your difference-makers to determine the optimal candidate profile of what it takes to be a top perf2016-05-17-1463508124-4054415-engineer_purple_squirrel_crop.jpgormer in a given role. The more difference-makers that take the PRO, the more accurate it will be.

The software then synthesizes the results of the individual PROs from the various difference makers, and creates a unified PRO for what is required to be a difference-maker. Then when the PI is administered to all new candidates, it will match the candidate's PI against the "difference maker PRO" that was created to scientifically validate whether or not the particular candidate possesses the characteristics of a difference maker.

The system will also generate the appropriate competency-based interview questions to ask, taking the guesswork out of which competencies to delve into during the interview. But it doesn't end there.

It will also generate coaching questions based on their PI's match to the PRO so it can predict where the candidate might excel and where they might struggle. So, after hiring the new difference-maker, their manager will know which questions to ask in order to help them succeed and how best to keep them engaged in the future.

According to Dave, "if you can improve the communication and understanding of the individual drivers between the employee and manager, you can increase the likelihood of hiring success and ultimately, retention."

And ultimately improve the likelihood of building a team of purple squirrels.

In the meantime...

If you believe that people are a company's most valuable asset and you'd like to be a contributor to the conversation, Click Here to join a LinkedIn Group where you'll have the opportunity to interact with the collaborators of this series and with others who also believe that people are a company's most valuable asset.

If you've just discovered this series and want to get caught up, you can visit these chapters:

Thanks for reading - If you enjoyed this article, please click the Like button above and let me know! (and if you like it, why not share it?)

You might enjoy these other insights from Dave.


About the Author:

Dave Bookbinder is a Director of Valuation Services at GBQ Consulting where he helps his clients with the valuation of businesses, intellectual property, and complex financial instruments. More than a valuation expert, Dave is a proactive problem solver who consults with companies of all sizes, both privately held and publicly-traded. Dave strives to lend his business experiences to help people with a variety of matters. For more about Dave, visit his LinkedIn profile.

Connect with Dave on LinkedIn and follow Dave on Twitter @dbookbinder

About the Collaborators:

David Nast owns FocalPoint Business Coaching & Corporate Training based in Cherry Hill, NJ. David is an Award-Winning Certified Business Leadership Coach with over 20 years of experience in Executive Coaching, Leadership Development, Corporate Training, Career Coaching, Executive Search, and Human Resources. He has coached over 500 CEOs and Business Owners, as well as thousands of Executives. You can follow David on Twitter @DavidBNast and read David's insights here. You can also subscribe to his blog at Huffington Post.

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