unicorn with stars background in relation to the term hiring unicorns

Recruiting Tech Talent VS. Searching for Unicorns

You need a web developer but does the perfect candidate really have to have an MBA, video and post-production, business development experience, product marketing skills and C#, Ruby, SQL, Java, Mad CapFlare, whiter-than-white teeth and the ability to mind read? Oh, and don’t forget the 2-15 years’ experience and a degree in English or Communications or CompSci.

Job ads and descriptions jammed with wildly divergent skills, responsibilities and requirements are an increasingly common phenomenon. If you haven’t been able to fill an open role for a long time, maybe it’s because you’re hunting for “unicorns” – the person with an exactly matching skill set doesn’t exist. And if they did, there’s a good chance they’d expect a very generous salary.

When eight out of twenty-six ain’t bad

By packing out job ads with essentially unreasonable or illogical requirements, you could well be screening out potentially great candidates – simply because they lack skills they don’t really need to perform the job well. If a candidate has strong experience in eight out of your ten most important requirements, does it really make sense to exclude them because they lack experience in an area you could easily train them in?

Speaking of which… Tech is a constantly evolving sector. If you’re recruiting at the cutting edge of developments such as Big Data, you have to face the reality that people don’t simply emerge from university/college/bootcamp with everything your company needs. That’s what training is for. Hire someone with the skills and intelligence that suggest they can perform and grow with your business, not a checklist that might or might not be a good fit. “What if I train them and they leave?” I hear you cry. Well, what if you don’t – and they stay?

If you’ve had a position open for more than a couple of months, why not go back through your ‘nearly fits’ list with an open mind? Better still, why not go back through your list of requirements and filter out the ‘perfect world’ stuff?

Your tech job ad is also your shop window

Seemingly random tech job ads can also deter strong candidates – crazy job descriptions read like invitations to join a disorganised mess of a company, with the expectation that they’ll somehow do everything. Equally off-putting is a job ad that’s been up for so long, people will start to wonder what’s wrong.

If you can’t figure out or even understand what you’re looking for, how can a good hire live up to your expectations once they start the job? Similarly, job titles optimized to fit your company’s org chart rather than appeal to a potential employee who’s never heard of your company are unlikely to open the CV floodgates. What kind of projects can your new software developer expect to work on? What’s the company culture like? Are there opportunities for career growth? If your software developer does happen to have an MBA, what makes you think they’ll want to work for you? So why aren’t you telling them?

Think before you post, not before you hire

Before you even think about posting a job ad, remember that there’s a world of difference between a job ad and a job description. Analyse the role you’re hiring for. Map the skills you need to the projects you’re hiring for. If you’re not very technical, sit down with someone who is and work through a list of actual needs. Forget about the bonus skills for the time being – ask yourself how best the ideal candidate would be able to demonstrate to you that they have the skills you’re looking for.

Then look at how you could make performing those tasks an attractive prospect to a talented software developer.  And if what you really need is a web developer, a digital marketing expert and a product manager, embrace the reality that those are three different roles and maybe you need to re-think things.


If you think your Irish software company can’t compete with the big names when it comes to tech recruitment, think again. Most career-minded developers can see past the vegan buffet – the question is, can you see past the unicorns and purple squirrels?

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