Purple Squirrels And Salary Surveys

Oct. 7, 2013
Purple squirrels are a rare applicant that is perfect for a job, if they can be found.
Figure 1. The 2013 October issue highlights our latest salary survey results.

I need to check if our art department did this on purpose but the colors in the current October issue (Fig. 1) with the 2013 salary survey (see 2013 Engineering Salary Survey: Pressure Up, Salaries Down) use a good bit of purple in the figures. Now I have a reason to write about purple squirrels.

For those doing job hunting, you may already know about purple squirrels (Fig. 2). These varmints are the ideal candidate for a job profile written so that a fraction of 1% or some small number of a subset of all applications will qualify. Yes, these critters are so hard to find and they are obviously the only people that can fill a job otherwise it is not worth filling. We've all seen the ads for a person with 10 years experience in a technology that has only been our for 5 years but somehow HR (human resources) can finds these diamonds.

It was worth looking back a decade (see The 2003 Engineering Salary Survey: Ten Years After) to see how things have changed. For purple squirrels, it has changed very little although they can get more nuts now that they could in 2003.

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So why does HR write requirements that only a purple squirrel can meet?

The need for H1B visa applicants comes to mind. Remember, there is a shortage of engineers and programmers (of course) and we have the purple squirrels to prove it. Likewise, there is a shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) graduates. Actually there isn't but it seems that way. I help run the local science fair (see Mercer Science and Engineering Fair)and the interest and participation has never been higher (see We All Win At The Intel ISEF Competition) . Actually the participation of local technology companies could be higher. We have only a few carrying the burden.

What does tend to be humorous is watching engineers and programmers move up the chain of command and agreeing that they need purple squirrels. Keep in mind that these are people that were trained to learn, not just remain static with their skills. Taking a new hardware or software platform and getting the best out of it is what they did and the kind of people they need to hire to do this kind of work. I've only used half a dozen programming languages for production work but I know and used quite a few more. Adapting to a new one is rather trivial but don't tell that to HR. They won't believe you.

Figure 2. Have you seen one of these lately? They are very rare.

Yes, I know that hitting the ground running is a definite plus but, short of hiring someone from your competition, that rarely happens. Experience always helps and looking for a candidate with the proper background is important but fitting a round person into a round hole with a tolerance of a nanometer tends to be counterproductive.

So let me know if you see any purple squirrels. I am still trying to find one.

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