The (Unrealistic) Search for a Unicorn

June 08, 2018
A unicorn refers to an occurrence when those who are responsible for hiring candidates have unrealistic expectations of skills, experience, and salary for a position. The mismatch between the expectations of the employers and who is available for hire has me thinking about this Unicorn Phenomenon we continue to see. In other words, many hiring managers and committees are seeking a mythical candidate (unicorn), rather than understanding the reality of who is available and what they will need to do to help a new candidate be successful.

We’ve been getting calls for the perfect mid-manager:

  • 5 years experience

  • Financial acumen

  • Event management experience

  • Success building revenues and cutting costs

  • Service oriented

  • Team builder

  • Successful trainer

  • Professional and personable floor presence

  • Tech savvy

  • Strong command of food and beverage with proven success of at least 3 years in a similar position

  • Salary barely above a recent college graduate, which Forbes claims is between $35,000 - $45,000 in 2017. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) are earning $70,000+ out of school.

Competition for employees is stiff in all industries, and certainly in the service industry. Many young managers will not work the hours demanded of them by managers who are accustomed to asking for 60-70 hours per week of their team. Study after study about what employees want today is in conflict with previous management philosophies. The other problem with this unicorn phenomenon is that these ideal candidates just don’t exist – and if they do – they are reluctant to change and adapt. Additionally, if the candidate has the experience and the skill set listed, they are often looking for a promotion and/or higher salary, not a lateral move to a new location.

It’s important to understand when a respected and valued employees leaves, finding the same caliber candidate may not be realistic. However, a candidate may have some of the ideal experience and skills but not all. The valued employee being replaced likely honed their skills within their position at your club and progressed a great deal since they started in that role, which we often forget. He/she was provided training and development opportunities, perhaps even a caring mentor who showed them the way, giving them targeted training that best fit their unique skill gap. It is difficult to ask a new candidate to live up to ghosts of employees past. On the flip side, we also see clubs swing very far to the other side of the pendulum when replacing an employee that was not well-liked for whatever reason. Swinging too far to the other side of the skill set, personality, experience, and education pendulum often produces disastrous results.

So being honest about needs of today without considering the ghosts of the past employees is key and will keep your job description and position profile realistic.

 A newly-created role or a position for a club in transition can become even trickier. For example, the skill set needed to open a club: ability to set policy, hire and train staff, set standards, be a change agent, build a team of high performers, create revenue opportunities, etc. is likely different than the skill set that will be needed in that role once the club is open and operating well. In that case, one may be more in need of a ‘steady eddy’, keeping service consistent. Yet, when hiring for these newly created positions (or positions in transition), hiring managers often create a ‘wish list’ of qualifications, skills, education and experience that is so broad, it’s not realistic. This can waste time and money as the hiring manager or committee usually adjust the position needs with each new candidate interviewed. Candidate follow up discussions turn into, “I like this, but not that” about each person interviewed until they have created a new job description completely, which takes immense time. Essentially, the job needs become more targeted by exclusion of the original skills and experience set forth as the hiring group moves through the interview process together.
It is rare a person who will be able to come straight into a new role without any training or guidance and produce results on day one. If a mid-manager can produce on day one without any additional training or guidance, they will likely be looking for promotion or a new job within a year, forcing turnover in the position. In the search for a unicorn, an employee who possesses a distinctive set of qualities, hiring managers are missing out on potential prospective candidates due to “perceived” skill gaps. Why not look to hire a promising candidate and provide training and guidance to make them your own special unicorn? Here’s what that practice can do for you:
Save hiring time. Great employees are made, not necessarily found. Wasting time holding to the idea of the ‘exact match’ candidate misses out on many wonderful potential candidates with skills you may have not yet identified as beneficial in that role.
Cost savings. Finding the perfect match often costs more than the salary originally stated/presented. A promising candidate who can be nurtured to become a peak performer may be willing to take the job for the salary being offered or sometimes even slightly lower.
Allows for more flexibility. Unicorn employees are sometimes so different they are inflexible. Hiring a promising employee usually brings someone who is eager, adaptable and trainable – providing more flexibility.
Become an ‘employer of choice’. The most successful general managers I know have created a culture of learning and provide development opportunities; this makes employees feel valued and appreciated. Once they feel valued, they become brand ambassadors promoting the benefits of working at the club.
Increased retention. Hiring a promising candidate, then providing guidance, training, and support will enhance motivation and engagement. This builds a sense of community and loyalty among all employees, boosting retention and reducing turnover.
Improved company culture. Hire for values, train for skills. Many skills can be taught – values cannot – and hiring employees whose values are similar to the clubs is the best way to keep the culture strong. Management studies have shown that the turnover cost of hiring someone who is not a ‘cultural’ fit is between 50 – 60% of that person’s annual salary. (Regular turnover is reportedly around 20% - 30). Presumably the cost difference is the negative impact a bad cultural fit employee can have on your team and your customers/members.
Technology and customer needs are evolving daily. Continuous employee training is needed to face workplace challenges, keeping productivity and efficiencies high. Hiring someone who demonstrates a desire for continuous improvement and learning will likely produce proactive and innovative results.