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The myth of hiring the unicorn: realigning expectations in Talent Acquisition

This blog article discusses the challenges and inefficiencies caused by unrealistic expectations in recruitment and advocates for a strategic, realistic approach using the DRIVE Methodology® to attract and retain top talent effectively.

In the high-stakes world of recruitment, especially in the tech and startup ecosystems, the quest for the 'unicorn' candidate has become a ubiquitous challenge. Companies often seek individuals who not only meet every technical requirement but also fit seamlessly into the company culture, exhibit leadership potential, and can hit the ground running from day one. This relentless pursuit places unrealistic expectations on corporate recruiters, who are tasked with finding these rare, almost mythical talents. It’s time to reassess and realign these expectations to ensure a more sustainable and effective recruitment process.


The unicorn syndrome

The term 'unicorn' in the recruitment context refers to a candidate who possesses an exceptional blend of skills, experience, and cultural fit that makes them a perfect match for a company. These candidates are envisioned as the ideal hires who can seamlessly integrate into the team, bring outstanding expertise, and significantly contribute to the company's success from day one. While the idea of hiring such extraordinary individuals is undeniably appealing, it often leads to inflated expectations that can hinder the recruitment process and create several challenges for both recruiters and the organization. Here are some common pitfalls associated with the unicorn syndrome:

Excessive job requirements: Job descriptions that list an extensive array of mandatory skills and experiences can deter potentially excellent candidates who may not tick every single box but could excel in the role with some training and time. These exhaustive requirements often create an unrealistic benchmark that few candidates can meet. As a result, many highly capable individuals who possess most of the needed qualifications, and who could grow into the role, may be overlooked. This approach limits the talent pool and prolongs the hiring process, ultimately making it more difficult to find suitable candidates.

Prolonged hiring processes: The relentless search for a unicorn can significantly extend the hiring timeline, causing companies to miss out on strong candidates who meet most, but not all, of the desired criteria. When recruiters are fixated on finding a perfect match, they may dismiss candidates who have great potential simply because they lack one or two skills. This perfectionism delays the recruitment process and can lead to positions remaining unfilled for extended periods. Moreover, the longer the hiring process takes, the higher the chance that top candidates may accept offers from other companies, further complicating the situation.

High expectations, high turnover: When the unicorn is finally hired, the heightened expectations can lead to disappointment and quick turnover if the individual cannot perform miracles immediately. The pressure on these hires to deliver exceptional results right away can be overwhelming. If they fall short of these unrealistic expectations, it can result in dissatisfaction on both sides, leading to early departures. High turnover not only disrupts the team and workflow but also incurs additional costs and efforts associated with recruiting and training new employees. Additionally, the constant turnover can negatively impact the overall morale and productivity of the remaining team members.

By understanding these pitfalls, organizations can begin to adjust their recruitment strategies to be more realistic and effective. Instead of fixating on finding the perfect unicorn, companies should focus on hiring talented individuals who meet most of their key requirements and have the potential to grow and adapt within the company. This shift in approach can lead to a more efficient hiring process, a broader talent pool, and more sustainable employee retention rates.


Realigning expectations: a strategic shift

To overcome these challenges, companies must shift towards more realistic and strategic recruiting practices. The DRIVE Methodology® (Define, Research, Inspire, Validate, Enroll) offers a comprehensive framework for this transformation. This approach not only streamlines the recruitment process but also ensures that the organization attracts and retains the right talent.

Define (Need Discovery):

  • Clarify job requirements: Focus on defining the truly essential skills and experiences. Differentiate between 'must-haves' and 'nice-to-haves' to create a realistic candidate profile that aligns with actual job requirements.
  • Company culture and values: Ensure that the job profile accurately reflects the company's culture and values. This helps attract candidates who are more likely to thrive in the organizational environment, leading to better long-term retention and job satisfaction.

Research (Preparation):

  • Target group identification: Clearly define the target group for each position by understanding the specific needs and characteristics of the ideal candidates. This includes demographic factors, professional backgrounds, and skill sets.
  • Unique Selling Points (USPs): Understand the unique selling points (USPs) of both the company and the job to attract the right talent. Highlight what sets the company apart, such as company culture, career development opportunities, and unique job benefits.
  • Effective sourcing channels: Utilize diverse sourcing channels to reach a broader and more diverse pool of candidates. This can include job boards, social media, professional networks, and recruitment agencies.


Inspire (Candidate Attraction):

  • Active sourcing and engagement: Develop strategies for actively sourcing candidates, including leveraging social and professional networks. Utilize both inbound and outbound recruitment tactics to attract top talent.
  • Create a positive candidate experience: Ensure a positive candidate experience throughout the recruitment process, from initial contact to feedback and communication. A seamless and respectful process reflects well on the company and encourages more applications.

Validate (Hiring Process):

  • Manage expectations: Clearly communicate role expectations and company goals to candidates. This includes detailing job responsibilities, performance expectations, and potential career paths within the company. Ensure mutual understanding and alignment to prevent future misunderstandings.
  • Efficient process management: Streamline the hiring process to avoid unnecessary delays. Manage formalities, such as background checks and reference verifications, swiftly and effectively. Efficient contract negotiations and clear communication are essential to secure top candidates quickly.

Enroll (Onboarding):

  • Tailored onboarding: Develop a robust onboarding process tailored to the specific role and individual, ensuring a smooth transition and integration. This process should include orientation, training, and mentorship to help new hires acclimate to their roles and the company culture.
  • Continuous feedback: Implement continuous feedback mechanisms to support new hires during their initial months. Regular check-ins and feedback sessions help new employees feel supported and valued, contributing to their long-term success and satisfaction.

    By adopting the DRIVE Methodology®, companies can align their recruitment practices with strategic goals, ensuring that they attract and retain the talent needed for sustained success. This approach helps mitigate the challenges associated with unrealistic expectations and creates a more efficient and effective recruitment process.



The unrealistic expectation for recruiters to find unicorn candidates often leads to prolonged hiring processes, missed opportunities, and unnecessary strain on recruiters. Insisting on perfect candidates delays hiring and causes strong potential hires to be overlooked. This burden stretches recruiters thin as they search for an impossible ideal.

Adopting a more strategic and realistic approach helps companies attract and retain top talent more effectively. Focusing on essential skills and cultural fit rather than perfection streamlines the hiring process and widens the candidate pool. The DRIVE Methodology®—emphasizing clarity, efficiency, and alignment with company goals—provides a structured framework for this approach.

Corporate recruiters are key to this shift, serving as strategic partners who align recruitment with company goals and culture. By managing expectations and communicating clearly with hiring managers and candidates, recruiters can ensure a more efficient, sustainable hiring process. This strategic partnership is crucial for building a robust workforce and achieving long-term success.


Are you curious to learn more about the DRIVE Methodology®? Please find additional details here: DRIVE Methodology®



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