Stop Searching for Unicorns: Navigating Realistic Expectations in Recruitment

Recruitment is a complex puzzle where HR managers and recruiters often find themselves chasing an elusive ideal – the “unicorn” candidate. This article delves into the challenges that arise from this pursuit and offers practical insights to redefine the recruitment process and set realistic expectations.


Problem: The Quest for the Ideal Candidate 

Recruiters and managers often fall into the trap of seeking a candidate who mirrors their mental prototype of perfection. There are several reasons for that. To begin with, the human brain is wired to seek familiarity, which can unconsciously favor candidates who resemble past successful hires. This bias can narrow the pool of potential candidates and stifle diversity. What is more, unrealistic expectations often come from a lack of understanding of the ever-evolving job market. This can result in the rejection of qualified candidates who don’t fit the overly idealized mold. There is also the “similar to me” bias. Looking for candidates who are similar to the people already working in the company might accidentally make the group less diverse and stop new creative ideas. When everyone is too much alike, it can be hard for new and different viewpoints to join the team. 

The quest for the ideal candidate carries several risks.

  • To start with, this aimless search for the ideal candidate can lead to a “just get by” mindset, where the focus shifts from finding the best fit to filling the position as quickly as possible. 
  • In contrast, insisting on the perfect match can result in roles remaining unfilled for extended periods, causing delays in team productivity. 
  • Last but not least, exceptional candidates who possess unique qualities but don’t perfectly fit the ideal profile might be overlooked.


Advice: Managing Expectations for Realistic Outcomes 

To address these issues, it’s crucial to manage expectations, both within the HR team and with hiring managers. Here’s how:

  • First, fragment the ideal profile – rather than seeking a single “unicorn,” consider breaking down the desired profile into multiple roles. This allows you to distribute responsibilities and skills more effectively. 
  • In addition, be prepared to adjust the profile based on the strengths of your candidates. 
  • Also, while constructing the roles, guide yourself with the help of these questions: “Which problem does this role need to fix? Which needs does it fill?”. Think about whether you need a so-called quick result-bringer or, for example, a long-term permanent process maintainer.

You can also consider giving the opportunity to a potential candidate whose experience or background is from a different field (e.g. in the IT field, people with a background in natural sciences are often suitable for data-related roles). Ultimately, be aware of the recruitment market – how big is the pool of your potential candidates and the salary level of the market. This is where recruitment partners are of big support to recruiting managers.


Shift: Rethinking the Ideal Candidate 

Shifting from the pursuit of a mythical perfect candidate to a more practical approach involves changing your search from the ideal candidate to the right one. Here are some tips:

  • Identify the most critical skills required for the role. Narrow down the profile to 4-5 “must have” skills and 1-2 “nice to have” skills. Consider which skills can be taught on the job and which ones are essential from day one.
  • Focus on candidates who align with the organization’s values and can contribute positively to its culture. For this, you can add a video from the team or recruiting manager and pictures of the work environment to the job ad. This way you guide the candidates to get acquainted with the culture from the start. Also, during the recruitment process consider a meeting with the team and use tests to evaluate the candidates’ behavioral or work style, personality, etc. 
  • Look for candidates with an eagerness to learn and grow with the company. Specific previous work experience may not predict the candidate’s results in your company. Therefore, skills can evolve, but the desire to excel is a constant.

You can consider giving an opportunity to people who may not meet all the criteria you are looking for, but have demonstrated strong results in various fields and are quick learners, adaptors, resilient, and very good problem solvers. By considering a wider range of talents and experiences, you not only increase your options but also encourage a culture of ongoing learning and improvement in your organization.


Redefining expectations in recruitment means stepping out of the comfort zone and embracing a more flexible and inclusive approach. Instead of fixating on unicorns, concentrate on each candidate’s unique potential. Look for someone different from you – consider seeking candidates who bring diversity in personality, age, and experiences from various fields. This diversity can fill the team with a wider range of perspectives, fresh ideas, and creativity. Additionally, when handing out jobs, some people might be really good at things that others don’t like doing as much, so task distribution will be easier as well.

In a world where diversity and adaptability are vital, the ideal candidate is one who can contribute to the organization’s growth and adapt to its ever-changing landscape. So, let go of the unicorn chase, and put in the effort needed to find candidates who are not just ideal on paper, but ideal for the journey ahead.

Read more about our recruitment services from here.

This article was composed at Smartful by Marlen Kokla, Junior Recruitment Partner & Executive Assistant and Kristi Suits, Senior Recruitment Partner.

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