Looking for Purple Squirrels? Try a ‘MOOC’

SquirrelsIf your recruiting team is like most today, you have countless job orders going unfilled. Why?

One reason is that more and more employers are looking for that perfect “Purple Squirrel” candidate — the one with the exact qualifications, education, salary expectations, and soft skills desired; and they’re not hiring until they find them.

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The “MOOCs” solution
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are large online college classes available for little or no cost, and open to anyone interested worldwide. Courses are typically taught by star faculty from top-tier universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, UC Berkeley, CalTech, and UT Austin. Since the term was first coined five years ago, MOOC companies like Coursera, Udacity, and EdX have enrolled more than 5 million students in assorted IT, business, math, science, humanities and arts classes. As a result, these online courses have been disrupting academia and capturing headlines as the biggest innovation in education for this era.

So what does this mean for Staffing?

  • MOOCs expand the overall skilled talent pool. Participants on MOOC platforms are accessing classes and learning skills previously available only to a few select Ivy Leaguers. These new platforms, therefore, are creating an expansive global talent pool of highly skilled and tech savvy individuals.
  • Employers want what MOOCs are teaching. Not only are MOOC students voluntarily mastering in-demand academic subjects, they’re also demonstrating key soft skills employers look for today: Self-motivation, Adaptability, Collaboration, and Drive for Learning, etc.
  • MOOCs recruit. Recruiting is actually built into several MOOC models. For example, Cousera offers employee-matching services introducing high performing students with enterprise partners; and Google, Amazon, and Facebook are already using similar sourcing strategies provided by Udacity.
  • MOOCs are ideal for identifying Purple Squirrels. Much like recruiting at Hackathons, and business or science competitions, MOOCs provide visibility and insight to high achieving participants’ capabilities—exactly the kind of places that Purple Squirrels can be found.

The Bottom Line
By incorporating these new educational platforms into recruiting activities, contingent workforce providers can deepen and broaden their skilled talent pool, find more Purple Squirrels, and increase placements. More placements equal more revenue going directly to the bottom line. Simply put, leveraging MOOCs in the Staffing business just makes good dollars and sense.

Key Recommendations
How can you leverage these platforms into your recruiting activities today? Here are three tactics:

  1. Offer information on MOOC courses to your Contingent Workforce. Include links to targeted classes on your company website for quick and easy participation.
  2. Search for MOOCs listed on résumés and social media profiles. Include MOOC courses, certificates, and company names in boolean and key word searches when sourcing.
  3. Enroll in a MOOC. Take relevant courses for professional development, and build relationships with top talent in your courses.

Try it out for yourself, and watch as your Purple Squirrel pipeline grows!

MORE: Not Enough Talent to Go Around

Erica Golden
Erica Golden, MA | SPHR, is a talent strategy professional with extensive experience providing staffing and human capital management consulting for global Fortune 500 companies and Silicon Valley start-ups.

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3 comments
andrewkarpie
andrewkarpie

Matthew,  Good, important distinction.  Enjoyed your recent article.  Good to know this happening.,  Back in 2012, I was wondering when we would see this.  When did you start?

MatthewTGrant
MatthewTGrant

@andrewkarpie We ran a MOOC last summer focused on responsive design and HTML5 and will be launching a new one next month, sir.

MatthewTGrant
MatthewTGrant

Nice article, Erica.

One of the things that we've been concerned about at Aquent is that the MOOCs offered by the major academic platforms are, as one might expect, very academic. Thus, they may help people with an overall understanding of a particular topic (artificial intelligence, statistics, etc.), but they may not actually help students develop the marketable skills they will need on today's highly competitive job market.

We are big fans of the MOOC model but are advocating the development of courses that are more narrowly focused on specific, in-demand skills. Ideally, by the end of such a course, students should be able to apply the skills they've learned to take that hard-to-fill position or, at least, take on new work. 

The MOOC agenda is currently being driven by large academic institutions and, naturally, serves their purposes. Things will get more interesting as the private sector begins to effectively leverage MOOCs for employee development as well as to build the job candidates of tomorrow. 

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