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When it comes to recruiting hard-to-find talent, she’s like the crazy ex-girlfriend who won’t give up.

Amanda Hurley, section manager for ORAU Workforce Solutions, manages a team of recruiters who seek out top talent for some of ORAU’s key clients, including the Environmental Protection Agency.

In her previous recruiting work, which included stints at E.W. Scripps and, Hurley was looking for seasoned professionals with years of experience to fill positions. At ORAU, she and her team are looking for members of the emerging workforce, those recent college graduates who may not have any experience.

The hunt for purple squirrels: Recruiter excels at finding the impossible

How do we find 'purple squirrels?'

Amanda Hurley, ORAU project manager, recruiter and subject matter expert for recruiting trends and technology, shares her background in marketing and recruiting, gives a great tip on using LinkedIn for finding your next job, and describes how she hunts “purple squirrels,” people with the right skills for difficult-to-fill positions. Hear it all on the Further Together podcast.

Listen to the podcast

Naturally, recruiting from the emerging workforce has its challenges.

“The companies we’re placing them with want them to have some experience, so we start trying to find the impossible,” Hurley said.

The recruiting industry term for these candidates is “purple squirrels.”

“A purple squirrel is someone who the company, agency or hiring manager wants, but that person doesn’t really exist or is very difficult to find. For example, someone who is a social media manager and also a data analyst. Usually a person who is very creative doesn’t have the data analysis skills.”

Recruiting for the EPA often includes parameters that make finding suitable candidates a challenge. For example, the candidate must have graduated from college within the past 24 months, have some lab experience, be able to code in Python, etc.

“We also have to find and place them within 30 days in many instances,” she said. “The good news is, we have a track record for recruiting and placing many of these individuals within 28 days.”

The more parameters attached, the smaller and smaller the candidate pool gets, so Hurley and her team have to get creative.

“We go out and hunt the right candidate,” she said. “We take advantage of our university consortium but also go beyond the consortium and reach out to universities that develop the type of talent our client is looking for.

“We also do a lot of stalking on social media. I always like to say I’m the best crazy ex-girlfriend when it comes to finding talent online. So I do a lot of social media searching on LinkedIn and elsewhere,” Hurley said.

Visiting sites like Stack Overflow, which is geared toward developers, is also helpful.

“Being the stalker that I am, I’ll go on those sites and ask questions and start conversations,” she said.

Whether you’re in search of a new opportunity or happy where you are, Hurley says it’s important to keep your LinkedIn profile and other digital presences up to date, because people are looking at them all the time.

“LinkedIn is a great place to show all of your skill sets, especially for people like me who are trying to find you,” she said.

Looking ahead, Hurley said this is an exciting time for Workforce Solutions because there is a lot of competition for STEM talent. Unemployment rates in some STEM fields are less than two percent.

“It’s very easy for someone who has graduated college to get a job,” Hurley said. “It’s my responsibility to really showcase the opportunity of our client, like the EPA, that they can get a connection with some of the world’s best scientists and have opportunities work in an agency that has some of the best lab technology that there is.”

Whether stalking prospective candidates on social media or showcasing the possibilities offered by their clients, Hurley and her team are purple squirrel hunters who get the job done.

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If you have questions about ORAU's Workforce Solutions capabilities, contact 865.576.3424 or .