Why your business should hire at least one unicorn employee!
Whatever type of business you are in, hiring unicorn employees could be the best thing you ever do. SMEs (particularly start-ups) that need to grow a team would certainly benefit, because unicorns can perform many roles effortlessly.
A unicorn employee is often described as "someone or something that is difficult or impossible to find". They are out there; you just need to be looking for the right characteristics. So, what are these mystical qualities you should be looking for? Here are 10 that might help you.
1. Unicorns are multi-taskers and don't need to be tied to a specific job description
Unicorn employees like to wear many hats, it keeps them engaged and interested. They tend to take on tasks and opportunities that are outside their defined roles and even their comfort zones.
2. They have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and learning new things
Unicorns tend to be on a life long learning path. They learn stuff quickly, but have a mindset that things change and need to keep up with those changes. They continuously seek new ways to do things, better ways to process tasks, innovative tech, latest thinking and ideas. They are always on top of the things or subjects of interest to them.
3. They have the ability to think strategically AND more importantly apply this at a detailed level
Strategic thinkers are definitely a prize asset in any company, but where unicorns come in to their own, is they possess a secondary ability to turn strategic visions into reality. They have this unique skill of being able to see and understand the big picture, then work at the detailed level to deliver solutions whether it be a product, service, process etc. They also understand that the devil is in the detail, and with an eye on the bigger picture, can often identify problems that other employees wouldn't. For this reason alone, they are worth their weight in gold.
4. They have a can-do attitude and always deliver
Unicorns might be accused of over-delivering but this is no bad thing. Give them a problem to solve, a task or a project and they will not only deliver on time, but they will far exceed your expectations. They know exactly what needs to be done, how to deliver it and oftentimes identify missing elements needed to produce even better results. They will stop at nothing to deliver. They get things done!
5. They don't have a big ego, are humble by nature and extremely respectful of others
Unlike other talented employees who develop a sense of superiority and arrogance, unicorns are not even aware of the unique talents they possess and are therefore often very humble, don't seek compliments and respect every person regardless of the job they do or title they hold. They don't need their ego stroked, nor seek praise or limelight for what they do. Egotistical employees tend to be the opposite, seeking every opportunity to shine the light on their achievements. Unicorns being both strategic and detailed also recognise the importance of every person in your organisation, seeing them as a valuable source of knowledge and crucial to to the overall success of the company.
6. They are team players with the ability to lead by example
Unicorns stand out because they have a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. They don't try to be something they're not, or try to 'wing it'. They are active listeners and are attracted to and thrive on learning from others who possess the skills and qualities they don't have. They make people (at whatever level they are at in a business) feel valued, important and that they are working with them instead of for them. They are usually helpful and freely pass on their skills and knowledge to others.
7. They are 100% passionate about what they do
They thrive on challenges, love taking on tasks deemed impossible and absolutely excel when there is a problem to solve. They love creating things from scratch whether it is a product, service or process, they also thrive on improving things, like processes for example. Whatever they produce, they see it as a reflection of themselves so strive to do the best they can. They do things out of a genuine interest in what they do, often unaware they are going above and beyond.
8. They naturally inspire other team members to do better
Unicorns raise the bar for everyone and not through fear or pressure but through encouragement and support. They inspire others by teasing out their individual talents and abilities and through being helpful so they can produce their best work. Unicorns create an atmosphere of positivity and one that has other team members believing in themselves.
9. They are often highly creative, innovative and entrepreneurial
Given they have this unique ability to think both strategically and at a detailed level, unicorns are also extremely entrepreneurial. They can come up with ideas from multiple levels/perspectives. These unique capabilities mean they are considering possible pros and cons from all those perspectives too. They think 'systemically' too, so their ideas and solutions tend to have considered not just the problem they are trying to solve in front of them, but the wider impact the solution might have across the entire organisation, demographic or whatever the target audience is.
10. Unicorns are very adaptable
True unicorns can adapt to their environment very quickly. They can move between industries for example and quickly grasp what they are about. They are very aware of their own transferable skills (often long before you are) and can bring unique insights to your business as a result of this.
How to identify a unicorn employee from a CV
Unicorns can struggle in traditional interviews where other candidates thrive. Therefore, consider alternative interviewing methods to tease out their unique skillset. Also be aware of how you market a job as this can deter unicorns from applying, so for example don't produce a list of must have skills or formal qualifications because firstly, unicorns are not always formally trained (self-taught) and secondly, they are adept at picking things up quickly so would master whatever it is your company needs in no time. Instead focus on the characteristics and competencies, as presented above.
If you are looking for an IT unicorn for example, then you might look for someone who describes themselves as a 'hacker' rather than a programmer or developer (unless you want a pure programmer or developer of course). A definition of a hacker is "someone who makes things. In this context, it's someone who makes things by programming computers. This is the original, and purest definition of the term, i.e. that you have an idea and you "hack" something together to make it work. It also applies to people who tinker with things in a way that extends or changes their functionality, or otherwise uses them in ways that weren't originally intended"
Hackers have this unique ability to see the bigger picture, scan the horizons for solutions and bring these things together in ways we wouldn't ordinarily imagine.
Don't use recruiters if you are looking for unicorns
Unicorns are not picked up by recruiters as most rely on algorithms to sift candidates. Unicorns will rarely if ever be picked up using these techniques. So, unless you use a firm that specialises in identifying 'unicorns' then you need to do the recruiting yourself.
How to keep a unicorn employee
It is a massive win for your company to have a unicorn as part of your team so make sure you keep them. Like every other employee, they need to feel valued and rewarded for their hard work. But these employees in particular need to be stimulated and given tasks and projects that challenge them. Don't hire a unicorn and stick them in a box as they will leave as quickly as you hired them.
If your company is facing challenges, maybe you need to reduce overheads, streamline processes, introduce new products or services, whatever it is, include your unicorn(s) in those brainstorming sessions.
Here's a quote from Alibaba founder Jack Ma: "Stupid people can work together easily. Smart people can't." If your top players have the skills but not the right attitude, it's about time to keep an eye on your unicorn employee".
Excellent article. Unicorns are needed more than ever now, the difficulty as you say is finding them. We have used recruitment firms in the past but now find doing our own produces better results. It always bothered me that we were not being presented with the best candidates because of the filters applied by recruiters. Some of our best staff don't have formal qualifications and are the best hires we have made to date. Maybe someone needs to start a unicorn recruitment company that is designed to attract this sort of employee.
Good advice about not using regular recruiters as their algorithms simply don't pick these people up. The only problem is it is time consuming so agree with you that maybe recruiters should start innovating and maybe someone could create a niche for finding these unicorns for those employers that seek them?
I have seen this term used many times to explain star employees. We had one who left us just last year. It was only after she left that we realised what we lost. She did so much more than we gave her credit for and sad to say didn't recognise this. A valuable lesson learnt. We have 2 staff now doing the job she seemed to manage effortlessly on her own. My advice, you need to invest time in getting to know your employees, their strengths, weaknesses, concerns and so on. It will be the best thing you ever do for your company.
Here's a question. Do unicorns even know they are one? Are they also in danger of being jack of all trades master of none?