Why we believe in the power of unicorns


​You’ve been searching the forest for hours. You’re tired, hungry, and beginning to lose hope. Suddenly, you come to the edge of a clearing and there, gleaming from the end of its tail to the tip of its horn, stands a magnificent unicorn. You hold your breath. How are you going to attract it? And if you do manage to catch this incredible beast, how are you going to look after it?

It’s Unicorn Day on 9th April and at Six Degrees Executive, this is something to celebrate! Not to be confused with billion-dollar tech companies, unicorns in recruitment are candidates who can add immense value to employers but are difficult to find.

So, we asked some of Six Degrees’ “Unicorn Whisperers” to share their knowledge of how to attract a unicorn, how to bring them to the attention of others, and crucially, why unicorns often look different to what you might expect.

What is a unicorn? And do they really exist?

Of course, unicorns exist! In recruitment, unicorns are candidates whose capabilities perfectly align with an employer (even if they don’t know it yet).

Often hiring managers have a preconceived notion of the unicorn they are seeking – and the list of specific requirements can be long and detailed.

While we believe in these magical beings, finding a unicorn is not as straightforward as many people think, which is why they remain a mystery for so many employers. Here’s the secret: unicorns probably won’t look like you think they will.

Well, what do they look like?

Despite the images you have in mind or the myths you may have heard, unicorns rarely ever look the same and require an open mind to be able to spot.

Unicorns, by definition, are special. They’re diverse, unique, and different to the rest of the team. There’s no cookie-cutter stereotype that a unicorn will confirm to; they are neither ubiquitous nor universal.

If you hope to find a unicorn, you will need to be able to drop your biases and preconceived notions of who they are and what “good” looks like. In fact, thinking you know what a unicorn will look like is the number-one barrier to finding one.

A unicorn may possess a different level of experience than you initially thought you needed them to have. Perhaps they have a unique life story that will enhance their ability to do their role. Maybe they come from a completely different sector, but their unicorn magic (their capabilities and characteristics) will be a perfect fit in their new home.

Just like you can’t see a fairy if you don’t believe in them, employers won’t be able to see a unicorn if they have a stock-standard ideal of exactly what they are looking for. Time and again, these employers miss out on catching a unicorn, which is quickly secured by someone else hunting in another part of the forest.

Gently does it: how to find a unicorn

It's not as straightforward as you might think. Unicorns can be difficult to find and are especially rare in Australia with unemployment currently at a record low post-pandemic. They may simply be hiding, but sometimes the search criteria being used has excluded them or is focused elsewhere.

Many recruiters have worked their whole life and never found one. At Six Degrees, we are fortunate enough to have worked with herds of diverse unicorns over the years. We’re happy to share some of our unicorn-related secrets.

Firstly, unicorns are skittish. They usually don’t apply to job ads, they don't enjoy badgering, and are fussy about finding their next career home.

You can’t always spot a unicorn by merely looking at their resume. You need to dig deeper to understand their unique mix of capabilities, experience, and soft skills: what makes them tick, their values, beliefs, what they thrive on, their special talents and what they love doing most.

At the same time, unicorn whisperers must understand the employer, to make sure the unicorn’s home is right for them – the business challenges, their team culture, the employee value proposition, and the specific capabilities required to be successful in the job and achieve business goals. 

In other words, unicorn matchmakers (recruiters) can only be successful if they have a deep understanding of both sides of the equation. That’s why our team at Six Degrees specialise recruiting within particular disciplines and industries – taking a personalised approach to engage both parties in depth, uncover their rich stories, understand the unique dynamics at play, and consult with both parties to make the right match.

Advice for attracting unicorns

Here are eight tips from our recruitment experts to help attract unicorns:

  1. You need to be honest, thoughtful and inspired to attract unicorns with a unique opportunity that is accurate, honest and compelling. Christine Armadass, Specialist Procurement Consultant.

  2. Don’t be overly specific with a big list of demands in the job description. Stick to the core competencies and give them a clear understanding of what they will be doing and how they will be valued. Alan Claire, Manager Engineering & Operations.

  3. Unicorns like to know what they’re galloping into. They want to peer into the future and understand the environment they’re being asked to contribute to. Phillip Ferreira, Executive Consultant, B2B Sales.

  4. Unicorns like to hide! While stereotypes may be of prancing ponies, the reality is that true unicorns are often humble. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t always look good on paper, and they won't always self-promote in interviews. Often, they’re not even aware they are a unicorn. Ivor Lloyd-Rees, Manager, Marketing.

  5. Unicorns won’t survive just anywhere. The magic lies in finding them their perfect place. Caitlin Murrell, Consultant, Safety & Sustainability.

  6. Unicorns can be shy; they often won’t reveal themselves to anyone and everyone. They are attracted by authentic brands and can be drawn in by savvy recruiters who understand them holistically and genuinely believe they have found them a good home. Chris Barr, Manager – Supply Chain & Procurement.

  7. Unicorns may already exist inside your organisation. Sometimes unicorns with the right capabilities reveal themselves as they develop into a role and are nurtured to be their best. This is often well-known by their co-workers, but managers can’t “see” the unicorn right in front of them. Fabian Paterson, Manager – Sales and Marketing.

  8. It may take some bravery in backing a unicorn once you find them, in order to get them across the line and help them get set up and established internally, but it will ultimately pay off. Christy Moses, Customer Director.

How to hold on to a unicorn

If you’ve been lucky enough to attract a unicorn, be sure to look after them properly. You will need to make them feel appreciated and nurture them along their way to ensure they thrive in their new home. Dropping a unicorn into the wrong environment and hoping for the best will likely result in you waking up one morning to discover your unicorn has trotted away. But if you get it right and have a compelling Employee Value Proposition, you can truly unlock the magic these wonderful creatures can bring to your team.

Unicorns don’t always immediately “fit in” but if given the opportunity and managed in the right way, they will shine. We’re talking about psychological safety – creating a supportive environment where a unicorn feels safe and comfortable to be different, speak up or disagree with the status quo, share innovative ideas, and perform at their best.

Unicorns like to be able to see a path ahead, with new things to keep them interested, clear challenges to conquer and goals to achieve. They usually like to learn and grow but need to be tended to over time - show appreciation for their efforts and reward them along the way.

Finally, don’t attempt to force a unicorn conform or fit into a preconceived mould at your workplace. Think of unicorns as providing “cultural-add” rather than cultural fit – after all, you hired a unicorn because you wanted someone special and unique!

Want to find a unicorn? Talk to our consulting team to learn how.