Creating Your Own ‘Unicorn’ Employee

William Wrigley our consultant managing the role
Posting date: 7/18/2019 8:32 AM
The elusive unicorn. Once a mythical beast, it is now a term for a new mythical creature; the unicorn employee. As Data fields transition from generalist to more specialised niches within the industry, businesses are realising the need for more agile and adaptable employees. However, there is a bit of a twist on the business end. It’s a mix of a diversified skillset and expertise. Though one seems at odds with the other, it doesn’t have to be.

On the flip side, employees want development, citing it as the number one reason for leaving a business in our 2019 Salary Guide. So, we thought we’d take a look and see where the disconnect was. After all, if employees want development and businesses want diversification, couldn’t the two come together for the benefit of all? 

In a word, yes. Investment in employees through reskilling and upskilling are two important and useful ways to create your ideal employee and placement. There’s no better return on investment. Let’s take a look at how finding your unicorn employee can add value to your business.

Think Outside The Job Description


While the job description offers a good guideline of what’s expected in your day-to-day role, it can’t predict the changes, trends, and other issues within your industry. And in the digital tech world, change is the name of the game. Businesses need someone who can react quickly and effectively. Employees need to have skills either to manage the job themselves or know when to reach out to team members for help. This can’t happen in a siloed situation. 

A few traits of the unicorn employee include flexibility, a curious nature, excited about learning new things, and the openness to offer suggestions within and across teams. 

In a recent LinkedIn article, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes captured it best. “Like actual unicorns, they’re hard to find, but once hired, offer up enormous benefits in the workplace. To name a few, they shatter expectations, raise the bar for everyone and are simply a joy to be around. Unicorn employees can literally take your business to the next level.”

If you’re looking to hire a unicorn employee, look beyond their resume. While it’s a tool and will offer skills the employee has now, it can’t show you whether or not he or she will go the extra mile. And like the mythical beasts, these unicorn employees may come from surprising places, be open to new possibilities and think beyond the job description. 

How to become a Unicorn Employee


  • Be Coachable. Have a growth mind-set, a desire to learn, and find every opportunity to upskill. This is lifelong learning at its finest.
  • Be a hard worker, but know when to rest and recharge.
  • Raise the bar as a teammate and encourage others to do the same. 
  • Raise your Emotional Intelligence. Demonstrate empathy, be aware of your emotions and your teammates’, and help motivate others.

How to Attract and Retain Top Talent


As you plan your next level of hire in search of the not-so-elusive ‘unicorn’ employee, consider these few steps to get you on the right track.

  • Understand job roles. The job beyond what’s on paper. See what it’s like on the other side and make assessments from the point of an employee. What’s their day-to-day routine, touchpoints, and technology turn-ons to help them do their job?
  • Employee experience and technology are forever entwined. What tech skills do your potential employees have and what would they like to learn? Does their curiosity spark yours? 
  • Broaden your range. Encourage employee participation in technology decisions and include people from a wide range of levels and departments. Let them help with planning, selection, and design. After all, who better than those who use it and know it inside and out?
  • To upskill is to create lifelong learning opportunities through classes and beyond. Other ways to upskill include exploring new mind-sets, developing diverse relationships, and redefining how people work.

These few suggestions scratch the surface. Though, Gartner does offer these strategies in competing for talent.

The demand for top talent and the scarcity of it hasn’t diminished, but with a few tweaks to your planning strategy, you can lay the groundwork for attracting great employees. If you’re an employee hoping to broaden your range, open to new technologies as well as reaching out in a department not your own, and a team motivator. You might be a ‘unicorn’ employee. Somewhere between the two, we hope you’ll meet and in next year’s guide, development and diversification won’t be quite as at odds with each other.

Companies need to remember candidates are stakeholders in the hiring process. Candidates need to remember sometimes it comes down to education. Educate the company how you can best serve them. That question they ask – why do you want to work for this company? This is where you ‘wow’ them and educate them to your why.

Be flexible in your hiring and consider flipping from top-down to manager-centric in a bottom-up approach. After all, who is better positioned to offer insights into how jobs are changing and the skills required for it.

If you’re looking for a unicorn, or to make your mark on a company, check out our current vacancies or get in touch with one of our experts consultants to learn more. 

Related blog & news

With over 10 years experience working solely in the Data & Analytics sector our consultants are able to offer detailed insights into the industry.

Visit our Blogs & News portal or check out the related posts below.

The Harnham 2019 Data & Analytics Salary Guide Is Here

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our 2019 UK, US and European Salary Guides. With over 3,000 respondents globally, this year’s guides are our largest and most insightful yet.  Looking at your responses, it is overwhelmingly clear that the Data & Analytics industry is continuing to thrive. This has led to an incredibly active market with 77% of respondents in the UK and Europe, and 72% in the US, willing to leave their role for the right opportunity.  Salary expectations remain high, although we’re seeing that candidates often expect 2-10% more than they actually achieve when moving between roles.  Globally, we’ve also seen a change in the reasons people give for leaving a position, with a lack of career progression overtaking an uncompetitive salary as the main reason for seeking a change.   There also remains plenty of room for industry improvement when looking at gender parity; the UK market is only 25% female and this falls to 23% in the US and 21% across the rest of Europe.  In addition to our findings, the guides also include insights into a variety of markets and recommendations for both those hiring, and those seeking a new role.  You can download your copies of the UK, US and European guides here.

Where Tech Meets Tradition

Where Tech Meets Tradition

If you’re lamenting the decline of handmade traditional products, cast your cares aside. There’s a new Sheriff in town and its name is, Tech. Just a generation ago, children would leave the farm or the family business, go to school, and then move on to make their place in the world doing their own thing. Away from family.  Today, the landscape has changed and those who have left are coming home. But this time, they’re bringing technology with them to help make things more efficient and more productive. Is Tech-Assisted Still Handmade? In a word, yes. Artists still make things “from scratch”, except now technologies allow them to not only see their vision in real-time, but their customers, too. Have you ever wondered what the image in your head might look like on paper or in metal? What about the design of prosthetic arms and healthcare devices by 3D printers? You’re still designing, creating.  But just like any new technology, there’s still a learning curve. Even for cutting-edge craftspeople who find that sometimes, the line between craftsmanship and high-tech creativity may be a bit of a blur. Not to mention the expense for either the equipment required or being able to offer art using traditional tools at technology-assisted prices. Somewhere between the two, there is a trade-off. It’s up to the individual to determine where and what that trade-off is. Life in the Creative Economy One of Banksy’s paintings shredded itself upon purchase at an auction recently. AI is making music and writing books. Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and Blockchain all have their place in the creative economy from immersive entertainment to efficient manufacturing processes. Each of these touches the way we live now. In a joint study between McKinsey and the World Economic Forum, 'Creative Disruption: The impact of emerging technologies on the creative economy', the organisations broke down the various technologies used in the creative economy and how they’re driving change. For example: AI is being used to distill user preferences when it comes to curating movies and music. The Associated Press has used AI to free up reporters’ time and the Washington Post has created a tool to help it generate up to 70 articles a month, many stories of which they wouldn’t have otherwise dedicated staff.Machine Learning has begun to create original content. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality have come together as a new medium to help move people to get up, get active, and go play whether it’s a stroll through a virtual art gallery or watching your children play at the playground.  Where else might immersive media play out? Content today could help tell humanitarian stories or offer work-place diversity training. But back to the artisan handicrafts.  Artistry with technology Whilst publishing firms may be looking to use AI to redefine the creative economy, they are not alone. Other artists utilising these technologies include:  SculptorsDigital artistsPaintersJewellery makersBourbon distillers America’s oldest distiller has gotten on the technology bandwagon and while there is no rushing good Bourbon, but you can manage the process more efficiently. They’ve even taken things a step further and have created an app for aficionados to follow along in the process. Talk about crafted and curated for individual tastes and transparency. It may seem almost self-explanatory to note how other artisans are using technology. But what about distilleries? What are they doing? They’re creating efficiency by: Adding IoT sensors for Data Analytics collection Adding RFID tags to their barrels Creating experimental ageing warehouses (AR, anyone?) to refine their craft. Don’t worry, though. These changes won’t affect the spirit itself. After all, according to Mr. Wheatley, Master Distiller, “There’s no way to cheat mother nature or father time.” Ultimately, the idea is to not only understand the history behind the process, but to make it more efficient and repeatable. A way to preserve the processes of the past while using the advances of the present with an eye to the future. If you’re interested in using Data & Analytics to drive creativity, we may have a role for you. Take a look at our latest opportunities or get in touch with one of our expect consultants to find out more. 

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