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. 

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