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How to be the Purple Cow in Recruitment

How to be the purple cow in recruitmentHello??  Hello!?!?

Okay, paying attention now?  Thank you.  Because what we have to say is really impor… put down that iPhone!  I’m speaking to you!  Right.  As I was saying, we have something really important to say to yo… hello?

Welcome to the 2010’s.  (Seriously, you can actually listen now.)  With the rapid spread of social media, mobile and ‘always-connected’ applications, getting attention in a content-saturated world is now harder – and more vital – than ever.  Whether you’re a recruiter attempting to get clients or a job seeker looking to get hired, competition is fierce. But the rules of marketing yourself to stand out and get noticed are the same.

So how do you stand out?

Become a cow.

Okay… specifically, become a purple cow.

Anyone in marketing knows what we’re talking about.  The term purple cow comes from Seth Godin, whose book Purple Cow, hit the New York Times Bestseller List in 2003 with the bold, yet somehow also obvious, assertion that the key to business success was to make your products or services stand out from all the rest.

“Be the purple cow in a field of monochrome!” was his William Wallace style exhortation and businesses rushed in to follow the steps to becoming totally different from each other.

In reality, being a purple cow in a field of beige is not a one-time activity or a marketing strategy. It’s a constant way of thinking creatively about the individual interactions you have every day.  The only way to stay different from all the other people doing the exact same thing as you is to capitalize on what is different.

What is different?

We’re so glad you asked…

You + The Other Person + The Situation = Uniqueness.

There’s only ever going to be one combination of your interaction with a recruiter or a potential client and this is what you need to capitalize on.  Every interaction you have should be a search for what makes you, the other person or the situation unique.  Common interests, shared sense of humor, a way of speaking… the more you can capitalize on your uniqueness, the more memorable you will be.

We’ve compiled some examples of fantastic Purple Cow Marketing techniques by individuals connecting with the uniqueness of another individual.  The first example was sent to our friends over at DesignCrowd.

Startups and Bubble Wrap

Purple Cows in recruitment - Designcrowd

As you can see from Alec’s profile above, he likes bubble wrap.  A recruiter named Nathan from Mantech Recruiting sent him the below message.  On bubble wrap.

G’Day Alec.
I heard you like bubblewrap.
Here is some limited edition stuff from my private collection I can share with you.
I’m a tech recruiter here in Sydney and I know of some good people that want to come work for you, look me up on LinkedIn or gimme a yell, yeah?

PurpleCow marketing - DesignCrowd

It’s not just the bubble wrap that works here.  Nathan’s noticed from Alec’s profile that he’s a casual sort of guy.  Phrases like ‘Gimme a bell yeah?’ ‘G’Day’ and the careless writing style with a thick black texta actually work towards building the uniqueness that results in memorable interactions.

Consultants and Long Erasers

In an effort to attract the attention of graduates at Universities, McKinsey & Co printed 3000 pencils with overly long erasers at the end of them, distributing the pencils throughout Universities in Switzerland.

“We’re looking for students who aren’t satisfied with just any solutions”

Purple Cow marketing in recruitment

Again, the content of the message is as important as the mode of communication.  Simple, direct and stating what they were looking for in professional language, it let the audience know that they were on the same page.   The pencils resulted in an increase of visits to the McKinsey & Co recruiting page and found their way into advertising free zones such as the library and common rooms.

Buy Me Now

You may remember Phil Dub, who created his online web resume to look like an Amazon page?  It went viral and after 2 months and 1.5million hits later, he was employed by Birchbox as a Technical Product Manager.

Purple Cow Amazon Marketing

His mode of communication was unique, yes – using a web page rather than a traditional resume.  But the creativity was really about finding the point of uniqueness in his target market.  He combined his uniqueness (his name) with their uniqueness (their logo and branding) to come up with a purple cow concept.

The key to standing out and being memorable to clients is combining uniqueness.  It creates point of commonality that resonate strongly with an audience.


How to be the Purple Cow

If you are struggling to find a point of uniqueness with your target, brainstorm around these areas when developing your pitch…

Your Target

  • Their likes/dislikes
  • Common phrases
  • Places of birth
  • Clothes
  • Dreams/Goals
  • Places of travel

The Situation

  • A recent world event they would have (or should have) heard of
  • The building they work in
  • Something they might walk by every day to work
  • A Social Media post their company posted the other day


If you have something unique about you that makes you stand out, by all means use it.  However, the best way to create connection though is by identifying with something already in the other person’s world.

Standing out is not a one-size-fits-all solution – which is why not so many people are capable of doing it.  To effectively be a purple cow you need to apply effort and creativity to every possible individual situation and opportunity that could come your way.

It won’t work every time.  In fact, there may only be a few instances where you can make yourself truly memorable in the eyes of your future employer or client.  In these few instances, however, you will stand out from the crowd.  And you only need a few of those opportunities to land the job, or client, you’ve been chasing.

Cofounder at RecruitLoop. I've been a hands on recruiter, manager, trainer, coach, mentor, and regular speaker for the recruitment industry for 20 years. Follow me @paul_slezak.