The elusive digital unicorn

Digital unicorn

This is such an important topic that I am going to go outside my mandatory color scheme of 4 shades of blue and 4 shades of grey. This post requires a rainbow.  A unicorn puking a rainbow.

I define the perfect digital job candidate as a digital unicorn. They are so elusive that you may never have crossed paths with one.  But if you are lucky enough to find one, hire him/her and don’t look back.  A single digital unicorn can deliver impact equal to twenty digital ponies.

In one sentence, a digital unicorn is a well-rounded, curious learner with a singular and passionate focus on creating cool shit that delights people using innovative technologies.  Okay… let’s unpack that a bit (note to self: box checked on use of one business cliché per post).

“a well-rounded”: Unicorns know enough to be dangerous in many areas: content, digital platforms, IT, SEO, digital analytics, customer behavior and insights, testing and optimization, and social media.

“curious learner”: Unicorns evolve rapidly. They are constantly reading the latest blogs, chatting with other experts, building side projects, and expanding their knowledge base to keep current.

“with a singular and passionate focus”: Unicorns are driven and focused. They will grab on to a challenge and not let go (or sleep) until it is solved.

“on creating cool shit”: Unicorns are motivated primarily by the work. They want to create beautiful things that change the world.

“that delights people”: Unicorns have a unique empathy with customers and work to solve pain points and delight (make things easier, quicker, cheaper, etc).

“using innovative technologies”: Unicorns are comfortable with technology and are often early adopters. They are able to think through how technologies can be used to drive an integrated customer experience.


Some other indicators that you are in the presence of a digital unicorn include:

  • They have an undeniable energy and enthusiasm
  • They are open to feedback and see change as an opportunity
  • They respect others based on merit/knowledge, not title/hierarchy
  • They don’t play the office politics game
  • They despise using paper and will avoid it at all costs
  • They are interested in a lot of things and often have an atypical education or career path
  • They are often award winners, speakers at conferences, adjunct professors, or patent holders
  • They only wear black turtlenecks (just kidding on this one)


Okay… so you were lucky enough to identify, recruit and hire your very own unicorn!   Now what?  Here are some guidelines to help you keep your unicorn happy:

  • Ensure they have an avenue to work on innovation and create new things (can be new to the world, new to the company, or new to them)
  • Do not place an unnecessary amount of bureaucracy, process, or politics on them, let them focus on creation
  • Give them a lot of autonomy; tell them what you want to accomplish, but let them decide how to get it done
  • Give them plentiful opportunities to develop and stretch in new areas; encourage them to build an external network and attend events/conferences to stay leading edge
  • Do not require or expect them to conform 100% to the culture


PostScript: I have also heard recruiters use the term purple squirrel’ in reference to a business partner’s request for an impossibly perfect job candidate.  Someone who checks all of the boxes in a lengthy list of qualifications.  Chasing a single person who can solve world hunger within their 90 day plan.  I like the term and the visual that pops into my head… but it can be applied to any field/capability, while a digital unicorn is more specific to my chosen field.


And now for the obligatory Powerpoint:

Characteristics of a Digital Unicorn Powerpoint


7 Replies to “The elusive digital unicorn”

  1. Love this – totally fun read. Although, the paper avoidance is a curious one. Of the digital unicorns I have crossed paths with, visualization is a must, and nothing beats doodling and mocking up when it comes to that.

    1. Hi Norma! Thanks for reading. I listed some items as ‘indicators’ of a unicorn but not 100% required. Agreed that folks on the UX/design/content side are more open to paper. I personally love paper 🙂

  2. Erika Johnson says:

    Great article. I have often said I’m trying to find a unicorn when hiring for the digital marketing space. Better yet I once told a few folks that by asking for a combination of employee A and employee B in my next hire they were basically asking two unicorns to have a baby! (And for me to find that baby) Ha! Have to say when I said it I got a few odd looks but they understood my point.

    1. Thanks, Erika. A baby unicorn would be adorbs! Agree that they are super hard to find, but once you find one it is worth it.

  3. Awesome job Alissa!! I totally agree and enjoyed the read. I currently am trying to head this department for our company and can’t wait to have a herd of unicorns.

    1. Thanks, Garrett! Having a whole herd of unicorns would be amazing.

  4. Great article Alissa! Very interesting concept and I was trying to see whether I’m qualified as a digital unicorn, maybe not the black turtleneck part, haha just kidding. Love this blog. Looking forward to reading more!

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