Please Stop Hiring Rockstars

When I think of "rockstar," I think of Mick Jagger, Slash, James Hetfield, Ozzy Osbourne, Adam Levine. I think of long hair, tattoos, decibels, backstage mayhem, and decibels. "It's Freedom Rock, turn it up." When I search "rockstar," I get energy drinks, Rolling Stone, a gaming company and "rockstar abs." To be a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame rockstar, think talent and longevity. To be inducted you had to have been in the business for at least 25 years.Your latest junior developer? Not a rockstar. This is news to many of our start-up and high-growth clients who are just looking for a hip way to say they want the best talent. Stop doing this. Now.

I'm talking to you: a search for "rockstar developer" brought me 24 job ads with this meaningless moniker. Search for just "rockstar" and you get over 1,600 gems. Hey, I've taken the quiz to see if I have what it takes and I don't. I rated "Roadie." But none of you punks do either (except you punk rockers, maybe you do.)

The bottom line is you're not going to get the right talent if you're looking for rockstars, ninjas, brilliance, special forces or any other breathless pie-in-the sky terms. No one you know marries the girl on the cover of Maxim. And there's a reason.

You're not looking for amazing in one, and only one way. And if you think you are, you don't know your own company well enough. Finding talent is an exercise in self-reflection first. And by that, I mean the organization. Look inward--who are you? What makes you different? What are the commonalities among your employees who are both high performers and stick around?

It's easy to find someone who can develop code or create a marketing strategy. What's hard is finding one who can do it:

  • in your industry
  • for your company
  • on one specific team
  • dealing with a specific project or set of projects
  • playing a certain role on that team
  • within a specific culture
  • working for a specific leader

Then, it becomes harder. Much harder. Especially if your job description just wants AMAZING. No one person is amazing. But there's a person who's amazing for you. (Yes, this sounds like dating advice. Hear me out, here).

It's not just about the task at hand. It's about the set of criteria and factors that make a job unique. I love the conversation here about rockstar developer versus cowboy coder, but it's so much more than just a descriptor. It's a recipe where a set of ingredients are all required for the end result to be tasty and worth cooking. Again and again.

Think about it from a job seeker's perspective. When you're brought in for an interview, it means they already think you have the skills needed to do the job. Now, it's about the fit. The same goes for the company. If you describe your job in vague terms like "rockstar" you're going to get a vague set of candidates that respond. They may be able to do the job but they'll have no idea whether they fit any of the other elements of success.

How to fix this? Simple. Encourage self-selection. The more you honestly share about all of the factors of the job, the more likely it is you'll get candidates that fit all of those aspects. Oh, and then you can actually interview and look for them. Be honest, be authentic. But most of all, be clear.

It doesn't have to be a thesis--you can be clear and straightforward in a few short paragraphs. You can also weave your culture in like Woot does. Hilarious, but for a reason. If you don't find it funny, you won't be happy there. If you think the crossword puzzle on the Zappos application is annoying, same deal. I also like Logik's honesty.

Talent is the single most important ingredient to growing a business. Let me say it again. The most important. I don't care if you have the most innovative, efficient, value-add piece of technology the world has ever seen. If you don't have the right combined team to take it to market, you will fail.

Entrepreneurs take note. Take some of that VC money and invest it in a real, grown-up talent strategy. You don't want real rockstar developers (the ones with talent + longevity) to talk about you like this.


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