Do You Really Want to Hire a “Rock Star?”

Do You Really Want to Hire a “Rock Star?”

I recently had the opportunity to sit at a roundtable discussion with some peers that provide staffing solutions for the Information Technology industry. We were talking about the challenges our industry faces in our search for top tier talent. IT professionals have a low unemployment rate of 2.2%, with an even lower number for some skill sets or locations.  Attracting the short supply of strong candidates to read or listen to a job requirement can be a challenge, as there are so many opportunities that look alike.  Candidates have shared with us that overused terminology eventually loses its meaning. To stand out and attract candidates, companies need to ensure they don’t get caught in a paradigm and take away from the uniqueness of the opportunity.  One term that has fallen into this category over the past few years is the desire to hire a “Rock Star” in a particular skill set.

Our industry has heard multiple requests to find “Rock Stars” for their open IT positions in recent years.  While a strong IT professional is the desire for most, is the term “Rock Star” the best way to identify the talent being requested? Has the overuse of the term “Rock Star” transformed itself into a cliché where it is possible to rule out a resource that you would possibly want to hire? Is “Rock Star” status the same in every employment environment?

How did it start? One recruiter’s opinion.
According to, a “Rock Star” is simply defined as “a famous singer of rock music.” So how and when did “Rock Star” begin to become associated with anything outside the music industry?  While I am far from a pop culture historian, I can only share my personal observation. I believe the 1999 hit song by Smash Mouth, All Star, merged the concept of “All Star” and “Rock Star” into a single meaning:

Hey now you’re an All Star get your game on, go play
Hey now you’re a Rock Star get the show on, get paid
(And all that glitters is gold)
Only shooting stars break the mold

This song quickly became very marketable and became the widespread inspirational tune that became associated with anyone that had a goal or objective they were trying to reach.  According to a few internet sites (with varying degrees of authority), the odds of becoming a musical “Rock Star” is one in 10,000.

How Widespread is the Notion of a “Rock Star?” Let’s Check 3 Job Boards

On March 25, 2013, I ran a search for “Rock Star” as a job seeker on three major job boards: Monster, CareerBuilder and Dice. Looking back over the past 30-day results, several job descriptions made reference to the fact they wanted to hire a “Rock Star” caliber candidate.


Is advertising for a “Rock Star” likely to give you the IT employee you ultimately want to hire?

Are “Rock Stars” the team players you desire?

I cannot say I have ever put my life on hold to travel with a band.  In fact, I have only been to a handful of rock concerts in my life.  When I do go, I am always amazed at how 20,000 fans respond to every move the “Rock Star” makes.  When Bono points, the crowd goes crazy!  When Bono lifts the lady on the stage, the screams of jealousy, combined with the excitement, are even louder!  “Rock Stars” usually possess some form of exhibitionist-like behavior, where their amazing talent calls attention to them.

Will a “Rock Star” programmer be the team player that will fit into your culture? Is the candidate who answers an advertisement for a PHP Rock Star typically the type of “culture” match that will fit best in most companies? I tried to imagine the voicemail a recruiter would receive from a potential candidate.

“Hello, my name is Bill and I believe I am your PHP Rock Star. Call me!”

Could a message like this come across as someone who may have a little too much confidence?  Almost every job description I read in the IT industry stresses the need for strong team collaboration skills.  What about the more humble team players that really are skilled but do not think of themselves in terms of musical greatness?  When I have asked strong developers to rate their skills in Java on a scale of 1 to 10, some of the best programmers I know (based on client and peer feedback) give themselves an “8.”  They can possibly be more skilled than anyone else on your team and never reply to it based on the terminology. Would you want to miss out on them? Most managers would rather sacrifice some coding talent for people that are less likely to call a lot of attention to themselves (there is no “i” in “team”).  It’s not uncommon to get feedback from a manager that asks for a “Rock Star” who decides they do not want to move forward and hire a candidate because the candidate “thought a little too highly of themselves and may not be a culture match.”

“Rock Stars” are expensive! Will your plan attract them?

In the music industry, most “Rock Stars” are usually making some very good money.  Why shouldn’t they - they are at the top of their game! It is not uncommon for us to get a request for a “. Net Rock Star”.  We ask them the salary, and they tell us that the range is $70K to 90K.  The demand for strong .Net Developers is very high right now and $70K to $90K is a very average salary range for a .Net Developer with three to six years of experience.  Why would a “Rock Star” accept an average salary range if they are that talented?  On the other hand, should an employer expect to attract the top-tier talent at an average salary?  Sure, there are other factors top performers consider besides salary…but compensation is usually an important consideration. Sometimes I hear, “Bob who works for me now is a “Rock Star” and he only makes $65K. I want another Bob!”  My thought is, “Shhhhhhhhh….don’t tell Bob he is a “Rock Star” because his salary may below the market for his skill set.”

Final Thoughts

When advertising for a “Rock Star,” be mindful that as challenging as it is to find and sign one, it may be even more challenging to keep one on your team.  Are you ready to commit to hiring other “Rock Stars”?  Will the new “Rock Star” be a threat to those you currently have on your team? Is your technical project work interesting and challenging enough to keep them engaged long term?  You may want one, but do you really need one?

I am convinced that the majority of companies and hiring managers don’t want or have the desire to hire IT “Rock Stars.”  Who do they really want on their team? Let’s consider the famous auditions fromAmerican Idol.  I believe we are searching for the “performer” who was just handed that golden ticket to Hollywood after they stood in line all day for an American Idol audition. They are untapped talent looking for a chance to show what they can do if they are given the opportunity.  Does the recruiting team supporting your opening have enough of the truly unique details to attract, excite, challenge and pay for the top performer who will want to consider your opening over their current position?

Whether you like using the term “Rock Star” or not, the most important takeaway is clear communication.  Confirm with your recruiting team the attributes and skills sets of your next hire to assure that your next talent find will meet the needs of your organization and more importantly, your team.


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