Cure obsession with ROCK-STARS – Start hiring ROUGH DIAMONDS

By Dan Bertoli

Our class discussion, particularly during the CTO Panel and CloudFlare Case, emphasized how important it is to convince the best and brightest to join our entrepreneurial ventures. We outlined the huge costs that often result from hiring B-Players, such as demotivating and loosing current rock-stars; they want to be surrounded by equally talented people. Much of the discussion on the web reinforces this obsession with hiring with Rock-Stars, like “10x Engineers” and “Purple Squirrels”, and stresses the high “indirect-hosts of bad hiring”.
I agree with most of the advantages of hiring Rock-Stars. But I think that it is unrealistic to expect that typical MBAs without track-record in entrepreneurship and poor sales/hiring skills will be able to assemble a dream team. So what’s the second best option if can’t attract enough A-Talent? Start looking for rough diamonds, i.e. rock-starts in the making!
Besides expanding the recruiting pool, hiring rough diamonds has a second major advantage: increasing loyalty. Rock-Star engineers tend to be extremely mobile and hop from one exciting early-stage opportunity to the next one. There is fairly little we can offer them after the core product is developed; they seek challenging product-creation opportunities and are often not motivated by money. Rough diamonds will have much more loyalty to you if you polish them to peak performance with great development opportunity. You can provide them a career changing move that they will thank you for their entire life. So how do we spot rough diamonds?
1)  Hire younger people with less experience: Candidates who performed well in developing products at a smaller scale might be ready to step up their game. For example, we could look for talented engineering students who have only worked part time but coded an impressive portfolio of websites

2)  Forgive a few imperfections: Larger organizations often reject candidates that have strong core skills but a few cosmetic flaws, such as problems communicating in English or giving too direct feedback that could upset co-workers. If you are willing to coach the candidate and s/he is keen to improve, you could provide a unique development opportunity for him/her and get someone with fantastic coding/engineering skills. For such situations, I would not follow the recommendation of the CTO panel to drop candidates if your gut feeling tells you something is wrong. Try to discover what causes your discomfort. Is it a fundamental character flaw of the candidate or roughness around the edges that can be polished out

3)  Track record of personal growth: A candidate’s track record of growing during challenges is a good indication of how fast and far he will develop at your company. In addition to testing the current skills, it will be helpful to see how candidates dealt with huge increases in responsibility. Did they learn quickly or did they disappoint under intense pressure? Also it will be important to explore if the candidates had major handicaps in their career trajectory. Perhaps they couldn’t turn into Rock-Stars yet because of personal hardships, like personal illnesses or growing up in a tough environment
What other criteria or mechanisms should we use to find and recruit rough diamonds?


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