One of my friends hired George after he had just finished working at one of the biggest visual effects companies in the world. All our artists were excited to work alongside someone who’d worked on some of their favorite movies.

He was a well-known and respected artist whose skills checked off all the right boxes. In his industry, George was a rock star.

Fast forward a year later, and George’s potential never came to fruition. He ended up moving onto another job, leaving my buddy to explain to his tribe why he’d made the obvious mistake of hiring George in the first place.

The company’s leadership team spent countless hours trying to help George fit in with the rest of the tribe. It didn’t work; they were set up to fail from the beginning. Outwardly, George pretended to be engaged in the onboarding experience. He said all the right things. But, his actions made it clear he didn’t take the company’s core values seriously. His actions spoke louder than words.

We can learn from my buddy’s mistake by hiring for a cultural fit the first time instead of getting sucked in by a rock star’s resume.

Turtle Race
Image from Tortoise Beats Hare | © Warner Bros. Pictures

Hiring isn’t a sprint to the finish. Long-term growth happens when you hire the right people the first time instead of hiring the wrong people fast.

The problem with a hard focus on the skills gap

When recruiting talent for any given role, it’s easy to focus on making sure their skills meet those needs. Recruiters and hiring managers get blinders as they’re looking to check off the boxes for potential candidates. Run them through a quick interview or two to verify those skills and everything on paper looks good.

Focusing on the gap between the skills your company’s needs and those of a potential candidate leaves out the human component of hiring. How well will the new hire fit in with the rest of the team? Will your rock star hire try to steer your company in a direction you don’t want it to go?

Remember, you can teach skills. You can’t teach someone’s heart.

Are you hiring for the right reason?

In most cases, hiring a rock star comes externally. When you manage to land a big name in the industry, it’s tempting to let everyone know. Send out a press release and gain credibility in your industry by talking up your new rock star hire.

While great for marketing, many companies forget about the other side of that coin: Your current employees. Is there someone working for you who could’ve fit the role? If so, it’s easy for your current employees to start harboring bitterness against your leadership. Especially if you start turning the hire into a marketing ploy.

Did you hire a rock star because your company needed to hire, or did you want the added marketing boost that came with the external hire?

You should always hire for the right reasons. When you’re hiring a rock star, you’re effectively putting a magnifying glass on the decision. If you’re not entirely certain of it, you’ll start seeing signs of cracks in your culture.

I’d rather hire someone with no experience and a willingness to learn than an expert in the industry filled with bad habits they refuse to let go.

It’s my way or the highway

Cost is always a consideration for hiring. Someone who is a rock star in their industry will cost more than a new hire straight from school. They’re established and you’re paying a good price for their experience. With the higher price comes a higher risk if they’re not a cultural fit.

What if your rock star’s experience contradicts what you’re trying to do at your company?

No matter your industry, training your employees is important to keeping their skills up-to-date. Things change. For your people to adapt, there will be times when they need to unlearn bad habits. The more someone is touted as a rock star in their industry, the more difficult it can be to let those habits go. This can be a major hurdle for many people — especially those who have always done something one way. If your rock star doesn’t buy into your company’s values and mission, they’re less likely to want to embrace that change as a positive thing.



Does this mean you shouldn’t ever hire a rock star in your industry? Not at all. Experience alone isn’t a bad thing. However, you need to be aware of the common pitfalls that come with hiring some for their rock star status over their belief in your company’s core values.

Everyone in your company needs to buy into your core values — including any rock stars you hire. You can’t hold your people to a different set of standards based on their experience. Trying to appease everyone is a slippery slope that ends with your culture crumbling around you.


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