What Mick Jagger Can Teach You About Hiring Staff

Rolling Stones

photo by wnick87


When I was in music school, a girl I knew auditioned to be a back up singer for the Rolling Stones world tour.  She was an opera student and dreamed about being on the stage of La Scala.

She came back from the audition and I could tell that she was shocked and upset.

Voice?  She had a set of pipes that were golden.

Presence?  Magnetic.

Talent?  Over the top chops.

So, why didn’t she get the job?

When she could finally speak without astonishment, she said what separated the mezzos from the mediocre was something totally unexpected.  It was something Mick Jagger had said:

“All of you are here because you all got what it takes – talent, voice, looks.  But if you ain’t fun on the bus, you ain’t going.”

I hope she is having better luck at La Scala.

How does that bit of wisdom help you hire better staff?

Let’s look at the metaphor.

You have a prospective candidate who, on paper, has everything you are looking for.  That is what I call the “talent and looks quotient”.

In the interview, you have the chance to talk to the person and get a sense of their personality, their thinking, how they deal with challenge or failure.

You should also ask if they like chocolate.

Or cooking.  Or surfing.  What makes their eyes light up?  This is what I call their “fun on the bus” quotient.

One of Seth’s bosses goes one step further:  he will go out to dinner with the prospective candidate.  If they have a pleasant time, great.  If not, forget it.   This is someone you will be spending a lot of time with.  You have to get along and work well as a team.  If you can assemble a group of talented, hardworking, vision focused people that enjoy being together, why not?  Especially on a tour bus.

A job posting appeared about a year ago for two positions that had just opened at Union Square Ventures.  Here is the blog post with the job descriptions. What I loved about it was that they clearly described what life “on the bus” would be like and that they are know for their work culture.

“Perhaps most importantly, the successful candidates for these positions will be “net native”. They will use web services in their personal and professional lives. They will ideally have an intuitive feel for what works and what doesn’t on the web. We assume that they will have a web presence, whether that is a profile on a social network site, a photo stream, an academic paper on social media, a blog or tumblelog, a lead role in an open source project, a reputation on Stack Exchange, or a spot on the leader board in Mafia Wars.”

Here is a comment:


What is the work environment like in your office? I just finished working for a start-up that at one point, bought us all X-boxes so that we could hang out in the office and not take our breaks away from the office.

Though not the best approach, I think it got a really cool point across: your work can–and should–be fun! From what I’ve read and researched about USV, you seem have found a way to tie together work and fun. Something that makes us all a bit jealous of such a neat opportunity.

Here’s what you do

1. Know who you need

You are a rock star.  Of course you are going to look for top notch talent and for a person who loves what they do.  Is it someone who is good at managing, problem solving, keeping it together, etc?  What is the specific skill set you need for your team?  Remember, you can hone skills.  You cannot teach passion.  Look for that.

2. Know your environment

Are you a small office?  A unit within a larger organization?  A single person operation?  A friend of mine who ran a large theater company used to call the hiring process “staging”.  He said he would rather “stage” the work around the talent, meaning the staff.  How do you see your work environment and who are the best people you can get for your “stage”?

I hire people for a small nonprofit arts council.  Seth hires similar kinds of people for a large nonprofit social service agency.  Two different environments but almost identical hiring filters.  We both know what strengths, or what archetype we are so we can hire people with the strengths we lack.  Successful candidates need to project their particular superpowers so they can find the perfect batcave.  Read more about what Pam Slim says about this here.

3. Know what you value

This is really a question about you and what kind of team you need around you.  Not necessarily to fill in the gaps, but who can creatively contribute to your success – and to your fun quotient.  A good question to ask yourself is, “Do I look forward to seeing these people in the morning?”  If the answer is yes, you are going to have a fabulous day.  If the answer is maybe, go out and pick up a box of good Italian biscotti and a box of Joe for everyone.  Show them you care.  If the answer is no, they are draining the good positive energy you need to be excellent in what you need to do.


OK people, listen up.  Let’s get this party started.  Time to rock your house.



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