How to Recruit a Rock Star

By Jon Lome, Division Manager, ACA Talent

As an aspiring musician, a lifelong fan of rock and roll, and a recruitment leader with nearly a decade of recruiting experience, I’ve naturally been attracted to the recent events between two legendary rock and roll bands, AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses. For those of you who are not in the know, Axl Rose, from Guns N’ Roses, has recently been recruited by AC/DC to perform live for the remainder of their current tour as their lead singer and frontman. This got me thinking about the parallels between recruiting in the music world and recruiting in the business world.

Rock or Bust: When a top performer resigns

For the past 36 years of AC/DC’s career, we’ve had the pleasure of being entertained by super powerful vocalist and frontman, Brian Johnson. Unfortunately, for hardcore AC/DC fans, the band announced that due to serious hearing loss, Brian Johnson would be putting the scheduled tour “Rock or Bust” on hold.

Like many organizations who often find themselves with a void to fill when a top player resigns, AC/DC was facing a serious challenge: retire strong or recruit someone who could fill in as lead singer for the remainder of their tour. In business, “retiring” is typically not an option, nor was it an option for Angus Young, lead guitarist and co-founder of AC/DC.

Filling key roles in business is much like recruiting the right band members for your recordings and performances. Hardcore fans, like loyal customers, often follow the lead of a few key stakeholders. For business professionals, I bet you can remember a time when a company you worked with went from being the very best you had available, to the worst by far, but only after one of your key contacts had moved on?

So, for AC/DC, who could they recruit to possibly fill the shoes of Brian Johnson? What could AC/DC do, a band that many consider one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time, to keep loyal fans from bailing on their upcoming tour dates? They knew they had to recruit a hard hitting rock star who would draw huge crowds while stirring up mega publicity.

Back in Black: Rebuilding the team

When it comes to AC/DC’s recruitment process for a new lead singer, I’d like to think that part of it would look similar to our day-to-day life in the world of agency recruitment.

Of course, we can assume that it all started with breaking down the sourcing parameters, right?

I can imagine the Boolean string must have looked something like:

(“rock star” OR “lead singer”) AND (loud OR heavy) AND (metal OR “rock and roll”) AND “50 million fans”

Then the job posting went up, and naturally, AC/DC started receiving resumes in droves, not because there are tons of qualified applicants, but because tons of people wanted the job (sound familiar, corporate recruiters?). A few phone screens took place, followed by a heavy vetting process, which of course included behavioral interviews (obviously they skipped this part when interviewing Axl Rose, and completely forgot to discuss the whole “being on time” thing), then a few assessment tests, and a “working interview” a day later.

Of course, this isn’t how the process actually went. In reality, AC/DC shortlisted a handful of highly qualified candidates, and the auditions began. I can’t find any information on exactly how many people they auditioned, but I will bring special attention to this guy, Darren Caperna, of the Dallas-based AC/DC tribute band, Back in Black.

If we were Darren’s recruiter, the feedback we would have received on this “candidate” would have been exceptional. He was super qualified, fit right into the culture, could hit the ground running with literally no training required, and was a dynamite candidate overall. Keep in mind that the recruitment tactic of going with a tribute band singer, has in fact worked for other iconic bands in the past, like Judas Priest and Journey.

At some point in time, most business owners will have to make similar, incredibly difficult decisions regarding who to put into top level strategic positions. The wrong choice can have seriously negative impacts on everything from culture, employee morale, production, revenue/profit, and even an organization’s credibility with both their employees and their customers.

In the recruiting industry, I consider this par for the course. So many times we see strong candidates getting turned down for one reason or another, and sometimes the hiring authority strays from providing the real reason. For AC/DC, there was one very strong reason they chose not to go with Darren Caperna or anyone else who initially tried out. This next part should sound familiar to our industry experts as well: the client went with someone they already knew!

Of course, AC/DC did not choose Axl Rose only because they already knew him, or because he is a mega fan of AC/DC (he’s a super fan, but his favorite band is actually Queen). They chose Axl Rose because, with Axl, you not only get his international fame, but also his millions of fans, merchandise sales, and the valuable publicity that comes with him, too.

Back in Business: Recruiting 101

By now, most of you have probably read reports on how much an open position can cost an organization, and how certain openings, like sales roles, affect more than just hard revenue.

Lead singers are very much like top sales people in the sense that they drive revenue, keep current customers happy, and as the face of the organization, lead the effort in generating new streams of revenue through gaining new customers.

When an organization loses a top sales person, a major task is at hand. This kind of turnover can leave customers feeling uneasy and possibly thinking twice about spending their money. Filling your openings with proper candidates is extremely important, and it’s not every day that you’ll receive a call from an Axl Rose who outwardly expresses interest in coming to work for you.

As a recruiter, I find some reqs to be fairly smooth and quick fills, and others to be more challenging. For highly strategic leadership roles, the list of potential candidates is often pretty small, and you’re not typically going to find A-players on the job boards, or applying to job postings. As recruiters, our job is to find our clients the best candidates we can using an arsenal of strategies. I’ve included some tips below on how you can continue to approach the hard rock battle of talent acquisition.

1. Be a rock star to recruit a rock star.

Rock stars have guts and want to know why they should come to work for you. Learn to push back professionally, while still vetting your candidates thoroughly.

2. Pick a niche.

Become an expert in your recruitment field so you can become that go-to advisor that helps your clients accomplish the nearly impossible, such as filling jobs for very specialized roles.

3. Recruit for competency.

Many employers and recruiters alike weigh the candidate search heavily on the “years of experience” yet there are plenty of candidates out there with half the experience and ten times the competency. Educate your clients on the candidate marketplace and bring them out-of-the-box candidates (that are of course, still qualified).

4. Leave no stone unturned.

This may sound like an obvious one, but recruiting doesn’t stop when the job boards have dried up. Call into companies, network within the field, ask for referrals, and get creative. There are always qualified candidates out there.

Many organizations do not have the HR or talent acquisition horsepower to tackle strategic openings quickly, so if you’re not on the receiving end of a call from the likes of Axl Rose, I’d suggest hiring a specialized recruitment firm to focus on those openings for you. After all, in business, most things simply cannot just be put on hold, and the show must go on.