I have a confession. I was looking for some kind of interesting job not long ago when I noticed a problem - the job simply doesn't exist as a job opening or ad. I've dubbed it a unicorn position. Not all that different from the “unicorn” startup (spoiler, I published an article on that bullshit recently), they don’t exist and nothing like what people think.

As I looked and sifted through the flak and chaff, some that looked interesting ended up being misguided. One of them was directly honest and said they had no idea what this kind of position pays, who they're looking for, how to write up an ad for it, or even if someone could fill the role -- I appreciated the honesty! Long story short, they were looking for a unique grouping of skills, someone to build out a practice and new line of business ... but wanted to pay for a scrum master at best.

Completely unrealistic. This brings me to my first observation.

1. Market rate isn't enough

If the position really doesn’t exist, by definition, how do you expect to set “market rate” for it? A lot of people know their worth, and you cannot possible know their potential, so stop pretending it is. It's no different than when you watch some of the shows where someone brings in a one of a kind item. How do they determine a price? Simple, what will make the person that currently posses it to give it up. Once that number is figured out, it's now easy to determine. There still has to be that zero to one moment in very unique positions.

Meaningful work with an engaged team should be at the forefront of anyone walking in your door. Something they actually like to do and gives them a sense of worth beyond the salary. How much is that worth to you and your business? If I told you there were two people, perfectly qualified in every way but one was amazingly excited and wants to work with you (not superficially), the other will do good things but probably leave in a year. Why would you offer those people the same amount?

2. Just because you can get them cheap doesn’t mean you should

I interviewed a few people that were clearly ready and I wanted them on my team. No question they had what it takes but wanted a good amount below market and what they thought their value was worth. When I asked their salary, I wrote it down, reviewed it and looked what it should be. On two different occasions I told a candidate that I couldn’t do what they asked with good conscience, it had to be more on par with what everyone else is paying.

3. Review your current hiring process

No, really, go look at it. How do you find people? How do you hire people? This is a critical part that rarely gets the love it needs. If you’re still hiring like you did 5, 10, 15 years ago, it might be time to set it up so the people you really want are the only ones that would get through. I'm writing a book on this, so consider this the cheat sheet : it's complex, it's not easy, and it's expensive. It's also expensive to hire the wrong person. It's devastating when it's the first hire.

Do not underestimate how important this is

Look at your team now - would you hire them again? Would your team hire you as their boss? Yes, I’m dead serious and be honest with yourself. If the answer is no, there's plenty of work to do and there's time to make it better!

Do you hire or promote from within? Rarely companies now hire from within due to reasons I’ve yet to understand. I’ve asked time and time again, “we don’t do that” and rarely there’s a good reason. Look internal to hire or build someone into a role. It's not only cheaper, but they've already got knowledge of your business!

4. Be honest about who you’re looking for, and why

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “we want someone to build our team” when they really mean “we want a dev that can start out by themselves and make all our hopes and dreams come true”. This is not only a huge waste of time for the candidates and yourself, you’ll attract people that are not the people you’re looking for.

What outcome do you expect from them - not only them but for your team, for your company? Is your company on fire and things need done quickly? What about time to go back and clean it up (of course there won't be)? Is the job dealing with an old legacy system that no one wants to touch? Is it new, green field stuff or brown? Do you want someone for 6 months or 10 years? These are all very different people.

It should be painfully obvious what is needed vs what is wanted. Eventually a candidate will figure it out by interviewing or working with the group for a short while. This sets up a bad vibe if it's way off and disengagement isn't exactly a good thing you want from a new hire. I can't tell you how many "exciting opportunities" I've seen to support a terribly built and maintained system. Worse, I've seen a lot of people take those positions in desperation only to find it's worse than it was at the other place. Talk about a morale and ego buster.

Position aside, what about the type of person you're looking for? This person should share, if not align, with the same values that you and your group do. It’s different than building product, it’s building people, a culture - and that’s more important, and way more difficult to do.

5. Everyone can help the company get better and win

Let people grow and learn - and don't restrict them to just one role especially when there's an opportunity and it makes sense. "You must only do this job" wasn't part of the job description and yet I see a lot of places practice this. When I hired a group of people that had very different backgrounds and I did it on purpose. The backgrounds they brought weren’t by design, I only wish I was that good, but I found each of them to be a missing part of my team. Junior, senior, I didn’t care, the point was bringing something unique to the team.

6. An “executive”/”expert” and especially recruiters can invaluable ...or completely screw it all up

I watched this happen and it was a disaster. We had a fantastic recruiter - I gave her the template, she ran with, understood our culture, and found me a lot of good people that I ended up hiring. At the exact same time, our “leadership” brought in “experts” that did the exact opposite, if not destroyed it completely. We needed to build a strong culture and were doing that. The "experts" brought in did not share that vision and were not right for our culture. The 6 months it took me to build it, they destroyed in 1.

7. Ask for help

Writing job descriptions don't have to be torture. Ask your network, your team, do a design storm on how you want your team to find someone. Look at other postings, especially ...ahem, cough, competitors.

In part 3, let's talk about the developers - and what should be expected