Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine your company as it is – same location, same office, same furniture. Except in this new scenario, every single employee is different. From top down, every job is being done by someone new.

Feels like a totally different company, right?

The truth is, we can get so wrapped up in big-picture thinking that we forget that it’s people who make a company go. Employees don’t only carry out a company’s mission; they’re integral to shaping that mission. And by “people” here, we mean actual, real-life people. People with their own quirks, tendencies, strengths, ideas, and flaws.

This is why getting your hiring right is so important. Get the right folks in there, and your organization’s shooting off in exciting, new directions. Get the wrong ones, and at best you’re running in place. (We won’t spell out the “at worst” scenario!)

So how do you go about doing this? Here are some important guidelines.

Test the Skills That Matter

You’ve narrowed your search down to five people, all with impeccable resumes. How do you make the final choice? Test the skills that matter.

The catch is this: figuring out what those skills are is as important as testing them! Yes, you want your developers to be great coders, your salespeople to be the most personable people you’ve ever met, and so on. This is why always a great idea to give job applicants an opportunity to show you what they can do: have developers code with you; have marketers help solve a small market problem; have HR folks talk about how handling a difficult employee scenario.

But we often underestimate skills like “works well on teams,” or “picks up new things quickly.” And we rarely give applicants an opportunity to show off those “soft” skills that make workplaces successful.

While interviewing, why not pay attention to how polite candidates are, not only to you (of course they’re trying to impress you!), but to those people “below” them on the company totem pole? Is the candidate friendly with the security guard? The administrative assistants? The person who serves them coffee? The person taking their coat?

Watching how a candidate interacts with people like this can tell you a lot. Not necessarily how good a developer they are, but whether they’re someone you want to be working with.

Expand the Idea of “Cultural Fit”

Plenty of studies have shown that diverse teams and companies do better. It’s just a fact. Opening your company up to a wider pool of talent isn’t just good politics, it’s good for the bottom line.

Many on-line hiring guides stress “cultural fit” as a crucial metric. But quite often “cultural fit” ends up being shorthand for “looks like us, dresses like us, has the same background as us, is the same age as us, likes the same movies/food/music we do,” and so on.

This practice isn’t necessarily intentional; it speaks to the ways people tend to be comfortable in the world. But it does close you off to a whole host of job candidates that can do great things for your company!

There are lots of systemic procedures you can put into place to make sure you’re hiring the best employees, not only the employees that are most similar to you. Blind recruitment (in which resumes are wiped of identifying gender and ethnicity information) can work. So can making sure that interviews are conducted by more than one person.

Above all, hiring the best people means expanding your definition of “cultural fit” to actively include all sorts of different types of people.

Take a moment to think of your employee review process. Is it perfect? Probably not. Are there inherent biases in how some employees are perceived? Are your managers unknowingly struggling with the halo effect, and giving higher scores to employees who fall under traditional notions of what is considered attractive or well dressed?

If there is bias in your review process, then almost certainly, there is bias in your hiring process. And that bias can limit your ability to bring the best people into your organization.

Maintain a Pipeline

If there’s one thing smart companies do, it’s maintain a hiring pipeline. Rather than waiting until you’re in need of new employees, you want to be actively generating a pool of qualified candidates. Branding isn’t just for clients; it’s for potential employees too!

Doing this today means maintaining presences in person and on-line. Keep your company active at university recruitment fairs. Send representatives to local development meetups (or whatever kind of meetups the employees you’re looking for go to!). Join entrepreneurial events. Let potential candidates know you’re out there.

Similarly, your on-line brand can help lure future job seekers. Connect with people on LinkedIn. Have your company follow interesting people on Twitter or Instagram! Make sure you’re present and active in the on-line communities you pull employees from.

Call on Your Employees to Help

If you’re the one doing the hiring, you’re of course going to look for people whom you think can do the job well. Just don’t forget those people this new employee will be working with: your current employees!

As much as you want an employee who can get things done for you, you also want someone who can contribute to a healthy and positive work culture.

There’s no better way to do this than to let your employees be active in the job search with you. After you’ve interviewed people, let your employees spend time with candidates, without you hovering around, so that they can ask questions.

You might even think about assigning candidates a small task to be completed in collaboration with a current employee. This can give you extremely useful feedback about how the candidate might work well with the people on your team, and how the candidate handles being thrown into a new situation.
Even if the ultimate decision about hiring is yours, the more information you can get from your employees, the better off you’ll be. Plus you’re telling your employees that you value them.