When it comes to hiring, it's best to be in it for the long haul. We want to recruit individuals who will fit within and contribute to our unique culture, and flourish here for a long time. It's not just about filling a seat. This is something I learned the hard way once when I made a pretty significant hiring mistake.

One of my key players, who ran a large team, was about to go on maternity leave. Even though I was so happy for her to embark on the amazing journey of motherhood, I was totally freaked out about her impending absence. We had just opened a new, fairly senior full-time position on that team, and I thought that if we could fill it quickly we may be able to keep things from descending into chaos while she was out. Or, to say it differently--I wanted to make things easier for me. I found a candidate who looked great on paper; this person checked all the boxes, and it seemed this would be a plug and play solution to keep our team afloat. We interviewed and hired quickly.

Right away, it didn't feel right. There was nothing wrong with this person--he wasn't a letdown or a jerk or anything--but became clear that he wasn't a cultural fit. He didn't jive with the speed of our company, the way we communicated or made decisions. He felt like a misfit, and it wasn't his fault. It was mine. I was so focused on alleviating the near-term pain of my employee's departure that I didn't focus on the best long-term solution, the best hire not just for the role but also for the company.

It took us two years to let this person go. I and others invested an enormous amount of time and resources trying to change him, but no matter what we did we just couldn't get the cultural shoe to fit. After his departure, it became so apparent what a bad fit he'd been by the way the team flourished without him.

What does this story have to do with recruiting? Everything. As COO of Zillow Group I'm often asked how we compete in this insanely competitive tech environment--what perks do we focus on, do we have compensation wars, what differentiates us? Our trump card is culture, something that is made or unmade by the people filling the seats. By taking on the short-term pain of an understaffed team while you take your time to find the right cultural fit, you avoid months--or even years--of suffering through a bad fit, even if that person is doing the job for which they were hired.

So how do we think about culture at Zillow Group? We think people, and culture, are foundation of everything we do. It's essential that our company be a place where people want and love to come to work every day. When you build a strong culture and vet for this in the recruiting process, that naturally happens - great people attract other great people, and collectively do great things. Zillow Group's culture is one that's not just words on posters but something that comes through in the people candidates meet, the experiences they share, and in our office space and our benefits package. For example, we've always been a place that values work-life balance. We want to keep people happy, healthy and stimulated while at work, so we offer perks like standing desks, healthy snacks and treadmill meeting rooms. But we don't serve dinner. We don't want to keep employees at work at all hours because we think they need to go home and have a life if they're going to stay happy and productive at work.

We're also huge proponents of Glassdoor because it allows us to showcase our culture to potential hires. The beauty of Glassdoor is that employees are doing the talking. It's not enough for us to say how great it is to work here; the strength of our culture needs to come out organically. Our leaders also respond to all reviews on Glassdoor, even if they're not great--it's important for us to hear and acknowledge the feedback, and it's a plus for potential hires to see how much we care. We're very proud of the fact we've been named by Glassdoor as one of the top 10 companies in the U.S. to work for, and that our CEO, Spencer Rascoff, was named one Glassdoor's highest rated CEOs in 2016.

When it comes to recruiting, the No. 1 thing you have in your arsenal is your company culture, and everything that follows--benefits, policies and leadership - should build upon it. My advice to every company--not just those in technology--is if you don't have a strong culture, work on it. Focus on employee surveys, and act quickly on what you learn from them. Start reading and engaging with reviews on Glassdoor. If you screen for culture and nurture your existing employees with things that matter to them, the retention and attraction of great people will naturally follow.

Published on: Aug 3, 2016