Seven years after I started my first business, I realized none of the 11 people on payroll were the passionate, big-picture types I needed to take 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to the next level. Firing the whole team in one day was one of the hardest things I've ever done as an entrepreneur - but it was necessary.

Fast-forward 20 years and our company, O2E Brands has 250 employees who help our brands earn over $250 million in annual revenue. They're also the backbone of an awesome, award-winning corporate culture.

So what changed? Knowing that almost anyone can learn how to do a job, I decided to prioritize cultural fit above all else.

Now we use the Beer & BBQ Test as our main tool to find new leaders. The two-step test streamlines the interview process and lets us perform an essential gut-check with these simple questions:

The Beer Test: "Would I enjoy grabbing a beer with this person?"

The BBQ Test: "Would this person fit in at a backyard barbecue with our corporate family?"

If we can't imagine having a good conversation or hanging out socially, chances are the hire won't work out in the long run--no matter how amazing their resume seems.

Big companies like Google, Zappos, Virgin, and SpaceX are also changing their approach, too. Here are four of the most unique and powerful ways that top companies test before they hire.

1. Google Uses Surprise Programming Challenges To Test Real Skills

Google is always watching for potential winners to add to its team - literally. When someone searches certain advanced programming keywords like 'mutex lock,' a popup appears saying, "You're speaking our language. Up for a challenge?"

The link takes them through programming challenges. Anyone who successfully navigates them is invited to apply to work at Google.

Other companies filter candidates through similar, hidden test processes. Mckinsey's HR team created and distributed job recruitment posters on college campuses. Each poster had tearable phone numbers written in the form of a formula. The campaign produced higher-quality candidates than typical college campaigns.

2. Zappos Uses Its Shuttle Drivers As Undercover Agents

The 'Shuttle Drive Test' is essential to Zappos' culture-driven hiring process. The driver doesn't just take job candidates from the airport to the interview; he or she also takes notes on how different people behave. Then the recruiter talks with the driver to understand how the day went.

CEO Tony Hsieh emphasizes the importance of the 'Shuttle Drive Test' in a  Wall Street Journal interview: "It doesn't matter how well the day of interviews went. If our shuttle driver wasn't treated well, then we won't hire that person."

3. Virgin Uses Role-Playing To Test Candidates' Real Skills

Virgin Money brings applicants through six different rooms during the interview. In each room, there's a challenge that represents what employees might face in their job. One scenario takes place in a locker room at halftime with the losing team. The candidate has to deliver an inspiring pep talk.

Joanne Hannant, the head of human resources at Virgin Money, says, "We've spent a lot of time working out what are the behaviours and competencies we want the successful candidate to have. Each room is designed to test and assess each skill and competency."

4. Elon Musk Challenges His Team To Find Him 'The Best People On The Freaking Planet.' Then He Asks One Question.

Everyone says they want great employees, but Musk scours the Earth! Then, he asks his recruiters to convince him 'why, out of how many billion people on the planet, this is that guy.' When he was looking for someone to work in a yogurt booth at SpaceX, he asked the HR team to go all the way to Pinkberry to find the employee of the month.

Once a candidate gets through the hoops, Musk interviews the person himself. According to his biographer Ashley Vance, one of his favorite questions is, "You are standing on the surface of the Earth. You walk one mile south, one mile west, and one mile north. You end up exactly where you started. Where are you?"

(Stumped? Visit Tech Insider to see a visual breakdown).

Real-world tests like these show us how candidates actually act and think, rather than how they say they act on paper. They give us a chance to  have some dates with candidates before we marry them.

Published on: Jul 12, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.