A good resume can blow you away. Impressive universities and company histories may be exactly what you are looking for. A job applicant might say all the right things in the interview, at which they're wearing a perfectly pressed suit and spit-shined shoes. This is the new hire, right?
Except, at your company, t-shirts and jeans aren't just for casual Fridays. Where you went to school isn't as important as the passions you pursue on a daily basis. Every project is a cross-discipline team effort, and everybody shares credit. That's your company culture, and it's made your business successful. So no, that candidate, as impressive as they are, is not your new hire.
The "best fit" candidate is in the eyes of the beholder, which means you can define your ideal applicant however you want to make sure you make the best decision for your job requirement and your culture.
When it comes to fitting in with your organization, the best candidates share these three attributes:
1. They understand your culture and core values going in
A candidate should never be in the dark about your company's core values, work style, its approach to teamwork or its methods of problem solving. That's on you as an organization to have figured out and streamlined.
In fact, you probably shouldn't be hiring unless you could paint a picture of your ideal candidate and exactly how they would fill a particular need. Make sure you know why you're hiring in the first place, and not just to fill a vacant desk as soon as possible.
When you put out the call for applicants, be as specific as possible about what a prospective employee can expect should they be hired. If you're a dog-friendly office with flexible telecommuting opportunities, say that. If working weekends is common, say that too. Never hide the truth from anyone - if you like your culture how it is, don't run the risk of bringing in someone who will stir the pot because their expectations differed from reality.
If you're struggling to envision your ideal candidate, take bits and pieces from current or past staffers and build a collage of sorts. What are the qualities you admire in real people you already interact with every day? Think back to when those people were hired - what did they do to signal to you that they were a good fit? Write out a list of what you're looking for and find the candidate who most closely matches it.
2. They have a passion for your industry, not simply employment in general
You don't want to hire a candidate who's only looking for a stepping stone to add to his or her resume. No matter how specific you write the job requirements in your posting, applicants who are wrong for the job (and know they're wrong for it) will still apply regardless.
Be leery of candidates who move around laterally, taking similarly-titled jobs in a variety of industries. They may be great at certain skills like managing small teams, but if you value cultural fits and passion, you want employees who have stuck around and moved vertically within your industry.
Enthusiasm can be faked in an interview, but real passion can't (unless you're interviewing an Oscar-worthy actor, in which case they're in the wrong field anyway). When you sit candidates down, ask them to tell you real stories from their work history - challenging situations, moments they felt the happiest - and see how their body language changes as they recount those times. You'll learn a lot about their thought processes and how their passions go beyond the job at hand and apply to the industry as a whole.
3. They work well with others
If your company requires applicants to submit references along with a resume, are you actually going forward and contacting those references? How well an employee fits in with others at your company is a huge indicator of job success - in fact, it's about 50 percent responsible for an employee's success within the first 18 months.
The laws of attraction apply to hiring as much as they do to relationships. Chemistry is hard to measure and harder to describe, but the concept of love at first sight applies to the application process. Depending on how good the initial spark with a candidate is, you might make up your mind to extend a job offer on the walk between the lobby and the interview room. That's not always the wisest idea, but it speaks to the power of interpersonal connectedness when building a company culture.
One way to ensure that you aren't blinded by a great first impression is to involve more members of the team in the interview process. Don't just pick employees whom the candidate will report to; bring in those who will report to the candidate as well. Observe the interaction as your current employees essentially interview their potential future boss, then debrief with them afterwards to find out if they feel comfortable working under this person.
The best person for the job might not be the one with the shiniest resume, or the longest track record of success. The ideal candidate is the one you feel that intangible connection with, someone who combines acumen for the position with passion and cultural alignment in equal measure.