Hiring decisions take time, energy, and often money--so you don't to have to repeat them unnecessarily if a winning candidate turns out to be an on-the-job loser. But how do you thumb through hundreds of resumes and pull out the handful of good candidates? And when you’ve whittled your selection down to two or three people, how do you make that final call?

Even with a headhunter helping you out, the ultimate responsibility for the decision lies with you. Here are four simple, bulletproof steps to save you the expense and headaches of a termination down the road.

1. Identify Critical Traits

Before you even post the job listing, make a list of the traits the ideal candidate will have to knock this position out of the park. What are the top three to five characteristics that are crucial for the person in this role to have?

These might be concrete technological skills, or they might be softer ones--things like “the ability to work with demanding clients,” “determination in the face of rejection,” or “excellent mediation skills.”

Once you get those few most important traits, you’ll have a mental profile of the person you want. Armed with this, you can go into an interview and distinguish between traits that are nice to have and those that are absolutely necessary.

2. Build Interview Questions Around Them

Now that you know the three to five “success traits” you want in your employee, create interview questions that will help you tell whether the interviewee has exactly what you’re looking for.

If you need someone who’s determined, you could say, “Can you give me an example of how you once succeeded at a work task when the odds were against you?” If you’re looking for someone with a killer work ethic, you could ask, “How would you define work ethic, and can you give me an example of a situation that represents yours?”

The answers to these questions will give you a deeper look at the applicant’s compatibility for the role.

3. Dig Deep on References

An applicant’s references are always handpicked by the applicant, meaning that you’re likely to hear nothing but the positive. To get a more complete picture, ask the listed reference for another person who knows the applicant professionally--or look on LinkedIn to see if you are connected to any of the candidate's connections. (You can even go further and ask the second-degree references for yet another person who has worked with your potential employee.)

Talking to these additional references will likely give you a much broader and less biased perspective.

4. Be Creative

Candidates will walk into your office fully prepared to answer the stock questions about their strengths and weaknesses, their recent successes, why they left their last job, etc. To break free of the generic back and forth, try a creative approach that will shake up the interviewee and show you what they can do.

For example, try giving your final few candidates a simple assignment. If the job will require a lot of weekend work, for instance, you might meet with each applicant late in the day on Friday and ask that a written marketing plan for the promotion of a new product be in your email by 8:00 a.m. Monday. You’ll immediately sort the candidates who are both creative and willing to give up their weekend time from those who aren’t.