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Why Hiring Great Employees Starts With a Beer And a BBQ


A casual beverage with O2E Brands’ COO Erik Church. Photo by Katie Diane Photography.

We spend an average of 90,000 hours of our lives at work – meaning you probably spend more time with your team than you do with your own family. Despite this huge time commitment, many companies neglect to focus on personality or cultural fit when they’re hiring.

I made that mistake myself when I was starting out as an entrepreneur, and the results weren’t pretty. Morale suffered. Productivity plunged. So I turned things around by prioritizing compatibility during the hiring process.

Now we put an emphasis on hiring people who truly click with one another – who work hard together and play even harder. Attention to cultural fit has not only made 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and my other companies a better place to work, it’s boosted our ROI. Here are two incredibly simple (and delicious) hacks I’ve developed to ensure that new hires mesh with our awesome company culture.

Part I: The Beer Test

In 1994, the growth of my first company, a junk-removal service called The Rubbish Boys, hit a plateau. We had plenty of business, but I’d lost my enthusiasm. In fact, I was avoiding going into the office because it had turned into a negative environment, filled with people who just weren’t my type. They weren’t team players and they didn’t share my vision. Even though it was my own business, I wasn’t having fun.

I knew that if I wanted to break out of my rut, I’d have to make a dramatic change. So I cleaned house and fired all 11 people on the team. From then on, I decided to work with people I truly liked, so we could build something bigger, together.

As I started to rebuild my team, I realized that the recruiting process should be focused less on ticking off a checklist and more about trusting your gut. Once potential candidates were in the door, I started thinking, “Do I like this person? Do I find them interesting, and interested? Do they have a passion for something in life?”

From this, I developed what I call the Beer Test, narrowing those questions down to one: “Would I enjoy grabbing a beer with this person?” It’s a hypothetical (most of the time), but it’s incredibly powerful.

If the answer is yes, it’s likely the start of a great working relationship. Having the right qualifications for the gig is essential, but the Beer Test determines if the candidate is culturally compatible. Sure, it’s simple, but it cuts right to the chase, and it’s been invaluable in helping me put together a team at O2E Brands that I love working with every day.

Part II: The BBQ Test

As helpful as the Beer Test is, there’s one major problem: it only measures my opinion. It doesn’t take into account how a candidate clicks with the rest of the organization, and it took one especially bad hire to make me see this blind spot and its potential consequences.

A few years ago, I hired a new CFO, in the hopes of taking 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to the next level. Although this executive was highly skilled and incredibly smart, they just weren’t a people person, and that became a real problem. People in different departments were reluctant to work with them, and we started losing some strong team members who had become unhappy with the work environment. Despite this executive’s awesome pedigree, we had to part ways.

But how did this individual wind up on the team in the first place? Well, to be honest, they had passed the Beer Test with flying colors. They also interviewed well and we even bonded when we discovered we had the same favorite movie.

While I got a great first impression, I learned the hard way it wasn’t enough. In a bad case of tunnel vision, I failed to consider how this person would mesh with the rest of the team and the larger culture we had developed. From that oversight, I came up with another critical hiring hack: the BBQ Test.

The BBQ Test is all about the group dynamic. It’s a matter of asking, “Would this person fit in at a backyard barbecue with my corporate ‘family’?” If you threw the candidate into a group social situation with other employees, would he or she be able to hold his/her own, or find someone to connect with? A Beer Test is singular (do I like this person?), while the BBQ Test asks, “Does he or she fit into our community?”

There’s no need to actually fire up the grill: simply introducing a candidate to the rest of the team in-office works just fine. But if they don’t get the stamp of approval from most of the group – if there’s no connection from the start – chances are they just aren’t right for the company, no matter what their resume says.

Why does a good cultural fit matter?

Filling your office with staff who get along makes for a pleasant environment, of course, but your business will benefit from cultural alignment, too.

My friend Tony Hseish shares this laser-focus on culture. At his company Zappos, they hire specifically to ensure new people fit (one of their three core values is to “create a little fun and weirdness”). They even offer a $4,000 quitting bonus to weed out weak hires. With this culture-first staffing principle, bringing in people that mesh with each other and with the company’s goals, they’ve flourished.

Not every company cares about the same cultural values. What’s important to us at O2E Brands wouldn’t necessarily be important to a high-end commercial law firm. But even if you’re a tough, suit-and-tie place that takes pride in driving people to tears, you’ve still got to find people who have the same values or you’ll scare them away.

The bottom line? A culturally aligned team that gets along and genuinely enjoys each others’ company is a more engaged team – and a more productive one. One of the most important questions asked in the Gallup Q12, a measurement tool for workplace performance, is “Do you have a best friend at work?” The stats prove that having a business best friend, a buddy you connect with in and out of the office, is a primary factor in employee engagement. And when employees are engaged, they’re more productive: the Workplace Research Foundation says that highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity.

So the next time you’re hiring, look past the candidate’s credentials, and put them through my Beer and BBQ Tests. These simple hacks have helped me assemble a dream team and will help you quickly assess the cultural fit of your candidates.

Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO of O2E (Ordinary to Exceptional)
Brands, which includes companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, WOW 1 DAY PAINTING, You Move Me and Shack Shine. He's passionate about helping others grow small to medium businesses and corporate culture.