By Kailynn Bowling, co-founder of ChicExecs PR & Retail Strategy Firm.

Did you know it takes an average of 41 days to fill a vacant position at your business? That means you have just over a month to hire the best new employee you can find.

You want to hire the right person from the start so you can jump in and do amazing work together. After all, small businesses are only as strong as the people who work in them.

But how do you hire the best person for the job? If you’ve been burned before, you know how important it is to hire right. Follow these six tips to help you find the best candidate for the job.

1. Make it casual.

Candidates have their guard up during interviews, which makes it hard to understand what it would actually be like to work with them.

Try to make the interview casual and comfortable. Stuffy, formal settings prevent you from really getting to know candidates, so try to interview them over coffee or even a meal.

Make sure you talk about hobbies and their life outside of work–they’ll become more comfortable talking to you and you’ll get a better sense of who they really are.

2. Ask meaningful questions.

Don’t ask silly interview questions like, “How many golf balls fit in a school bus?” if that answer isn’t relevant to your work.

After all, is “What’s your greatest weakness?” going to tell you anything truly valuable about a candidate? Usually, their references, work history and portfolio will tell you a lot more.

When you talk to a candidate, make your questions count. There’s no need to Google common interview questions because your candidates are doing that, too. They’re rehearsing their speeches and will give you robotic answers that make it tough to distinguish candidates.

There’s nothing wrong with asking a candidate about their strengths and weaknesses, but ask questions that help you understand their capabilities, too. Use hypothetical questions to see how the candidate would solve a tricky situation–that can tell you a lot more about how they work and whether they’re qualified.

3. Interview as a committee.

Try to bring other employees into the hiring process if possible. Your employees can assess whether the candidate is a) a good culture fit and b) gives them any red flags.

When candidates chat with several employees at a business, it gives them a feel for what it would be like to work with you, too.

4. Do a test project.

Are you unsure about a candidate’s qualifications? Ask them to prove it with a small work project. Test projects are a great way to make sure candidates can follow directions, think independently and produce great work.

Test projects are the best way to see how a person’s mind works in the workplace. But there are a few caveats here you need to remember:

1. You shouldn’t use candidates’ work projects on your website, social media, etc. Its purpose should be only for assessment, not as free labor.

2. Keep the assignment short. It shouldn’t take candidates more than an hour to complete, from start to finish.

3. If you really do need a longer project, compensate candidates for their time at a contract rate.

5. Trust your gut.

Sometimes a candidate looks great on paper, but when you meet them, something feels… off.

You can’t describe what it is, but you get a negative feeling about a certain candidate. If you’re hiring by committee, ask your employees if they have any reservations about the candidate. When multiple people have misgivings, that’s a sign you should proceed with a different candidate.

6. Hire for culture fit.

Did you know that 89% of new hires have a hard time integrating into their new company for the first 18 months? Plenty of people struggle to fit in, especially at a new job, and that’s why culture fit is so important.

If you have a really outgoing, gregarious office, is that the right place to bring in a new employee who’s an introvert? Or if you have a serious, no-nonsense type of culture, is that going to be a turn-off for extroverted candidates?

Diversity is a good thing, but you do want candidates who will feel comfortable working in your environment and with your existing employees. Even if someone is great at their job, it doesn’t automatically make them the best candidate for this job. Make sure your favorite candidates can mesh with the culture; otherwise, you risk losing them within a few months after hiring.

Remember, candidates are assessing you as much as you’re assessing them. Since 80% of job-seekers say their experience as a candidate influenced their decision to accept a job offer, it’s important to remember just how critical the hiring process can be. These six tips can h