Is this a make-or-break move for your company? 5 tips for getting it right.

You launched a few years ago. You have grown your users or customers to a very respectable level. You bartered, low-paid (equity more than cash), and basically cobbled together a product that meets the minimum needs of your audience. And you just raised a decent funding round to ramp up growth.

But, you look around the room and all you see is a group of extremely passionate and dedicated staff all of whom have no experience in scaling a company.

It’s time for your first executive hire.

Don’t screw it up – you just may tank the company. Think I am being over dramatic? You are going to be giving someone else the keys to the safe (if not they are not an executive hire or your expectations are way out of wack).

In this era of social media, remote workers, and enough internet knowledge to let anyone fool you, there are a few basic steps to ensure hiring success. Here are my Top 5 steps:

Use your advisors. It’s simple, the more eyes on someone, the more you can uncover strengths and weaknesses. I am more concerned about the weaknesses – not that a weakness is a show stopper – more that I want to know what we are both in for. Find the advisors that have hired many times and can walk through an interview with the intent of uncovering the information that will guide you to a decision.

Meet often, even date if possible. I encourage founders to date for awhile. Same goes for your first executive hire. Spend time over coffee, grab a lunch, or go to a hockey game. Find ways to get out of the traditional office environment so you can get to know each other on a more personal level. I am not advocating hiring a new friend, I just want to know how they treat others (waitresses, their spouse) as well as what is important to them. You need multiple touches to accomplish this.

Find non-traditional references. Everyone gives you a list. If they have even half a brain, this list is pre-screened to deliver fantastic reviews. Dig a little deeper and find people who are 2 level away or worked with them a couple jobs ago. LinkedIn can help you find those people. You might be a little surprised at what you find. I might also pay the fees for a background check. There are many firms who will do this for you.

Set an actionable 90-day plan. Once you have decided, the hard work begins. You both need to set and agree on an actionable plan that is easily measured for progress. You can do this before the final decision as a means of determining how they think and how you both arrive at consensus. The old adage, hire slow – fire fast is in play here. Don’t rely on your gut on this one. Build a plan that signals you success or failure.

Communicate regularly. This is my favorite management tool that most push to the side in the chaos of operating a company. Every relationship requires constant quality communication. This executive hire has as many pressures as you do, without all of the institutional knowledge that you possess. The best way to create a positive and productive relationship is to communicate what is going on and build a trust that he or she can discuss anything.

Your first executive hire is an exciting time and a strong signal to the world that your company is on the rise. Take some good thinking time to outline a process that increases the success rate and you will be a better executive for it.

This article first appeared in INC.COM – find more of my articles there.