We were struggling with hiring the right people," says Michael Fast, president and CEO of MRF Construction, Tacoma, Wash. "You can only ask so many questions, and we ended up hiring a couple of folks that were just a nightmare."

To try to avoid getting employees with skeletons in their closets, Fast hired a consultant to assist in the hiring process.

MRF does the preliminary interviews, narrowing the field down to a few applicants, based on their experience and skill set. Those who pass the first stage then meet with the consultant, Jim Watt, who interviews them to figure out just how well they'll fit in with MRF's culture. Once Watt has made his recommendation, "he gives us a 'decoder ring,'" Fast says -- advice on how to help the new employee succeed.

Fast says since he started using the consultant five years ago, the frequency of his firings has dropped to nearly zero. "He's been dead on," Fast says of Watt. "There were a couple of times where we thought someone was great, but they came back as 'no-hires.'" And the one time Fast did hire someone despite Watt's long list of concerns, the company ended up firing the employee after two years.

MRF pays Watt $55 per hour for his services, which Fast says is a discounted rate. The price is definitely worth it. "It costs us some dollars up front," Fast says, "but we'd rather spend that money ahead of time." Watt also "referees" certain company meetings and is available to MRF employees for any problems they have, business or personal. MRF covers the cost for up to two hours of Watt's services per employee per year, give or take.

Fast says that while few employees have taken advantage of this benefit, those who have, have benefited greatly. Watt is also able to ask questions and give assistance that Fast, as an employer, legally cannot.