You've heard that it's hard to find good employees. Guess what? That's more than a cliché. Good people are harder to find because there are fewer people entering the workforce these days.

That means preventing costly turnover should be your highest priority. To help do that, make yourself proficient at interviewing and hiring. Here are some tips for making smarter hiring decisions:

Check applications. Thoroughly check for lack of information, inconsistencies, or phony companies.

Check references. Ask candidates for the name of the managers or owners they directly worked for or reported to. Get written authorization to call them. Have the candidate call the references so you can talk with them.

Create a warm inquiry system. Talk with employees who will be screening calls or greeting walk-in candidates about how you want inquiries handled. You don't want to lose a candidate due to lack of knowledge or rudeness.

Pre-screen by phone. To save time, have your staff pre-screen people by asking certain “knockout questions” designed to eliminate unqualified candidates.

Create the atmosphere. A favorable interview climate is important. The room should be comfortable, quiet, and free from interruptions.

Explain the process. Tell candidates that you are going to ask the questions for the majority of the interview and that they will have an opportunity to ask questions at the end.

Create good questions. The candidate must be clear about what you want to know. The questions should be easy to answer and progress in logical order. Ask about education, past job experiences, and past on-the-job skills and behaviors.

By having candidates discuss past situations and behaviors on previous jobs, you can predict what their behaviors will be on the job you might offer them.

When finished, discuss all aspects of the job. Create a clear picture of it, and be friendly to the end. Explain the next step, thank them, and walk them to the door.

Base your hiring decision on whether or not they can do the job, perform to your standards, and fit into the culture of your organization. With proper preparation, and some analysis afterward, you will increase your ratio of successful hires. —Bob Losyk is a Greensboro, N.C.–based speaker, author, and consultant. This article is excerpted from his book, Managing a Changing Workforce: Achieving Outstanding Service With Today's Employees.