(ARA) - The majority of small business owners go into business because they're passionate about their field, or about making money in general. One aspect to growing a business entrepreneurs often find challenging is hiring the right staff members to suit their goals.

SurePayroll, an online payroll service, recently surveyed its small-business owner customers and discovered that three out of four have made hiring mistakes on at least one occasion that have cost the company thousands of dollars. In an office of few employees and tight cash reserves, a mistake that slows down business and takes away from the bottom line can be detrimental.

Having a hiring plan in place, just like you have a business plan or marketing plan, makes all the difference. If you know what you want and need before you start looking for candidates, you'll save time and money.

Michael Alter, president and CEO of SurePayroll, offers this checklist of five questions you can add to your hiring plan to help avoid some of the most prevalent hiring mistakes.

1. Is the candidate a cultural fit?
Figuring out if this is a "yes" should be first and foremost, even before you dig into a candidate's skills and experience. Especially in a small business, cultural fit is more important than many other attributes since hiring an employee who doesn't fit can result in lower office morale.

If your office is a "jump-in-and-get-it-done" type of environment where employees of all levels are expected to perform menial jobs along with their main duties, you probably don't want to hire someone from a large corporation who worked in specialty positions to take on the grunt work. Or if you run a fun, casual and creative environment where employees brainstorm business ideas while playing foosball, you may want to play a game of foosball during the interview to ensure the candidate enjoys working in that way.

2. Have at least two employees interviewed the candidate?
In many small businesses, it's the business owner or office manager who chooses the candidates. Chances are you or the manager will not be the only people working with the candidate. Besides you, at least two employees should interview the candidate and be able to answer "yes" to the question above about cultural fit.

3. Can the candidate pass an assessment test for skills-based positions or a drug screening for a labor role?
Just because a candidate looks good on paper doesn't mean he or she will be able to follow through with excellent work.

Whether you're hiring a copywriter who must have an excellent grasp on grammar or a Web programmer who needs to be proficient in HTML, skills testing will provide a detailed look into how a candidate is capable of performing. Additionally, if you're in a business that uses drivers, people performing physical labor or other positions that require alert, sober employees in place to avoid serious accidents, drug tests are an absolute necessity. Experts in toxicology say that 75 percent of illegal drug users are employed, and most work for small and midsize businesses.

Providing skills assessments or drug testing is easy, and many companies, including SurePayroll, provide online access to these services at a very reasonable rate. Visit www.surepayroll.com for more information.

4. Can the candidate pass a background check?
Background checks will ensure you're not risking your business by hiring a violent criminal, white-collar criminal or illegal alien. With nearly half of all small business job applicants submitting resumes with false information, going the extra mile to have professionals check for red flags can help keep your business out of harm's way. As part of the service, the company performing the background check will call a candidate's references. In addition to the references the candidate provided, ask the candidate for permission to call former employers listed on the resume. If they don't provide permission without good reason, take that as a red flag.

Like skills assessments and drug testing, many companies provide affordable background screening services to small businesses.

5. Does your gut say the candidate is a good fit?
And finally, do a gut check. If something doesn't seem right about a candidate or their work history, trust that feeling. Sometimes candidates are better at telling a good story in an interview than they are at performing a job or showing up for work.Five practices that help small businesses avoid hiring mistakes

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