Employees are vital to any small business. No longer will just any warm body sitting behind a desk or standing in front of a cash register (or whatever your employees’ job function happens to be) suffice in today’s more sophisticated industry.

No matter what industry your small business serves customer service skills, for example, become critical to guest satisfaction. And with more competition for customers, sales and marketing savvy is coveted.

Let’s face it. The most successful small businesses employ top-notch employees who run the business as if it was their own. They take the time to help the customer decide on the best products and services for them; they stay a few minutes after closing time to prepare for the next day; and they are ready to respond to emergencies—and opportunities—when they arise.

In a nutshell, it boils down to attracting and retaining the best and brightest employees to bolster bank accounts and at the same time avoiding legal liabilities that can break the bank. Indeed, human resources issues (HR) are a universal business challenge in today’s cutthroat business environment. The strategy is three-fold: conduct thorough interviews and background checks, follow the letter of employment law, and keep your faithful employees on the payroll.

Interviews can give you helpful clues about a candidate, but you have to ask the right questions. For example, you can’t simply ask the candidate if he has good customer service skills because you’ll get an automatic “yes” regardless of the truth. Experts agree that the best questions are “scenario” questions, like “Can you remember a time when you had to deal with a disagreeable customer? Please explain the circumstances and what you did to manage the situation.” These types of questions will give you more insight into whether or not the candidate’s personality fits into your company’s culture.

Since managers are living on site and have so much access to company assets, background checks are pretty-much the standard for screening applicants in self-storage today. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) reports that this practice is also becoming standard in most industries today due to rising concerns of workplace safety in the wake of 9-11 and in the midst of the military actions in Iraq.

“While employers can’t protect employees from all of the world’s ills, they certainly can take important steps to increase both the actual security of their workplaces and the sense of security for employees,” says Susan Meisinger, SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer. “HR professionals are often at the forefront in leading efforts to develop disaster response plans, and implement precautionary procedures such as background checking to ensure the protection of employees and business recovery following a catastrophe.”

Check out this YouTube video on how to interview for tips on how to interview candidates: