Rory Lewandowski, Agriculture Extension Educator, Wayne County, Ohio State University Extension
Labor is an important component of any farm operation. Beyond just checking the box that a certain task has been completed, farm profitability often turns on how well a task was completed, the attention to detail, and protocol. Improving employee recruiting and interviewing skills increases the chance of hiring the right employee for your farm situation. For many farms, employee recruitment, interviewing, and hiring requires a mindset adjustment.
How do you attract dependable farm employees? What is your goal and objective when you hire a farm employee? I once heard Bernie Erven, professor emeritus of The Ohio State University and human resource management specialist, say that too many farms do not manage the employee recruitment and interview process. Desperate for labor, the only job requirement seemed to be that the person could walk and breathe. Interview questions consisted of “Have you worked on a farm before? and Do you want the job?” A management mindset involves developing a recruitment strategy and a process to find employees that are the right fit for your farm. Donald Cooper, an international management consultant, says that businesses become what they hire. If your goal is high performance and excellence, you need to recruit and hire above average, high quality persons.
Employee recruitment starts before there is a job vacancy. Effective recruitment has both an outward and an inward focus. An outward focus is about developing relationships with persons, organizations, and institutions that could provide a contact or recommend a potential employee to the farm. Some examples include FFA chapters/advisors, career centers, and farm service persons, such as veterinarians, feed and equipment dealers, technicians, and ag lenders. Also, contacts with educational institutions are sources of potential farm employees. If you run into someone with the potential to be a good employee, even if you currently don’t have a vacancy, at least collect contact information. Some farms may even create a temporary position for the person. Inward recruitment focus is about building a reputation as a great place to work. If someone were to drive around the county and ask the question, who is the best farm to work for, would the questioner hear the name of you or your farm?
The next important piece in recruitment and interviewing is the job description. Job descriptions guide the interviewing and hiring process. Specific information included in a job description includes a job title, a short summary of the major job responsibilities, the qualifications for the job including knowledge, education and/or experience necessary, the specific job duties/tasks along with the frequency with which each needs to be performed, who supervises the job and/or supervisory requirements of the job, and finally, something about the expectations for hours and weekly or monthly work schedule.
The job description, when well written, helps to provide a prepared list of questions for the employee candidate interview. Questions should provide the candidate with the opportunity to talk about their skills, knowledge, experience, and personal attributes that match the job description. According to Bob Milligan of Dairy Strategies, the interview should be designed to determine the qualifications of the candidate and their fit for not only the job requirements but also their fit within the culture of your farm. The interview should be structured so that the farm owner or manager is promoting the farm and the position in a positive light so that the candidate is likely to accept the job if it is offered to them.
Ask questions that provide you with information about the candidate’s knowledge, ability and attitudes. Examples of these type of questions are; what are two practices in the milking parlor that can improve milk quality? Describe an equipment related problem you have solved in the past year. How did you go about solving it? I read an article by the founder of a company called Ag Hires entitled “Top 3 Interview Questions Every Farm Should Ask”. They are: 1) In your past jobs, of the various tasks, roles, and projects, what have you enjoyed doing the most and what have you enjoyed the least? 2) What is your superpower; what is it that you are naturally good at and bring to the table wherever you work? and 3) If we spoke to your co-workers and managers and asked them what’s it like to work with you, how would they describe you?
These questions are designed to learn what the candidate is passionate about, what they enjoy, what they have a natural tendency toward, and how they interact with others. Quoting that article, “farm managers have a tendency to place too much emphasis on someone’s work history and not enough emphasis on whether the person is the right fit for the farm. Smart people with the right attitude, motivation, and natural tendencies that align with the farm culture will get up to speed quickly.”
Every farm hire is an important hire. Farm managers with employee recruitment and interviewing skills increase the rate of successful hires.