Get serious about hiring

Farms wanting to have a great team of employees need to take the hiring processes very seriously.

In interviews with dairy farm employees as part of the Michigan State University Extension employee management project, one employee said that the owner needed “to be more serious about who they hire!” Wow, when it comes from an employee, we had better take it to heart.

No farm would openly say “give me all the bad employees,” but what do your hiring practices say about the quality of employees that you are looking for? A casual, unorganized attitude toward hiring employees will not attract the best people. A focused, planned hiring procedure will increase your likelihood of hiring an employee that will meet your farm’s needs.

The first step in successful hiring starts with identifying what your farm is looking for in the open position. Defining the job that needs to be filled ensures that you have considered the needs on your farm and what an applicant would need to be able to do in order to be successful. Farmers need to avoid starting with the applicant and defining the job around them. If there is a need for an individual, you should be able to clearly state what the job will entail. Start by putting together a solid job description. Employers will also want to make sure that they are following labor laws and regulations. Two resources available on the MSU Dairy Team website are Labor Laws and Michigan Agriculture, and the Agriculture Employer Checklist.

Second, be purposeful in your search for a quality employee. Good employees can show up on your doorstep, but that shouldn’t be your hiring plan. You can start with a job posting in your local paper, but you shouldn’t stop there either. Ask current employees for referrals, and reward them for successful hires. Talk with your veterinarian, nutritionist, Michigan State University Extension educator or other agriculture industry representatives. Utilizing this network can reach people with experience in farming. Depending on the position, talk with your local high school agriculture teacher, counselor, college or university. Good employees will gravitate to a business that shows it is serious in looking for good employees.

Third, prepare for the interview! Good applicants want, and deserve, a good interview. Good, quality questions should be prepared ahead of time. Questions need to be asked that relate to the applicants ability to do the job that you have described in the job description. Avoid questions that are not directly related to this! Three types of questions should be asked: Questions that help identify past behavior (the best indicator of future behaviors), questions about their job skills and knowledge, and “What if” scenario type questions. Avoid asking yes/no or leading questions.

The interview team should consist of 2-3 people from the farm to help you avoid just hiring someone who you like. Involving employees in the interview process for other employees builds their pride in the operation and helps you gain valuable insights. Interviews should typically last 30-45 minutes and you should always have extra questions. Candidates should be given time to ask some questions of you. Between interviews you should allow 5-10 minutes to write down your assessment of the candidate.

Finally, conduct reference checks if applicable and then offer the job to the number one acceptable candidate. If your number one does not accept the job, only offer it to the next candidate if they are acceptable as well. This is not a time to settle for an unacceptable candidate. If you do, turnover is likely, and turnover is expensive. Once you have an accepted offer, let all other candidates know that the position has been filled and keep their applications on file for future positions.

Hiring new employees can be a scary process, but employers who are strategic, purposeful, and prepared are more likely to have success.

If you are interested in working to improve your employee management, contact me at or Phil Durst, to discuss the Employee Management Project.

Companion article:

Are you ready to hire farm employees? - Employees can make or break a farm business, but it is really the attitude of the owner and the actions that result that make that determination.

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