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Hiring quality family and non-family employees

Bernie Erven Published on 30 September 2013

Hiring and keeping quality employees is absolutely necessary if high profitability, growth and productivity are to have any chance of becoming a reality.

Failure to find needed employees threatens the business. Inviting family members into the farm business who do not fit or meet a clear need is as damaging as hiring a non-family member who does not fit.

Nobody has yet found a magical shortcut to either hiring success or winning the lottery. Lottery winners depend on luck, but that doesn’t work in hiring.

The answer lies in having and following a carefully crafted plan for filling positions. This article provides an eight-step process to help a determined manager be successful in hiring.

Step 1 – Determine labor needs
What the business needs rather than what an applicant wants to do should guide hiring. Goals along with current and long-run constraints to progress help identify the desirable characteristics you should look for in a new employee.

Goals and performance standards for the new employee should be determined before commencing the search for applicants.

Skipping this step and “hiring the first person in the driveway” is chancy. Sometimes, however, a manager is desperate to hire someone. Taking time to think about the business’s needs seems unrealistic. So a manager needs backup labor to help the farm through tight spots.

Step 2 – Develop a current job description based on needs identified in Step 1
A job description describes what the job is, not how the job is to be done. It includes a job title, a brief one-sentence to two-sentence job summary, the job’s major tasks summarized under three to seven general headings and description of the knowledge, skills and abilities necessary to do the job.

Job descriptions are typically one page long. The brevity requires a terse, direct writing style. The job description should feature simple words with single meanings.

Action verbs in the present tense should be used in defining job duties, e.g., operates farm machinery including modern balers and trucks. The specifics of the job should be clear from the job description.

Step 3 – Build a pool of applicants
Although there are many methods of getting job applicants, word of mouth and help wanted ads are likely to generate the most applicants.

The Internet, in many cases, has replaced newspapers and magazines for placement of help wanted ads. Internet advertising of available positions has the potential of expanding the applicant pool beyond the local community.

Word of mouth involves current employees, customers, neighbors, agribusiness contacts and others who come in contact with potential employees.

Word of mouth is fast and low-cost. However, it limits the scope of the job search because qualified applicants may not hear about the position. The farm’s reputation as an outstanding place to work is a powerful asset for generating a pool of applicants.

The employer should be ready for telephone calls or visits from potential applicants. Each applicant should be asked to fill out an application form. Taking time to develop an application form forces identification of important applicant characteristics.

Step 4 – Review applications and select those to be interviewed
Some applicants will be excluded from further consideration based on the application form. A pre-interview can also be used to help identify applicants to be invited for a formal interview.

Having interested people visit the business to fill out an application form can provide opportunity for a few general questions about experience and interest in the job.

Step 5 – Interview
Preparing a list of questions before the interview is critical to interview success. Avoid questions that can be answered “yes” or “no.” Use open-ended questions that encourage applicants to explain experiences, characteristics and ideas in their own words.

The intent is to discover how applicants have handled real-world situations rather than what they promise for the future. So that applicants can be compared on the same criteria, the basic list of questions asked should be the same for each applicant. For legal reasons, ask only about those things unquestionably related to the job and any applicant’s ability to do the job.

An interview can be divided into the following nine steps:

1. Relax the applicant and build rapport.
2. Give the applicant a copy of the job description and describe the job in considerable detail.
3. Check the accuracy of information on the application form.
4. Ask a series of open-ended questions previously prepared.
5. Encourage the applicant to ask questions.
6. Summarize your business mission, objectives and philosophy.
7. Summarize the opportunities provided to the person in the position.
8. Encourage the applicant to ask any remaining questions.
9. Close with information about plans for making a decision.

Some dos and don’ts can serve as reminders on how to improve your interviewing skills.


• Make sure the applicant does most of the talking
• Make the interview fun for you and the applicant
• Listen
• Be attentive
• Concentrate on the interview and what is being said
• Show enthusiasm throughout the interview
• Pay attention to non-verbal clues
• Show appreciation for the applicant’s interest in the position
• Show pride in your operation
• Stay in control of the interview


• Project answers you want, e.g., “You do like growing things, don’t you?”
• Cut an interview short because of an applicant’s bad start
• Let your note-taking detract from the “flow” of the interview
• Read questions to the applicant
• Let your facial expressions and other body language show dissatisfaction with an applicant’s answers
• Explore a lot of “interesting” side issues
• Allow an aggressive applicant to sidestep your questions

Step 6 – Check references
References can add to the information gathered in application forms and interviews. Telephone conversations will be more productive than asking for written comments.

Asking about the most important contribution an applicant has made is likely to be more helpful than asking if the reference knows of any reason not to hire the person. Pay close attention to a reference’s tone of voice because of the important information it may communicate.

Step 7 – Make a selection
Be as objective as possible given the job description: knowledge, skills, abilities necessary to do the job and information about each applicant. If no applicant is satisfactory, start over rather than taking a chance on someone you have already guessed will fail.

Step 8 – Hire
Make an oral offer in person or by telephone and follow up with a written offer. The written offer should summarize the job, explain that the employment is “at will” and describe compensation, benefits, work schedules and other important details.

One can skip several of the eight steps discussed in this article. Managers need to remind themselves that, to a great extent, they reach their goals through people. Mediocrity in filling positions guarantees future labor problems.

To have first-rate employees, it is necessary to have and hire first-rate applicants. Do I maximize my chances of hiring the “right” people or do I leave my success to guesses and chance? Each employer has the choice.  FG


Bernie Erven
Professor Emeritus
Ohio State University