Hiring Great Employees Requires Exceptional Recruitment and Selection

Bob Milligan, Dairy Strategies

Bob Milligan

One of our agricultural adages is that the best land makes the most money. In our livestock enterprises, we feel the same way about our animals. Finding the best land and finding and maintaining the best animals requires hard work.

What should our adage be about employees? Research is very clear that once again the best employees are the most productive and contribute the greatest boost to farm profitability. Hiring great employees also requires hard work.

In January, according to the Labor Department, there were 5.9 million hires in the U. S. What

made hiring successful for the employers of these 5.9 million employees? In my opinion, two factors increase the likelihood of a successful hire:

  1. A positive image of the business or organization as an employer. I often refer to this as a preferred employer. A positive image is created by an engaging business culture, leaders and supervisors who care about and develop employees, opportunities for growth and career advancement, and fair compensation.
  2. Recruiting processes that attract qualified applicants and selection practices that persuade them to join the business.

Before talking directly about hiring, let’s introduce a contrast. In the 40-plus years I have worked with farmers, I have never heard a farmer exclaim: “I can’t produce milk or corn or soybeans!” It certainly is not because producing milk and crops is easy; you and I recognize the difficulties. Then why? Farmers produce milk and crops because it is their job; they work every day in planning and producing milk, crops, and other products.

Similarlyhiring is an integral part of your position as a farm owner/leader/manager. Those who succeed at hiring great employees make hiring a priority. They work at it year-round!



Good procedures for choosing equipment and supplies and developing a recruitment plan have more similarities than you might think. Consider the purchase of a new tractor. You begin by specifying what you need – horsepower, features, etc. You then collect information and compile – formally or informally – a list of possible makes and models that you might purchase. Finally, you collect detailed information including cost and select a tractor for purchase.

Hiring the best does have one major difference. The choices are more important as there are greater productivity differences among people than among different brands and models of tractors.

Begin your recruitment by identifying what you are looking for. Begin with a job description. Then, use the job description to carefully identify and articulate the three to five most important “competencies” to succeed in the position.   Competencies are the skills, knowledge, experience, performance behaviors, and personal attributes required to succeed in the position.

The following is an example competency set for a milker position:

  • Successful experience doing repetitive tasks
  • Positive work attitude
  • Reliability
  • Gentle

The goal of recruiting is to reach and persuade many qualified candidates to apply for the open position. Recruiting includes 1) promoting the positive attributes of the farm and the available position and 2) providing information about what will enable a potential candidate to succeed in the position – the competencies.

The positive attributes are sadly lacking in most recruitment materials I read. Think of recruitment as advertising! Think about why you farm and use those thoughts to brainstorm positives about your farm and the position.

Your recruitment plan should include informal word of mouth communications, want ads – online and in print, job announcements, and possibly formal job services.

The following position announcement for a milker position – same ideas could be used in other recruitment forms – incorporates the competencies defined above for this position:

EXCELLENCE, TRAINING, TEAM ATMOSPHERE!!!! We are seeking reliable, gentle workers to milk our prized herd of dairy cows. Top of the Hill Dairy Farm is a progressive family business producing wholesome, nutritious milk for families like yours. We are committed to producing superior quality milk for consumers and to providing outstanding job satisfaction for our employees. The new employees will be responsible for all tasks required to milk our herd of cows in a timely and professional manner. The position requires gentleness with the animals and precision in the milking process. We provide initial training and continuing training. Weekday and weekend regular hours are available. Are you looking for a change? Apply to help serve consumers like you!! Applications available at:

Great marketing materials can be developed using the following seven steps:

  1. Lead with a positive statement or job characteristic that attracts attention
  2. Give the job title
  3. Say something positive about the business
  4. Describe the job
  5. Explain qualifications necessary for success in the position
  6. Provide information on wages and benefits, as appropriate
  7. Say how to apply for the job.

Selection involves choosing from the pool of candidates the individual who best matches the competencies needed to succeed in the position. Remember that you are a) determining the “fit” of this candidate for the position AND b) promoting the position and your farm so the candidate is likely to accept should you decide to offer him/her the position.

The selection process involves many steps, typically the following:

  • Review of resumes and/or application forms.
  • One or more employment interviews.
  • Testing, assessments and simulations.
  • Reference checks and recommendations.
  • Hiring.

The heart of selection is the interview. Here are some ideas to ensure you are prepared for the interview:

  • Recognize that an interview is an important, stressful event and that significant structure is needed.
  • Construct a schedule for the interview.
  • Make certain that the candidate fully understands in advance what to expect – anything he/she should bring or prepare, interview time (start and end), interview location, interview schedule and format, appropriate dress.
  • At the end of the interview inform the candidate about the next step and when they will hear from you next.

A prepared set of questions asked of all candidates is a unanimous recommendation of interviewing experts and practitioners.

How do we write good interview questions? You should begin by writing a series of questions for each of the competencies. Many of us tend to ask question that begin with “what would you do if …?” Research and interviewing experience have shown that better questions begin with “tell me what you did the last time this happened …?”

A concluding remark:

The key to successful hiring is large quantities of our most valuable asset – time! It must be a priority! The internet and social media have greatly reduced the financial cost of recruitment, but at the same time the increasingly difficult labor market has increased the time requirement for hiring.

The author, a nationally known consultant on dairy farm leadership and training, is affiliated with Dairy Strategies. This article appears in the March edition of his e-newsletter and is used here with permission. He may be reached at rmilligan@trsmith.com or 651.647.0495.

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