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So it’s time to hire a new employee on the dairy

Al Schultz and Peter Coyne Published on 06 February 2014

Nearly every day, a dairy producer asks us if we know of anyone looking for work. Milkers and herdsmen are in great demand here in the Midwest, and many feeder and manager positions are open as well.

As your business grows or an employee moves on, you are tasked with hiring a quality employee. While you may dread this process, employees are the lifeblood of any business.

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Done right, it can be a stimulating process that invigorates the entire team. In contrast, the wrong hire can be a millstone around your neck, a financial drain and a threat to your employee culture.

Rarely is any decision made with a guarantee of success, but when the hiring process is done right, you can greatly increase your odds.

Develop a job description
Until you know what this new employee should do, any efforts to recruit an applicant will be totally unfocused. How do you know if an applicant is the correct choice if you don’t have a clear picture of the job duties and requirements?

It really doesn’t matter whether the job description is an attractive document on your letterhead or a simple list of duties, responsibilities and requirements. What is important is the time and consideration put into developing the job description.

The job description sets the stage for the interview process and prevents the “I didn’t know that was part of the job” excuse later. For example, if the job requires a valid driver’s license, make sure that is specified. If the applicant is required to occasionally lift up to 50 pounds, say so. And if the job involves working weekends or night shifts, make that clear.

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Never try to make the job description look good just to attract applicants. That may work in the short run but will probably lead to another search when the newly hired candidate realizes what was promised doesn’t match reality.

Before distributing the job description, talk to your current employees about it. You might be surprised by the ideas other employees contribute. Incorporating teammates’ suggestions makes common sense. In addition, if your staff feels a part of the process, they will try harder to onboard the newly hired employee.

Develop a pool of applicants
You should always keep a list of potential applicants, not just when an opening occurs. If you are continually networking, you might have several potential candidates on your “short list.” But before you vigorously start the recruiting process, make sure you are not overlooking somebody already on your team.

If an employee is looking for advancement opportunities and perceives this new position as an opportunity to do so, that needs to be addressed. If an employee is interested in the new job but you do not feel that person is qualified, have a candid discussion to address that. Not doing so will result in problems later.

To build a pool of candidates, first talk to your employees. Perhaps they have contacts that could be good applicants. Also talk to your suppliers. They see a much wider pool of potential candidates and may be helpful in locating somebody just for you. Lastly, consider job postings in the media or on the websites of agricultural organizations that provide this service.

Require a completed job application
Templates are available to use in developing a job application for your farm. This can be a relatively simple document but will provide basic personal data, educational information, prior employment information, references and signed consent to contact those references.

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It may also include specific questions about things such as legal authority to work in the U.S., any criminal convictions, etc.

Understand that you cannot legally ask certain things either on the application or verbally during the interview. Never ask about marital status, family, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, arrest record, sexuality, politics or disabilities.

For some management positions, you may accept, or even require, a résumé in addition to the job application. Whether that is important depends on the required qualifications of the job you are seeking to fill.

Conducting the interview
Many articles and books provide the “perfect” questions to ask in an interview. Here are our general suggestions:

• Study the application before the interview and seek explanations for anything irregular or missing on the application.

• Know the laws regarding discrimination and what questions you cannot ask.

• Listen more than you talk.

• Ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered by a simple “yes” or “no.”

• Note the interviewee’s non-verbal answers as much as the verbal.

• Picture the candidate in your culture. Is he or she a good fit with the current team?

• Try to evaluate traits such as initiative, decision-making skills, communication, leadership and time management. Today’s fast-changing workplace has changed what we need from employees. Most job-related skills can be taught.

If possible, have one or several team members conduct a separate interview. It is surprising how others can get different but important information. The only caution is that anyone assisting with the interview must know the laws about legal out-of-bounds questions.

Check references
Don’t hire without checking references. Phone inquiries are the most effective because sometimes hesitation or tone of voice may be as helpful as the answer. References can provide valuable information about a candidate’s performance.

Also use references to verify information on the job application. Identify yourself and describe the job for which you are interviewing. State that the candidate has provided the contact information and is aware that the contact will be made.

While references provided by the candidate are valuable, even better are contacts that you know and might also know the candidate. Sometimes these “friends” will be more honest and less guarded in their evaluations.

Protect your business
While the No. 1 effort should be to prevent any animal abuse on your farm, vetting new hires to prevent the accidental hiring of an undercover animal rights activist makes sense. Check references carefully.

Also, it is perfectly legal to ask (on the job application or verbally) whether the applicant is or ever was a member of an animal rights group. If a person denies ever being a member of an animal rights group, but later on you learn otherwise, the lie is grounds for dismissal. Asking the question creates a record that potentially could be used later.

Make the job offer
Once you have made the selection, promptly make the job offer, both verbally and in writing. Make sure the offer includes all of the details regarding benefits to eliminate surprises later.

Don’t forget to promptly communicate with everyone you interviewed to let them know you’ve selected someone else. That will make a positive impact on someone who might be a good fit for a different job down the road and build a positive reputation for your farm.

Prepare the rest of the staff
Make sure the rest of the team knows about the hire and the starting date. Convey a sense of excitement and hospitality among the staff so the new employee feels welcomed.

Summary
Bringing a new employee onto the team is one of the most important jobs of a manager. Don’t cut corners. The wrong hire can be a costly proposition. Maximize your chances for success. PD

Peter Coyne is a dairy field service specialist with Vita Plus Corp.

Al Schultz

Al Schultz
Vice President of Technical Services
Vita Plus Corp.

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