As your dairy business grows or an employee moves on, you are tasked with hiring a quality employee.  Done right, this can be a stimulating process that invigorates the entire team.  But the wrong hire can be a millstone around your neck, a financial drain and a threat to your employee culture.  Here are a few things to help increase your odds of success.

Develop a 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.  Specify requirements such as a valid driver’s license or the ability to occasionally lift 50 pounds.  If the job involves working weekends or night shifts, make that clear.

Before distributing the job description, share it with current employees.  You might be surprised by their comments and contributions.  In addition, if your staff feels a part of the process, they will try harder to onboard the new employee.

Develop a pool of applicants
Keep a continual list of potential employees versus creating a new one when an opening occurs.  First talk to your employees.  Perhaps they have contacts that would be good applicants.  Also talk to your suppliers.  They see a much wider pool of potential candidates and may be helpful in locating someone just for you.

Also, before you vigorously start the recruiting process, make sure you are not overlooking a current team member.  If an employee is looking for advancement opportunities, make sure you address that interest.  If you do not feel that person is qualified, have a candid discussion to address your concerns so that you don’t have animosities later.

Require a completed job application
Templates are available to use in developing a job application for your farm.  This document can be relatively simple, but will help collect personal data, educational information, prior employment information, references, and signed consent to contact those references.  It may also include specific questions regarding 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.

Conducting the interview
Here are a few of our general suggestions for conducting an interview:

  • Study the application prior to the interview and seek explanations for anything irregular or missing.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”
  • Note the interviewee’s non-verbal responses.
  • Picture the candidate in your culture.  Is he or she a good fit with the current team?
  • Evaluate traits such as initiative, decision-making skills, communication, leadership and time management.
  • 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 legally out-of-bounds questions.

Check references
Don’t hire without checking references.  Phone inquiries are the most effective because some hesitation or tone of voice may be as helpful as the answer.  Also use references to verify application information.  State that the candidate has provided the contact information and is aware the contact will be made.

Protect your business
While the top 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.  It is perfectly legal to ask (on the application or verbally) whether the applicant is or ever was a member of an animal rights group.  Asking the question creates a record that potentially could be used later.

Make the job offer
Promptly make the job offer both verbally and in writing.  Include all of the details regarding benefits to eliminate surprises later.  Also promptly communicate with everyone you interviewed to let them know you selected someone else.

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