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Ways to find an employee who is bang up to the job

When faced with the prospects of a farmer needing an employee, many have shied away from the structured and formal employment process of staff planning. However, to effectively employ someone you must be clear on three points:

•How the person is going to fit into the farming business.

•The expectations of the employer.

•What level of responsibility the employee will have.

To do this effectively it is important to establish a job description.

Job Description

Setting out a job description is the responsibility of the employer and should outline what you expect of the person you intend to employ in terms of the responsibilities and tasks required and the standard to which work must be completed.

Whilst this may seem a laborious task, studies have shown this is the only way to ensure the best results from the difficult process of employing new staff.

Going to the trouble of doing out a job description will also be useful for:

•Writing job advertisements.

•Knowing what the key questions should be during an interview.

•Orientating a new employee to the job.

•Identifying performance objectives and training needs.

•Handling of dismissal issues.

•Ensuring that the employee is able to choose a suitable job that fits with their goals.

When taking a position with a defined job description, employees are often happier as they are more aware of the expectations of the position.

The essentials to be included in any job description are:

•A job title, ie 'herd manager'.

•The purpose of the job to provide a summary of the role.

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•Reporting lines outlining the relationship of the employee with others in the business and who they should report to or who reports to them.

•A list of seven to 10 duties and levels of responsibility that will be key to success in the role.

•Performance standards which can be linked to pay bonuses.

•Detail of the business values -- these may relate to safety, teamwork, integrity, etc.

•Position conditions such as remuneration, work hours, housing, etc.

For hours of work in relation to a farm business, it is good practice to break these down on a seasonal basis. For example, spring (February 1 to May 1) could be 60 hours/week, milking season 50 hours/week and dry season 30 hours/week.

When presenting a job description to a potential employee, remember it is often desirable to have a person who can fill around 60pc of the role, with an aim to train and develop the person to meet the other 40pc over time.

This allows a person to see themselves progress in a role and means that you are not paying top dollar from the very beginning. The job description should be reviewed annually with the employee.

This is because there can often be a mismatch in the understanding of the responsibilities of a job between the employer and employee, as roles will change over time.


Effectively, the ability of a farmer to capitalise on their own skills is directly related to their willingness to hand over responsibility to other people.

Managing the farming business is much easier if a structured approach is used and the use of well constructed job descriptions is key to getting the most from the people who work for you. Those who can do this well will have a greater ability to expand their business into the future.

Selecting the right person for the job is crucial to avoiding lower farm performance, higher operating costs, reduced morale and increased turnover of staff members.

The first step is to clearly define what kind of person is best suited to the role. This will help you choose the best applicant for the job. To do this you need to identify values and traits that are important to you as an employer. Generally this person specification is not disclosed to applicants unless crucial to the role.

Some of the characteristics to be considered are experience, attitude, time management, qualifications, physical ability, initiative and flexibility.

These characteristics can be divided into essential and preferred qualities. Note, however, that this specification should not include anything that is not related to the job performance as this could be considered discrimination. Use the person specification and job description to determine eight to 10 of the most important selection criteria for the job. Use these to design your interview questions and to rate an applicant during the interview process.

Once you have advertised the position and attracted a pool of suitably qualified people, there are a number of selection techniques that can be used to determine competency for your requirements. These include:

•CVs (Curriculum Vitae) -- only used to select a short-list.

•Structured interviews -- ask all applicants the same questions and set the same tasks to ensure that the same information is gathered to provide objective comparison between applicants.

•Practical work tests -- ask your candidates to demonstrate their competence.

•Reference checks -- to establish how a candidate has performed in the past. Both written and verbal references can be falsified, so information gained should be double-checked.

•Role play -- this puts a person in a situation and asks them to act out how they'd deal with it.

•Personality tests -- good for understanding people and how they can be managed, but are not a good predictor of how they will perform.

Most would use the CV and a phone interview to screen applicants and cut the number down to three or four to interview. Once determined, it is courteous to let the other applicants know that they have not been shortlisted.

Applicants that have been shortlisted should be telephoned and if they are still interested they should be offered an interview. Follow up this call in writing with details of the time, place and expected duration.

When carrying out the interview, things to consider are:

•Whether you will use only one or a second-stage interview process.

•Use two people to conduct the interview to capture different points of view from it.

•Ideally carry out all the interviews on the same day to enable a good comparison.

•At the initiation of the interview make sure you make the applicant comfortable with general conversation.

•During the interview make notes, but inform the applicant that you will be doing so. Don't rely on memory.

•There are two common types of questioning. The first is behavioural on the basis that past behaviour is a predictor of future behaviour. This type of question might be something like, "tell me how you coped with a difficult animal health issue in the past?" The second is situational, where you attempt to gauge the potential performance of the applicant from his or her stated intentions and goals. This question might run along the lines of, "what are the three most important things to do when you come across a cow that has gone down in the field?"

At the end of the interview inform the candidate what will happen from that point and when you will get back to them. Check if they are genuinely interested in the position but do not offer them the job at this point.

Remember, the right person may not be the person you like most or has the best qualifications, but the one who best matches your selection criteria.

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