Labor Series: Pt 7 ~ Practical Steps to Hiring Employees


Our Labor & Worker Safety series continues today with a step-by-step guide to hiring farm employees. Even though it’s up to the employer to decide whom they hire, it’s a critical management decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you hire the right person, they almost manage themselves; hire the wrong person, and all the money you invest in training and compensation will be wasted.

Read on as we discuss which skills are needed for the job, the design of a selection process, getting the most out of the various selection tools, and suggestions on how to bring the new employee aboard the farm business.

The following information was written by Gregorio Billikopf of UC Davis, and is an abbreviated chapter from the publication Labor Management in Agriculture: Cultivating Personnel Productivity.

Decide What You Need

Decide what type of employee you need to hire, determine what that person will be doing on the farm, and figure out how you’ll find the right candidate.


Step 1: Determine whether a temporary employee is needed: Sometimes a new employee is urgently needed. Hiring a temporary worker is a good alternative to employing a less suitable replacement under pressure. Written employment contracts for such fixed-term work may help you avoid misunderstandings and possible litigation when the employee is laid off at the conclusion of this work period. The best workers can be invited to return back for the next season.

Step 2: Complete a job analysis, description, and specification: Successful employee selection is dependent on a clear understanding of a job’s components. A job analysis is used to identify job tasks and responsibilities. This may be accomplished by collecting information about the position; by interviewing workers, supervisors, and other farm employers; and by observing current employees.

Step 3: Weight the job specification items: Weighting job duties can help the farm employer assess the qualifications of competing candidates. Each skill, knowledge area, and ability is rated according to its importance to the job. (See an example of a weighted scorecard, Figure 3-1.)

Step 4: Determine the recruitment strategy: How many people apply partly depends on your recruitment efforts, the type of job, labor market, pay, and the reputation of your farm. The larger the applicant pool, the greater the chance of finding qualified applicants. Sources to help you advertise the position include present employees, other farm employers, previous applicants, trade journals, newspapers, vocational schools, universities, employment agencies, and the radio. Additionally, an excellent source of potential candidates is persons who come looking for work when you may not have any job openings.

Design the Selection Process

A well-designed selection process will yield information about a candidate’s skills and weaknesses, enabling the farm employer to make an informed choice.

110721.rmh_.wintergreen02-940x624Step 1: Determine which selection tools to use: Applicant skills can be evaluated through applications, interviews, tests, reference checks, letters of recommendation, and physicals. Some selection tools are more effective than others, but a combination of tools is usually best.

Step 2: Prepare questions and situations for written and practical tests, the interview, and reference checks: At this point the farm employer converts important skill areas into specific questions or activities for the application, interview, and tests. Results are used to assess a candidate’s technical knowledge, general problem-solving ability, interest in the operation, and other job-related attributes.

Step 3: Assign a sequence to hurdles: The farm employer can think of the selection process as a series of hurdles that applicants must clear in order to obtain the job. Each hurdle eliminates some applicants from contention. Examples of these may include written exams, reference checks, and medical screenings. The sequence of these hurdles needs to be designed with care. Note that, generally, the most expensive and time-consuming selection tools are used later in the selection process.

Step 4: Provide a realistic job preview: Applicants who have a clear understanding of what the job entails can make more informed decisions as to whether they want to apply.

Exchange Information with Applicants

Learn more about the applicants in your pool before you begin an extensive interview process.

Step 1: Conduct a pre-interview (orientation day): Good communication during the preliminary interview can minimize doubts about the job.  Having a sort of informal pre-interview, where applicants have a chance to ask questions about the job and learn more about working conditions, is very effective.

Step 2: Review applicants’ biodata (applications and resumes): A properly designed application will help you check applicants’ minimum skills as well as their employment history.

RedFireFarm2.jpgStep 3: Conduct tests: Many types of tests can be used to measure an applicant’s qualifications. They can be classified as power (depth of knowledge) versus speed (performing time-sensitive tasks) tests, as well as written, oral, or practical tests. Tests can measure knowledge, ability, skills, aptitude, attitudes, honesty, and personality.

Step 4: Conduct interviews: During the interview you have an opportunity to continue to gauge an applicant’s leadership qualities and personality.

Step 5: Check references: Reference checking involves obtaining information about an applicant from previous employers. Meeting references in person or on the phone is usually more productive than asking them to respond in writing. Reference checks can supply important information about personality and character, and may even provide some legal protection.

Step 6: Conduct a final interview (if needed): Even after following the steps described above, you may still have trouble making a decision. A final interview with the top two or three candidates can help resolve the dilemma. This final interview could be held formally or be part of another activity, such as dinner.

Bring New Employee Aboard 

How to handle bringing a new employee into the team and negotiating strategies.

Step 1: Make offers and convey rejections: Making a job offer can be rewarding. Both applicant and employer are usually excited about confirming that a position has been offered and accepted. Despite all your efforts to ensure that the best worker is hired, it is still possible for unexpected challenges to develop.

Step 2: Oversee the post-offer, pre-placement physical ability testing: A well-planned physical and physical ability exam require that the examining physician and physical therapist understand the job requirements.

Step 3: Conduct orientation: Seldom in their careers will employees be so pliable or receptive to change as during their orientation period. This is particularly true when such changes have been clearly outlined through a realistic job preview. Farmers can plan the orientation to take full advantage of this phenomenon. You may also want to take new personnel out to eat and to meet community members at the local hangout. Building a good working relationship is a long-term endeavor. The orientation period provides key opportunities towards this end.

The process described above does not guarantee the selection of the right person, but it does help avoid many common mistakes. Farm employers can make their selection decisions with a fuller awareness of the applicants’ strengths and weaknesses. Combined with a good orientation period, careful selection enables the employer and new personnel to start out on a positive path.

For more practical labor-related resources like a PDF version of the information above, see our Labor & Worker Safety Toolkit.  

If you happened to miss them, check out our other articles in the Labor & Worker Safety series:

If you’ve had to deal with employee hiring, and labor or worker safety issues let us know! We’d love to hear your stories for upcoming articles. If you have a question or comment to share, visit FarmsReach Conversations.

If you have other great resources to share, get in touch!

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