4/09 PEOPLE POWER: Great Hiring Practices Are Still Required

Just because the unemployment rate is higher and the pool of potential employees is larger, reject any thought of reducing your recruitment and hiring efforts. Although it seems difficult and time consuming, extra efforts to identify and select outstanding candidates produces rewards far greater than the cost.

Dr. Bob Milligan 

We now have the highest unemployment in nearly 30 years.  Few businesses are hiring.  As you prepare for the cropping season, your dairy business could be an exception. To fully capitalize on this opportunity, you should utilize great hiring practice.  Reject the urge to reduce your recruitment and selection efforts because hiring someone will be easier.  Making the best hiring choices goes a long way to determine the level of stress you will face – and the success of your farm.


Good procedures for choosing equipment and supplies and hiring employees have more similarities than you might think.  Consider the purchase of a new tractor.  You begin by specifying what you need – horsepower, features, etc. – given the tractors you already have and the characteristics of your farm.   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 lastly select a tractor for purchase.


The hiring of the best people utilizes a similar procedure, with two major differences.  First, the choices are more important, as there are greater productivity difference among people than among different brands and models of equipment and inputs.  Second, each manager is essentially on his or her own when hiring employees. 


Unfortunately, most hiring procedures are far less detailed and less reliable that the procedures used to purchase new equipment.  What then, is included in a reliable hiring procedure?


Begin by specifying what is needed.  In human resources this means defining the competencies you are seeking to enable the person in the position to succeed.  Competencies are the skills, knowledge, experience performance behaviors and personal attributes that contribute to enhanced employee performance and personal success.”  I recommend you select the three to five competencies that are the most critical to success in your open position. 


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

  1. Successful experience in completing repetitive tasks
  2. Positive work attitude
  3. Reliability
  4. Gentle


Recruitment is defined as the process of attracting individuals on a timely basis, in sufficient numbers and with appropriate qualifications to apply for a job.  Note that the focus in this definition is on attracting a pool of applicants – not just one qualified applicant.  This focus on the one candidate instead of a pool is the most common mistake made by managers.  Without a pool of candidates the probability of hiring a great candidate is very low. 


How then is a great pool of candidate achieved?  Recruitment is a process of marketing your farm and the position you have available.  You must develop a recruitment plan that reaches great candidate AND entices them to apply for your position.  An example for a job announcement or want ad:


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 cows in a timely and professional manner.  The position requires gentleness with the animals and precision in the milking process.  We provide initial and continuing training.  Apply to help serve consumers like you!! 


Answering the following questions will provide you the information needed to write great recruitment material:

  • List words and phrases that describe the positive attributes of your farm
  • List words and phrases that describe the positive attributes of this position
  • Describe the position
  • What are the qualifications required for success in the position?
  • What are great candidates for this position doing now (be creative)?
  • How should candidates apply for the job?


Selection involves choosing from the pool of candidates the individual or individuals who best match the competencies needed to succeed in the position.  The interview is the heart of selection.  Here are some ideas to consider when planning your interviews:

  • Remember that you are a) determining the “fit” of this candidate for the position AND b) promoting the position and your farm.  You want the candidate to accept should you decide to offer him/her the position.
  • Am interview is a formal, high-stress situation.  While working to make both parties feel at ease to the degree possible, it should be treated as a formal interaction not as a “bull shit” session.  Careful planning and preparation is crucial. 
  • You must prepare questions in advance that are built to measure the candidate on the selected competencies.  Each candidate must them be asked these same questions. 


Competencies, Recruitment, Selection.  Recently I coached a manager much like you through the above procedures.  He had previously essentially hired the first candidate.  I asked him how he felt after he hired an outstanding candidate.  His answer was “It was easier!”  Although it seems difficult and time consuming, hiring outstanding candidates produces rewards far greater than the cost. 



Robert Milligan is senior consultant, Dairy Strategies LLC, and professor emeritus, Cornell University. He can be reached via phone: 888-249-3244, ext. 255, e-mail: rmilligan@trsmith.com, or log on to www.dairystrategies.com.