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People Power: Human capital


Human capital: Invest time, energy in the decision 

By Robert Milligan


Think about the last time you made a significant capital purchase of land, equipment or facilities. Recall the preparation you made prior to deciding to make that purchase. I’m pretty certain you spent considerable time and maybe even money ensuring you made the correct decision.

Now think about the last time you hired a new employee. How much time and energy did you put into that decision? I suspect it was significantly less than what you spent on the capital investment decision.

Capital investment and hiring decisions are both important. The hiring decision is an investment in human capital. There are two arguments for investing more time and energy into human capital investment decisions.


1) There is much greater variability in productivity depending on the quality of the hire than between brands of tractors or milking equipment.

2) Human uniqueness and complexity makes gathering information required to make an informed decision more difficult.

I recently participated in several candidate interviews with my clients. I’ll use those interviews as a springboard for this month’s focus on job interviews. Let’s begin with an overview:

• The interview is a, if not the key component of the decision to select the candidate most likely to succeed in the available position. 

• Although we typically focus on the formal interview, it is only one part. The interview includes all interactions with an applicant, from the time they are selected from the candidate pool for an interview, until you make a hiring decision.

• Although we always want to create a comfortable interview atmosphere, it’s important to remember it is a formal situation. The stakes are very high for both parties.

• All questions and discussion in the interview must focus solely on determining whether this candidate can succeed in this position. This is not the time for random small talk that could easily hinder good decision-making, or could introduce topics that are illegal under equal opportunity laws. 

My recent experiences reinforced the importance of interview preparation; the candidate’s preparation and presentation; and discussion of the interview results.


Interview preparation

Like any other activity or practice, success can only be assured with excellent preparation. Preparation includes:


1) Decide who should participate in the interview and in what capacity. Business/leadership consultant Ken Blanchard suggests a “rule of three” – at least three individuals interview the candidate in at least three different settings. I suggest everyone who will be working with the successful candidate should have some interview involvement. The owner or owners, plus employees supervising this position, are likely formal participants. Others can participate over a cup of coffee or as part of a farm tour. Everyone meeting the candidate should be expected to provide an assessment.


2) Develop an itinerary for the interview. The following is a template I suggest:

• Welcome the candidate, introduce them to everyone present, and give a brief overview of the dairy.

• Complete the formal interview.

• Conduct a tour of the facilities. 

• Provide an opportunity – over coffee or lunch – for those who interact with this position to meet the candidate.

• Conclude with another meeting with the owners/supervisors, providing one more opportunity for the candidate to ask questions. Explain in detail how the selection process will proceed, including when the candidate will next hear from you.


3) Select the questions to use in the formal interview. The interview questions must be developed in advance and asked of each candidate. It is best if these questions are developed around the three or four key determinants of success in the position – skills, knowledge, experience and attitudes.


The candidate’s preparation

I was disappointed in the preparation of several candidates we interviewed. How well the candidate prepares for the interview should be viewed as an important indicator of how they will prepare once on the job. You should expect every serious candidate to come to the interview having researched your business, preparing a list of questions he or she wants answered. 

The approach they take to answering questions is also worth noting. Several candidates we interviewed began answering questions almost before we finished asking them. It’s possible this is only a symptom of nervousness, but it is more likely an indicator the candidate is not a good listener, or does not think through situations before taking action.


Discussing interview results

Involving several workforce members in the interview helps gain a wide variety of reactions, perceptions and questions. We all come from different perspectives and have different observations. Only by taking – making – the time to share all of this information through synergistic discussion can the best assessment of a candidate’s likelihood of success be made.

It may be some time before you have your next interview. Take a moment now to write down two or three ideas you have garnered from this article that you will use in your next interview. 



Robert Milligan is senior consultant with Dairy Strategies LLC. He can be reached via e-mail: rmilligan@trsmith.com; phone: 651-647-0495; or website: www.dairystrategies.com.