Beyond The Norm

Use these can't-miss interview questions to help find employees who best fit your farm operation.

Strong job candidates don’t necessarily have to come with a farming background as long as transferable skills are present, Image by Greg Latza

Have you ever hired someone only to be sadly disappointed in your pick within the first few weeks? Farmers often get trapped between two extremes when hiring: We rely on our gut to read people through casual conversation and never dig deeper, or we rely too heavily on the individual’s background and ignore character flaws.

When determining if someone will be a strong long-term fit and high contributor to the team, we need to look at a combination of skills and who they are. Strong candidates don’t necessarily have to come with a farming background as long as transferable skills are present. As important, if not arguably more important than the transferable skills, are the individual traits of the person. Those key indicators will lead to a more solid conclusion if they are a fit for the job and the team. These are three must-have interview questions that will allow you to better understand each candidate.

1. In your past jobs, of the various tasks, roles and projects, what have you enjoyed doing the most, and what have you enjoyed the least?

This question is geared toward learning what candidates have a passion for and if you have work on your farm that aligns with what they enjoy. Their resumes might be filled with equipment-operating and maintenance experience, but in asking this question, you discover they love to operate and hate to work on equipment.

Just because they can do that work doesn’t mean they prefer to. If the role you have is 50% maintenance, you will want to explore further if this is the right job for them. A follow-up question is asking the reasons for leaving one job and moving to another. The answer to these movements indicates what the candidates value and what’s important to them in a company.

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2. What is your superpower; what is it that you are naturally good at and bring to the table wherever you work?

If you look at everyone on your current team, each person has something of value he or she brings the table. You might have someone who is the “technology guy,” the “cautious one” or the “team builder.” Find out what characteristic is a natural tendency of the candidate, and consider if that brings value to your farm.

A follow-up question would be to explore his or her weaker areas. Questions such as: What’s the toughest feedback you’ve ever received or in what areas do you feel you still need to grow? How the candidate answers a question about his or her weaker aspects says a lot.

3. If we spoke to your coworkers and managers, and asked them what’s it like to work with you, how would they describe you?

This is one of our favorite go-to questions. Most candidates are taken by surprise and haven’t given it a lot of thought as to how someone would describe them. You’ll typically get genuine answers to this question as it takes a different angle.

Getting an understanding of the answer to this question helps with onboarding a new person. You already have some insight to how they might interact with you on a daily basis and how they would best be managed.

Farm managers have a tendency to place too much emphasis on someone’s work history. Smart people with the right attitude, motivation and natural tendencies that align with the farm will get up to speed quickly.

We’re seeing a trend as the dynamics on the farm are changing along with the talent needed to support the operation. There’s a reason we see more engineers and individuals from other industries on farms.

The progressive farm operations have already come to the realization you need to look at the whole package someone is bringing to the table and pay attention less to what’s listed on the resume. Just ask my most recent client who mentioned some of his hires have no agriculture experience. One has a sociology degree. In his words, “We have to find the right person.”

Editor’s Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm, and is the founder of AgHires (aghires.com), a national employment recruiting service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email her at lori@aghires.com.

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