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Recruitment – a dark art or a simple science?

In this month’s edition of British Dairying Paul looks at the science of recruitment and provides his top tips.

Recruiting the right staff for your farming business can be one of the biggest headaches we face.

“Many farming businesses appoint in desperation, hoping the person will fit into their team, but discovering, just a few weeks or months into their probation, that the person isn’t right for their business” suggest James Harris, Recruitment Manager at REAL Success.

But how do you avoid this situation? Here are 6 key areas to consider to give you the best chance of recruitment success.

1. Understand the recruitment process

Before you set out to recruit a new role, you need to ensure your recruitment process is up to the task. “For many farmers, they’re so worried about finding someone, they hastily place an advert on social media, arrange an interview on farm but then simply show the Candidate around the farm whilst having an informal chat.  This isn’t a recruitment process,” suggests James.  There are up to twelve specific stages – from being crystal clear on the role you are seeking to fill to interviewing professionally with prepared questions and ensuring you check out references.  A trial day is also essential to ensure that the candidate has the skills you need along with profiling all candidates so you know how they will fit into your team. You also need a robust and structured induction programme to give the new employee the best chance of success.  Try to identify areas that are unnecessary or weak in your current approach and could be improved.

2. Move quickly

Most candidates will have applied for more than one role. If they’ve applied to an advert you’ve placed, get back to them within twenty-four hours.  If you promise to call them “in a few days”, they may have moved on to another hungrier employer.  If you’re working with a recruiter, respond quickly to their requests for a response on candidates.  Don’t wait for over week to interview the candidate as it’s possible that they will attend an interview before yours and then let you know they’ve taken a job elsewhere. “The clock is ticking and the employer who shows the greatest interest will often win the candidate’s signature,” says James.

3. Selecting the right candidate

There are two aspects to consider which can be referred to as “Hard Skills” and “Soft skills.”

Hard skills

Hard skills are the technical talents and knowledge needed to perform the role. If an employee doesn’t have the technical skills they need, then you may face significant challenges managing their performance. You can assess hard skills by assigning tasks during a trial day or even at interview, and by checking their employment history via references and their CV.

Hard skills can always be trained or refined. So, remember to plan training and development to support your new staff member in their employment. This will also act as an incentive for them to take the role, knowing that their skills will be nurtured.

Soft skills

Soft skills are what make an employee a good fit for the business. They’re important because they will determine whether the employee:

  • Is a good fit within your team
  • Has the right work ethic
  • Has good organisation and time management skills
  • Is adaptable and flexible

To assess whether the individual will fit into your team, you need to understand the personality styles of the existing team first. There are various systems you can use such as VITA Profiling, which has been developed specifically for the agriculture sector.  Then, when you profile the candidate ahead of the interview, you will have an idea of how they are likely to interact with your existing team.

To establish if the candidate has the right soft skills for the job, you may need to ask questions during the interview and trial day.  For example, you could ask:

“How do you prioritise your workload when there are multiple tasks with the same deadline?” or “When someone doesn’t complete a task you’ve asked them to, how will you handle this?” or “how do you measure success in your current role?”

Presenting tasks and scenarios will show how the candidate will tackle common scenarios faced in the role and their approach.

4. Meeting staff expectations

Firstly, make sure your job advert accurately describes the role, along with all its perks and benefits. “The purpose of the advert is to simply get people to apply, so talk positively about your farm, keep it simple with the key details but don’t over complicate your advert or over promise anything you cannot deliver” warns James.

A pre-prepared and clear job description is essential to show a new employee what their tasks and responsibilities will be, who they report to and how you expect them to perform.  You also need to provide specific terms and conditions of their employment so having an Employment Contract is the safest way to ensure this is covered.  By law, all employed staff should have a full statement of terms and conditions (often covered by an Employment contract) within the first two months of their employment.  Take some advice from your HR provider if you need help with this.

5. Be honest about money

Times are tough with rising input costs and many farming businesses will be just as concerned about keeping the lights on as meeting salary expectations. For this reason, you may struggle to stay competitive when offering candidates a role on your farm. Salary is often the reason people seek a new job but it’s not always the main priority.  “For many” says James, “particularly those from outside the industry, they’re looking for a sensible work-life balance with less working hours and more time off. So if you can offer this, you’ll be seen as an employer of choice.”

Some might be looking for career development so can you support them in career growth?  Or it may be the working conditions and health and safety record of their previous employer that was poor – can you show them that your conditions are safe and you’ll nurture their well-being?

Don’t make any promises in the interview that you can’t keep as these can come back to haunt you later.

6. Get your foundations in place

In an earlier British Dairying article, we outlined the importance of getting the basics right on the farm and for the interview.  From ensuring your farm looks tidy and well cared for, to providing pleasant staff facilities, well-maintained housing and being on time for the interviews, there are many simple steps you can take to ensure your farm stands out from the crowd.

Recruitment doesn’t need to be a headache but it can be time consuming.  Taking some time and simple steps to give yourself the best chance of recruiting the right person, is a sensible investment in your business. “Many farmers take time to consider their investment in new machinery, land or animals” says James “and yet they rush to recruit their next staff member.” An employee who works on your farm for just four or five years could be an investment of over £100,000 so perhaps it’s worth taking a fresh look at your recruitment process?

REAL Success | Recruitment - Dark art or a simple science? | British Dairying Magazine