Purdue University

Cooperative Extension Service

West Lafayette, IN 47907

Developing and Implementing Sound Hiring Practices

Suzanne Karberg,
Instructional Design Specialist
Department of Agricultural Economics

Key Points


One reason small businesses often experience personnel problems is the assumption that a family operation does not need to use formal hiring practices. But any business operation, no matter what its size, can benefit from developing and implementing a personnel policy that includes a carefully considered set of hiring procedures.

Personnel decisions are too important to be left to chance. Good managers, regardless of the size of their operations, use foresight and planning when assigning and hiring personnel. Certainly this is true for farm businesses. Permanent employees of farm operations, whether full or part time, are no less important than land or equipment. They deserve and require attention and care.

A clearly outlined personnel policy that takes into account the needs of the operation as well as the skills of those involved can reduce tension and lay a strong foundation for future growth and changes. Sound farm hiring (and firing) practices can save countless hours of frustration for employers and employees, alike.

Determine your farm business personnel needs.

Your first consideration in developing a sound personnel policy is to determine what is actually needed from and expected of your personnel, including family members. Let's look at a situation where some planning and clear communication before hiring a new employee could have prevented problems.

Case in Point

When Sherry and Steve Weaver married, Sherry taught school and Steve helped his dad farm. Five years into their marriage and right after the birth of their first child, Steve's dad passed away and Steve became the farm manager. Sherry and Steve decided that Sherry would not return to teaching for a few years, but stay home with the baby and help with the farm business.

For the next five years, things went smoothly. However, when their child entered kindergarten, Sherry resumed her teaching career. By this time, her farm responsibilities had grown, and it became evident that her workload would have to be covered by hiring a part-time employee.

The Weavers found, however, that this wasn't as easy as they thought. They went through several bad hiring experiences before they recognized the problem. They were expecting the employee to be just like Sherry when what they really needed was someone who could perform the tasks on the farm that Sherry had done.

What the Weavers learned was that good hiring practices start with an accurate assessment of the farm's personnel needs.

To begin the assessment of your personnel needs, list all of the tasks performed on the farm. Next, list the individual responsible for each of these tasks. Then, determine what your own strengths and weaknesses are. Ask yourself and the other individuals who work on the farm what they enjoy doing and what they consider their strengths.

As you begin to write down the various tasks, it will become evident that some areas of the farm are working quite well while others need improvement. This is an ideal time to restructure tasks or reorganize workloads. This complete assessment should show you the personnel needs of your farm business.

Write job descriptions.

Your next step is to develop a hiring procedure. This begins with writing job descriptions for all positions, which will help work with current employees and will also help you determine your current personnel needs. A sample job description (Form A) has been included to give you ideas, but you should customize it to fit your particular situation.

Turn again to the list you prepared of all the tasks on your farm. Cluster those tasks that are related, and begin to categorize specific job skills needed to perform each group of tasks. Be certain to include those tasks performed by family members even if they are not officially on the payroll.

When writing current job descriptions, it is wise to match present employees with tentative job descriptions. Evaluate your present employees' skills, including their past experience. Next consider their personalities, needs, and desires.

Once the tasks of matching current employees with job descriptions is completed and all changes are satisfactorily in place, the next step is to formalize job descriptions for new personnel. When preparing them, it's a good idea to consider wage structure, which is discussed in the next section.

Customize your employment package.

Before beginning your search for a new employee, you should have an employment package ready. This package of information does not have to be a professionally produced personnel manual, but it does need to include certain key sections of information.

Wages are often thought of as the prime motivational tool in personnel matters. Care must be taken in establishing wage rates. First, the rate of pay should reflect the difficulty of the job, for example, unskilled, semi-skilled, skilled, supervisory, etc. Compensation may include wages, fringe benefits, and other incentives and should be competitive with or better than the going rates in the area. (Notice that Form A, the sample job description, includes benefits, wages, and training opportunities.)

The employment package should also contain clearly defined information about the benefits offered to the employee. Even if the only benefit you offer is "all the beef your immediate family uses," make certain it is written and discussed so that the employee will understand what that means. The starting wage and opportunity for advancement should also be spelled out. Again, a simple statement may be sufficient, but these issues should be addressed.

Fringe benefits are an integral part of the compensation package and may be just as important to some potential employee as the wage/salary offer. These may include training; housing; farm produce; health, life, and retirement insurance; use of a farm vehicle and farm tools; fuel for personal car; garden plot; sick leave, and family emergency leave; paid or unpaid vacations; financial assistance for educational programs and farm meetings; uniforms, etc.

Since employees are apt to compare their benefit packages with what their friends are receiving in non-farm employment, viewing the benefits provided from both your viewpoint and your employee's is important. Is a house provided as a benefit to the employee or because you could not easily rent it? "Beef for your family" may not be an important benefit to an unmarried employee who prefers chicken and fish.

Any important rules or considerations need to be written for prospective employees to accompany their job descriptions if hired. It is perfectly legitimate to consider your own personnel preferences when preparing your employment package. And it is only fair to the employee that these preferences be in writing. If you are a non-smoker, for example, and feel that employees should not smoke while on your property, then specify that. As an employer you have the right to specify rules; realize, however, that if you become too rigid, you may lose potentially good employees.

You should also formulate annual evaluation plans and describe the process fully. (Don't forget to mark your calendar and follow through on your employee's review.)

Other materials you should prepare for your employment package are an application for employment form (Form B) and an employee interview form (Form C). Again, remember to customize the samples provided.

You will want a written agreement for both you and your new employee to sign when an offer of employment has been made and accepted. Remember to add specifics appropriate to your situation if using the sample written agreement (Form D).

Recruit candidates for job openings.

Success in hiring employees to match job descriptions may depend on how you recruit or advertise your available position. If you talk to neighbors, which can be a very effective way to announce open positions, be certain to mention the qualifications that you are seeking. For example, if previous farm experience is a necessary priority rather than just a plus, make certain to present the information that way. On the other hand, if you would rather train a recent high school graduate, then specify that to neighbors.

Other good sources are local teachers of Agricultural Science and Business (formerly Vocational Agriculture). Asking current employees with whom you are satisfied may be a good way to find additional workers. It is likely that people will recommend others that they like and think would make good workers, so ask for referrals from people you respect.

When advertising in the local or area newspapers, include a basic description of the kind of applicant you are seeking, along with a brief description of your farm operation. If you feel a particular benefit is especially enticing to applicants, then mention it in the ad. Since newspaper advertising can be expensive, be as concise as possible in your descriptions. At the same time remember that the more information provided, the fewer unqualified applicants will apply.

Once you have identified or attracted job applicants, make certain to use a screening process that keeps the number of applicants interviewed to a reasonable level. One way to help screen the applicants is to ask a few key questions by telephone before setting up an appointment.

Take the time during this initial telephone interview to mention pertinent facts about the job, including the important benefits and at least the major duties. Also ask applicants a few questions about their background to get a feel for their experience and qualifications. Since a good interview should take more than an hour, preliminary screening of the applicant's skills will prevent wasted time.

Case in Point

When Julie graduated from high school, she heard of an opening on the Smit farm located only nineteen miles from her parents farm. She was thrilled because it was close enough to allow her to live at home and would provide the on-the-job training she wanted in the farm management area. However, she did not know the Smits were looking for temporary, short-term help rather than a trainee.

Julie called and scheduled an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Smit. She was excited about the interview and devoted a lot of effort to preparing for it. She awoke with anticipation on the day of the interview and took special care getting ready. She entered the interview with a hopeful outlook, only to be disappointed when she learned that the kind of position offered did not include long-term training and employment opportunities.

The Smits regretted that they had wasted Julie's time as well as their own.

The Smits could have saved time and identified potential employees more readily had they described their available position as a short-term opening when telling friends and neighbors about it, or in telephone conversations with potential applicants.

When you are satisfied that you want to interview the applicant, send the applicant a copy of the application for employment (Form B) and request that the filled-out form be brought to the interview.

Interview the candidates.

Organize the interview before it begins. Make notes so that you will not forget anything. If you are interviewing more than one person, ask the same questions of all applicants to get a more objective basis for judgment. A sample employee interview form (Form C) has been included to help you accomplish this. Time spent in an interview asking the right questions and giving job information could be the most important time you ever spend with an employee.

During the interview, try to make the applicant feel comfortable. Explain the job as accurately and as positively as you can. If the applicant's family will be involved in the job, then they should be involved in the interview. If you are offering housing, then the family should be able to see not only the farm, but also the housing arrangements. If your family plays a large part in the farm business, they should meet the applicant at the time of the interview. Remember that if you mention a wage range, the applicant will immediately identify with the high end.

Even when an interview goes extremely well, it is best not to make on-the-spot hiring decisions. It is usually not a good idea to make wage commitments or an actual job offer during an interview. You will want to allow yourself some time to reflect on the employees skills and situation before deciding. The applicant, too, needs time for reflection. And, no matter how positive your impressions of the job applicant may be, never fail to check references!

When closing the interview, specify a date for making a final decision. Let the applicant know that there will be plenty of time for more detailed discussion if you decide to make a job offer. Being enthusiastic and ending the interview on a positive note is a good idea because it lets the applicant know that you feel positive about your business and are looking forward to welcoming new employees.

Hire the best applicant for the job.

It is important to separate emotion from logic when hiring. You will want to select the candidate who best fits the job description. For example, when looking for someone to help with the dairy operation, concentrate on the qualifications and skills that applicants have relating to dairy experience. You may find someone you really like whose personality would fit with yours perfectly in a work situation-but not if they lack needed skills. After you have considered all factors and discussed a decision with your family, make a selection. Remember you must feel comfortable and confident about the candidate you have chosen.

When you have made an offer of employment to the selected candidate and it has been accepted, then schedule a time to sign the previously prepared written agreement (Form D). Wage, incentive, and benefit information must be included. Make certain that all legal requirements are met. Ignorance is no defense when it comes to labor laws, so be certain that you have a current copy of your state's rules and regulations. If you need assistance, your county Extension agent will help you obtain information concerning competent legal advice.

After your new employee has been hired and a written agreement signed, then notify the other candidates you interviewed. This not only gives you the opportunity to let them know another candidate has been chosen, but allows you the opportunity to thank them for their interest. Keep a file with their credentials and any notes taken during their interviews. If you have job openings again, this "possible employment file" can serve as a starting place in the recruitment process.


A description of the hiring process would not be complete without mentioning the firing process. If you have been careful in making the hiring decision, it is less likely you will need to fire an employee. Sometimes, however, it is inevitable that new employees do not work out.

The more open communication that is established in the hiring process the less uncomfortable the firing decision will be. Sometimes employees who find themselves in a job that is mismatched with their skills are relieved when the employer talks with them about it. Ending a person's employment does not have to be an unpleasant affair. If the selection and hiring process have been handled carefully and thoroughly, the way will be paved for correcting the mistake smoothly and without bad feelings.

As with so many other areas in farming, the more experience you gain in the hiring process, the easier it will become. A good employee is one of the most valuable assets a farming operation can have.

Key Reminders

The following reminders will help you as you hire new employees.

1. Lay the foundation for good hiring practices even if you are a family operation.

2. Develop a personnel package before you begin advertising an available position.

3. Don't rush the recruitment process.

4. Plan and conduct your interviews carefully.

5. Hire the applicant that best fits the job description.

6. Hire carefully! Good hiring practices prevent future personnel problems.

Form A

Job Description

1. Position:__________________________________________________________

2. Duties:____________________________________________________________




3. Authority:_________________________________________________________


4. Minimum knowledge requirements:____________________________________




5. Physical requirements:_____________________________________________



6. Schedule (time):___________________________________________________

7. Supervisor:________________________________________________________

8. Wage Range:________________________________________________________

9. Vacation and Days off:_____________________________________________



Form B

Application for Employment

Position for which Applying___________________

Name of applicant_____________________________

Address_______________________________________ Telephone(___)________


Special training:____________________________________________________

Work history: (List previous employers for the last ten years,
beginning with the most recent.)

Employer:______________________________________ Telephone:(___)_______

Dates worked:________________________  Wage or salary:________________


Reason for leaving:___________________________________________________

Employer:______________________________________ Telephone:(___)_______

Dates worked: _______________________  Wage or salary:________________


Reason for leaving:___________________________________________________

Employer:______________________________________ Telephone:(___)_______

Dates worked:________________________  Wage or salary:________________


Reason for leaving:___________________________________________________

Health problems or physical impairment which would interfere with
strenuous work:


Name:_________________  Address:_________________ Telephone:(___)_____

Name:_________________  Address:_________________ Telephone:(___)_____

Name:_________________  Address:_________________ Telephone:(___)_____

To the best of my knowledge, the above information is correct.

_________________________  ______

(Signature of Applicant)  (Date)

Form C

Employee Interview Form

Name of applicant______________________________________

Address ______________________________________ Telephone(___)_________

Ask applicant questions which would encourage expanding on information
given in application form, such as

1. Reasons for applying for job ______________________________________

2. Type of work experience ___________________________________________

3. Favorite past duties_______________________________________________

4. Least favorite past duties_________________________________________

5. Strengths _________________________________________________________

6. Weaknesses___________________________________________________________

7. Personal goals_____________________________________________________


Consider the following qualities when interviewing the candidate.
(Check those qualities candidate seems to possess.)

1. Leadership_________________________________________________________

2. Ability to work with others________________________________________

3. Willingness to learn_______________________________________________

4. Willingness to work hard___________________________________________

5. Other qualities important to job___________________________________






Form D

Employment Agreement

I ____________________, agree to employ _____________________, to work
on my farm, located ____________________. The terms of this agreement
begin (date)______________ and will continue for one year, at which
time an employee review will be conducted and a new agreement signed.
If either party wishes to terminate this agreement prior to one year,
a written ______________ week notice will be given to the other party.

Both employer and employee agree to the following.

1. Wage rate____________________

2. Taxes to be withheld (yes or no)_____________________ 

3. Social Security to be withheld (amount)____________________ 

4. Housing, if applicable, includes:(List specifics.)_________________

5. Time off includes: (List holidays, etc.)___________________________ 

6. Vacation includes: (List number of days per year and

7. Sick pay includes: (List specifics.)_______________________________

8. Breaks_____________________________________________________________

9. Bonus plan: ( Describe, if applicable.)____________________________

10. Other benefits: (Describe, if applicable.)________________________

__________________      _________
(Signature of Employer)   (Date)

__________________      _________
(Signature of Employer)   (Date)

The author wishes to acknowledge the contributions of Kenneth H. Thomas and Bernard L. Erven, whose NCR Publication 329, "Farm Personnel Management," served as a valuable source of information.


Cooperative Extension Work in Agriculture and Home Economics, State of Indiana, Purdue University and U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperating. H.A. Wadsworth, Director, West Lafayette, IN. Issued in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. It is the policy of the Cooperative Extension Service of Purdue University that all persons shall have equal opportunity and access to our programs and facilities.