Is hiring an opportunity or just a headache? A dairy farmer desperate to hire someone told me that he looked out his kitchen window and said to himself, “If that person who just drove in the driveway makes it to the door and knocks, he is hired.”

Such a hire is likely to bring back a headache and waste an opportunity. This article’s goal is to help understand why this is so and what can help dairy farmers make good on the theme, “Right Person, not Any Person.”

No single hiring recipe fits all dairies. Improved hiring comes from incorporating some new ideas that add to what is already working well. Managers with hiring slip-ups and missed opportunities have the challenge of generating a creative recipe to guide their hiring success.

They can search this article for ideas to help reach the goal of hiring the right people. Ideas are sprinkled through three major sections: (1) Taking advantage of what you control, (2) building a pool of promising applicants and (3) deciding which applicants, if any, qualify as good choices.

Taking advantage of what you control

Hiring is rarely as easy as just picking the best-looking apple from the tree. Nevertheless, there is more opportunity to take advantage of what you control than you would first think. You have control over the extent of your commitment to hiring the right person. Dedication to hiring and a fanatical insistence on success are critical.


Strong commitment to a carefully designed hiring process plays a big role in getting the right people. You, more than anyone else or any other factor, have control of the reputation of your dairy as a place to work.

The better your reputation the more likely you are to attract the high-quality people you need. In fact, these quality people may be seeking you out because of the great things they have heard about your farm as a place to work.

When you make hiring everybody’s responsibility, it means nobody feels driven for success. Putting one person in charge of hiring can have a huge payoff to the business. Hiring will not likely be that person’s only major responsibility, but it can be made vital to the business’s success.

Putting one person in charge of hiring is only a start. Follow up by helping that person to develop the required hiring knowledge, skills and special abilities. Holding that person accountable for hiring the right people and rewarding them for success will likely lead to more of the right people on board.

Base your hiring on what the business needs; not who is available, who needs a job or who seems like a nice person. Keep in mind that job descriptions and determination of qualifications necessary to succeed in the position are also under your control. Decide how you want the position to help the business and what it will take to succeed in the position.

Carefully describe the duties, tasks or activities to be associated with the job. Chose a job title that describes the position, will be attractive to applicants and fits with other job titles you are already using.

Wait just a minute for a timeout from this article to listen to neighboring dairy farmer, Gloomy Gus. He insists that he has something important to say. “The readers of this article will know very well that good workers would cost a dairy farm far more than it can afford to pay.

More importantly, these readers know that dairy work is hard with bad hours, either too hot or too cold and can lead to nothing better than more hard work. If this were not the case, dairy farmers wouldn’t spend so much time complaining about their help.”

Gloomy Gus offers little hope of hiring success. Agreeing with him insults all the happy workers now thriving in their dairy employment. Gloomy Gus helps make our point that taking advantage of what you control is important. You can have a positive attitude toward the opportunity hiring brings your business.

Dairy farms can be exciting, rewarding and fun places to work. Expert managers and leaders understand what their employees want: fairness, opportunity, clear expectations, information about the business, a sense of being important, feedback about performance and how to improve, appreciation and fairness in both monetary and non-monetary rewards.

Giving up on the importance of hiring the right people opens the door to the Gloomy Guses in your business. It also says a great deal about who you have chosen to determine your future. You absolutely control your attitude as well as several things that are critical to the quality of people making up your labor force.

Building a pool of promising applicants

No one method of building a pool of promising applicants is best for every employer in every situation. Experimentation, creativity and taking advantage of your reputation as a choice place to work are especially helpful. Be willing to go after your dream applicant even if she or he seems too good to be true. Surprise the best applicants with your determination to hire right.

Carefully select which applicants you want to interview. Several tools can help you sort out the best from your pool, including: written applications, cover letters in which applicants explain why they are interested in the job and the references listed by applicants. Telephone mini-interviews are often helpful in sorting out desired applicants.

Gloomy Gus is back with a new concern. Dairies often must hire someone NOW! There is not enough time, he says, to do things by the book because of the farm’s desperate labor shortage. Warm bodies are better than no bodies when some of the farm’s best people are threatening to leave if they don’t have more help.

Besides, investing a lot in finding new people and then training them to do things right is a waste of money because they will soon be gone.

What Gus doesn’t see is the importance of preventing the situation he describes. Backup labor, cross-training, excellent communication and building close working relationships with employees greatly reduces the desperate situation Gus is describing.

Even limping through the next few days or weeks until the right people can be found is likely to be better longer-term than hiring people who do not fit the needs of the business. Ask yourself if you would accept, “There is nothing we can do about our situation. We just have to learn to get along with sick calves, mastitis and more debt.”

Of course the answer is no. Then why accept hiring people out of desperation whom you know will likely be failures as employees? Refuse to lower your standards for what you require in new hires.

Deciding which applicants qualify as good choices

Hiring the right person requires effective interviewing. Good-quality applicants expect good-quality interviews. Second-rate interviewing can easily lead to hiring a poor fit. Some general suggestions help point interviewers in the right direction: Choose to make interviewing one of your most important strengths. Learn which are the most significant interviewing practices and then work hard at applying them in each interview.

The most important part of interviewing is asking the right questions. Have more questions ready than you will use. Ask questions that encourage applicants to use their own words in answering. Focus on essential skills applicants should have learned in previous jobs, their accomplishments that have led to increased responsibilities and the relationships they have built.

Avoid questions that can be answered yes or no, e.g., “Do you have a history of being on time for work?” Instead ask a question such as, “What have you learned about the importance of everyone being on time for work?”

Gloomy Gus is persistent with his negative attitudes. “I hate interviewing. I always feel like I’m being had. Applicants make up whatever answers it takes to get a job. If I were ever a job applicant, I would just say thanks for offering me work and then say as little as possible.”

Gloomy Gus has a choice. Learn to interview well or have a competent interviewer do it for him. Being mediocre as an interviewer is not workable if he expects to hire high-quality people.

Check references only for those applicants in whom you have a serious interest in hiring. Be aware that some references will have received legal advice not to respond to any request for a reference. Accept oral references without asking for anything in writing. Ask the same basic questions of all references.

Pay attention to the tone of voice and pauses in responses. Also pay attention to what is not said. Make some notes during the conversation with references to be followed with detailed notes after the conversation.

In conclusion

Investing in terrific employees is more important than keeping labor costs low. Hiring the right people requires planning, training and disciplined follow-through. Being a good place to work is your most powerful hiring tool. Take advantage of what you control. Be creative, different, aggressive and persistent in landing the right person.  PD

Bernie Erven is a professor emeritus at Ohio State University.

Bernie Erven