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Ag's HR Coach                 11/17 08:04

   Top 3 Interview Questions Every Farm Should Ask

   Asking a job candidate the right questions can help you understand how they 
think, what they enjoy and what their motivations are.

By Lori Culler
DTN HR Columnist

   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. For example, when hiring 
an operator, basic knowledge and a comfort level with larger equipment in 
military or construction might be the perfect fit sans farming experience.

   As important, if not arguably more important than the transferable skills, 
are the individual traits of the person.  We need to work to understand how 
they think, what they enjoy and what their motivations are. 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.

   -- 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 to learn what they have a passion for and if you 
have work on your farm that aligns with what they enjoy. Their resume might be 
filled with equipment-operating and maintenance experience, but in asking this 
question, you discover they love to operate and they 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 
candidate values and what's important to them in a company.

   -- 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 they bring 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 

   A follow-up question would be to explore their weaker areas. Questions such 
as: What's the toughest feedback you've ever received or in what areas you feel 
you still need to grow? How they answer a question about their weaker aspects 
tells a lot about a person. My best candidates often struggle with sharing 
about their best quality and give a laundry list of areas to improve. It's not 
because they are an incompetent hire; they're simply humble and always looking 
to improve.

   -- If we spoke to your co-workers 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. I had a candidate that wasn't as articulate on the phone. When 
I asked him this question, he said he is somewhat of an introvert, he said he 
is working on it, but not much of a talker at work. He said people might 
describe him as quiet but excellent with equipment. That sheds a new 
perspective on his interview. He's an excellent mechanic and was a great hire 
for our client. 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 and not enough emphasis on whether they are a fit for the farm. Smart 
people, with the right attitude, motivation and natural tendencies that align 
with the farm, will get up to speed quickly. Hiring someone with far less 
experience with the right inherent traits will yield a high-producing, 
long-term employee.

   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're seeing more 
engineers on farms and individuals from other industries. 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."

   Join us at the 2017 DTN/The Progressive Farmer Ag Summit Dec. 4-6 in Chicago 
where we will discuss further bringing in outside talent to the farm and where 
to find key employees. Learn more at 


   Editor's Note: Lori Culler grew up on a vegetable and grain farm and is the 
founder of AgHires (, a national employment recruiting 
service and online ag job board based in Temperance, Michigan. Email and find other labor management tips under Resources at 


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