Good staff are the backbone of any agricultural or rural business. Getting the right person for the job has never been more crucial in today’s competitive environment and getting it wrong can lead to a prolonged headache.


Before embarking on the rigorous process of recruitment, it is worthwhile addressing a number of key areas irrespective of whether the job is a top managerial post or casual harvest staff. Tom Brunt, a farm business consultant with Smiths Gore, provides some pointers.

Job description

This should lay out in black and white exactly what is expected in the role you are offering and the key attributes that you would like to see in potential applicants. This initial statement sets the boundaries for any future discussions. To avoid confusion later down the line it is essential that you have the agreement of any partners, family members or directors as to exactly what the role will entail. Providing a job description to applicants selected for interview can provide answers to many of their questions and provide a firm basis for the interview.

Advertising

You can often find the right employee via word of mouth, but it is advisable to openly market the position because there may be other, better qualified candidates out there. If an applicant does come to the process through word-of-mouth then it is still important to follow the correct steps before offering a job. Remember the recruitment process is a two-way street; while you want to attract the best in field, you also want to be sure that the candidates genuinely want to work with you; anyone who takes the role half-heartedly will not last the distance. Adverts should be simple, honest and straightforward, including an explanation about your organisation, the key skills required for the role, along with the salary package if you are willing to disclose it.

Interview

Interviews can be a daunting process both for the employer and the candidate. It is important to generate the right atmosphere where candidates feel comfortable enough to discuss their experience openly. Thorough preparation will make sure that you get the best out of all the candidates, and put you in a stronger position to make the selections for a shortlist. Often the position will be working in a small team, within a family business and living within a small community. This means that discovering more about the applicant’s life outside of work such hobbies and interests is an important part of assessing their overall suitability. Running a Lord Sugar Apprentice-style operation (while highly entertaining) may not be appropriate, but it is perfectly acceptable at second interview stage to ask candidates to prepare a presentation on a subject related to the role or the industry. This is a good test of their wider experience and knowledge and will give employers the opportunity to sort the wheat from the chaff. The applicant should also have the opportunity and be encouraged to ask questions.

The package

Be straightforward in your negotiations about salary, pension and perks as it will only lead to resentment if candidates feel they have been misled in any way. If you are offering accommodation as part of the package, make sure that it is clear what utility bills the employee is responsible for (if any). It is advisable to let the applicant view the property before the job offer is made as accommodation can often be the deal breaker.

Do’s and Don’ts

Do:

* Compose a clearly thought-out job description with a list of responsibilities

* Follow up applicants’ references

* Ensure adverts are clearly worded with an accurate description of the job

* Have a formal contract of employment prepared

* Arrange correct notices and tenancy agreements before an employee moves in

* Research remuneration packages to ensure you are offering something the business can afford, but is also in line with the market

* Plan interview questions in advance and take notes during the interview

* Think about how personalities will fit with the current team

Don’t:

* Promise something you can’t deliver, both in the advert and the interview

* Employ the best of a bad bunch – it’s better to start the process again from scratch and cover the role in the interim

* Rely on the candidate’s words at interview – ask them for evidence and examples that prove they can do the job

* Rely on only one reference or recommendation

* Assume the job is the same as it was five years ago – this is an opportunity to review needs, roles and outsourcing

* Ignore the legalities, eg. retirement legislation, equal opportunities, ageism

* Create risk by becoming too reliant on one individual for certain jobs

* Put off thinking about family succession and planning for the future


Tom Brunt is a farm business consultant with Smiths Gore and is instrumental in the employment of candidates for Smiths Gore managed farms and estates


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