12 September 1997

THE SECRET OF GOOD

STAFF RECRUITMENT

Think hard about the job involved and the type of person you want to fill it before you rush into print with a job advert, explains Guy Plenderleith from Brown and Co

RECRUITING staff is something a farmer may tackle only a few times in a lifetime, so it is important to get it right first time.

When a vacancy arises, you should first be certain that it is a job which needs filling. If so, could it be filled from within by existing staff? Would it make sense to contract in some services? asks Guy Plenderleith of Brown & Cos Bury St Edmunds office.

If you are satisfied that there definitely is a vacancy which you cannot meet from within the business, then time spent assessing the job and defining the type of person you are looking for will be worthwhile.

"Assuming it is a farm managers job, for example, look at the job, be honest about what you will expect them to do," says farming business consultant Mr Plenderleith, who advises drawing up a job description for the position.

"Will they be responsible for buying inputs and selling produce, for formulating plans, preparing cash flows and budgeting? What areas of paperwork will you expect them to be responsible for ? It will be important to make this clear at the interview."

Paperwork continues to be an area of difficulty both for farmers and for many managers. "A lot of people find it difficult even though they are well qualified. This may especially be the case where they are working long hours outside during the day and then coming home in the evening to a pile of paperwork."

As well as defining the areas of responsibility, you must have a clear idea about what type of person you are looking for, and consider what they may find attractive or otherwise about the position.

"Who will they have to interact with – are there other farm staff, advisers, consultants, and so on? Would you prefer a married person. If so, is the farm isolated and what might the spouse think of the position? What salary level will be expected and how will it and performance be reviewed?"

Deciding where to advertise depends on the job, but Mr Plenderleith advises that national farming press suits the purpose for most farm manager positions.

Willing to relocate

Regional papers are also worthwhile, and should draw a good response in particular for secretarial positions. However, for a very good farm secretarys job, perhaps with accommodation, then candidates might be willing to relocate, and so national press could be considered in such cases.

"But do not forget personal recommendation. Use your contacts to find out if there are any good people coming onto the labour market in your area."

The "situations wanted" columns may reveal suitable candidates. Many people mistakenly assume that if an individual is advertising for a job, there is something amiss. Not so, says Mr Plenderleith. There are many genuine reasons for good farm staff being temporarily out of work – redundancy, farms changing hands and the retirement of employers for example.

"The advert needs to sell the job. Make it look good and give the impression that you know what you want – make it sound positive and attractive. People are often cautious about giving too much detail about the exact location of the job to avoid being contacted directly by unsuccessful applicants," says Mr Plenderleith.

Take time to prepare for the interviews and consider whether you might benefit from some outside help with this. There is a skill in asking the right questions, says Mr Plenderleith.

"Ask open questions, not those which can be answered by just a yes or no. You have to dig fairly deep yet put the interviewee at their ease."

One alternative to professional outside help is to ask a friend whose opinion you value to sit in on the interviews. This may help to avoid some awkward pauses.

As well as verifying the information presented in the cv, you need to dig a little deeper and look at the motivation and ambition of the person you are interviewing. How long are they likely to stay in the job, for example?

"Farmers are understandably very reluctant to employ secretarial staff who might only stay for a couple of years. During that time they will be entrusted with a lot of personal details," says Mr Plenderleith.

The more time you spend with an interviewee, the better you will be able to appraise the persons suitability for the job. A walk round the farm or buildings, or a visit to the prospective accommodation may reveal far more than you learned about the person in the formal atmosphere of the interview.

Most farm manager jobs would require a shortlist for first interviews and then a second interview for, say, the three or four top candidates, advises Mr Plenderleith.

Once the job is offered and accepted, be considerate about inducting the new employee into the business, he says, rather than expecting him or her to get on with it just because they seem to have the appropriate experience.

Taking the time to introduce other staff members and any farm advisers or regular visitors will help, as well as familiarising him with local suppliers. This is often not done very well by farmers, in the experience of Mr Plenderleith.

While a contract of employment is not a legal requirement, the delivery of a written statement of employment within two months of a new employee starting work is. This must state basics including the place of work, salary, how often payment is made, hours of work and holiday entitlement amongst other matters.

As a safeguard for both parties, Mr Plenderleith advises using a solicitor to draw this up.

Dont forget training

"Once you have your new member of staff in place, dont forget training needs – this is something which is often poorly handled on farms, especially with the pressure to cut labour."

Training does not necessarily mean courses and time away from the farm. "It can be lateral – explain decisions so that staff understand why things are changing. Take the time to talk more and make them feel part of it."

Before you advertise for a new staff member for the farm, check that the job cannot be filled by existing workers in the business or that the work could not be done just as well by bringing in an outside contractor.

Guy Plenderleith of Brown & Cos Bury St Edmunds office (right) says farmers may want a professional adviser or friend to sit in on interview.