Recruiting and Selecting Agricultural Employees



As an owner or manager of an agricultural business, you are faced with daily challenges. One of the greatest challenges—and perhaps the most important to your business—is hiring a new employee. By creating and following a recruitment and selection process each time you’re faced with this task, you can substantially improve your chances of hiring the best employee for the job.





Upon completion of this module, participants will be able to take the appropriate steps to more effectively recruit and select agricultural employees.


Needs Assessment


It is important to determine exactly what characteristics a potential employee needs to be successful in this position. Consider what special skills, abilities, and personality traits are required for the job. Additionally, make note of any necessary licenses or special certifications.


Writing a Job Description


Writing a thorough job description is an instrumental part of the hiring process. A good job description gives potential employees an accurate idea of what the position requires and therefore helps them to decide whether or not to apply for the job.


The first aspect of the job description is the time requirement; for example, determining whether the position is full-time, part-time, seasonal or temporary. In order to further analyze the job, it might help to answer basic questions about the employee’s duties, such as: Will this person have to read, write, drive, operate machinery, manage other employees, etc.? An employer should take no skills for granted. Below is an example of a job description for a crop supervisory position with a family farm and swine operation.


The most important things to keep in mind are the needs of your business. Only when you determine what you expect out of an employee can you recruit and select the best candidate.



Position Summary: The swine production associate will be involved in all aspects of breeding, farrowing, feeding, health care and handling production. Additionally, duties include maintenance responsibilities on machinery, buildings, and livestock equipment.

Background Information: This is a three-generation, expanding family farm that operates a 4,500-acre diversified crop operation and a 1,400-sow farrow-to-finish swine facility. The farm has a strong reputation for long-term employment, with employee service ranging from 5-30 years. The business is currently expanding and values employees who are interested in increased responsibility and opportunities for promotion.


  • Self-motivated
  • Mechanically inclined
  • Enjoy working with other people
  • Experience/knowledge in crop production
  • Commercial Drivers License (preferred but not required)

Opportunities and Responsibilities:

  • Swine Production: The swine production associate will perform and make decisions relative to breeding, feeding, handling and other production operations. Swine management and operating equipment will be an important part of the position.
  • Maintenance and Repairs: Outside of the production season, the employee will be responsible for machinery repair and the development and maintenance of livestock and production equipment by utilizing mechanical, welding, and electrical skills.
  • Working with Personnel: The swine production associate will work with a team of other employees and train new personnel. An ability to work with others is critical to the success of this position.


Locating and Recruiting Candidates


Once you have created a comprehensive job description, it is time to begin the recruitment process. There are a variety of popular methods for recruitment. Some of the most practiced include:

  • Word-of-mouth
  • Internal job postings
  • Employee referral programs
  • Employment agencies
  • Job placement agencies at educational institutions
  • Job fairs
  • Job recruitment
  • Web sites
  • Classified advertising


Concentrated recruitment efforts are generally more effective long-term than a shotgun approach where efforts are scattered and include random groups of people, such as advertising a herdsman position in a national industry magazine rather than a regional newspaper. No matter which recruitment methods best suit your company’s needs, the most effective tool is having a company people want to work for. Being a great employer makes it easier to retain quality people and develop a reputation of being the employer of choice.


Evaluating Resumes


Once word has spread about the open position, the resumes will begin to arrive. One way to set your company apart as a choice employer is to acknowledge each resume with a brief note or e-mail. In this case, going the extra mile can really pay off. Even if an applicant is not chosen for the job, he or she is likely to tell others about your operation’s professionalism.


Before thoroughly evaluating each resume, it is important to set off blocks of time where you are able to go through at each setting. Trying to analyze 20 or more resumes in one sitting will only lead to frustration and confusion. As you are reading through the resumes, it may help to divide them into three piles: one for the candidates you wish to interview; one for the candidates you may interview; and one for the candidates you will not interview.


When evaluating the resumes, it is important to not only consider the requirements of the job, but the personality and attitude of the ideal person for the job. Additionally, consider the professionalism and neatness of the resume, and note any typos or grammatical errors.


The Interview Process


Preparation is the key to a successful interview. Before scheduling any interviews, you may want to do a pre-screening by telephone, calling your top candidates first. During this phone call, you should discuss:

  • General information about the company and the position
  • The applicant’s current employment situation and why he or she is interested in your vacancy
  • Salary requirements


Interviews should be scheduled with applicants who continue to meet your criteria. Applicants who do not appear to meet the company’s needs should be thanked for their interest and time and told you are looking for someone whose background better meets your requirements.


Before the formal interview, you should carefully prepare a list of core questions to ask each candidate, as well as any specific to one applicant, such as clarifying areas in the person’s job history. Preparation will help you keep the interview rolling and guarantee that the format and questions are the same for each applicant. If possible, the same person or persons should interview all candidates.  Below are a few sample interview questions:

  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • Why do you wish to leave your current employer?
  • How would your current supervisor describe you?
  • Tell me about your experience with _____. (A task or skill necessary for the position.)
  • What is your idea of the ideal manager?
  • What is your ideal job?
  • What types of people do you find it difficult/easy to work with? Why?
  • Do you have the appropriate licenses, degrees, etc. necessary to perform this job?
  • Tell me about a high stress situation in which you had to maintain a positive attitude.
  • If you were asked to perform a task that was not in your job description, how would you respond?


Although there are many great interview questions, there are a few topics that must legally be avoided. Some of them are:

  • Race or ethnicity
  • Religion
  • Sexual preference
  • Financial Status
  • Disability and/or medical problems (You may only ask whether or not the applicant can perform the essential duties of the job description.)


An efficient interviewer does the following:

  • Tries to make the applicant feel at ease
  • Exudes confidence and controls the content and timing of the meeting
  • Keeps the discussion job-related
  • Treats all candidates equally
  • Listens carefully and asks follow-up questions
  • Asks for references
  • Writes down general impressions immediately following the interview


Once you have asked all of your questions, it is important to answer any questions the applicant may have about the job. If appropriate and time allows, you may give the applicant a tour of the workplace after the interview. At the close of the meeting, let the applicant know what will happen next.




After completing the interviews, it is important to evaluate the candidates to determine which one or ones would best fit the position. Once the field has been narrowed, it is time to perform reference checks on the top applicants. Recommendations from former employers speak volumes and should be an essential part of the selection process. Finally, if the decision is still a difficult one, consider the following:

  • Does this candidate possess the core skills, experience and competence necessary?
  • Will this candidate thrive in the operation’s environment?
  • Does this job meet the candidate’s needs?


Once you have identified the candidate you wish to hire, make sure you have the appropriate approval and the salary range available for the position prior to extending an offer of employment.


After the successful applicant has accepted the position, all candidates should be informed of the outcome of the search — this is especially important for those who are internal.


Record Keeping


Record keeping is a vital component of the recruitment process. It is important to maintain various records, such as a current job description, recruitment methods and sources, applications, evaluation logs, candidates interviewed, names of the persons providing references, interview questions reference questions, the candidate selected, and the reasons for selecting the candidate. All notes should be business-related.



Making it Work


Recruiting and selecting the right people for your business is a significant challenge. There are no easy solutions to these problems because every situation is so unique. The best advice for managers who are looking to recruit is to be innovative, persistent and realistic. Recognizing the strengths of your business and the positions you offer will go a long way toward enticing quality people to build careers with your business.


Reference to products in this publication is not intended to be an endorsement to the exclusion of others which may be similar. Persons using such products assume responsibility for their use in accordance with current directions of the manufacturer. The information represented herein is believed to be accurate but is in no way guaranteed. The authors, reviewers, and publishers assume no liability in connection with any use for the products discussed and make no warranty, expressed or implied, in that respect, nor can it be assumed that all safety measures are indicated herein or that additional measures may be required. The user therefore, must assume full responsibility, both as to persons and as to property, for the use of these materials including any which might be covered by patent. This material may be available in alternative formats.


Information developed for the Pork Information Gateway, a project of the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence supported fully by USDA/Agricultural Research Service, USDA/Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, Pork Checkoff, NPPC, state pork associations from Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and Utah, and the Extension Services from several cooperating Land-Grant Institutions including Iowa State University, North Carolina State University, University of Minnesota, University of Illinois, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, Purdue University, The Ohio State University, South Dakota State University, Kansas State University, Michigan State University, University of Wisconsin, Texas A & M University, Virginia Tech University, University of Tennessee, North Dakota State University, University of Georgia, University of Arkansas, and Colorado State University