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Hiring: Get it right the first time

Searching for the ideal employee starts well before you place the want ad

It’s a number that should wake us up: 80 per cent of employee turnover is the result of hiring the wrong person. That’s according to the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), a national non-profit organization focused on addressing human resource issues in the ag sector.

Since hiring and training new employees is a costly and time-consuming process, it makes good business sense to improve our scoring percentage.

Finding the employee with the best fit starts even before you place the want ad, says Dr. Deborah Powell, an associate professor of organizational psychology at the University of Guelph. It pays to take the time to really think about what you want, she says.

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Ask yourself: what tasks are required? What equipment does the employee need to be able to operate? What are the required skills, knowledge, qualifications, and abilities? What are the working conditions and performance expectations? What other duties could this employee perform?

Right up front you need to determine how much of what you are looking for is “trainable” versus finding a candidate who already possesses the necessary knowledge and skills, continues Powell.

Dr. Sara Mann, an associate professor of organizational psychology at the University of Guelph specializing in human resources in the ag sector, agrees. Decide when you are hiring whether it is more important that the person fits with the job or with the organizational culture, she says. “If hiring for a position with specific skills, having a fit between the person and the job is more important, versus hiring someone who may start out at an entry level position and move up within the organization where fitting with the culture of the company would be more important.”

For interviewing your potential candidates, CAHRC offers some suggestions for getting the most benefit from the interview. When developing your interview questions, they will fall into one of three categories. The first type of question is based on job knowledge. What technical information is required to successfully perform the job?

The second type refers to situational questions which explore how candidates would respond in hypothetical job-related situations. For instance, you might ask: “How would you respond to a salesperson trying to talk you into accepting a product switch?”

The third category of questions refers to past behaviour. These attempt to uncover how a candidate actually behaved in job-related situations in the past. According to CAHRC, behavioural questions are the best indicators of future job performance because past behaviour is often the best predictor of future behaviour. These kinds of questions tend to be the most informative, agrees Powell.

On the other hand, questions such as “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses” are less useful, says Powell, who offers several other helpful tips for conducting successful interviews. Be sure to be consistent in the questions you use, take notes, have more than one present for the interviews, and debrief about each interview immediately afterwards while it’s still fresh.

However, before developing your list of questions and conducting the interviews, Powell cautions employers to familiarize themselves with the human rights legislation which has been set out to prevent discrimination. Questions about race, religion, age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender, or mental or physical disabilities should be avoided, she says.

Surprisingly, one of the most common mistakes employers make is in not thinking about the answers they are looking for before doing interviews and not assigning a rating system to the possible responses, says Powell. This leaves interviewers with a lot of notes but no way to rank the applicants to determine which candidate is the best fit.

Another common mistake is for the interviewer to do too much of the talking. A rule of thumb, according to CAHRC, is for the interviewee to do 80 per cent of the talking during the interview. This may require the interviewer to ask additional questions in order to encourage shy or quiet applicants to open up more.

Some farms develop very sophisticated hiring protocols. For instance, Westcoast Vegetables near Vancouver has been having good success with a four-stage interview process to find the best managers and supervisors for the greenhouse vegetable operation. A human resources (HR) consultant looks after advertising and pre-screening potential candidates, then co-owner Ron Van Marrewyk does a quick 15-minute interview with the potential employee to determine fit. This goes both ways, says Van Marrewyk. “Are they a fit for us and are we a fit for them?”

In the next stage, both Ron and his brother Ray, the other co-owner, conduct a more elaborate interview. After that comes a third interview which includes other team members from the same department. At this stage, psychometric profile tests are administered by the HR consultant to determine preferences for learning styles, sociability, decision-making, and independence. In the final interview, financial compensation, start date and other details are discussed.

Psychometric tests and assessments can be used to help employers better understand potential employees, says Michelle Painchaud, a Winnipeg-based HR consultant. “Typically, what employers see during the interview process is the tip of the iceberg,” she says. Psychometric tools help employers see what’s at the bottom of the iceberg. Cognitive ability tests, aptitude tests, logic tests, reasoning tests, personality assessments, and emotional intelligence assessments are some examples of commonly used psychometric tools.

However, there is a caveat when it comes to using psychometric tests. It’s essential for employers to ensure that the psychometric tools they are using are scientifically validated, says Painchaud. “There’s a lot out there that pretend to be,” she says.

For other farms, a different strategy may work. Once you have a candidate in mind, but before you make a job offer, Mann recommends having the candidate come in for a job preview. Bring them in for a few hours or a day to meet the people they will be working with and to job shadow someone, she suggests. “If they get a realistic preview of what the job is like (what the expectations are, what it’s like to work there, etc.), there is a lower chance of unmet expectations because they know what they are getting themselves into,” she says.


Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) has developed a detailed online Human Resources Tool Kit specifically for the agricultural sector available by subscription.

How to make sure your interview questions are respectful of human rights and don’t discriminate:

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Helen Lammers-Helps

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