Imagine you are looking to hire a new employee. You’ve chosen three top candidates who may be suited to the job. How will you select the best employee? The answer should hinge on the questions you ask. That’s according to Bob Milligan, professor of applied economics and management emeritus from Cornell University, and Bernie Erven, Ohio State University professor of ag economics emeritus. Today, both work as ag consultants on human resource management issues.

Interview Do’s & Don’ts
Milligan and Erven say a common interview mistake is asking non-specific questions that encourage an applicant to say what he or she thinks the interviewer wants to hear rather than what the applicant is actually thinking.

Instead, the interviewer should ask open-ended and behavioral questions that relate specifically to the knowledge and skills that will be required to do the job.

Erven explains, “Open-ended questions prompt the interviewee to share how or why.”

Specifically ask an open-ended question: “Describe your experience working with farmers. What are the three most important things a farmer needs to know about crops? Describe how you would handle a poor germination problem on a newly planted field. What’s the most difficult work-related challenge you have ever faced?

“The intent is to discover how the applicant has handled real-world situations rather than what they promise to do in the future if hired,” says Erven.

Make applicants aware of the farm’s values, vision, mission and long-term goals – as well as how day-to-day tasks are done.

Recognize that illegal questions should be avoided relating to applicants’ race, color, sex, religion, national origin, handicaps, pregnancy, age or veteran status. “Ask only about things unquestionably related to the position and the applicant’s ability to do the job,” Erven says. Don’t off handedly ask illegal questions like, ‘What church do you attend?’ or ‘How are your kids?’ ”

Check References
Milligan and Erven say checking references is most beneficial after the interview with the candidate’s been conducted. Foremost, it saves time. And it allows you to explore more specific issues, strengths or weaknesses of the applicant, Erven says. Checking references after the interview avoids bias in the interview process, as well. For instance, if a reference is so positive and enthusiastic about an applicant, the interviewer may be slanted to believing this is the top candidate, without enough consideration for their skills and competencies.