How to conduct an interview

The interview is typically the first time the applicant will meet you face to face. It's a great opportunity to showcase your skills and attitude as a manager, and to get to know your prospective employee.

Back to: Recruiting people

Planning the interview

The best applicants will often have other job options, so being organised and communicating well is essential if you want to keep them interested in your role. Think about whether you will need just one interview with each candidate or whether you will use a two-stage process.

If you’re running second interviews, the first one will not need to be as comprehensive, as its objective is just to identify two or three people to move through to the second stage.

If you want to make a decision from just one interview then allow enough time to get all the information you need, and to give the applicant a full tour of the farm and accommodation. Note that a tour of the accommodation and the farm should always be included in the first interview, as they are often critical deciding points for the applicant. 

Next, decide on whether you will interview alone or as part of a team. Using two or more people to conduct the interview can be a good idea as people observe different points and can play different roles. For example, one person can concentrate on taking notes with the other person listening, or alternatively, one can conduct the formal interview while another gives the farm tour.

Where possible, the direct manager of the job applicant should be involved, and the same people used for all interviews to ensure consistency.

Preparing your interview questions

Create a list of questions relating to how the applicant can fulfil the requirements of the job description, and the skills and experience needed for the job.

There are two common methods of interview questioning – behavioural and situational. 

Behavioural questioning

Assumes that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. Candidates could be asked to provide an example from their past where they have demonstrated a particular competency.

For example: 

  • Describe a situation where you were concerned about milk quality results. Why were you concerned? What did you do about it?

Situational questioning 

Assumes that future job performance can be predicted from the stated intentions and goals of the applicant. In this case, you give the candidate a theoretical situation and ask them how they would proceed. The risk with this type of questioning is that applicants may know their theory but be poor at putting it into practice.

For example: 

  • You have been asked to identify which cows are in heat. How would you know if they are? How would you record it?

For many roles on farm, it’s also a good idea to do a practical skill assessment. This involves the applicant physically performing tasks so you can observe their competence, whether that be reading, writing, maths, calculation fertiliser application rates or hitching implements to a tractor, etc.

QuickStart has some suggestions for skill assessments for different roles.

Carrying out the interview

Interviewing tips

The interview process can be stressful for both you and the applicant. Where possible, minimise distractions, such as noise from the farm or an overly hot or cold interviewing room. Also make sure your phone is switched off and let team members know you can’t be disturbed. 

Remember, your behaviour and preparation will influence the mood of the interview, and possibly your future employment relationship. Being professional and communicating effectively from the beginning shows you have high standards, which your new employee will then be more likely to deliver themselves

Start out with a relaxed, general conversation to make the applicant feel comfortable. You might ask what they like to do in their spare time, or where they live. During the chat, they may tell you personal facts that are not relevant to how well they can do the job, for example their marital status. Remember that you must not use this sort of information to make a decision about employing them, as it may be regarded as discrimination.

During the interview 

Let the applicant know that you will be taking notes – don’t rely on your memory. Alternatively, you could record the interview. Voice recorders are cheap and easy to use. They also allow you to concentrate on the interview rather than the note-taking process. 

Try to stick to the prepared questions. This will ensure that you get all the information you need from each applicant, and also that you can compare everyone against the same criteria. Above all, let the candidate do most of the talking, and give them time to ask questions themselves. Remember they are also interviewing you to see if they would like to work with you. 

At the end of the interview 

Let the applicant know what the process is from here. For example, that you have more interviews to complete, then you will get back to them within a week. Check that the person is genuinely interested in the job, but do not offer them the job at this point – even if you think you have found the right person.

Once the applicant has left, discuss their performance, skills, attitude and experience with the rest of the interview team and summarise this by scoring each key criterion with both a number and a comment.