Recruiting and hiring employees


10 min read

Step 1 - Recruit for the right role Step 2 - Advertise the role Step 3 - Phone screen applicants Step 4 - Application forms Step 5 - Interview process Step 6 - Check references Step 7 - Select the right person Step 8 - Make a job offer Managing staffing levels Retain your staff Employ Kiwis Talking Dairy podcasts

Are you looking to hire a new employee? Having a well-planned recruitment and selection process is the first step towards finding the right person to fit into your team. There are important things to consider before and during your search, so following the eight-step process for dairy recruitment can help you select the right person for a farm team. This page will go into detail about the different steps involved in recruiting, and provide advice on how to  maintain and retain your staff, as well as providing links to resources and podcasts.

8 steps to successful recruitment

Step 1: Recruit for the right role

  • Think about the tasks that need to be done on your farm, and what staff you need to achieve them.
  • Confirm that your budget covers the desired number and roles of employees.
  • Decide what roles you need to recruit for and download the standard job description (see tips below). You may want to edit or add some responsibilities to this job description, depending on your farm and system.
  • Tips and resources for recruiting for the right role
    • Download the correct job description template from below.
    • You can find out more about typical tasks and responsibility levels for each of the sector’s primary roles in Dairy Farm Career Pathways.
    • It’s also a good idea to think about what kind of person will fit into the culture of your team. What knowledge, experience, skills, values and attitudes are you looking for in an applicant? Make a list of the 'essential' vs 'preferred' characteristics you’re after - this can help you compare candidates.

Step 2: Advertise the role

  • Decide what type of advertising you will use.
  • Write an advertisement.
  • Tips and resources for advertising the role
    • It helps to stand out from the crowd. You need to provide enough information to make the job sound appealing and encourage potential applicants to take action. Make clear why someone would want to work in your team – don’t just simply describe the property.
    • You may decide to advertise by:
      • Word-of mouth or referrals from other team members
      • Direct approaches to a potential applicant
      • Using websites such as Farm Source or TradeMe Jobs
      • Posting on social media pages, local notice boards, in the newspaper
      • Using agencies such as Work and Income or Student Job Search
    • A common advertising format includes:
      • Advert Title
      • Sales pitch
      • Job title and property description
      • Description of the job
      • Type of person required
      • Contact details and closing date
    • Qualified applicants are less likely to reply to vaguely worded or ill-defined advertisements, so spend time planning your advertisement and doing it well.
    • To better showcase your business’s values and purpose, you may also consider providing an Employer CV which can make your advertisement more appealing than others similar to it. This CV might include your contact details; farm information; details of your work history and history as an employer; type of training, skills and experience you have as an employer; your vision, values, strengths and weaknesses; details about what past employees have gone on to do; and references from both current and past employees.
    • Links to any social media accounts or videos your business owns can also be valuable to share.

Step 3: Phone screen applicants

  • Make a time with each applicant for a phone call.
  • Use the phone screening questionnaire (see tips and resources) to find out more about applicants and their reasons for applying. Too often this step is overlooked or done poorly - so take the time to do this well to ensure you later only spend time interviewing the best candidates.
  • Create a shortlist of 3-5 candidates.
  • Tips and resources for phone screening
    • It may also be useful to ask your candidate:
      • What the notice period is for their current role
      • What their salary range expectations would be for the role you are advertising
    • Notify those who you have short-listed and tell them you would now like them to complete an application form and attend an interview with you. Also notify those that were unsuccessful.
    • Download the phone screening template below.

Step 4: Application forms

  • Send your shortlist an application form (see tips and resources) and ask them to return it to you.
  • Tips and resources for application forms
    • There are important legal reasons for getting your short-listed applicants to complete an application form (e.g. it allows you to do a police check, contact referees) - so don't overlook this step!
    • The use of an application form is also a good way to compare applicants more fairly (as preparing a CV can be a barrier for some people), and it allows you to ask questions you are not comfortable asking people face-to-face.
    • Download the Employment Application Form template below. 

Step 5: Interview process

Before the interview:

  • Contact the short-listed applicants with an interview date and time.
  • Inform applicants of any additional material you may like them to bring (e.g. production records, evidence of qualifications or skills etc.)
  • Provide a copy of your job description to each candidate. Email it or provide it on the interview day. Be sure to have added any additional responsibilities relevant to your farm.
  • Provide a copy of a proposed employment agreement* to each candidate. Email it or provide it on the interview day. It should include details such as hours of work, salary offered, accommodation available.
  • Print a copy of the relevant interview questionnaire for each candidate, from below.
  • Prepare answers to likely questions the applicant may ask (e.g. employment conditions, work expectations, salary, training opportunities, accommodation etc).
  • Prepare any planned practical or personality test resources.

At the interview:

  • Introduce yourself and any others present.
  • Make applicant or candidate feel comfortable – ask casual questions about their life, hobbies, family.
  • Give an outline of the interview process.
  • Let applicant or candidate know you will be taking notes.
  • Go through prepared interview questions from the interview questionnaire you have printed.
  • Make sure you get a feel for their attitude and how they would fit in your team and on your farm.
  • Carry out any interview activities or tests.
  • Let the candidate know what the process from here is and when they can expect to hear from you.
  • You must source your own employment agreement. To find out more, visit our employment agreements web page.

Tips and resources for following the interview process

  • Interviews help you determine how someone might behave on farm and the skills and attributes they bring to your business. By giving all candidates the same, structured questions and tasks to complete, you will be testing their competence against the job description.
  • Conversational interviewing is easier for everyone! Try not to make the interview process seem like an interrogation – take your time, smile and talk about any relevant experiences of your own to put your candidate at ease.
  • Ask about their family situation to make sure that any farm accommodation you are providing is suitable for them.
  • It is a good idea to ask your candidate how they have behaved in certain situations in the past; what they are interested in; their strengths; areas they find challenging and any goals they have for the future. These are also good questions to focus on if your candidate has no experience in dairy. 
  • At the end of your structured interview, you could leave the candidate with the rest of your team for them to also ask some interview questions. Your team members will be working alongside your new employee every day, so their ‘gut feel’ is very important. Their involvement in the recruitment process also shows your respect for them, and they have some accountability for the decision you come to.
  • Practical work tests demonstrate candidates’ competence in a specific task (e.g. in milking, or completing a feed budget). Remember, you cannot legally ask candidates to come onto farm for a trial, but you can ask them during an interview process to demonstrate their ability in a specific task - providing they are fully supervised and you are not benefiting financially from them doing so.

Step 6: Check references

  • Check the references of any applicants you are particularly interested in.
  • Print and follow the reference checking questionnaire (see tips and resources) as a guide for each call. Remember, you can only contact the nominated referees.
  • Tips and resources for checking references
    • Too often, employers do not check listed referees - and yet it is extremely important to do so as past behaviours are usually the best indicator of future performance (regardless of how well, or poorly, someone interviews).
    • As a guide for asking questions in the correct way to understand candidate strengths, weaknesses and their past performance, print and use the reference checking questionnaire from our resource library.
    • Use the opportunity to clarify any detail or unclear areas from your interview with the applicant.

Step 7: Select the right person

  • Decide which person, if any, is right for your role by reviewing all that you have learned about your preferred applicants.
  • Tips and resources for selecting the right person
    • Having done everything possible to collect information on your candidates, now you must choose who is most appropriate to join your team in this role.
    • Remember, the right person for the job may not be the person you like the most or the one with the best qualifications. It should be the person who most closely matches your selection criteria. Candidates will have a range of skills, personalities and philosophies that may make it difficult to decide on the right person. This is where the information gathered in your notes is critical.
    • If there is nobody that matches your criteria closely enough, you may decide to:
      • re-advertise
      • go back to the job description and alter the role to suit one of the candidates
      • or consider employing someone on a fixed term or as relief staff to give yourself more time to find 'the one'.
    • Do not recruit permanent staff in haste! And be sure to consider how your decisions will affect the overall staffing plan and budget.

Step 8: Make a job offer

  • Look again at your budget and decide what terms and conditions you will offer.
  • Make any necessary edits to the original employment agreement and present it, along with an offer letter to the successful applicant (see tips and resources). Remember they must be allowed time to seek independent advice before signing. Be prepared for the applicant to come back and negotiate terms and conditions.
  • Contact those who were not successful, once your chosen candidate has accepted the role.
  • Remember, you must talk through and sign the employment agreement and job description with your employee BEFORE they start work - even 5 minutes after starting has been held by the courts to be too late and may make any trial period invalid. (Note: for any trial period to be valid, the employee must also be ‘new’ - meaning they have never worked for you before, even on a casual basis).
  • Tips and resources for making a job offer
    • To attract talented and committed people you need to be offering a competitive package. Consider cash items such as salary/wages and bonuses/incentives. Also consider non-cash items such as rostering and time-off, training and development opportunities, meat, electricity, firewood etc. Be clear about the accommodation offered and rent for this. Remember that lifestyle is often as important as pay.
    • Remember that making an offer includes confirming the terms and conditions of employment that you will offer your candidate and presenting an employment agreement to that person.
    • Use the example of an offer letter here.
    • Calculate a competitive job offer using our Job Competitiveness Calculator.

Managing staffing levels

There are dairy farmers across the country with a shortage of staff. It’s not a new issue, and is one that has been amplified in 2021 by low unemployment rates and border restrictions. So it’s important to monitor staff rates and take pre-emptive action. Below are some indicators and realistic advice in monitoring and controlling your staffing levels.

Retain your staff

Every year approximately 5000 people leave the dairy sector. It’s a similar turnover rate to other sectors, however if we are able to retain 10% of these employees it will have a huge impact, (especially because these people already have skills).

What do your employees value in a job?

A good job can look very different for different people.

Find out what your current employees value most, and see if you can offer it. Find out what motivates each employee and the sort of things that would get them to stay with a farm. Think outside the box and challenge your own mindset as to what might be possible.

“Our staff are our biggest asset, so we need to look after them”

Make your farm an awesome place to work

Research from kiwi dairy farmers has shown that making positive changes to rosters, increasing wages and offering development opportunities helps to retain staff. You can also check our Milksmart page in Additional resources to learn more about simple changes to milking routines that will improve your milking efficiency. Less time in the shed can result in happier staff.

Employ Kiwis

You can help attract kiwis to your farming roles by offering competitive packages and becoming known as a place where people love to work.

Cast your recruitment net wider

Think differently about how you recruit people. The unemployment rate is low but the under-employed (that is those who could work more hours) rate is much higher. Some recruitment avenues also have a lot of support available:

  • Training / apprenticeships

    Vocational training is currently fully subsidised (free). Career progression is important to most people, so consider how you could support people in achieving their goals and promote this when advertising. We want dairy to be a place of continual learning.

    There are support packages available when recruiting Work and Income clients. The packages help these people to get the skills required of the job. This support can include training and in-work support as well as a contribution towards wages.

  • Consider the under-employed in your local community

    In every community there are people who could work more. This group is more likely to start as part time or casual but they can fill important roles in your team. Think creatively about who these people are in your community and how you could encourage them to come and work for you.

  • Consider the not working who could help part time

    In most communities there are groups of people who could assist if the job was changed slightly in either scope or hours, typical examples are the retired and students. These people are likely only able to commit to part time work, but they can become important parts of your farm team.

  • Employ migrants already in NZ

    There are a number of people currently in NZ on various visa types but most commonly working holiday visas. This visa type allows people to work but not in a permanent job.

Talking Dairy podcasts

How do we find skilled, capable and enthusiastic farm staff when they just don’t seem to be available? In this episode, Lee Astridge, a leading agriculture recruitment and HR specialist, shares actionable tips to help you navigate the recruiting process and make your farming business an attractive option in a tight labour market.

Listen on:

Looking for ideas on how to recruit and retain good staff for your farm? We sat down with Jane Muir, DairyNZ’s lead advisor – people, to discuss this topic in our latest Talking Dairy podcast.

Listen on:

Last updated: Sep 2023

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