Preparing for interviews

Set up the interview panel

It is recommended to have more than one person at the interviews and to conduct all the interviews using the same format. If you are the only interviewer, you might misunderstand an answer or miss an important point that needs following up. It is also useful to have someone else present in case there is a later accusation of discrimination or unfairness.

The role and responsibility of the interview panel is to find the best applicant, meet and conform to equal employment legislation, plan and meet the guidelines for the interview process, set relevant selection methods, treat applicants with respect and give them feedback.

Get advice from someone outside of the farm

It is often useful to have a person from outside the farm on the interview panel, especially if the position to be filled is a senior one. Consider asking someone you trust, who knows you and the farm, to join the panel. This might be your field officer, consultant, adviser, accountant, vet, or a farmer colleague. The final decision to offer a position is yours, but an external party often brings useful insights to the process.

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Types of interviews

There are a number of different interview formats:

  • Structured interviews – all interviewees are asked the same questions, in the same order, without adding additional questions.
  • Unstructured interviews – questions are not prepared beforehand but instead are asked depending on the comments made by interviewees. Interviewers can ask immediate questions regarding aspects of any answer that is not clear.
  • Semi-structured interviews – some questions are asked of all interviewees, but some additional questions may be asked according to the answers given.

Semi-structured interviews are usually the most useful for employment interviews on farms. This interview format allows for a farm tour and time to give relevant feedback and ask questions throughout the interview. It also ensures all interviewees have the opportunity to answer the same questions, but with the flexibility for the interviewer to delve into certain aspects of the interviewee’s answers.

The goals of the interview are to discover enough about the candidates to be able to select the best person for your position (and for the candidates to learn enough about your farm business to decide if they want to come on board). Things you want to know about are:

  • Does the candidate actually have the necessary knowledge and skills to successfully fulfil the role?
  • Will he or she fit the existing culture and the team currently working on the farm?
  • Does he or she have the right work ethic and attitude, and how best can they be successfully managed?
  • Will he or she become an asset for the farm business?

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Preparing interview questions

Now it is time to prepare interview questions to ask the selected applicants.

Before the interviews, prepare some questions that will allow you to discover these types of things from the candidates. Each question asked in an interview should be relevant to the assessment of the candidate’s suitability for immediate and continued employment.

The characteristics of sound interview questions include:

  • clear purpose – designed to elicit specific information;
  • tied to job requirements – must be related to the position description and person specification;
  • focused and clear – avoid confusion;
  • repeatable – ask all candidates the same questions;
  • meaningfully placed – asked in a logical order;
  • primarily open-ended – allow candidates to do most of the talking; and
  • behavioural in nature – relate to questions about past ‘job-related’ behaviour.

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Open-ended questions

Interviewing sometimes requires probing (but not intimidation) of the applicant to get the information that is needed. Question’s which begin with five W’s and one H – will stimulate the discussion and invite a response from the candidate:

  • Who;
  • What;
  • When;
  • Where;
  • Why and;
  • How.

Questions that begin with these words are called open questions.

‘Tell me what you think is the most…’ is another good open question. It invites the other person to choose the most significant aspect to discuss with you.

In the table below are some examples of closed questions that have been changed to open-ended questions.

Closed question Open-ended question
Do you know anything about our farm? Can you tell us what you know about our farm?
Do you feel you performed well in your last position? Did you receive any feedback about your performance in your last position? Please provide an example.
Can you work well under pressure or deadlines? Can you please briefly outline a time that you were required to work under pressure or to meet a deadline?
Do you manage your time well? Can you outline how you currently manage or organise your day?

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Behavioural interviewing

Behavioural interviewing is based on the principle that past behaviour predicts future behaviour. Asking the candidate questions about how they behaved in the past is the best way of predicting how they will behave in the future. Effective behavioural interviewing asks questions in a non-threatening, structured way. This encourages candidates to talk about what actually happened in selected situations, what they did, how they thought and felt. If they are talking in terms of we, rather than I, further probing and clarification will be required.

Information that should be collected from the candidate’s answer should include:

  • the situation or task;
  • the action taken by the candidate; and
  • the result or outcome.

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Examples of behavioural questions include:

‘Can you tell me about a particular initiative you developed to implement change in your past role?’

‘Sometimes in the course of the day, we come across a situation or problem that someone else has missed and could have been important if not addressed. Give an example of when you have experienced a similar circumstance or situation.’

‘Talk about a stressful situation you have experienced.’

‘Describe a time when you have had trouble seeing eye to eye with someone in your role on a farm.’

‘Describe a time when you tried to persuade a person or group to do something they didn’t want to do.’

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Example interview questions

Some more examples of useful questions include:

  • Briefly describe properties you have worked on, your duties and level of responsibility.
  • What aspects of your previous jobs have you enjoyed the most / enjoyed the least?
  • What kind of people do you enjoy working with? What kind do you find most difficult?
  • What would make you a good candidate for this job?
  • What do you want to do in the long term?
  • What are your hobbies and interests?
Here is a list of interview questions that you can edit, and then use when conducting interviews.

Beware of discrimination

Be careful that your questions are not discriminatory. Although it varies slightly from state to state, it is unlawful to discriminate against a person for reasons such as their sex, age, marital status, race, status as a parent, disability/impairment, sexuality or physical features. Check the Guide to Discriminatory Questions and a Fair Go for Job Seekers in the resources at the end of this guidebook.

It is useful to have a prepared sheet to record your assessment of each candidate after their interview.

Candidates can be objectively ranked using a weighted selection process. A record sheet for this approach should list the attributes outlined in the position description and person specification and sorted into essential and desirable (see table below). A ‘weighting’ for each skill or attribute is then assigned according to how important it is for the position you are filling (the weightings should add to 100). After each interview you rate the candidate for each skill or attribute, on a scale 1 = poor to 5 = excellent. You can then calculate a score for each candidate by multiplying their rating by the weighting for each skill or attribute.

The candidates are then ranked on their total scores.

Example record sheet for objectively ranking candidates using a weighted selection process
Skills / Attributes
Candidate A
Candidate B
Candidate C
Milking experience
Stock husbandry experience
Pasture management skills
Ability to fit our team
Total scores
Click here for a Selection Assessment Tool that you can use.