How to Screen Candidates: Ag Recruiters Do’s and Don’t

Clock Image
13 Minute Read
Posted by Ryan Young
Screen Candidates

Learn from expert ag recruiters how to properly leverage the pre-screening process to find qualified agriculture candidates.

Agriculture recruitment is a time-consuming and intricate process that requires careful attention to detail and dedication. And in the current climate, it demands established connections to guarantee high quality talent. Then, once the applications start coming in, it takes a certain level of experience to distinguish the qualified candidates from the unfit ones.

A common mistake employers make when attempting their own ag recruiting is to skip the very important step of pre-screening candidates. They’ll often choose the top five applicants that look good on paper and invite them in for an interview on-site.

Once the candidates arrive at your location, it becomes clear they don’t have the experience and skill set needed to succeed in the role. The meeting turns into an unpleasant encounter and a waste of time for both you and the candidate.

To spare yourself the time and awkward conversation, screening candidates is key. However, there is much more to it than scanning resumes for work experience. The following guide will walk you through the do’s and don’ts of how to screen candidates from the perspective of experienced agriculture recruiters.

1. Reviewing Resumes

The first place to look in order to gauge a candidate’s qualifications for a role is their resume. A quick glance at a candidate’s resume can give you an initial impression of a few qualities they possess or lack, including their attention to detail and the extent of their experience.

Resumes that are disorganized, too long, too concise or riddled with errors might be an indication of the candidate’s ineligibility for the position. Depending on the job and its specific requirements, this may or may not be a deal breaker.

While reviewing resumes is by far the most thorough and reliable method for pre-screening candidates, it can be incredibly time-consuming to ensure you’re doing it correctly. Here is our list of do’s and don’ts when screening resumes.

  • Take a positive approach.

Do focus on finding the resumes that inspire you and give you a great impression right off the bat. The goal is to find your next rockstar employee. He or she might look differently on paper than what you have in mind. Keeping a positive outlook when skimming through resumes will help you focus on the right qualities and not get caught up on the wrong ones.

Don’t sort through resumes with a negative mindset, looking for which resumes to eliminate. Focus instead on filtering out the resumes that spark your interest.

  • Pay attention to language.

Do take into consideration any spelling, grammatical, or other obvious errors that might speak to the candidate’s lack of organization or attention to detail.

Don’t be too quick to pass judgement. Agriculture jobs don’t always require a lot of writing, so this might be a flaw worth overlooking if the candidate has other impressive qualities.

  • Read in order of oldest to newest jobs.

Do start from the last page or bottom of a candidate’s resume. Most resumes display a candidate’s job experience starting with the most recent position. By reading from the last job listed, you can follow a candidate through their career path and get a feel for how they’ve grown and what skills they may have picked up along the way.

Don’t be fooled by a resume that appears extensive with a long list of previous work experiences. Don’t assume a candidate has a higher skill level and deeper experience because they’ve worked more places. The key here is to pay attention to the timeline and take note of how long a candidate held each position. A resume that lists 5 jobs over the past 4 years, each lasting only 5 to 8 months, should come off as a red flag.

  • Look for relevant experience.

Do scan resumes for experience related to the position. Before you start the screening process, you should have a clear idea of the primary skills the role requires upfront versus what can be learned on the job. This will give you a checklist to compare resumes against to help speed up the process a bit.

Don’t be a stickler for only agriculture experience. As an agriculture recruiting firm, we’ve learned the right candidate isn’t always from within the industry. Don’t discard a resume just because the candidate lacks an agricultural background. They might have other relevant skills and knowledge that make them a great fit for the role. This is where cover letters come in handy.

2. Cover Letters

Resumes are an excellent way to get a brief overview of a candidate’s relevant experience and skills. However, they can be quite limiting. It’s impossible to tell if a candidate has the work ethic, positive attitude and right personality to gel with the rest of your team.

Cover letters are a great way to gauge these additional characteristics. When writing your job description, we highly recommend requesting candidates include a cover letter with resumes.

A cover letter can showcase a candidate’s ability to communicate. It can also provide the opportunity for them to go into further detail about their past work experience and demonstrate how it relates to the desired position. You want to follow these do’s and don’ts when it comes to cover letters for the best results.

  • Ask questions.

Do provide potential candidates with questions pertaining to the position. It’s extremely helpful and encouraging to include specific questions in your job description for candidates to answer in their cover letter. This allows you to not only find out exactly what you want to know, but see which candidates are keen on following directions!

Don’t get too specific with your questions and give off the impression there is only one right answer. You can scare away a lot of high quality candidates that might be perfect for the role, but passed on the opportunity because they were unsure of the “right” answer. Great examples of cover letter questions are: What makes you a right fit for this role? What excites them about working for your company?

  • Pay attention to length, errors and organization.

Do use the cover letter as an example of their communication and organizational skills, as well as their attention to detail. A well-written cover letter that is neat, organized and concise with no errors shows the candidate put effort in, but also respects your time.

Don’t be too hard on the little mistakes. Again, agriculture jobs don’t always require impeccable writing skills. While it is great to use a cover letter as an example of a candidate’s skill level, you can shoot yourself in the foot if you use it as the only qualifying characteristic.

  • Look out for passion and personality.

Do keep an eye out for cover letters that express passion for the position and give you an idea of their personality. A cover letter shouldn’t be a reiteration of the candidate’s resume, just in paragraph form. It should express why they believe they’re the right fit for the role and how they can positively impact your business.

Don’t let a cover letter rub you the wrong way for silly reasons. If you find yourself rolling your eyes over a candidate’s attempt at making you laugh, remember they’re simply trying to stand out and make a memorable impression! Keep an open mind and focus on the positive components of their letter.

  • Be wary of copy-paste letters.

Do pay attention to whether or not the cover letter is tailored to your open position. Candidates that take the time to read through your job description and apply accordingly are likely to be better qualified for the role and passionate about joining your team. Copy-paste cover letters could mean a candidate didn’t read all the way through your ad and may lack many of the characteristics required for the position.

Don’t waste your time. If the candidate doesn’t put in the effort to 1.) make a few slight changes in their cover letter to tailor it for your company, 2.) express their enthusiasm in joining your team specifically, they probably aren’t worth your time. It could also mean they are applying to as many jobs as possible without giving it much thought. Candidates like these might not be looking for a career they can grow in, they’re just looking for their next paycheck.





3. Check References

Checking the references candidates provide is another classic and effective way to screen ag recruits. You can gain valuable insight into someone’s work ethic and performance by speaking with their previous employers and personal references – especially for higher level positions.

When it comes to contacting references, there is more to it than sending an email to a candidate’s former supervisor. Here are some tips for speaking with references and interpreting the information they provide.

  • Be upfront about who you are.

Do state who you are, what company you represent and why you’re calling right off the bat. Transparency is key when speaking with references. By sharing the right information, the reference can offer the right information about the candidate you’re calling about.

Don’t overshare. Respect their time and keep the conversation specific to what you want to know. Remember, they are taking time out of their busy schedule to speak with you and help you out.

  • Ask the right questions.

Do ask about the candidate’s performance, work ethic, and their reason for leaving the reference’s workplace. Other insightful questions include how the candidate handled feedback, worked on a team, what weak points they might have, and if there is anything special worth mentioning about them. Finally, be sure to ask if this employer would hire the candidate again. It’s important to come prepared to the conversation with the questions you want to ask, so you can achieve the answers you’re after.

Don’t give the benefit of the doubt to candidates with lousy references. If a candidate includes the wrong contact info for all of their references, it could mean they’re lying about their experience.

  • Keep an open mind.

Do recognize that checking references relies heavily on personal opinion and a lot of factors can come into play. For one thing, if there is a significant time gap, the reference might not remember your candidate well enough or know their current skill set. Employers might also keep this information confidential.

Don’t be surprised if it takes up all your time! Calling references can become very time-consuming, very quickly. References are typically employers, managers or supervisors that are just as busy as you are. They might not pick up the first time you call or get back to you right away. Don’t expect to knock out all of these phone calls in one day.

Working with an agriculture recruiting firm to handle the screening process for you can relieve you of this responsibility and save you hours of valuable time.

4. Phone or Video Interviews

Before meeting in person, it’s smart to schedule a phone or video chat interview. There are many video conference platforms available today (Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts) that make it easy to host a phone or video meeting.

Phone or video interviews allow you to observe a candidate’s communication skills and learn their availability. Video gives you the chance to read their body language and see how they present themselves.

If you don’t have the time to schedule a virtual conversation, another option is to request a one-way video interview. Ask the candidate to record themselves answering a list of questions you provide. This is a great way to see the candidate’s presentation skills under less pressure. Plus, you get to sit back and really interpret what they have to say.

Remember the following do’s and don’ts when conducting a phone or video interview.

  • Be prepared.

Do plan in advance the questions you want to ask. Create a checklist or keep a notebook handy so you’re able to take notes during the conversation. A checklist is helpful because it allows you to stay focused on the interview. If it’s a video conversation, keeping the note-taking to a minimum will help the candidate feel more at ease.

Don’t let the conversation go off course. You’re in control. Keep it concise and focus on the information you’re trying to gain.

  • Schedule the calls.

Do set up a scheduled time for the call or video interview. You want to give them time to prepare themselves for the conversation.

Don’t surprise the candidate. While the job seeker will be excited to be moving on to the next round of the recruiting process, they won’t appreciate being called at random without the heads up. You might catch them while they’re working at their current job or during their leisure time. Again, give them the proper time to prepare and be ready for your call so they don’t miss it.

  • Consider their charisma and environment.

Do take note of their charisma on the phone or video. Are they confident? Do they smile a lot? Read their body language and mannerisms to discover how they might present themselves on the job. This is especially important for customer-facing positions!

Don’t overlook the candidate’s environment when meeting over video. Ideally, a candidate will choose a quiet, organized place without background noise, company or other distractions. This shows a sense of professionalism.

  • Be consistent!

Do ask the candidates all the same questions. This will allow you to compare the candidates properly.

Don’t discuss the next steps with a particular applicant before meeting with every candidate. Give each recruit the same opportunity before you make a decision on who has passed this round of screening.

5. Pre-Employment Skills Testing

When it comes to agriculture recruitment, the number one thing an employer wants to know is simple – do they have the skill set to do the job? A candidate’s capabilities aren’t always proven by their resume, cover letter, or even in an over-the-phone interview.

Another pre-screening method is skills testing. Pre-employment skill tests are a great way to learn how a candidate will deal with real scenarios they’ll encounter on the job.

Conducting skills testing early on in the ag recruiting process can allow you to eliminate unqualified candidates right away and save time. However, it’s important to note this screening method lends itself to certain roles. It might not be as appropriate or effective for other positions.

  • Determine your goals.

Do define your goals for hiring this new employee and what you’re looking to achieve with the skills testing. This will help you decide what type of skills test will give you the best answers. There are many different kinds: personality tests, psychometric tests, job knowledge tests, situational judgement tests, general mental ability tests, and integrity tests.

Don’t undervalue your current employee’s input, especially the ones that will be working closely with the person you hire. Their insight can help you decide what skills are most important to look out for when conducting these assessments.

  • Determine the skills you’d like to evaluate.

Do create a clear outline of the skills that matter most to the position. These might be communication, organization, or technical skills.

Don’t focus solely on testing for technical skills, job knowledge or other soft skills that can be learned on the job. It might be more valuable to test for their personality, motivation and whether they are a cultural fit.

Partner with an Agriculture Recruitment Firm

The pre-screening part of the recruitment process is key to finding the highest quality talent. Taking the time to screen each candidate early on can help you meet the rockstar candidate you’re looking for in less time.

Ultimately, working with an experienced agriculture recruitment firm will give you the best leverage when it comes to pre-screening candidates. At AgHires, we handle all of the heavy lifting for you. You won’t have to waste any time reviewing resumes, reading cover letters, or calling references. With our in-depth pre-screening process and sharp eye for identifying high level candidates, we make sure we’re placing only the best and most qualified candidates in front of you.

Stop looking for a needle in a haystack. Let AgHires find the perfect fit for your team so you can focus your efforts where they’re needed most.

Ryan Young

Ryan Young

Ryan Young is the Chief Revenue Officer at AgHires. With over 20 years of Marketing and Sales experience, Ryan has helped grow AgHires from start-up to what it is today. Ryan enjoys working closely with clients recommending talent solutions to grow their talent pipeline and ultimately grow their businesses. AgHires is a leader in recruiting and job advertising within the agriculture, agribusiness, food production, produce, food processing, and horticulture industries.