September 8, 2008

Preparing a winning farming resume or Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Farming in New Zealand is bristling with the 3 main kinds of people in the world:
  1. Those who make things happen
  2. Those who watch things happen
  3. Those who wondered what happened.
The future of farming depends on the number 1 types entering the industry with drive and ambition. A CV or resume is the first tool you need to be one of them.

What is a CV?
It's simply a brief summary about yourself, so it goes without saying that it should be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. So read on.

How things have changed

It wasn't long ago in farming that nobody had heard of a Curriculum Vitae and they certainly couldn't spell it. Employment was based on word of mouth recommendations, and maybe a handwritten single page from your current or past employers.

But the "business world" culture hit farming and it was a very good thing. It was driven mainly by new employment laws and the realisation that old fashioned hiring and firing could have large financial consequences if not done properly. So employers started demanding more documented information on new employees to protect them both financially and legally. Advances in office technology have also brought about great changes.

1. Most computer word processing and office packages have templates to make very attractive CVs. You just is fill in the gaps and hit "print".
2. All corner colour copy shops stock a massive range of coloured papers and choice of bindings to add a very professional touch to the words.
3. There has never been so many professional employment agencies operating in farming and client CV preparation is the first thing they do.
4. For $25-$50 you can get someone skilled in word processing to come around to your house, get your details and be back within the day with a professional-looking bound CV.
5. All high schools teach CV preparation as a NZQA Unit.
6. Don't forget the internet either - here's a good site that covers the basics - how to write a resume.

Today's big problem

There is now a big a problem and it's very simple – a CV may look very professional but the information may be all make believe. There have been some spectacular frauds in recent years from false CVs including falsified qualifications purchased off the Internet. These have occurred at the highest corporate and government levels and have undermined the CV business at all other levels.

Consequently it's important to realise that your CV will be under great scrutiny by any prospective employer, so your most important marketing tool is your total honesty and integrity!

First points to get right
  • Everybody in business today who is making decisions (e.g. employers) has never worked as hard, and they are all suffering from "information overload". Their brains are all screaming for a "brief summary" of the issues they have to deal with.
  • You CV is to promote yourself, so accept this fact and take responsibility for your future. Your CV must show that you have done this with great enthusiasm.
  • The aim of your CV is to get an interview. It's a trigger for an employer who will have two piles on the floor; the ones to look at again to select a shortlist for interview, and those for the rubbish bin.
  • Even if you are not interviewed, the trick is to make sure a prospective employer still keeps your CV for future reference. You could have been second on the list, and accidents do happen to top staff soon after appointment so you could get a call – and the job.
  • Have a master CV containing all your information, but never send it or lend it to anyone. Keep a backup copy of it as well.
  • Don't expect CVs to be returned. Consider them as "disposables". Don't send a CV to anyone including a stamped addressed envelope for return –they won't have time to post it and it gives the impression that you are not professional.
  • So get at least 20 copies run off. You many think this is outrageous but read on. Once you get 20 you'll be amazed how this stimulates you to hand them out, and the number of people who'll take one "for interest". That's great, as you neve know what it may lead to.
You need a network

When job hunting, it's no good sitting around waiting for jobs to appear in the local newspapers or someone to contact you. Top jobs are never advertised as these employers have a waiting list of people or they are filled by word of mouth. They often ask their staff to find a replacement because they know staff wouldn't want to work with someone who was not a top team player.

Here are some suggestions for your network to send a copy of your CV to:

  • Your parents, guardians or caregivers. They're your greatest promoters.
  • Your current referees. There's nothing worse for a referee than to get an inquiry by surprise!
  • Mentors and close friends.
  • Your tutors if you are doing training.
  • Current employer (see later points about this).
  • Prospective employers who you'd like to work for.
  • Neighbours – as they'll certainly talk about you.
  • Rural bankers in your local town. The deal with farmers who have financial problems, and poor staff that need replacing are a key part of this.
  • Lawyers and accountants in your local town. They deal with similar problems as bankers.
  • Local veterinary clinic.
  • Local farm consultants and discussion group organisers.
  • Local fertiliser rep.
  • Local detergent rep. He'll know how clean your farm dairy is!
  • Federated Farmers field rep.
  • Local merchandising store manager. They know everybody in the area.
  • Local stock agents. They travel around and talking is their business.
  • Local storekeeper. They know everyone too and specialise in local information.
  • Local publican. They like to spread news too.
  • Rural delivery contractor.
  • Local stock transport operator.
  • Your insurance agent.
  • The farm Artificial Insemination technician.
What size of CV?
This depends on the job, so you may have to decide how long it should be. You may have to guess, but the better way is to ask prospective employers what they want, or it may state what's needed in the job advert. Here are some suggestions.
One-page CV
Definitely prepare one of these. It's simply a brief introduction of yourself, and it's not easy to write as you always think that you need to put more into it. A prospective employer is going to use this for a quick check of essential details to decide who to interview. So only put the important essentials on it. These are:
  • Top third:



Phone numbers (especially your mobile), Fax and email.

Date of birth


Marital status

Health; (Smoker or non-smoker); Drug free.

General interests

  • Middle third: Qualifications and "Personal Statement". Only include relevant qualifications and a motivational personal statement of your ambition as an employee.
  • Bottom third: Employment history in reverse date order, i.e. your current employer first, and then your referees. Three is a good number; your current employer, a past employer and a mentor outside farming.
Important Points:
  • If your current employer is not likely to give you a good reference, then you'll have to decide how to explain this at interview. It's going to be an obvious first question.
  • When to tell your employer that you are leaving is a tricky issue, as you need to use his/her name as a referee. The theory says that you as a good employee should tell the boss early so they have plenty of time to seek a replacement. However, experience from many of my past students showed that telling their boss early was a big mistake, as from that moment you (and your family) became a target for negative treatment – presumably because your move for advancement had caused management disruption for the employer. So you will have to judge this, and tell your boss when he/she is having a good day!
  • The Personal Statement is not easy to write so get someone (e.g. partner or mentor) to help. It needs to show where you will be in five year's time and how you are going to get there. It should be bristling with sentences that start with "I believe; I am determined; I welcome the challenge; I am looking forward". It should be all about your goals – both short-term and long-term. Keep it brief – only about a couple or three powerful sentences. Put it in a box on the page.
  • General interests. This shows you have interests other than farming which should be a positive, but don't go overboard with the list (no more than three) as some employers get worried and suspect you will be wanting constant time off to pursue them all!
  • Smoking is a problem, and it's more a concern of the employer's partner and family who don't want smokers around the children or in any accommodation provided.
  • Drugs. This is now a major employment issue along with any criminal record or time off required to attend court. You can mention it on your CV but if you don't, you'll certainly be asked about it at interview. Being caught out later could lead to termination of your contract. The privacy act will not cover you.
Multi-page CV
All you do here is to expand the information on the one-page CV. Four pages is enough. It's very important with a multi-page CV that you still have a one-page summary at the front. Here's some more points to think about.
Front page: It's become common to make this a cover page with your name(s) on and Curriculum Vitae at the top (make sure you spell it correctly). A photograph will make it eye-catching but be careful, as it's easy to go overboard with pictures. Whatever you do, don't use any fancy art work to fill the empty spaces!
Photos. Make sure they are in focus and that you fill the lens with the subject. It's nice to have a photo taken of you and family on the farm, but make sure the people appear close up to the lens. Don't cut heads off. A head and shoulders shot is good. Don't park the family on the ATV as although it clearly was not in motion when posing the shot, it can leave the suspicion that you don't know the current law which states that ATVs are for one rider only. Here are some suggestions:
Qualifications: Only include relevant ones. You may be asked at interview about others so have them at hand in a separate folder or in your master CV which you do not hand over. If you don't have any qualifications then miss this page. You'll be asked at interview about this so be prepared.
Written references: Only very recent ones are of value and even then can be suspect.
There are a lot of people around who got a good written reference from their past employer who wanted rid of them! People's circumstances change too fast these days to be relevant.
Referees: It's far better to provide the names and contact phone numbers of referees. Choose these with care and keep them informed before you apply for a job to tell them that they may be contacted, what the job is, and why you think it would suit you. If your referee has not been warned, their surprised tone will show on the phone, which tells the prospective employer a lot about you!
Present and past employers are easy to decide on, but choosing your mentor needs some care. This is a person who has known you and your family from an early age, who has seen you grow up and do well at school and in the work force. Someone with a good reputation in the community is good too.
Before the interview
There are two very important items to see before you go for the interview – and still too many jobs they are not freely available. The first is the Job Description and the other is the Job Contract.
Job Description:
These are common situations:
  1. A written job description is not available. You'll be told the employer has been too busy to get round to it! Employers will tell you what the job is over the phone or at the interview (so it's not in black and white) or they'll have a written copy at interview for you to inspect. None of these are acceptable because you need time to study the detail, and the information provided may lack important details.
  2. If employers have used employment agencies who use "corporate speak" from the business world, it's highly likely that you'll have no idea what the job is. It will sound great but you'll be none the wiser. So you'll need to spend time at interview trying to decode the lingo to find out what you actually have to do.
Farming is littered with staff who in a very short time discover that the job they applied for bears little relation to what they have to do every day. The interview is the only place you can reduce the risk of this happening as well as by talking to past employees.
Job Contract

Many of the above comments apply to job contracts. By law every job should have a signed contract before the job starts. I had so many students whose employer had not "got around to signing the contract and were waiting for the first wet day to do it". It never seemed to rain on the farm!

There are plenty of professional sources for job contracts and if you cannot get one for the job before your interview, then be very suspicious and seek some professional help as to what your best move is. It tells you a lot about the professionalism of the employer.

The interview – what do employers look for?
  • Your skills and experience
  • Qualifications
  • Ability to communicate and make decisions
  • Enthusiasm
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Stability
  • Sense of humour
  • A good team member and leadership
The interview – some general points
  • It's normal to be nervous at interviews – take some deep breaths to calm down beforehand.
  • Remember the importance of first impressions – they happen in 30 seconds.
  • People remember the first and last things they hear at interviews so make sure you have a strong start and even stronger end to the interview.
  • Take the lead to shake hands – but watch it's not a wet fish or a bonecrusher!
  • Watch your small talk – let the employer lead this.
  • Listen carefully to questions and take your time before answering.
  • Start your answers to questions with information that your interviewer will know (hopefully to get some empathy) before moving into what could be controversial.
  • Use strong visual images when using examples of what you have done e.g "during last summer's drought, or during the floods, etc".
  • Check to make sure your employer is listening and has heard you when you are speaking – and not just marshalling his/her thoughts for their next question. This is a very common happening – one-way communication.
  • Dress – be clean, comfortable and tidy.
  • Arrive 5-10 minutes early and if you are going to be late, phone to explain.
  • Clean the car before you go and have clean overalls and gumboots with you for a farm walk.
  • Be aware of your body language in the interview – lean forward and not back with legs outstretched and arms folded behind your head!
  • Take notes. Have a prepared list of questions, especially if you are having more than one interview so you can make comparisons of key issues.
  • List some key points you want to get over to promote yourself. Work out a plan so you can work them into the conversation.
  • Be prepared for these questions:

Why should I appoint you?

Why do you want this job?

What could you bring to this job?

What would you do if ………..?

How much do you think you are worth?

  • If you don't have a good answer to questions asked, then don't fudge. Say that you don't have much experience in that situation but will be keen to learn.
  • In answers to questions, fit in examples of how you dealt with that exact situation on farms you have been on. Keep quoting from your experience.
  • Speak in terms of benefits of what you would do to the business and the employer.
  • Always take your partner. They may be the reason why you get the job! Your prospective employer (and his partner) will certainly want to meet them at some early stage. There's no better opportunity than the first interview.
  • What about the children? Many employers (especially their female partners want to see your kids –it tells them a lot about you!). Only take the kids if they are well behaved
  • Request a farm walk, and make sure you inspect the farm dairy.
  • Also inspect the accommodation if it's part of the job and check what is on the list of "improvements to be done" and by when. Many never get done. It's the old round-to-it problem again and waiting for the first wet day.
  • Ask about keeping pets, and what the farm policy is about visitors and children on the farm.
  • Ask if the farm has a documented Safety Policy.
  • Nearing the end of the interview, a good prospective employer will ask you if you have any questions. Don't waste this opportunity but handle it with care.
  • Ask if the employer has a CV as many now have. If they don't, ask (politely) if you could contact any former employees.
  • Your final question after thanking the prospective employer for their time and the opportunity to see around their farm, is to ask when they will be making a decision and when will you likely to be told.
  • A compliment about their farm and especially their stock always goes down well – if you think it's justified. This would be a very good memorable image for your interviewer.
  • If you really don't want the job as a result of the interview – tell them there and then, still thanking them for the opportunity to apply.
  • If you are not sure if the job is for you, then ask if they will give you 24 hours to make a decision, and inform them that you will phone them with your decision and not text them.
The interview follow up

Whether you get the job or not, write a letter as soon as you get home to thank those you have met, for their time at interview and to inspect the farm.

The targeted CV
Here the deal is to avoid wasting everybody's time talking about things, which do not apply to the job. You can only achieve this is you have done your homework and found out precise details of what the job entails from the Job Description and the Job Contract so you can tailor your CV and your interview to fit.

Wear your employer's boots
When preparing your CV and preparing for inteview, wear an employer's boots and imagine how they will handle a mass of CVs landing in the mail.

The first job is to find a quiet moment to go through them – probably while the TV is on or phone calls are coming through. Think what is going to get your CV into a short list for interview and you can see how important first impression are likely to be. Your CV will probably get a 1-2 minute browse or less, so business-like presentation is the trick.

Smart students
The two things that far too many of my students suffered from in their first dairy farm jobs (which coincided with calving) was lack of food and lack of sleep. Hunger arose partly because of their age and growth stage where no amount of food would satisfy them. One trick to avoid starvation a student told me was to ask at interview if the farmer's wife or partner was on a slimming regime, because if she was, there would be no cakes, potatoes, bread or sweet deserts! You would be eating rabbit food all season!

The other trick was on the way to interview call in at the local garage or store for a chocolate bar. Ask the way to the farm saying that you were going for a job interview. The instant CV of your prospective employer from the person behind the counter was always invaluable information!
Good luck!

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