Tomorrow we have a full day of interviews for a member of staff to run our children’s ministry. And, given the short amount of time I’ve been in post, it is quite striking to me how many hours and days I have spent in hiring staff. So, straight from the front line, here are my top tips for interviewing well. I’ve assumed you’re praying before, during and after the interviews themselves.
1. Ask the obvious questions
I don’t mean, ‘What made you apply for this job?’ and ‘Do you have any questions?’ – although those are both essential. I’ve recently had someone say ‘Because I needed a job’ to the first (I hope they found one, because they didn’t get ours that day), and I’m always wary of people who don’t have at least one reply to the second. If they’ve read the job description and the advert, and poked around the website, they should have several.
No, I mean, ‘Are you a Christian?’, “Tell us your story of how you’ve grown as a Christian’, or something like that. And don’t forget the hot button issues – the Bible and the cross are always important to have clear, and current issues in sexuality are critical.
2. In fact, ask them twice
We have more than one interview panel, and although they have different agendas, some of the questions overlap – I want to see if the candidates give different answers in different settings. And sometimes, it’s just important that we all hear the same story.
3. Look for the five C’s
Bill Hybels started with three: Character (what kind of person are you – looking for someone of truthfulness and probity), Competence (Can you do the job?), and Chemistry (Do we like you enough to have you share an office, a church and a life with us?). I front load that with Christian, as I’ve indicated, and Hybels has rightly added Culture: will you like living in this part of the world? North London is a place which some people love and some people loathe, and it’s important to know where future staff, and their family, stand. Equally countryside, city centre and the ‘burbs present their own challenges, along with racial, cultural and language mixes.
4. Involve as many people as possible in the process
I know some pastors trust their own instincts and make appointments on the back of a single conversation – literally. Not on my watch. Share the responsibility, and get as many people as possible to own the decision. You are not infallible.
5. Use the downtime
we provide tours of the area and facilities, and a staff lunch. That’s partly because we’re being hospitable and friendly, but mostly because I want to widen the circle of people involved as possible: particularly the staff team. After one tour, a staff member who had done it said of a candidate, ‘He’s weird’ – and those two words so echoed and encapsulated our general feeling that we took them very seriously. They clarified a problem in two words.
6. Be scrupulously fair
We plan each of the interviews on the day to have the same questions, asked by the same panel member. I don’t like giving feedback to unsuccessful candidates because some people try to re-interview at that stage, but I need to ensure that we have been fair. One exception: I would give feedback to an unsuccessful internal candidate, because I want to develop them.
7. Discuss your biases
Some of us like people with energy; others like deep thinkers. Some of us appoint young, and others like experience. Some like people who have worked in a secular company, others like a ministry track record. Discuss your biases on the panel, and call each other out on them. I, for instance, can be biased towards people who know a decent coffee when they see one, and/or use Macs…
8. Follow your gut
One of the odd experiences all interviewers have, is that you sometimes make your mind up within five seconds of the candidate entering a room – usually negatively. I’ve learnt not to ignore that gut instinct, although I have to put it in the context of my biases. My instincts can easily be wrong, but if several of us feel the same way, we must pay attention. In any case, you need to track down why alarm bells are ringing for you. Who does this person remind you of?
9. Don’t chase
So the ideal candidate interviews, and you offer them the job – and they come back with a maybe. what do you do? Whatever you do, don’t chase. Don’t try to persuade someone onto your staff, because the bottom line reason that they are with you will always be that they bargained a better salary, or you argued them away from another ministry. At they back of their mind is always, ‘I could have done better if I’d tried harder,’ and you don’t need someone with that attitude around. They probably wouldn’t be around for long, anyway.
10. Try them out
if possible, see them in situ, doing the work your hiring for. But in any case, find some way to test the skills you need. So when we hired a musician recently, we got the candidates to run a rehearsal with a band, teach them a new song, and plan a service around a sermon on our website. Interviews can’t show that skill set.
11. Don’t be afraid not to hire – it’s worth waiting
Twice this year we advertised, shortlisted and interviewed – and then decided that none of the candidates was right. One we’d even flown over for an interview, but still we didn’t appoint. Because whatever the costs of adverts and interviews, the costs of hiring the wrong staff member are always higher.
I’m stunned that churches still appoint people without references, on the basis that ‘the chat went well’, or ‘I know the church she comes from and it’s fine.’ In fact, I heard of two this month. Baloney. I know people who would be spiritually toxic on staff (no exaggeration) but who, if they rang the right people, could get a job on a church at the drop of a hat. We need to stop this. Seek out proper references, check them, and with any gaps on the CV clarified at interview. And I assume you have a proper Safeguarding policy for your children, yes?
So that’s my top twelve What have you learnt along the way?