Oh no, Ryan is leaving! Ryan was a key leader in a part of my organization who I had poured into, spent time developing, and had finally really learned the unique product and processes of the teams he led. Ryan had been plucked for a promotion and I was now back at square one. Whenever I had a team member of mine resign, transfer, or get promoted, this immediately threw me into a whirlwind of emotion, a flurry of activity, and, if I’m honest, even a bit of panic. Often, like with Ryan, this happened to my best people as they are magnets for other teams looking for amazing talent.
Hiring a new team member, especially if your staff is small, can be a daunting task. There are a myriad of risks, challenges, stressors, and opinions to consider and balance as you embark on finding the next amazing person. I’ve spent over two decades building teams, which involved both performing and coaching others to perform excellent interviews, and based on that experience I’ve assembled best practices I’ve collected along the way to help you build or enhance your interviewing process.
How to determine who interviews.
While there are rare circumstances where only you can interview, most situations allow for at least 2 or 3 others to join you. While this small group may include yourself, you will also want to invite others who can lend their expertise to the process to participate. This helps in a myriad of ways, the most important are:
- A team helps ensure you are above reproach and consistent in your interview process.
- A team’s perspective helps to avoid a single perspective or blind spot from clouding the process.
A team’s perspective helps to avoid a single perspective or blind spot from clouding the process.
When selecting your interview panel, consider not only inviting members of your existing staff to participate, but also a trusted lay leader as well leaders from outside the church whom you trust and who know your culture. There are several benefits to this approach:
- Having a diversity of backgrounds like this helps to provide fresh perspective outside of the cultural incubator of a staff or church. This protects against proximity bias or recency bias, especially for internal candidates.
- This also gives you opportunities to engage with key leaders, both lay and ministerial and can be a great leadership and cultural growth tool through the unique forum for discussion and collaboration.
- A third benefit is that it also builds cooperation and comradery among your fellow under-shepherds.
Having a diversity of backgrounds like this helps to provide fresh perspective outside of the cultural incubator of a staff or church.
The Process: Establishing the Rules of the Road
A step that is often rushed or skipped altogether is the interview process itself. This includes the selection of candidates for interviews, interactions with candidates before or after the interview, and the process by which a candidate is evaluated during the interview. Not spending enough time planning these steps often results in accepting a high risk of disagreements, confusion, and difficulty in explaining decisions to prospective candidates. Three things to ensure are a part of your process are:
Required or Preferred Qualifications
For your job posting, ensure you have clearly outlined those factors that are required, or just preferred. Required factors could include years of experience, location, character references, calling, testimony, and/or educational requirements. These are your “tickets to play” for candidates, and you should only interview candidates that meet these. Preferred qualifications are those that can be used to differentiate further between qualified candidates. These factors are those that are nice to have, or nice to have more of, but are not requirements for interviewing for the position. You want to have these posted on your job application, as well as available for your interviewers so that everyone is on the same page.
Generally, interviewers should ask the same questions of every candidate from a pre-selected list of questions. Doing so helps to ensure the questions are aimed at the competencies you are looking for in a candidate, and significantly simplifies the evaluation process after all interviews are completed. Since all candidates are asked common questions, it is much easier to evaluate them in a common way after the interviews are completed. Doing so also requires a level of collaboration on the questions themselves, which can be an immensely valuable exercise to zero-in on the most important competencies you are looking for from a candidate.
The keys to this part of the process are determining who the ultimate decision-maker is, as well as how the candidates will be graded.
Making the Selection
Once you have determined your qualifications and consistently evaluated your candidates, you are ready to select. However, ironing out this part of the process well in advance, before you even post the role, can mean the difference between disunity and a successful outcome. The keys to this part of the process are determining who the ultimate decision-maker is, as well as how the candidates will be graded.
One way to help is to review your by-laws, and if they are silent ensure that the decision-making process is defined and documented ahead of time for the hiring decision. There are two basic structures: One where the interview panel provides a recommendation to the final decision maker, and the other where the panel must agree on the selection themselves. Both can be correct approaches, but it’s crucial to think this through prior to beginning the process.
A second helpful activity is to develop a grading sheet each interviewer will complete independently, and then can be merged for an overall score for each candidate. This helps to bring a more objective lens to the grading process, without sacrificing everyone’s opinion. Having the interviewers complete the forms as the interviews are completed, as opposed to the end, is another helpful component to promote objectivity for each candidate.
Communicating ahead of the interview is crucial to ensure the candidate understands the process, and that they can adequately prepare for the interview.
A key aspect that requires investment during the interview process is communication with the candidates. Doing this activity well ensures that the candidates who express interest in your position understand the process, as well as feel honored and respected, regardless of the outcome for them individually. There are two primary touchpoints where communication with candidates is crucial.
Communicating ahead of the interview is crucial to ensure the candidate understands the process, and that they can adequately prepare for the interview. It really does no good to your team for the candidate to be surprised and off base by not knowing what to expect. Additionally, the “surprise” scenario prevents you and your team from getting the best assessment of the candidates’ competencies. Consider a baseline of the following things to communicate with every candidate before the interview:
- The general process, such as the number of interviews, whom they will meet with, and the objective for each session.
- The general duties and day-to-day responsibilities of the role.
- The general competencies you would like to hear them explain of themselves.
Communicating an offer is a wonderful experience, usually full of excitement and joy. Communicating to those you decline is no less important, because it shows genuine care for the candidate’s growth and improvement.
Communicating after the interview is also especially important. Communicating an offer is a wonderful experience, usually full of excitement and joy. Communicating to those you decline is no less important, because it shows genuine care for the candidate’s growth and improvement. Spend some time talking through your decision with each candidate, and while it’s never easy to communicate or receive the “no”, communicate your thanks for their interest, their performance in the interview, and how they could continue to grow into their next ministry role. Remember, you never know when you might have another opening, and if candidates feel honored and respected even when getting a “no”, they are much more likely to consider another role on your team in the future.
The interview process is tough, on both the candidates as well as those interviewing. Making the wrong decision can take months if not years to unwind, and it can be daunting to embark on the journey to find the right candidate for your team. While we always want to stay sensitive to the discernment from the Spirit of God, applying these best practices should help you in that journey.
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