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4 Ways To Improve Hiring At Your Church

Posted by Jeff Bigelow on 1/7/16 7:17 AM

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The leadership team of First Church has been looking at the resumes of five candidates for one of the most important staff hires that First Church has made in a long time. They have narrowed it down to two of those candidates, and are ready to invite them to come in for interviews.

What are some things these church leaders could think through as they ready themselves for the interviews?

1. Determine how much structure the hiring process should have.

Best-selling business author Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, says that most hiring organizations fall into one of two categories: those with no real hiring process and those with too much process. Too little process, Lencioni points out, tends to happen in smaller organizations. “They know a good person when they see one.” The interviews in these contexts tend to be unstructured and unplanned.

On the other hand, larger organizations tend to overcomplicate the hiring process with layers of forms, analyses, approvals, and interviews that diminishes good judgment and common sense. In larger organizations it is often driven by well-meaning HR and legal departments. It is a more complex and academic approach to hiring. Lencioni says, “When it comes to hiring, a little less structure is better than more. Too much structure almost always interferes with a person’s ability to use common sense.”

2. Decide if you are going to put more weight on skill-set or cultural fit.

Ideally you want to have both! It is possible for a person to have a great set of skills, but be a misfit culturally. Two businesses can do very similar things, but have vastly different cultures (e.g. Apple and IBM). Two churches can have almost identical missions—yet the internal cultures can be very different.

Southwest Airlines has famously followed the “hire for attitude, train for skill” philosophy more than any other large corporation. They believe that who you are counts for as much as what you know, which is why they don’t hire many employees from other airline companies. Remember—what a person knows can change, but who a person is—well, that’s a little tougher to change!

Patrick Lencioni writes, “For all the talk about hiring for fit, there is still too much emphasis on technical skills and experience when it comes to interviewing and selection...They don’t seem to buy into the notion that you can teach skill but not attitude.” 

Further, studies have shown that Gen Y’ers (sometimes called “Millennials”) prefer a meaningful workplace over higher pay.

Millennials want to be part of an organization that is aligned with their values.Tweet: #Millennials want to be part of an organization that is aligned with their values. http://bit.ly/1PEp6jy via @VanderbloemenSG

In all hiring, but especially in church hiring, it is important to look beyond degrees earned and knowledge base. The Apostle Paul said in the New Testament, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” An accumulation of knowledge without accompanying character can be very detrimental to a work environment and church. It can lead to what some have called “Bible bullies.”

3. Know who you are.

How would a church determine if a candidate is a cultural fit if they don’t know themselves as an organization? Every church should have two sets of values: core values (why we exist), and staff values (how we behave). Clarity on those values will go a long way toward making a hire that is a fit for their particular culture.

William Vanderbloemen, in his book Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, references leadership consultant Sam Chand who believes that culture—not vision or strategy—is the most powerful factor in any organization. Chand says, “Culture trumps vision.” Culture is like an operating system (OS) on a computer, the OS tells you what kind of programs you can and cannot run on that computer. The culture of a church will also be a key in who you should hire and who you should not hire.

4. Preplan the interviews.

Decide how many interviews there will be, and who will be involved. Plan the questions each individual or group will ask the candidate, so you are not all covering the same ground. Who would be the best to ask belief and theological questions? Who would be best to ask financial and debt questions?

Ask them why they left their last position—listen to see if they own any of it, or all the blame is on others or extenuating circumstances. And, don’t be the only ones to ask questions! Allow the candidate to interview you, which could be a great window in what is important to them. If their first question is about vacation time—you probably want to look a different direction! Be sure to check out their behavior on social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter), which could be a great window into someone’s character and values.

Have you built enough structure into the hiring process without overcomplicating it? Are you looking at cultural fit as well as skills and experience? Do you know your own culture and values? Have you put thought into the interviews?

What are some other ways of improving the hiring process for a church?

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Topics: Hiring & Staffing, Team Building, Senior Leadership

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