What to Look for in Ministry Resumes

Ministry Resume

When there's a vacancy on your church staff, the search process can feel daunting and overwhelming.

It's hard enough to get everyone on the same page and craft an effective job description. Then, as the pastor search committee, you’re tasked with discerning how to evaluate candidates for the role. Our team here at Vanderbloemen is passionate about helping churches understand that a candidate is much more than a resume. You can't fully capture a person on one sheet of paper. A resume should be one tool of many that helps you evaluate whether or not a candidate is the right fit for the role.

Some job searchers are adept at creating impressive resumes, even with little real or pertinent experience. Others may possess the skills and experience needed, but you may have to dig a little past the resume to find that out. While a resume is (or should be!) a good summary of a person’s work experience and accomplishments, it is important to remember that it is just a snapshot, and sometimes that can be misleading.

Finding a new staff member for your team is not only a big job, but one to be handled with discernment and care. And it’s important that the committee enter the process with the right mindset and without bias. Start with these five steps, then you’ll be prepped to take a truly objective look at each resume.

1. Get organized.

The first step to considering candidates and finding the right person for your church or organization is to get organized. Get everyone that is involved on the same page and pick a date, time, and location to begin the evaluation process. This may be one day for several hours or multiple days for several weeks, depending on the timeline and amount of candidates.

2. Set parameters.

Hopefully by now everyone on the search committee knows the specifications for the particular position that is being filled. Make sure that everyone is on the same page about the nonnegotiables regarding candidates.

Does this person need to have a post-graduate degree or can they have a bachelor's degree and certain amount of experience? Do they need to come from a certain size ministry or a specific background? Maybe you're looking for a proven ability to grow teams. Whatever the specifications are set by your search committee, make sure everyone knows them clearly before you dive in.

3. Check your biases at the door.

Each one of us has lived extremely different lives and has individual experiences. Because of that, we may enter into situations unintentionally carrying around various biases.

For instance, if you have an eye for design, you might be biased toward aesthetically pleasing resumes with appealing fonts and strategic word placement. If you highly value education, you might lean more towards resumes with heavy education credentials.

It's extremely important that the pastor search committee identify potential bias and do their best not to overlook a resume due to bias throughout the evaluation process. Focus on the content of a resume and not the look (unless the position being filled is, in fact, a graphic designer!).

Before you begin evaluating, take a step back, put on your neutral thinking cap, and focus on the relevant skills and traits of each and every candidate.

4. Take breaks.

Evaluating resumes for long periods of time can be daunting. Eventually, your eyes may begin to cross. Make sure to take intentional breaks to give your brain and eyes a rest so that you can focus on each resume with as much gusto as you viewed the first one.

Remember that these candidates are real people that have taken a leap to apply for this position. They each deserve the same amount of respect and time throughout the evaluation process.

5. Pray.

Although this step is listed last, it is by far the most important.

At the end of the day, we all know that God is in control of who will be brought to the church staff position you are filling. He is in control as your search committee works through the process. Take time to pray over the search, the search committee, the candidates, and your church or organization as you work through the process of finding the right person that God has called to your team.

Now, with these steps of preparation in mind, here are seven things your search committee should look for when evaluating resumes. Let’s dive in!

1. Organization/Presentation

The first thing to look at is presentability. Is the resume an overdone graphic, or is it simple and easy to read? Context of the role can factor into this as well. For example, are you hiring for a Graphic Designer, a Worship Pastor, or an Executive Pastor? An Executive Pastor needs to be organized and detail-oriented, and that should be reflected in their resume. A Graphic Designer or Worship Pastor is likely to show more creativity in their resume.

Formatting and consistency is another thing to keep in mind. Are some of the position names italicized and others bolded? Are some details bulleted and others not? These things may seem small, but depending on the role you are looking for, they may be telltale signs of how meticulous the person is.

2. Spelling/Grammar

Similar to formatting and consistency irregularities, grammar and spelling errors can be an indication of how detailed a candidate is. A resume should be a representation of an individual. What we keep in mind when reading through a ministry resume is, "Have they used their resume to 'brand' themselves?" You can expect most candidates want to use their resume to put their best foot forward, but some do it more effectively than others. Paying attention to these small details can be an indication of their self-awareness and desire to present themselves favorably.

Good spelling and grammar also are indicative of the level of care a candidate has devoted to crafting the resume. If they are truly invested in crafting the best possible resume, they will get objective opinions about formatting and have friends or colleagues proof the resume. No one is perfect, but a resume reflects how much effort an individual is willing to put forth for something. If the grammar mistakes add up, this could be a red flag.

3. Lack of Information/Time Gaps

Often when there’s some missing information or gaps in between employment, it raises red flags. While it may be necessary to be cautious with these candidates, other times there are very reasonable explanations for the missing pieces.

All of us are on a journey - one that involves trust, obedience, and choice. What candidates have chosen to do with their time says a lot about whom they are becoming and what they were made to do. If there is no continuity from position to position, maybe they are still searching for clarity on what they do best.

One thing that we see quite often with ministry resumes is candidates leaving off their secular work experience. They may think it is unnecessary to include their ministry history since it may not directly relate to the position they are currently applying for. Another common time gap in pastors' resumes is seminary training. Many go back to school for Divinity or Theology degrees once they have already begun a career. Thus what appears to be a gap really was time invested in education and development. Sometimes ministry resume gaps include long stints serving as a missionary overseas.

Smart search committees take the time to consider the threads that candidates are following and a good resume should leave no doubt what those threads are. Ultimately, that story should be leading to whatever position they’ve put their name in consideration for, because that is what smart search committees expect to find in a candidate’s story.

There may be other reasons for breaks in employment, so a candidate who has them should not necessarily be discounted or looked past immediately. Be sure to ask your candidates about the gaps on their ministry resumes.

4. Length

We’re usually told that a resume should be kept to one page, and while that is not always true, too long is unwarranted. Our CEO, William Vanderbloemen, suggests “Be brief. Be bright. Be gone.” when it comes to your resume. After all, a resume should be a snapshot of a candidate’s experience and a springboard for a conversation. It should tell where a person has been, what they did there, and why it makes sense that they are applying for this role. Excessive details can obstruct from the facts that matter.

Length of a ministry resume can also depend on the context of the position. Someone applying to be a Senior Pastor is likely to have more pertinent work experience and therefore a longer resume. However, too little information can be a red flag. What aren’t they telling you, and are they trying to hide something?

5. Cover Letter/Objective

Cover letters can be a great way for candidates to share why they think they would be a good fit and why they want to work for you. It provides them an opportunity to give you a few more specifics than can be provided in the resume. An objective statement can serve a similar purpose.

It is usually fairly easy to tell if a person is being genuine and sincere when discussing their desire to work for your church or organization. Generic cover letters may indicate that they are sending out resumes in mass. Customized, personal letters prove their level of interest and time spent on researching the position and your church.

6. Relevance

Smart Search committees take time to research not only the previous employers, but also the relevance of that employer to their own context. Position titles can mean drastically different things in different churches given a change in size, leadership structure, and cultural context. For example, Student Pastors with a Youth Ministry of 80 might be amazing with students, while a Student Pastor with a ministry of 300 might be amazing with volunteers and parents. Context matters much more than position titles.

7. Experience

The bulk of a ministry resume should contain a candidate’s experience, work history, and anything directly applicable to the position. This is an area where ministry resumes can be very different from many other industries. Very often, relevant experience may include volunteer experience, board membership, or other indirect work experience. These items can be just as important as a paid position, as they offer value and display an individual’s ministry experience and gifting.

This information can be misleading at times, however. A volunteer position could be very in-depth and require a lot of time and commitment from someone, or it could be a two-hour responsibility once a week. Something to keep in mind is whether or not the information is truly applicable, or if it is being stretched to fit the position being applied for. Stretched to fit doesn’t have to mean the information is untrue, but the wording may be misleading and construe the idea that the person has more experience than is actually the case.

Don't take a ministry resume at face value or dismiss them too quickly. Taking time to dig a bit deeper when assessing an individual’s abilities and fit can be the difference between a good hire and a bad hire.

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