Searching For The Perfect Candidate: Desirables vs. Practicals


On our college mission trips, we used to play this game called “Make It or Break It.” The gist was always the same except for one factor – the Narrator would change each time. It would go something like this… “The guy/gal is perfect in every way, except…they have permanent Cheeto fingers (as in their fingers are always covered in Cheeto dust). Make it or break it?” We then would debate if we could live with said “perfect” person even though they have their one flaw. As cheesy as this game is (pun intended), it often comes to mind as I’m helping churches find their key staff.

I have seen churches do the same with candidates, except there is never an “except.” Churches often expect candidates to be “perfect in every way,” which is an impossible expectation for candidates. Where the church version of "Make It Or Break It" fails is that it doesn’t allow room for is the ability to weigh Practicals verses Desirables – what can be taught and what is simply innate in a person.

Whether you are a church search committee or even a candidate for a ministry job, I submit to you a new way to evaluate yourself and the candidates that come your way.

Practicals are the innate traits that are "un-teachable." These are built-in inclinations of someone's decision-making, response, and drive that influences all of their work. This could also include pure talent.

Ask yourself these questions before you even begin the vetting process for your vacant position:

What are the characteristics of the ideal candidate for this position that cannot be compromised because they cannot be taught?

This includes the candidate’s character that every employer desires, such as integrity and faithfulness.

No matter what, education is a desirable. Ingenuity, creative thinking, and agility are innate traits that cannot be compromised. Upon reviewing a candidate with demonstrated faithfulness, results and capacity – it’s unwise to immediately discard a candidate based solely upon education credentials.

Does the candidate have the capacity to get the job done and thrive while doing it? Have they had a demonstrated performance of thriving in a similar setting?

This is what the Vanderbloemen Search process uncovers with each candidate with whom we interact. We spend a lot of time on these questions, because we believe the long-term success of both the candidate and the church depend on the answer to these two questions being a resounding yes.

Desirables are the characteristics that, if the candidate is perfect in every way, we could consider letting go or consider teaching the candidate once they are a part of the team.

Here are a few starter questions that I ask our Executive Search Consultants before I begin evaluating candidates for a search that may be useful to you when evaluating your desirables:

How large or small of a background does the church prefer the candidate come from? Does it really matter for the candidate to be successful in the role?

How many years of ministry experience does the church prefer the candidate have? Must their experience align perfectly with the role in order for the candidate to be successful in this role?

What is the church’s theology? Must the candidate and the church agree on every theological topic?

The key question I’m asking is, “Does it matter?” It’s not meant to devalue the church or the candidate but to evaluate the values of each in order to ensure the right fit.

For example, when a church is searching for a Worship Pastor, we often see them judge a candidate solely on the style of their video sample, even when all the innate traits (ability to lead a team, cultivate leaders, and musical talent) are all there. If you find yourself in this rut when searching for candidates, let me encourage you to look beyond the video sample and resume. You know your culture. You know your needs, but do not let it be a hindrance to thinking outside the box. Style can be taught. Skill or talent however cannot. Be careful not to mix up the two. 

If you’re reading this article in the midst of evaluating candidates, take a moment with your team and review the list of characteristics you desire from your ideal candidate. From that list, categorize them into my two suggested categories: Practicals versus Desirables. Then next to each one, ask yourself – Is this trait absolutely necessary for the candidate to be successful in this role? Chances are that most of them will, but there might be one in there that can be bent – and that might be the key to finding your “Make-it” candidate.