Friday, March 23, 2012

The Perfect Candidate

Taking a break from writing about the budget ... let's talk about interviewing for a job.  I wrote a status update on Facebook yesterday about my difficult experiences interviewing people for positions at my church.  No need to repeat that here, but I confess I am surprised at how many young people don't know basic strategies for interviewing.  I guess they're not teaching it any more in schools, the way they used to.

Anyway, if you are looking for a job ... and many young people are, in this economy ... it might help you to know what I am (and others like me are) looking for and experiencing.  So, here goes.

First, let's talk about the basics.

  • Spell check your resume.  It's free!  And I am going to be looking to see whether you are going to embarrass me when you send out emails full of spelling and grammatical errors.  (Honestly - I actually had someone misspell his own name on his resume.  I know because he spelled it two different ways in two different places.)
  • Write me a cover letter - not a 2-line email saying, "Here's my resume."  Tell me why you are excited about this position and why I should be excited about you.  Highlight specific experiences you've had that are similar to the job I'm trying to fill.  Tell me you hope to talk to me soon.  Include that cover letter as a Word or pdf attachment and not just as part of your email, because I am going to want to save the cover letter and resume, and if I like you, forward them on to other members of my search committee.  Use spell check!
  • Show up early.  Ten minutes early is good.  If you're late, you'll inconvenience me, because I have arranged my schedule around you.  But more importantly, you'll make me think that you're one of those flaky people who don't keep their commitments.  I don't want flaky people on my team.  
  • Dress a little better than the position requires.  I know, you're interviewing for, say, a youth position, and youth dress casually.  But remember, you are dressing not just for the the youth, but also for their parents.  And I am going to be looking at you to see whether both the youth and their parents will respond well to you.  And I sure don't want to be sitting there thinking, OK, my first come-to-Jesus meeting with this person is going to have to be about her habit of wearing low-cut, revealing clothing to church.  Or his habit of wearing grunge clothing.  Or whatever.  
  • Do not ask me in the first paragraph, or even in the first interview, what the salary is.  I will think that you're interested in renting a nice apartment or buying a nice car, instead of in doing the ministry that I am looking for someone to do.  I actually do understand that you need a salary to live on.  If I like you, I will invite you to come for a second interview.  At that point, if it is an imposition on your time to come to a second interview - say, if you have to travel to get here - then you can ask me, delicately, about the salary range.  I am not going to tell you the specific salary, even then, but I will give you a general idea.  I won't know the specific salary I am willing to offer you until I have decided how well you will fit on our team.  
  • Try, at least try, to be interested in the job I am actually interviewing you for, and not some other job it may lead to at some other organization at some time in the future.  Being interested in advancement is a fine thing, but being interested in personal advancement at the expense of my church is not.  The sooner you are planning to move on to something else, the bigger the liability, and the mistake, hiring you will turn out to be.  I want to know that you are interested in this job, at this church.  
  • Know something about me, my church, and the position I am interviewing you for, before we talk.  It's all there on our website.  I will want to know that you have thoroughly read the position description and all the links it points to, and I will give you bonus points if you ask specific questions about them.  I will give you extra gold stars if you have noticed other things on our website, not directly related to this position, but things you find exciting, inspiring, or interesting.  Ask questions about these things!  Show me you've noticed!  
OK, now that the basics are out of the way, I want to give you a little insight into what's going through my mind as I interview you.
  • This interview thing?  This is the biggest pain in my neck right now.  I really, really want to fill the job vacancy I have so I can create a solid team, which can go back to doing the work we love to do.  I have been praying (hoping, wishing, worrying) that the right person would show up, pronto.  That means, when you walk in the door, I want you to succeed.  I want you to be the one.  
  • But listen - that doesn't mean that I want just anyone to fill this position.  I'm not hiring someone to flip hamburgers.  I am hiring someone who will be a part of a team.  I want someone who will build relationships, with the staff and with our customers, that is, our church members and our surrounding community.  So - I am not hiring someone who is in this for the short term.  If you build great relationships, and then leave after a year, I am worse off than before I hired you.  Don't give me the impression that that's what you are planning to do.
  • That means that I am going to be listening hard for two things: are you called to do this kind of ministry, is this something you love and have a passion for?  And, are you in this for the long haul?  If you tell me that you're just looking for something for a year or two, while you find yourself, then I'm going to be pretty sure that you are not called to do this ministry.  I'm not going to hire someone on a trial basis, while we both figure out if it's going to work.  
  • Let's talk about calling.  In my business, the faith business, we believe that God gives us spiritual gifts and calls us to use them in specific ways.  Therefore, I am looking for the person who is called.  In business, you would say this is a person who has a passion for exactly this kind of work, and the skills required to do it.  I am ideally looking for someone who has found herself/himself doing exactly this kind of thing in various ways for a long time.  That doesn't mean you've held exactly this job before.  It does mean that you've shown these gifts and enjoyed this kind of work, as a volunteer, a camp counselor, an extracurricular leader, etc.  Show me and tell me what you've done that demonstrates your calling for this kind of work.
  • If you get past the initial set of questions with me, I am going to ask you to give me examples of two things: (1) leadership and (2) initiative.  Examples - that means stories.  I want to hear you tell the stories of things you've done really well.  Come prepared to tell them.
  • If I really, really like you, I will also ask you to tell me the story of something you've failed at, and what you have learned from it.  Failure is the best learning.  Don't make up some BS about how you failed to be humble enough about how great you are.  I know the B-school routine.  Please do tell me something that you have failed and learned from.  We all fail, from time to time. I want to understand that you are open to growth and learning.    
  • You know what else I want to know about?  Your work ethic.  I want to know that you will show up when you say you will, and work the hours I am paying you to work.  I will look favorably on those two years in high school you spent working at McDonald's, because I will know that they didn't put up with you showing up late or deciding to sleep in on a whim.  Tell me how you are willing to put in hours to get the job done right.  There is occasional overtime in this position, and there are irregular hours.  I will tell you the hours are flexible, and it is true.  But I want to know going in that you will be there when you say you will, and you will put in the hours that you are paid for, and you will consider yourself a part of a professional team, and act professionally.  
  • This is a church.  I am going to want to know about your faith life.  What draws you to this church, why do you follow Jesus, what do you think is important about being part of a church?  What do you see as the church's mission?  Why should people be part of it?  I will want to hear you say that you have been praying about this job opportunity.  
  • Tell me your vision for this position.  What would you do to make it a terrific ministry?  What ideas do you have to contribute to this organization?  How will you help transform people's lives?  How will you help people come to know Christ?  I really want to know this.  Because I want you to be the minister, not the robot who does what I tell you to do.  I want to turn you loose and watch you blossom as you do what you're called to do.  Show me that you're a leader, with ideas, creativity, and faith.  
Maybe you're not looking for a church position, and some of the things I've said don't apply to you.  But think about what I've said, and go into your next interview ready to shine.  And God bless you in your next ministry.


  1. Thanks, Susan. I always have a hard time coming up with on-the-spot stories of successes or failures, so I need to try and think of some beforehand! :) I'm also wracking my brains for who would be a good fit for your position there.

  2. Thanks, Tamie, I really appreciate it. Hope you are well!

  3. Interviewing is difficult for both persons...Thank you for providing reasoned and helpful insight into your side. We who are being interviewed appreciate the opportunity to be prepared.