I loved an article that came out today on Forbes by William Vanderbloemen on ways that talented people blow it in an interview. They boil down to punctuality (showing up late), posture (slouching in the chair), and preparation (not doing your homework). Interviews often serve as a first impression, and we only get one, and its impact is lasting.
One thing that's inescapable during leadership is walking through the interview process. It's incredibly stressful, I've likened them to a first date, where you're trying to get a read on each other and see if you're compatible. Sometimes you put on such a good face that they don't see the real you, and they neglect to tell you about their baggage (I turned down a position once when I learned the church had recently gone through a scandal of sexual misconduct).
So how can you navigate the interview process and find it beneficial and enlightening for you and for the church?
1. Do your homework - They've got your resume and your social media sites. They've looked you up. They've maybe even called your references. They've watched your teaching/preaching online. They've maybe even visited your church. So what does it look like for you to do your homework on a church you're interviewing with? Contact other pastors, especially guys you know, in the area and see what they know of the church. Ask for their most recent budget, bulletin, newsletter, and bylaws. Check out their website and look to see if they have any Google reviews. Find out if they have any debt or skeletons in the closet.
2. Take notes - One time during a face-to-face interview, I wrote down everyone's name around the table so I could have a quick reference guide in case I needed to ask them something. I was so nervous I knew I'd never remember their names. But taking notes goes beyond that, it's where you jot down things that come up in the interview that you want to follow up on, it's where you briefly summarize their answers, and it's where you look back later after you've had time to reflect. Good notes can help you take away more from the interview than you'd ever remember.
3. Be honest - Whenever they ask you a question about your theology, your convictions, why you're looking at leaving your current church, or whatever they ask, you owe it not only to them but to God to be honest. So if they ask about your perspective on Reformed theology and you've got a kid named Calvin Piper, don't wish-wash around it. Or if they ask your convictions on divorce/remarriage and you feel your view might offend, don't duck from your own integrity of conviction. You and your church don't need to agree on everything for it to still be a good match. But it's always a terrible match when you (or they) are dishonest.
4. Prepare questions - Normally in an interview, most of the time is taken with them asking you questions. And then as a customary ending they'll ask you "Do you have any questions for us?" In that moment, the worst thing you can say is "No thank you." This is your time to ask what you need to know. Remember, you're the one potentially relocating your family. You're the one leaving a place God's called you. You're the one who'd be coming in to a new ministry. You're allowed to ask questions. I wrote out 33 questions for my interview with Emmanuel, and I didn't ask all of them because some were answered in the discussions.
5. Find out what they're looking for - Interviews are a great time for you to figure out what exactly they're looking for. You might be a good fit. You might not. So in the interview, explore who they are, what they believe, where they're going, what the vision is, what the history is (by the way, always ask what happened to the previous leader), and what's most important to not only the search team but the church, what their expectations are for your spouse/family. During the interview, you'll learn a profile of what they have in mind. And you'll know if you fit. If not, that's ok! God has His place for you.
6. Follow up - When it's time to hang up the phone, log off Skype, or catch your return flight, find out a timeline on when you can expect to hear back. They owe it to you to be forthright and mindful of the anxiousness of being in limbo between where you're serving now and where God could be moving you. But it's also good to follow up with a thank you note and express your gratitude for being considered and being interviewed. I've done a fair bit of hiring since becoming a lead pastor, and I have kept resumes on file of people who followed up from the interview with a note (even when we turned them down), just in case an opening came up later!
What have you done to help succeed in the interview process?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.