5 Tips for Becoming a Better Interviewer When Hiring Ministry Staff

Everywhere I go I see help wanted signs. It seems like every organization is trying to hire good people right now. I’m guessing your church is looking for a few employees as well.  

The thing about bringing new people onto your staff is that it can be phenomenally beneficial…or it can be very regrettable. It all depends on whether or not the people you hire are the right fit.

And, it often comes down to the interview process. Do you know what they don’t teach you in seminary?  How to interview prospective employees. That’s a skill I’ve had to learn along the way.  

I’ve had the privilege of working with a few people who are excellent interviewers. Over the years, I’ve learned some pro tips from them that I thought I’d share with you.  


Windows…Not Answers

When I interview someone for a staff or volunteer position, I often find myself looking for specific answers so that I can check off an imaginary or real box. Here’s the thing. When you’re interviewing a prospective employee, you’re not looking for the right answers. You’re looking for the right person.  

It’s not as much the answer a person gives but the way it’s given. Or, said another way, it isn’t as much the WHAT of their answer as the WHY of their answer.  

Think of questions as windows that provide a view of who the person is. Your goal is to understand who this person is and whether or not they would be a good fit for the job and your church.   


Keep Asking

Think back to the last time you were the one being interviewed for a job. Typically, you have answers that you’ve prepared. You’ve given thought to how you want to present yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, if you are the one interviewing, your goal is to dig deeper.

I’ve learned to keep asking.    

“Tell me about a time that you blew it and had to repair something with another person.” 

The person tells a story.

“Can you tell me more about that?”

The person shares a little more.

“How did that affect your relationship?”

Now, things are getting real.

“How has that experience shaped the way you lead?”

Often, when interviewing someone, we ask a question, listen to the person’s answer, check a box and then move on to the next question. When we do this, all we are getting is the person’s prepared answer. We aren’t getting to the real person.  Keep asking.  


Embrace The Silence

I am uncomfortable with silence in a conversation. Maybe you can relate. I start feeling weird and make a joke or ask a question. If you want to be a good interviewer, you’ve got to get uncomfortable with silence. 

“Tell us about a time that someone gave you feedback and you changed the way you lead.”

“Hmm…this is a tough question.”

Silence. It’s starting to get awkward.  

The temptation here is to offer the person a line or a clue. We all naturally want to do this because we are all nice, wonderful people but if we offer help in this situation, we will lose an opportunity to see the person in an authentic light. 

Again, the thing about interviews is that people are trying to present themselves in the best possible light. When we are able to get uncomfortable with silence, the authentic person is much more likely to squirm out into the conversation.

If you want to get an accurate picture of the person you are interviewing, let the silence hang. Embrace the awkward and you’ll likely get a clearer picture of who this person is and what they actually think.  


Listen To Their Questions

In every interview I’ve ever participated in, there are two sets of questions: One where the church staff is asking questions and then, during the last ten minutes or so, the interviewee gets to turn the tables and ask questions.

This part of the interview is very important, not only because the prospective employee can get more information about whether or not your church is a good fit for them, but also because the questions they ask reveal what really matters to them.  

I’ve had people ask about compensation during the first interview. I’ve had people ask about advancement opportunities. Dude…we didn’t even hire you yet! 

Sometimes it isn’t one particular question but it is a rephrasing of an earlier question. He’s brought this up three times now. He must really care about it!   

Let the person ask questions and listen carefully to what they are asking and why. If necessary, dig a little deeper into their questions.

Can you share a little about why this question matters to you?  


Visit The Real World

One last idea here. Most interviews take place in a conference room. Can I be real? What a terrible place to try to get an accurate picture of someone! Who in the history of the world has acted like themselves in a conference room? Ok, that might have been a little too strong, but you get the idea.  

If you want to get an accurate picture of a prospective employee, go visit the real world with them. Instead of interviewing them in a conference room, meet over lunch or coffee.  And, while you’re there take notice of EVERYTHING. How did they interact with the servers?  What did they talk about in the car? Oh, yeah, that means you drove together. Can you do that? Sure! I do it all the time. Why? Because I’m trying to see who this person actually is and sometimes all it takes is a conversation where you are shoulder to shoulder instead of face to face.  

While we’re talking about unconventional interviewing tactics, I also like to invite the person’s spouse into a conversation. Obviously, this isn’t always appropriate to the situation but watching how a person interacts with their spouse is a huge window into their actual life. Also, listening to a person’s spouse talk about ministry, the community, and past church experiences can be incredibly insightful.  

Wrap Up

As you interview prospective employees, I hope and pray that God leads you to the right people who would make an incredible impact on your ministry and community. I hope these interviewing tips are helpful along the way. 

To learn how to retain your best staff after you’ve hired them. Check out this blog post