A church recently asked me what questions their search committee should be prepared to answer when interviewing a candidate. Below are the top five questions I think every interviewer should be prepared to answer and every candidate should ask. (Also included are 50 more questions that will lead to needed discussion in an interview process.) While this was written in a ministry context, it likely applies to any job interview.
Don’t forget that an interview process is a two-way street. In the nervousness of making a good impression and thinking through answers to a million hypothetical questions, it is easy for a candidate to leave an interview having learned very little about the potential employer.
Go into an interview prepared to learn all you can about the history, identity, vision, and operational organization of a potential employer. Don’t shy away from asking tough questions and try to get as much as you can in writing.
While you will need to ask hundreds of questions in an interview process, if you forget every other question, these five will help you gain valuable insight into who they are and what they value:
1) What does success in this position look like?
How a search committee answers this question will give you valuable insight into who they are and what they really value. Each Pastor and each leadership team has their own ideas about what success looks like in ministry. This question not only ensures the search committee has come to a consensus on what success looks like, but also informs you of the clearly defined goal of the position.
2) How will my performance be measured?
This question cuts to not only organizational values, but also operational dynamics. Once you have an idea of what success looks like for your position, it’s important that you determine how your success will be measured. While ministry success cannot be fully measured with numbers and spreadsheets, you must know what defined metrics will be used to measure performance and success. You must also understand the process for measuring success, which superior and/or committee will be evaluating your success, and what opportunities will be presented for performance review/feedback along the way.
3) What (or who) will be the biggest roadblocks to my success in this position?
This question not only provides valuable insight for the candidate, but also helps the search committee keep unrealistic expectations in check. Chances are a search committee knows exactly what challenges and obstacles lie ahead for a candidate, even if they have not openly discussed them. Often times, in an effort to present the church in the best possible light to the candidate, these challenges are not openly discussed until after a hire is made. Many a Pastor has been caught off guard by significant challenges their first week on the job. As much as both the candidate and search committee want to make a good impression, information and transparency are critical in every step of the interview process. (You both will find out the truth about each other eventually.)
4) How will the church (leadership, etc) support me in overcoming these challenges / obstacles?
This question not only informs the candidate of what support they can expect, but also reminds the search committee that one person cannot solve all of the church’s problems. Discussing this question sets the tone for a team approach to ministry. A wise search committee will not see this question as a lack of confidence in a candidate’s ability to lead and solve problems, but a maturity in perspective on growing a healthy ministry. (Candidates: If a search committee does not know how to answer this question, offer to revisit the question at a later meeting. There is always a chance that if they had a good answer, the position you are discussing would not be vacant.)
5) What are the church’s expectations of my spouse?
If you are married, this could be the most important question you ask. How a committee answers this question gives insight into how the church views the position and how they view the family of the one in that position. If a committee has never answered this question, they may not even realize the expectations the church has been placing on ministers’ spouses. It is so important to define expectations and boundaries up front and ask the committee how those defined expectations will be communicated to the church at large. It is difficult enough for a minister to be faced with unrealistic expectations of a church. This is debilitating for a spouse faced with them. Clear and thorough communication on this issue could save you a lot of heartache in the future, both at church and home.
Note: Spend as much time preparing to ask questions as you do to answer them. Remember that you are interviewing them as they interview you. The more thorough the communication is during the interview phase, the more insight you will both have into each other and the less likely issues will arise from miscommunication weeks and months into the job. Below are about 50 other questions that will lead to needed discussion in the areas of identity, history, organization, and compensation…
For questions or prayer, hit me up. https://trippatkinson.com/#contact
Interview Questions Every Candidate Should Ask
Identity / Vision (Who are you?)
- How would you describe your identity as a church?
- What do you as a church most value?
- Find out all you can about the church’s beliefs:
– Denominational affiliation
– Doctrinal Statement
- Do you have a target audience / demographic you are trying to reach?
- *What does success in this position look like?
History (Where have you been?)
- Make sure you understand the history of the church, especially the past 10-15 years. Particularly:
– Changes in leadership.
– Challenges or obstacles the church has overcome
– Recurring points of division or contention
- Make sure you understand in detail, the history of your predecessor.
– Why is he (or she) no longer in the position?
– What were his biggest accomplishments / failures?
- What is the current perception of this area of ministry in the church?
Organization (How do you operate?)
- *How will my performance (success) be measured?
- *What (or who) will be the biggest roadblocks to my success in this position?
- *How will the church (leadership, etc) support me in overcoming these roadblocks?
- Make sure you clearly understand the organizational (personnel) chart.
– To whom am I accountable and how does that work?
– Who, if anyone, is accountable to me and how does that work?
- Is there a written job description for this position that details responsibilities and expectations?
- Is there a committee that I report to? If so, what is their role and responsibilities?
- What are the expectations of office hours? Please explain.
- Make sure you have a clear understanding of:
– Staffing in your ministry area
– Church Budget & Ministry Budget
– Current policies, etc.
– Bylaws or governing documents.
Additional Important Questions:
- *What are the expectations of my spouse?
- How does the church handle staff development? (conferences, coaching, etc)
- If hired, what do I need to do in my first 30 days?
- What relational bridges need to be mended?
Compensation (How do you care for the staff?)
Don’t be afraid to talk business (salary package) fairly early in the process. I have seen churches and candidates spend a significant amount of time getting to know each other only to find they had radically different compensation expectations. Be thorough in your questioning of business details. And please, please get everything in writing so everyone is on the same page (literally).
- Be sure to get clarity on the following compensation items:
– Base salary
– Housing Allowance
- Ask about these additional benefits:
– Vacation Time
– Phone / Car allowance
– Health Club Benefits
– Education Funding (If the church does not currently offer educational funding, ask if they would consider setting up a scholarship fund through which money could be given for educational expenses.)
- If you have children, be sure to ask if they offer additional benefits for children:
– Childcare (or reimbursement) for ministry-related events
– Scholarships for church camps, trips, etc in which your children participate
- How does the church handle time away for:
– Speaking engagements?
– Wedding Officiating? (this is a common thing for veteran youth ministers)
– Personal Spiritual Retreat?
- Should this position require relocation, what moving expenses would be allotted and how would that work?
- Does the church offer staff bonuses? If so, is this a set bonus or is it based on a performance review? What would I need to do to ensure I receive the maximum bonus?
Note: As you work through questions in an interview, make sure to note any follow up questions or points of clarity that may need to be revisited as discussions progress. Remember, clear communication and understanding up front paves the path for effective ministry when you are hired.
What else would you add to this discussion starter list? Hit me up… https://trippatkinson.com/#contact
*For more resources and encouragement, click here.