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Beyond the Resume: Tips for Church Leaders Who Are Involved in Interviewing People for Job Openings

In today's world, stunning resumes and well-coached applicants do not always translate into good employees. Wrong hires are often a result of problems in the interview process. Problems may arise when interviewers think an applicant's résumé is great and forget to see if the person really is the right match for the vacancy. In addition, an interviewer may really like the person being interviewed. When that is the case, the interviewer may not scrutinize the applicant's skills as thoroughly.

The suggestions below define a process that can help you look beyond the résumé and application to make you feel more confident that you will choose the right person for the job opening in your church.

Preparation for the Interview

  1. Review the job description (which defines the tasks, skills, qualifications and background required).
  2. Determine the critical behavioral and skill traits needed in the person who has the above requirements in order for him or her to be able to perform most effectively in the work environment.

    It is important that interviewers zero in on five or six essential behavioral and skill traits that are critical for the employee to have to be successful in performing the requirements of the job. The interview team should jointly determine these behavioral and skill traits. Therefore, during the interview process, each member of the interview team is evaluating the applicant from the same perspective.

  3. Develop questions based on the essential behavioral and skill traits needed by the employee to be successful in performing the requirements of the job. These questions are to be used in the interview process to ensure that interviewers receive the same kinds of information about each candidate.

    Being clear in advance about what information the interview team needs to determine the right match for the position is very important. The interview team should ask job-related questions and avoid any potentially discriminating questions related to age, race, color, sex, disability, or national origin.

  4. Review applications and résumés for:
    • Inconsistencies and gaps in service;
    • Important information about which you may want to ask for specific examples;
    • Areas where you need additional information.
  5. The interview process should be two-fold:
    • The applicant is given the opportunity to present his or her background and the reasons why he or she should be given further consideration for the position.
    • The applicant clearly understands what the job expectations are and how they fit into the vision and mission of the organization or church. Therefore, if the applicant is given a job offer, he or she will be clear about the expectations if he or she agrees to take the job.

Develop Interview Questions

  1. Develop questions that relate directly to the significant elements of the job. Questions should also be based on the essential behavioral and skill traits needed by the employee to be successful in performing the requirements of the job.
  2. State the questions clearly and simply to avoid misinterpretation of the intended meaning.
  3. Use the same set of questions with each candidate so that you will have a consistent basis for comparison.
  4. Note that there are three types of questions that are most helpful in an employee interview:

    Questions should be relevant and legal.

    The following is a quick reference, detailing both legal and potentially discriminating interview questions:

    1. The Close-Ended Question: This type of question is used to clarify or verify employment information on the résumé or application and to correct deficiencies related to past employment information.

      Examples of close-ended questions include:

      • When did you leave your last job?
      • There is a gap between … and … on your application. Were you employed during that time?
      • Do you have any experience as a supervisor?
    2. The Open-Ended Question: This type of question helps the applicant provide an explanation and/or clarification, express opinions and insights, and reveal the presence or absence of crucial job-related factors, such as interpersonal skills, communication skills, personality traits, motivation, the process for decision making, organizational skills, and thinking power. It encourages applicants to supply in-depth information, and it requires the applicant to think before answering.

      Open-ended questions generally focus on "How...?" "What...?" "When...?" "Describe..."

      Examples of open-ended questions include:

      • "Tell me what you did when you were faced with a deadline and additional demands were unexpectedly put upon you."
      • "Describe a significant contribution you made in your present or last position."
      • "How did you deal with a dishonest coworker?"
    3. The Situational Question: This type of question describes an actual job-related situation. Describe a situation the applicant would face if he or she were hired for this particular job, and then ask the applicant to identify steps he or she would take to handle or solve the situation or problem. Or identify a job-related problem and ask how the candidate would solve it.

      Situational questions predict future performance if the applicant is hired. They also reveal some of the applicant's organizational and problem-solving skills.

      Examples of situational questions include:

      • "If I gave you an urgent problem to resolve while you were working on a critical deadline, how would you handle the request?"
      • "A customer received the wrong resource for the second time, and the correct resource is needed for a training event in two days. How would you handle the customer's need?"
    • Family
      Legal Question: Do you have any responsibilities that conflict with your performing the essential functions of the position, job attendance, or travel requirements?

      Discriminatory Questions: Are you married? What is your maiden name? Do you have any children? What are your child-care arrangements? Is your spouse employed?

    • Race
      Legal Questions: None

      Discriminatory Question: What is your race?

    • Residence
      Legal Question: What is your address?

      Discriminatory Questions: Do you own or rent your home? Who resides with you?

    • Age
      Legal Question: If hired, can you offer proof that you are at least 18 years of age?

      Discriminatory Questions: How old are you? What is your birth date?

    • Arrests or Convictions of a Crime
      Legal Question: Have you ever been convicted of a crime?

      Discriminatory Question: Have you ever been arrested?

    • Nationality
      Legal Questions: Can you show proof of your eligibility to work in the U.S.? Are you fluent in any languages other than English (if job-related)?

      Discriminatory Questions: Are you a U.S. citizen? Where were you born?

    • Disability
      Legal Question: Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodations?

      Discriminatory Questions: Do you have a disability? What is the nature or severity of your disability?

Set the Tone for the Interview

  1. Find a place where there will be no interruptions.
  2. Make the applicant feel at ease.
  3. Make the applicant aware of how each member of the interview team relates to the position for which the applicant is interviewing.
  4. Explain the process you plan to follow for the interview.

Interview the Applicant

  1. The warm-up period is the first essential step for a good interview. It is the interview team's opportunity to let the applicant feel that team members are sincere, honest, and interested in him or her. You need the applicant's confidence and cooperation to make the interview a success.
  2. Use open-ended, probing questions.
  3. Verify information on the application, résumé, and appendix that is essential for the position.
  4. Ask for specific experiences — for information rather than generalities.
  5. Don't be afraid of silence during the interview.
  6. If an applicant gives a rehearsed answer, probe deeper by asking additional questions related to the original question.
  7. Avoid potentially discriminating questions.

Close the Interview

  1. Give the applicant an opportunity to add any other information that he or she feels would be helpful for the interview team to know.
  2. Give the applicant an opportunity to ask any further questions about the job.
  3. Discuss the next steps in the process.

Rate the Applicant Based Upon the Interview

  1. Rate each candidate as soon as possible after the interview.
  2. If more than one interviewer participates in the interview process, each should first rate the candidate separately. Then the interviewers as a group should rate the candiate.

Check References

  1. Verify information that was shared in the interview or on the application, résumé, and appendix.
  2. Check information with people who have had direct experience with the applicant.

Determine Which Applicant Is the Best Match for the Job

  1. Develop a composite on each applicant that includes information from the application and résumé, interview, reference check, and background check.
  2. Review the five or six essential behavioral traits and skills that were determined before the interview questions were developed.
  3. Determine which candidate's overall knowledge, skills, and abilities are the best match.

Velma Bradley is retired from the Discipleship Ministries. At the time of this article, she was the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Discipleship Ministries.

Copyright © 2002 the Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

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