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6 Crucial Tips to Nail a Pastoral Candidate Interview

A seasoned expert explains how pastors can land a great new role and ensure both the job and the church are the right fit.
6 Crucial Tips to Nail a Pastoral Candidate Interview
Image: milan2099 | Getty

As a Church Coach with Chemistry Staffing, I frequently talk to candidates about how to improve their interview skills. Here are the top six tips that will help candidates increase their chances of landing a great new role, with an added “cheat code” at the end of each tip to take your candidacy to the next level.

1. Do Your Homework

This may seem like an obvious starting point, but the truth is that many candidates fail to read-through the church’s statement of faith, mission, vision, and values (or other helpful areas on a typical church website) before their interview. In the age of filters and reels, candidates may like the look or feel of a particular church’s online content, service stream, or social media, but they may not align with the church’s theology or culture.

To ensure that you will be a healthy, long-term fit at the church, spend several hours combing through everything on their website. Chemistry Staffing actually screens candidates for four key components to a healthy, long-term fit with every church. You can download Chemistry Staffing’s free Interviewing Playbook here.

Cheat code: Read Google or Yelp reviews on the church to get honest feedback from real people about their experiences.

2. Get Help with Your Resume

Designing an attractive, compelling, concise, and impressive resume can be daunting. Don’t do it alone! Ask a friend who is a gifted writer, a graphic designer, or someone with marketing experience to help you.

You can even find inexpensive solutions on a service like Fiverr that will enhance the appearance of your resume experience (especially if you don’t have a lot of design experience!). Recruit someone to double-check spelling and grammar, line spacing, justification, and margins. Or, if you don’t have any qualified friends, use a website like flowcv.io to design a resume using simple templates.

Cheat Code: Your resume is not the place to embellish your skills or experience. Refrain from being deceitful or flat-out lying. When listing data, unless you have the exact information, always be conservative with your approximations.

3. Always Alert Your References

As somebody who has been on the receiving end of a reference phone call or email, it is incredibly frustrating and potentially embarrassing to not know that you’re being used as a reference.

Extend your references the courtesy of a short group email (as a BCC recipient). Explain that you have applied for a role at a specific church. Explain the scope of the job, what you love about the role and the church, and why you believe you are a good fit. This should take no more than a short paragraph (think elevator pitch). This courtesy will help your references speak to your strengths more comprehensively and persuasively.

Cheat Code: Never include references in the same file or on the same page as your resume. Never give references unless a church or staffing organization asks for them. And do not give out personal phone numbers for references unless you first gain consent.

4. On-Time Is Early

In the age of Zoom interviews, an 11:00 AM interview means you need to be in the waiting room at 10:55 AM. When churches settled for phone interviews you could simply wait for the phone to ring. But now, much like an in person interview, you cannot keep the church waiting. Show up early!

Showing up early also gives you time to verify your audio settings are working. Your Zoom background should be clean and tidy (no fun filters). The lighting should compliment your face (no windows behind you or harsh backlighting). Find a quiet room, free from distracting noises. Also, elevating your computer camera (think simple: stack some books) is really helpful and will make you look more professional. Finally, it is always wise to send a confirmation email to your point of contact a half-day prior to your scheduled call.

Cheat Code: It pains me to say this, but do not take an interview phone call or Zoom call in a car. It happens more than you think and communicates a lack of appreciation for the job opportunity. Plus, cell signals are not your friend. Use a stable computer with a strong internet connection.

5. Bring Your Own Questions

Consistently, the best candidates we see at Chemistry Staffing are the ones who have their own list of questions to ask about the church. These high-quality questions can range from culture and values to attendance and giving. Taking an interest in things you can’t readily find on the website shows wisdom and experience on your part and helps you decide whether the church is a good fit for you.

Here are two articles from Chemistry Staffing that cover some helpful questions to consider about asking a church.

Cheat Code: It is a huge win if you can turn an interview of you into an interview about the church. Churches like to feel in control, but they also like to talk about themselves. A few well-timed questions might lead to you talking about yourself for 10 minutes in a 30-minute interview. Let them talk! And listen!

6. Prepare Yourself for the Salary Discussion

If you nail the first interview, there will be more interviews with different stakeholders at the church. Eventually, though, you’ll need to negotiate a salary. A lot of pastors don’t realize this but you don’t have to accept the first number they offer. Paying for a simple but powerful salary report from ChurchSalary can help you negotiate a higher upfront salary which could add thousands of dollars of income to your annual salary. Trust me, asking for a raise after you’ve already accepted an offer is much harder than asking for one upfront.

Don’t forget to research the cost of living, especially the cost of housing and the median household income, where the church is located. These will be your expenses and this will be your community, if you accept the position.

Cheat Code: Websites like DataUSA.io condense demographics, schools, political affiliation, and economic data on one page.

Dan Navarra has over 15 years of vocational ministry experience in sunny California and a M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary. In addition to his pastoral experience, Dan is an Area Director with National Christian Foundation and also specializes in church finances, HR, generosity, and clergy compensation. Dan also serves as a Church Coach with Chemistry Staffing, where he hosts the largest annual youth pastor salary survey. His passion is helping pastors turn their calling into a sustainable career.

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