YOU’RE HIRED! Getting the right person for the right job.
Key Responsibility for All in Management
As people are promoted into management positions or selected as pastors of parishes, they are rarely evaluated on their ability to get the right person for the right job, yet it is a key function of management to do just that.. Effective hiring practices increase the likelihood that the mission of the organization will be fulfilled, even thrive. All of us who have been in supervisory and management positions for awhile, can point to those times when the hiring process was particularly successful. We take pride in the members of our staff whom we brought on board and those people have made major contributions to the success of the parish or organization. We are also keenly aware of those times when we chose the wrong person and that person not only did not adequately contribute to the mission but may actually have made the work environment difficult. The question before us is how can we implement hiring practices that provide a much greater probability of success?
Who are the applicants?
Recruiting and advertising are critical components to successful hiring. The goal is to have a diverse pool of candidates from which to choose. This isn't easy. In a parish or other church organizations, there will be people from whom we can seek assistance, using the Internet as a recruitment tool. In today’s world, this is essential if we are to attract a wide variety of candidates.
We also need to look at the more traditional means of advertising such as newspapers, university placement offices, national organizations such as National Association of Lay Ministry, parish bulletins and placement services which exist in many dioceses. The organization needs to decide if the search will be a national search or if the search will remain local. This determines the kind of advertising that will be done.
In the case of parishes, it is usually too narrow to advertise only in the parish. The pool of candidates may not be diverse and may not have the skills and experience that the pastor needs. As just and fair employers we always want to work toward equal employment opportunities for those of various racial, language and ethnic backgrounds, and those who are disabled but can fulfill the job description requirements. Without actively pursuing a diverse pool of candidates we are limiting our chances of having excellent candidates for positions. For example, if we want a person who has excellent computer and Internet skills but we don’t use the Internet to advertise, we are missing a resource that is most likely to yield a person with those skills.
In key positions at a diocesan level or for some church related organizations, a search firm can also be very helpful. A good search firm will insure a diverse pool of candidates and can find people with high-level skills and experience. While this can be an expensive process, if the position is a key position, it could be worth the expense. The National Association of Church Personnel Administrators (NACPA) does executive searches at a reasonable cost.
Is a job description important?
We will never successfully hire for a position if we haven ‘t taken the time to write a current and fairly detailed job description that provides a basic summary of the job and then lists the essential responsibilities of that position including any physical requirements of the job. We also need to have the requirements and preferences of skills, credentials and experience that is needed for the successful candidate. Whatever is listed as requirements, must be a determining factor in the hiring process. Preferences will be considered as factors but may be compromised on if necessary. In fair and legal employment practices, if the requirements change, the position should be readvertised. For example, if Spanish is a requirement for the position, then the successful candidate must speak Spanish. If it is a preference, that skill will be considered but a candidate could be hired who does not speak Spanish.
Should we use a search committee?
Interviewing and search committees can be very helpful even at the parish level. However, such a committee needs to clearly understand its role. For example, advice and consultation from such a committee in the parish can help the pastor prevent a hiring disaster but they need to understand they are advising not deciding. Usually it is the pastor who decides.
One of the potential problems that anyone who is doing hiring faces, is that we try to be sure that we address whatever problem or problems existed with the previous person and hire with only that in mind. Maybe we had a DRE who was terrific with programs for young children but knew nothing about how to organize a program for middle school and high school age. The pastor may be so focused on getting a person skilled with older children that he misses other gaps in the candidate’s skill set. There is a factor present in many hiring situations called the halo effect. One particular skill or dynamic personality style becomes so positive in the mind of the hiring person that he or she no longer sees the problems with that candidate. Committees really help us avoid this problem. Others will see when the hiring decision maker is too focused on one or more particular characteristics or skills and missing the others.
Committees will also be skilled at having broader based interviews and will be very helpful to a candidate that is selected because they will have a stake in the success of that person. There are many positions, where it is also helpful to see how the candidate relates to a variety of people and engages with a group of people.
Are there interviewing techniques that are helpful?
We all know that yes or no questions yield very little helpful information. We also know that if the interviewer does most of the talking instead of the candidate, we have not learned much about that person. Although relating information to the candidate about the organization and the position has a place in the interview, it is not the primary purpose. The purpose of the interview is to determine if the person has the right qualifications and personality style to effectively do the job and further the mission.
Interview questions need to focus on the position and the skills and attributes needed to do the job. There are two kinds of questions that are particularly effective. Behavioral questions focus on past experiences. Such questions often begin with, “Tell me about a time that you worked on a project with others that was particularly successful. What made that project successful?” The counterpoint question will be, “Tell me about a time you worked on a project that was not successful.” You can follow up with, “Why wasn't it successful? What did you learn?” Be wary of anyone who tells you that every project he or she worked on was successful. That tells me the person hasn't tried much. Failure is not a problem. Not learning from a failure is a problem.
Hypothetical questions point to the future or potential issues that the person could face in the position for which he or she is applying. For example, “What would you do as the new school principal, if you found there was a small but vocal group of parents who were sabotaging any of your suggestions for change?” These questions will tell you a lot about a person’s leadership style, problem solving abilities and communication skills.
Questions about the person’s skills, credentials, and education are always appropriate. Likewise, any questions that get to motivations or personality style as they relate to the position are also appropriate. It is important to invite the candidate to also ask questions of the search committee or the interviewer. One thing you can find out in such a question is whether the candidate has done their homework about the parish or organization. Does he or she know who you are, and are they interested in your mission? These questions help you understand if the person will be a good “fit.”
There are questions that are illegal to ask in an interview. Any question that could lead to a charge of discrimination in the hiring process must not be asked. For example, you may not ask questions related to the person’s race, ethnic background, marital status, family status such as number of children, language skills unless listed as a job preference or requirement, age, military discharge status or disability. You can consult your diocesan human resources office for a list of such questions. Likewise you may not request a photo to be submitted as part of the application process. Some of these questions, but not all, may be asked after a job offer is made, such as marital status for the purpose of enrollment in health insurance, date of birth, etc..
When do I check references, and do background and credential checks?
Criminal background checks are usually completed after a job offer is made but before the person begins the job. Job offers are contingent on successfully completing the criminal background check. Credit checks are rarely done and usually only for positions that involve handling of significant amounts money. Checks on credentials are very important. Exaggerating and even lying on resumes is commonplace. Don’t believe that a person has an MBA from Harvard without checking on that claim.
Reference checking should be done as part of the hiring process and is not limited to only those persons listed on the resume. It is legitimate to contact anyone who might have information as to the employability of the candidate. Ordinarily, we do not contact a current employer without the candidate’s permission. Permission needs to be given before we make a job offer. It isn't a good idea to make a job offer without talking to the current employer. A bad reference isn't a deal breaker but is important information. Sometimes a bad reference happens because the fit wasn't right or there was a personality conflict. A pastor can get excellent information from another pastor. Use of the telephone is important for reference checking. People will say things on the phone they will not put in writing, even an email.
Employers need to use of a standard application in addition to a resume. Applications have a greater possibility of comparing like characteristics in a pool of candidates. Applications have less possibility of being deceptive with numbers and dates and will ask the crucial questions of each candidate. Applications may not have any of the illegal questions as outlined in one of the paragraphs above. For example, you may not ask for birthday information or health history on an application. On the other hand, when you ask for work history, you can include month and year for each position as well as reason for leaving. When you ask only for the year, it is possible that gaps in employment are not readily visible. There is nothing wrong with a gap in employment, but you have a right to know why.
How do I make a job offer?
It needs to be clear that a job offer is contingent on successfully doing a background check. Such an offer usually comes in the form of an offer letter with the job title, compensation, including annualized salary or hourly wage information and a brief outline of benefits, start date and may include a few immediate goals to be accomplished relative to the job description. No ending date should be included because that makes the offer into a contract. With the exception of schools, most positions do not require a contract.
What happens next?
Orientation, which is often now called on-boarding, probation periods, and systematic feedback are critical factors in the first stages of employment for a new person. Contrary to popular opinion, the higher level of the position, the more on-boarding activities are needed. People in significant leadership positions often need coaching and feedback for as long as two years after they begin their new position. Executives often fail in their second year, not the first. I am a believer in probation periods of three to six months because systematic feedback to the new employee is required when there is a probation period. Such feedback really helps the person be successful in the position. Terminations during or at the end of a probation period are often a little easier than when they happen later, but a probation period does not mean that terminations can happen for a discriminatory reason or that a charge of discrimination can’t be filed with the EEOC. However, as long as the termination is not discriminatory, it is usually easier. The main reason for probation periods though, is that the potential success of the candidate is enhanced when there is clear feedback about expectations, strengths and weaknesses at the beginning of the employment period.
The goal of the good hiring process is to find the right person, with the right skills, qualifications and experience to do the job very well. It is also crucial that we find the person who fits. Will this person’s leadership style and personality characteristics add to the well-being of this parish or church organization? Will the other members of the staff and the parishioners or clients of the organization find a person with whom they want to work? These are critical to the successful hiring process. Does this person really care about the mission, vision, and values of this organization and will he or she work efficiently and effectively to make them happen? We are looking for the person who want to do more than their job description. We want the person to be committed to the mission almost as much as we are! Don’t settle for less!
Carol Fowler is formerly the Director of the Department of Personnel Services for the Archdiocese of Chicago. She coordinated the work of 17 Archdiocesan agencies, which oversee all of the human resources functions for laity, religious, and clergy of the Archdiocese. The Archdiocese employs about 16,000 people. As one of the seven Archdiocesan department directors, she served on the Cardinal’s Administrative Council.
Ms. Fowler was the President of the National Association of Church Personnel Administrators and served on the board of Regina Dominican High School. Carol is a member of the Board for the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management. She was also a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for the Study of Church Management at Villanova University and a member of the Society for Human Resource Management.
She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Baltimore. Her doctoral project was on lay ecclesial ministry. She has a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from the Adler School of Professional Psychology and a B.A. in Social Science with a secondary teaching certificate from Michigan State University. The Human Resources Certification Institute of the Society for Human Resource Management certifies Ms. Fowler as a Senior Professional in Human Resources.