Pastor, Over Prepare for Job Interviews

During the last 12 months, I’ve been posting some tips to help pastors find the right job in a local church. This post is a continuation of the series. In it, I discuss “why” and “how” to get ready for job interviews.

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However much time you think that you need to prepare for a job interview, double it. I don’t say this because you need more busywork. Preparing for job interviews isn’t busy work; it’s mission critical.

As a candidate, you need to make sure you are truly prepared for interviews, and to become “truly prepared,” I advocate getting to the place where you feel as though you have almost over prepared. In my experience, if you get to the place of feeling “over prepared,” in reality, you’ve probably prepared adequately.

I learned this principle during my experience as a young engineer, not necessarily in the context of interviewing but the principle still applies. At the construction company where I worked, we billed every hour of design directly to a particular project. For my first year or two, this led me to feel tremendous pressure to complete my jobs as quickly as possible.

When it came time for installation, however, let’s just say that the union construction workers were pretty good at letting me know that I hadn’t tried hard enough. Not only was this humbling, but it was not even a good use of company money. It didn’t help the bottom line for me to “save” one hour only to have ten guys stand around for that same one hour while they fixed my mistake. This happened often enough that finally I got so frustrated that I began to “over engineer,” as I called it, all of my designs.

And what was the result? Adequate engineering.

So, to get to this place of adequate readiness for your job interviews, focus on “over preparing” in these four areas.

1. Over prepare to know the particular dynamics of your interview type

The first thing you need to know is what type of interview you are about to experience and what are the potential pitfalls of it. Here are some of the typical interview options for pastors in a local church.

  1. Paper application with short answer essays
  2. Telephone interview with one person
  3. Telephone interview with more than one person
  4. Video conference interview with one person
  5. Video conference interview with more than one person
  6. One-on-one interview, in person
  7. Group interview, in person
  8. Candidating weekend

For any job that you interview for, if you continue in the process all the way to the end, likely you’ll experience all eight of these types of interviews—some of them more than once. Therefore, think through what issues might arise with each and be ready for them.

For example, with a phone interview, if their call surprises you, which it might, plan beforehand to ask if you can call them back in 30 minutes, or whatever time makes sense. This extra time will prove valuable, especially if you are pursuing several jobs simultaneously, because you’ll want time to refresh to make sure you’re keeping them straight. Typically, requesting to call them back won’t be an issue to the potential employer, but if you haven’t planned for this scenario, you’ll likely just take the call when it comes and stumble through it on the fly.

Here’s another example of a potential challenge inherent to a certain interview format. In a video conference interview (often done with Skype, Google Hangouts, or FaceTime), expect slight delays due to poor internet connections. Trust me when I say from experience that these delays often cause people unintentionally to interrupt each other. “You go first—” “No, no, you go—” “Okay, okay, I’ll start…” Know as well that these delays often make attempts at humor difficult.

Over-preparing will help you foresee these types of challenges before they trip you up.

2. Over prepare to make your interview answers short

If you are like most people, including me, when you are not adequately prepared, you tend to ramble. Your answers are not crisp and clean; rather, they meander. This isn’t good for interviewing. It makes you look indecisive, like you are guessing. Rarely does anyone improve their answers through length (whether on written applications or in verbal interviews).

Besides looking indecisive, long answers don’t help for another reason, perhaps a surprising one. Frequently I have observed that those who are asking the questions in interviews are almost always more interested in asking their next question than they are in listening to you drone on and on about the current question. This is especially true in group interviews when the questions are asked from different people. It’s selfish, I know, and it’s a reflection of our hearts, but it’s just how it is. So remember, shorter is better.

3. Over prepare to nail the expected interview questions

When you know that something about you will likely generate questions from the employer, make sure you are ready for them.

These can be neutral things. For instance, if you are accustomed to living in southern California and the potential job is in Maine, the search committee will want to know if you have really thought through what it would be like to live with four months of heavy snow. Now, maybe you lived in Maine as a child and are excited to get back, or maybe you have no idea what it will be like, but before they ask, anticipate the question and prepare a response.

Some things about you might generate questions that are, shall we say, less than neutral. For example, were you fired from your last job? Or have you been previously married? Or are you currently in a liberal denomination (or seminary) but looking for a job in a conservative church—or vice versa? Or are you unable to move for six months because of a contractual agreement with your current employer? Or are you far younger than other people applying? Or not as formally educated?

If any one of these is true of you, or a hundred other possibilities that only you know, then prepare for the associated questions; have your answers ready.

Often, any potential concerns a church might have will be assuaged with a good explanation, if there is one. And if there isn’t, say so. The gospel, which teaches that Christians are sinners saved by grace, allows us to take ownership of our past because, in the end, our past doesn’t define us—Christ does.

4. Over prepare to end the interview well

Of course you should close the interview by thanking people for their time, but beyond this, you may have questions for them that you don’t want to forget. Perhaps you want to know when you might expect to hear back from them, or when they expect the new hire to begin employment.

It sounds silly, but if you haven’t prepared for how you’ll end the interview, you might just keep talking and talking and talking. I’ve seen it happen. In the moment, people get excited and just keep going on and on. You don’t want to do this. You don’t want to end the interview rambling about this or that, telling an anecdote about your new puppy or your new car or maybe about how you were recently injured while training for a half-marathon—which by the way was your first half-marathon—but this injury isn’t gonna stop you from being a great new hire and preaching great sermons, that’s for sure, because you’ll be ready for that, just like the time when… Yet all the while, everyone else in the interview will be thinking to themselves, “I wish he knew when to stop.”


[Photo by Jeff Sheldon/ Unsplash]