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Hiring: Last Step, Best Step

In the art of hiring the right candidate for a position, I’ve found that the last step is the most important.  After all the work of creating a position, describing it accurately, and seeking the candidate that fills the bill, it’s a tragedy to hire someone who doesn’t have the skills and gifting needed or has a character issue that disqualifies them.   

In order to assess those skills, gifting, and character issues, I believe we put too much faith in the materials the candidate provides and the interview process.  Too many candidates have the gift of writing and interviewing well, but may lack the qualifications and qualities you desire.  Then, when we hire, we’re surprised the candidate isn’t the person we thought they were.

Therefore, it is my considered opinion that the last and most important step in hiring is a thorough process of reference checks and a site visit.

Below is what I think is crucial in that last step.

Phone Interviews

You should have completed your phone interview with the candidate and are now ready to proceed with several phone conversations with references provided by the candidate.  Focus on recent employers and especially those who supervised them.  I would include a phone call to the candidate’s employer previous to their current position.

Be sure to write questions and interview topics you want to cover in the conversations.  If you don’t take time to craft the questions and topics, you’ll find you haven’t obtained the information you need to make an informed decision.  Capture in written form the insights you gain through the phone conversations.

Additional Phone Connections

If the phone interviews go well and you want to make additional phone connections, I would suggest contacting a staff member that provides support for the candidate’s ministry, like a secretary or assistant.

For each of these phone conversations, request another contact possibility who has firsthand insight into the candidate.  Don’t forget to ask for contact information.

Face-to-Face Interviews

From the written materials and phone reference checks, decide if you want to proceed with a face-to-face interview of the candidate.  The interview should take place at your location.  That way, the candidate will receive firsthand information about you while providing an opportunity to interview them.

The Site Visit

If you’re still interested in the candidate, on to the critical step.  This one is usually omitted because of the financial implications, the site visit

The visit gives the “face-to-face and eye-to-eye” conversations that will move you down the path of getting a truer picture of your candidate.  I would start with face-to-face contact with the candidate’s employer.  Make sure that includes those who supervise the person.  Even if they weren’t employed in the current ministry, interview those who supervised them as a volunteer.

Also, connect with volunteers and participants from their current ministry.  If they have worked with youth or children, include some parents.  The candidate should be able to provide those contacts.  Include representatives from church leadership, such as elders or deacons.

Remember the contacts you solicited from the phone interviews?  They would be potential interviewees during the site visit.  Other possible folks to interview would be the parents of the candidate.  Once again, write out the questions and interview topics you might want to engage.

Capture, in writing, important content from site visit interviews.  When you get home, compare the written materials, phone connections, and interview to that information.


Now you should be ready to decide if you will proceed with offering the position.  You still don’t have the perfect picture of the candidate, but your chances of a successful hire are greatly increased.  Hey, remember to bathe this whole process in prayer.  By being thorough on your part of the hiring process, I’m confident the Holy Spirit will do His. 

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Dr. David Fletcher draws on his extensive experience as an Executive Pastor (XP) to run XPastor.org, a global ministry tool for leaders of churches of all sizes. Dr. Fletcher teaches as an adjunct professor and facilitator in the D.Min program at Dallas Theological Seminary and directs the Doctor of Ministries Program at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of India. He currently serves as XP for The Chapel in Akron, OH. Contact Dr. Fletcher at DrFletcher@XPastor.org.