7 Major Warning Signs When Hiring Staff

Hiring someone to join your staff is one of the coolest things ever, and simultaneously can scare you spitless.

Especially if you’ve ever had a newly hired staff person go from a dream come true to your worst nightmare.

I always love the privilege to get to add someone to the team. It represents newness, progress and taking new territory. But it’s far better to have an unfilled position, no matter how long it takes, rather than hire the wrong person.

The hiring process is complicated, it’s honestly a study in human nature. Even done well, you never remove all the risks. But there are certain things you can watch for.

Over the course of three decades of hiring experience, I have observed definite patterns and behaviors that either draw me in or drive me away from a potential staff member.

Snap judgments and quick opinions are never wise, but there are specific caution flags that I’ve learned that should not be ignored.

Sometimes a caution flag turns out to be no big deal. It’s just a small piece of the candidate’s story, and in context of their larger story, it’s not something that defines who they are as a person.

In order to grasp and fully understand this kind of nuance in a person’s story it requires that you:

  • Pay close attention during the interview process.
  • Ask open ended questions, ask for stories, and ask more questions directly from their answers.
  • Don’t hesitate to ask tough questions.
  • Involve a team, and never have only one person make the hiring decision.
  • Never rush the process.

I’m sure you could add a warning flag or two, but here are seven you should not ignore.

7 Major Warning Signs:

1) It seems like a job more than a calling.

I’m not suggesting that you over spiritualize or even romanticize the hiring process. The position receives a paycheck, but it’s also a church and a sense of calling needs to be evident to some degree.

It’s a delicate balance I know; you don’t want to have someone play the God card.

For example, “God told me He wants me here.” There must be room for God to speak to both parties. But a genuine sense from the candidate that God is in the process is vital.

2) Their spouse is not fully supportive of the idea.

If the spouse isn’t enthusiastic, you need to proceed with great caution.

If the candidate says, “My husband or wife will get happy when we get here,” no they won’t. If they aren’t happy about the decision before they join the team, it only gets worse after. Don’t force it no matter how much you like the person.

It’s not that you are “interviewing” the spouse, but you do want to get to know them. It’s also important that they attend worship at your church at least once and love it.

They need to want to attend your church, not just work there.

3) Spiritual life and community appear to take a back seat to advancement.

It’s good to know the potential staff member has aspirations to rise in responsibility within the organization. Ambition is good. But there’s more to this idea.

It’s true that you are hiring a person to fulfill a specific responsibility. Be very clear on your expectations. However, in the local church, spiritual life and community cannot be separated from the job.

It’s critical that your candidate expresses a genuine longing to grow as a Christian, be part of your community, and develop in their spiritual maturity.

4) The focus is on what they’ll receive more than what they’ll contribute.

The good news is that this one is generally easy to see. The tough part is that you may be dazzled by their talent and experience and tempted to overlook it.

Things like salary and benefits, time off each week, advancement, opportunity to teach, a voice in leadership, a seat at the table, decision-making, etc., are all legitimate interests.

But if these things become the primary focus of the conversation rather than a desire to make a significant contribution and see lives changed, that’s a huge warning flag. Go slow and make sure!

5) They are critical of their former church and the leadership.

A potential staff member’s willingness to be candid is good. And telling the story of why they want to make a change sometimes contains a less than ideal current scenario. However, it’s never necessary to be harsh or critical about your previous church and or bosses.

When someone is coming from a less than ideal situation, or even a toxic one, it’s important to hear what part of that situation they take responsibility for.

The essential thing you’re looking for is the person’s willingness to take responsibility for something, or it is always someone else’s fault.

6) Humility seems to be minimal or possibly even missing.

Confidence is a good thing, but the source of a person’s confidence is important.

Do they give credit to others, tell stories of gratitude about their mentors and coaches, and acknowledge God’s part in their successes?

This is a huge indicator of their teachability, their maturity to remain positive when they don’t get their way, and ability to play team ball.

7) They appear to be uncomfortable in their own skin.

Every potential staff member needs some grace because they may be a little nervous. They want to do well, that’s natural. So, help make them feel at home and comfortable.

If, however, the candidate never seems to relax and enjoy the conversation and has trouble being himself or herself, it’s a good indicator they will continue to behave the same way when on staff.

Look for things like, do their answers seem genuine or contrived? Do they have a natural sense of humor? Are they telling their story or “reading their resume”?

I hope these seven warning signs are helpful to you.

What warning sign would you add?

2 thoughts on “7 Major Warning Signs When Hiring Staff”

  1. Great article, Dan! Love your points, and they are all important. I love in particular the point you make about the importance of a spouse’s support. I would add that in our case, we look for: 1) someone who is a “people person” (i.e., caring, a good listener, empathetic, affirming and positive, though not necessarily an extrovert… introverts can demonstrate these qualities, too) and 2) someone who is flexible. Rigid people who struggle with change do not typically do well in our environment.

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