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I have been rather quiet on this blog for the past month as I have been busy conducting a search for an assistant.  Now that we have successfully completed that task, let me share with you our process and my observations about the responses to the process.

The Old North Foundation was seeking an Assistant Director for Education.  This is a secular, museum position, requiring a masters in history or museum studies.  It is the equivalent of a full-time assistant rector position.  I learned of the vacancy on August 3, when the previous incumbent announced he had accepted an offer to lead a historical agency in Wellesley.  We hired a new assistant on September 10.

My first step was to secure interim coverage of essential parts of the job.  We promoted our lead tour guide from part-time to full-time and I assumed grants administration on a temporary basis.

The second step was to design the search process.  Our process was simple.  Advertise the position, screen resumes, conduct initial interviews to further screen the list, present final candidates to a small committee of the board, and make a final decision.  Only four people were involved in the process, which shortened the timeline considerably.  I led the effort, assisted by the Foundations other senior assistant, and two board members.

We wrote the job description, modifying previous job descriptions to reflect the evolution of the position.  We fill the job every three to five years, so the old descriptions did no need much tweaking.

The position was posted on a job site maintained by the Massachusetts Cultural Council called HireCulture.org.  It was also circulated to other history museums and societies in Boston.  Within two weeks we had received almost forty resumes from as far away as Florida.  Almost all met our minimum requirements for education and experience.

The gift shop manager and I selected seven candidates to invite for an interview.  Six responded.  After those interviews, we turned down two who did not have the requisite skills our experience.

The four finalists were invited back for second interviews with two board members ( a third had to back out due to a family illness), the gift shop manager, and myself.  One board member conducted phone interviews.  The other participated in half hour interviews with the gift shop manager and myself.

At the end of the interviews, I asked each interviewer to rank the candidates and comment on the skills and values they discerned in each candidate.  The interviewers felt that all four candidates were strong and could fulfill our expectations.  Two candidates seemed a bit stronger than the others.  I was left with the final decision.

The decisive factor in the final decision was that our chosen candidate was an internal candidate, already teaching our history program to elementary school students.  Both the gift shop manager and I were pleasantly surprised by our decision.  We began the process fully expecting to hire outside.  As this was a secular position, there was no prohibition against hiring from within.  We debated briefly how the decision might impact the rest of the guide staff, and concluded that the impact would be minimal and mostly positive.

When we issued the first invitations to interview, I informed all other candidates by e-mail that we would not be able to offer them an interview.  I received several responses thanking me for getting back to them, noting how often they applied a job and never heard anything.  One said, “That is the nicest turn down letter I have ever received.”   Clergy, please note, the widespread lack of communication we experience in church searches is endemic of a widespread rudeness in secular culture.

One of our board members asked a great question of each candidate that was new to me.  “How do you manage up?”  This is the perfect question to ask potential subordinates as it recognizes that those of us with final authority may not always be right.  I wonder when interviewing candidates for rector or bishop, whether we should ask them, “How do you encourage subordinates to manage up to you?”

I dreaded having to call the unsuccessful final candidates, having been through that a number of times.  It is not easy to say no to someone who has impressed you.  The conversations were all very short.  I could hear the disappointment in their voices.  One candidate e-mailed me shortly after our conversation asking for feedback.  I could honestly tell her that she had been very impressive, but that the final decision was made on a factor out of her control, as we chose an internal candidate.  Clergy note: in my experience, final decisions are often made on factors outside of our control.  The decision is not that we are not good enough, but that someone else possesses a set of skills and values that fit better than ours do.

Why were we able to move so quickly?

  1. This was a secular process, where short searches are the norm.
  2. This was an assistant, not an executive position.
  3. Only four people participated.  Our church’s proclivity to appoint large committees is inefficient.
  4.  We used a secular jobs bulletin board that is closely watched by professionals in the field.  We were not worried about call vs. discernment theology.
  5. We were confident enough to make our first cut based on the resume and cover letter.  We did not require additional writing samples.
  6. We did not reference check until the end of the process.  Reference checks do not generally yield much useful information for decision makers.  All candidates provide positive references and in the secular world, references rarely will make a derogatory comment for fear of being sued.  References can help affirm a decision that has pretty much been made.
  7. We were not trying to find the one, preordained, perfect match.  Rather we were trying to find a candidate who would exceed our expectations.  As Voltaire said, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Throughout the search process, we tried to treat all candidates with respect.  Responses to communications from candidates were prompt.  The timeline was made clear.  Interviewees were told when they would learn of a decision.  No candidate spent more than a few weeks of psychic energy thinking about this job.  We never contacted any of the candidates’ current workplaces.

Now some may say, “As a church, we must do things differently when it comes to clergy searches.”  To which I would respond, “Must that always be the case?”