the shape of leadership

Ten Red Flags in the Hiring Process

What to pay attention to when interviewing candidates

Stephen Blandino on February 26, 2021


Hiring a new staff member is a big decision. It impacts the effectiveness of the church, the chemistry of the team, the ministry he or she will serve, and the health of the congregation as a whole.

Jesus said, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:12–13).

The last thing you want on your team is someone who “runs away” when leading gets tough. Staff members who care only about themselves will dismantle your vision, disrupt your team, and delay your progress.

This is why a thorough hiring process is so important. A deliberate and detailed hiring system that includes interviews, assessments, references, and great questions will help you spot any warning signs that a candidate may not be a good fit. It can be easy to overlook these signs, especially when you like the person.

Here are 10 red flags to watch for:

1. The candidate does not mention past failures. During the interview process, I always ask candidates what they’ve done in previous work environments that didn’t work out the way they had hoped. Asking this question will reveal a candidate’s willingness to talk about past failures. If the person can’t think of anything, he or she may be either arrogant or risk averse.

2. The candidate exaggerates his or her answers. Two of the biggest team dysfunctions are pride and insecurity. If a candidate exaggerates, that same behavior will disrupt your team dynamics. If you think a candidate is exaggerating, ask his or her references for perspective on the same issues. If the candidate’s answers don’t match those of the references, that’s a red flag.

3. The candidate takes credit for the work of others. I always ask candidates, “In previous work environments, what helped you succeed, besides your own skills and abilities?”

Access to big budgets, great volunteers, a support staff, and other resources can impact our level of success. The candidate should be able to quickly acknowledge those things. Furthermore, listen for the candidate’s willingness to affirm others who helped make his or her success possible.

4. The candidate has no track record of results. Past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior. If the candidate has no track record of results, it’s unlikely that person will deliver results in your setting either.

A great question to ask is, “Tell me about two things you’ve grown. What was it like before you arrived and after you left?”

The one exception is young people right out of school. In this case, pay extra attention to work ethic, ability to get along with others, and teachability.

If a candidate exaggerates, that same behavior will disrupt your team dynamics.

5. The candidate tries too hard to look like an expert. You want to understand the candidate’s level of knowledge, competency and skill. The biggest indicator will be a track record of results.

However, candidates who try too hard to look like an expert will assume the same posture when they work for you. As a result, they’ll infect your culture with arrogance and quickly tell you why what you’re doing (and what your team is doing) is wrong, inferior or missing the mark.

6. The candidate speaks poorly of a former boss. Badmouthing former bosses is pathetic and prophetic. It’s pathetic because it reveals the candidate’s lack of character and maturity. It also reveals a negative attitude toward authority. It’s prophetic because one day that person will do the same to you.

7. The candidate is disliked by the team. One of the best things you can do in the hiring process is conduct a team interview. This will give you a snapshot of the candidate’s chemistry with the team.

Once the team interview is over, go to lunch together and pay attention to the candidate’s interactions with others. Following lunch, debrief with your team members and get their input and perspective.

8. The candidate cannot explain job transitions. People often move from one job to the next. But if someone cannot give good reasons for each transition, that should be a red flag. Pay attention to the frequency of moves and the reason for them.

We dedicate an entire interview to this process by asking candidates the same five questions about every job they’ve held over the last 10 to 15 years. Those questions revolve around what they were hired to do, what achievement they are most proud of in that job, what their biggest struggle was, what their boss would say was their biggest strength and weakness, and why they left.

9. The candidate’s family is unsupportive of the move. If you sense hesitancy or a lack of buy-in from the candidate’s spouse or children, put the brakes on the interview process. If the candidate loves your church and city, but his or her spouse and children don’t, it will likely turn into a short-term hire.

10. The candidate is more interested in getting than giving. I believe we should take care of our staff. Good compensation, benefits, and adding value to our staff members is one way we give to them. However, if their biggest concern is compensation, benefits, platform-building, recognition, and main-stage opportunities, consider this a warning sign.

Pay attention to motives, passion for your vision (not the candidate’s vision), and what gets the candidate excited about the opportunity to serve in your context.

All of these red flags deal with character, competency and chemistry. These are not the only warning signs to pay attention to in the hiring process, but they’re a good place to start.

Again, the key to discovering these red flags is an intentional and deliberate hiring process with multiple interviews. When you move slowly and carefully, the red flags will make themselves known.

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