Dear church staff candidate:
Your resumé matters. It matters so much that you ought to have a knowledgeable person proofread it before you send it out. I’ve just returned from a search committee meeting at church where a committee of lay members reviewed your resumé, and they were astonished at what they saw.
You may think you’re pitching your vital statistics to another pastor who will understand your language and style with a forgiving eye, but that’s seldom the case. In reality, your resumé most likely will be eyeballed by professionals. Here’s who was around the table in our committee meeting tonight: three lawyers, a geneticist, a professional fundraiser, a human resources manager, a former accounting firm recruiter who now is a stay-at-home mom and two engineers.
As professionals, these laypeople were shocked at the amount of personal information you included on your resumé. You told us dates of birth for you, your spouse and your children. The person on our committee who is a human resources manager for a large national firm said if she received a resumé like that at work, she would have to throw it in the trash without looking at it, due to potential age discrimination. Yes, churches are exempt from that type of hiring discrimination, but smart laypeople aren’t going to be swayed just because they’re at church and not at work. They don’t see listing your family credentials as an asset; they see you being careless with personal information.
And then there are your typos. If you’ve managed to earn a graduate degree, you ought to know the proper name of your degree. It’s a “master of divinity” degree, not a “master’s of divinity” or a “masters of divinity.” Picky? Yes. But the care you put into polishing your professional credentials offers a window into the kind of care you’ll take as a staff member in our congregation. Most churches don’t want sloppy.
When you leave off dates when your degrees were earned, you appear to be hiding something. In Baptist life today, and particularly in moderate Baptist life, dates matter a lot. For example, there’s a big difference in a degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1990 versus 2000. Our laypeople understand that the school fundamentally changed between those years. And while we’re on education, don’t try to inflate your degree. One of you tried to tell us tonight that a graduate diploma in theology is the same as a master of divinity degree. Sorry; it’s not.
And then there are the other little clues of carelessness that throw your resumé immediately into the “do not consider” pile: failing to update the resumé to reflect your current position or lack thereof; indicating a degree was anticipated to be received three years ago; telling us the names of churches where you’ve worked but not the cities or states; failing to offer a cover letter explaining noticeable gaps in your employment. One of our committee members had searched the Internet for information about you before he came to the meeting tonight. He pointed out discrepancies between your stated credentials and what was found on your current or former church’s Web site.
Finally, understand that references matter. Whoever told you to put “references available upon request” was wrong. Smart search committees immediately look at the names and positions of your references. Is there a reference listed from even one of your previous employers? Why not? Are your references all from the same place? Probably not a good idea. Have you spelled correctly the names of your references? Are any of the references people who will carry a measure of influence with the church considering you? That makes a difference. At least two people were spared the discard pile tonight based solely on the strength of their references.
And here’s a final bonus: Skip the God talk. Just because you’re applying for a church staff position doesn’t mean you need to prove your spiritual mettle in a folksy statement of personal mission. What might be endearing to your mother probably won’t translate to a group of people who haven’t yet met you.
Sadly, we’re not going to meet you, though, because these little mistakes put your resumé among the 12 out of 18 received that went straight to the recycle bin. We hoped for so much better.