Interviewing & Hiring Intern Candidates

So, your church’s Internship is out there—it’s posted on ministry forums; it’s sent to fellow ministers and alumni from your youth group; it’s posted on job boards at universities and college ministry foundations. Now you have to properly vet your applicants (yes, all of them).

If you’ve ever applied to a job, you may have a solid grasp of the process—resumes sent, multiple interviews, some references submitted, and a couple weeks watching the phone!

Here’s what the other side of that phone watching process can look like:

First Interview (Phone Call)

Keep it relatively short—20-30 minutes can enable you to zip through as many candidates as necessary. Here’s some example questions you can use to quickly get to know each candidate and also begin to formulate an idea of their fit for your internship (it’s a rare case where you get the chance to ask ALL of these, so pick the most appropriate ones while also adding any others as needed; and don’t forget to take notes!):

  • Tell Them About Your Church & Ministry (2-3 minutes)

  • Get to Know You’s: Where are you from? Hobbies? Fave classes in college? (2-3 minutes)

  • Ministry Questions: Do you feel a calling to ministry? If so, tell me about it? A couple highs/lows from previous ministry experiences? What brought you to apply for this internship? (5-10 minutes)

  • Faith/Life Questions: What does your faith look like on a daily/regular basis? What excites you in your vocational pursuits? Tell me about: …your theological background? …about Christ’s role in your life? …about Christ’s role in your ministry? (5-7 minutes)

  • Do They Have Questions? Make sure you leave a few minutes at the end for them to ask you questions. This can be especially valuable for your own discernment process, so don’t skip it. (3-5 minutes)

  • Next Steps: Lastly, give them your timeline (what next steps are; when they’ll hear from you) and thank them for their time!

Background Checks

At this stage, you’ll want to pick your top few candidates, and reach out to 2-3 references for each. Call or email each reference and ask when they’d have 10 minutes for a reference check for the candidate. During the reference check, you can focus on the following:

  • The candidate’s Strengths & Weaknesses in ministry/service/employment (one or two of each is sufficient)

  • Then ask the reference to rate the candidate on a 1-10 scale on each of the following:

    • Faithfulness - how loyal (committed, faithful, etc) to their job, class or team are they?

    • Availability - Being “available” is more nuanced than simply, “Are they willing to say ‘yes’ to new opportunities?” but for the sake of this reference check, feel free to keep it simple.

    • Teachability - Are they a lifelong learner? Do they learn on the job? Are they humble, willing to admit when they’re wrong, and willing to be taught be “teachers” of all ages/races/genders?

Final Interview (In-Person or Video Call)

After narrowing down your field to your top 2-3 candidates, you move on to the final interview. Make sure you reach out to those candidates who didn’t make the cut!*

It can be very helpful to bring in members from your church’s HR/Personnel team (even if only a few of them), some of your volunteers or even some parents. Have them prepare questions beforehand, and feel free to coach them during that process. You may choose to share the candidates’ responses (from the first interview) with them as well. If you’re doing these final interviews solo, go more in depth with questions you asked in earlier interviews. Feel free to ask follow up questions that may have come up during/after the earlier interviews (this is one of many reasons you take notes during all interviews!)

After you’ve completed these final interviews with your top candidates, spend a couple days to pray and “marinate” over the decision, and then once you’ve made your decision, call them and offer them the gig! If they need, you can give them a few days to contemplate, but not much longer—you have your other candidates (who are now your back-up options) waiting to hear back from you! Once a candidate has accepted the position, make sure you let all other candidates know!*

Note: larger churches generally have more thorough processes—if you find yourself at a larger church, use those resources to your advantage! Get one of your personnel/HR people to guide you, or even join you for the interviews!

*This is always the most difficult part of this process. Be empathic, but keep it brief. Example: “Thanks for applying; we enjoyed getting to know you; while we were impressed with your qualifications, experience and heart for ministry, we have elected to move forward with other candidates”

Creating an Attractive Youth Internship

Hello Madam Youth Minister.  I bet your office is organized, your volunteers are scheduled for every youth event for the next six months, your funds are all raised, your Pastor is posting on facebook about their amazing Youth Minister and you’ve got a line of parents out your office waiting to pat you on the back and shower you with gifts.  So I’m certain you definitely don’t need any help finding an Intern!  I mean, it’s *insert month here*!!!  Of course you have your intern candidate lined out!

But you’re still reading this, you know, for a friend.  Well, thank you for being here on behalf of that friend!  Let’s help that friend find an Intern!  We’ll be looking at creating a “healthy internship” with diverse ways of finding intern candidates:

A Healthy Youth Ministry Internship has Attractive Salary & Benefits
It has a healthy pay package, and even provides housing for candidates, allowing anyone to apply for the job and not limiting the internship to local candidates.  For those who like numbers, $200-300 per week for 8-12 weeks plus housing provided is very competitive.

A Healthy Youth Ministry Internship has an Attractive Job Description
It may seem selfish, but mature Intern Candidates are always asking, “What will I get out of this?”  So a Job Description that shows, both explicitly and implicitly, THAT the Intern will grow throughout the Internship and even hints at HOW they’ll grow—how they’ll become better candidates for full-time gigs, how they’ll develop their professional tasks, grow in their own faith, and see more of their own passions, gifts and abilities in action.

A Healthy Youth Ministry Internship is Attractive… Everywhere*
The Attractive Job Description (with info on the Attractive Salary & Benefits) is OUT THERE!  It’s posted on facebook forums, on college campus bulletin boards & on your church website.  It’s given to your student alumni.  It’s emailed & texted to Pastors and other Youth Ministers.  It’s even posted on job sites like the YouthSpecialties Job Bank!   

One last thing… 

Rome wasn’t built in a day.  Look before you leap.  The process doesn’t always look like progress.  Patience is a virtue.  All things come to he/she who waits.  Slow & Steady wins the raise.  The tortoise beat the hare.  You can’t hurry love...  okay, maybe it was more than one thing.

Oh wait!  They’re all the same thing!  Creating ANYTHING takes time.  And there’s even steps to do before the above-mentioned ones (like budgetary considerations, casting vision to church leadership, figuring out what your intern will do all summer, finding a workspace for them, etc.).  But these steps will help move your church a long way toward creating a healthy culture of employing seasonal ministry interns!

*Not actually everywhere