ASK MRS SMITH, SHE HAD A JOB ONCE

A few months ago I applied for a post, the advertisement of which I had been anticipating for over a year. I thought I was in with a good chance as the selectors from the congregation had asked a local priest to snoop around about me and I knew he had received some positive feedback. I was told he had stated that I should get an interview in his opinion.

In the end, I wasn't shortlisted for interview. So, I contacted the diocesan bishop concerned who kindly agreed to find out why. The answer came back that they thought my application form was "generic."

The thing is that it wasn't generic. It couldn't be. They had invented their own form that was completely different to any application form I had ever filled in (and I've filled in a lot of them). The questions were specific. I couldn't cut and paste anything off previous forms, except the basics of name and address etc. I couldn't have answered their questions more specifically unless I had visited the benefice, which couldn't happen unless I was invited for interview. A Catch 22 situation.

So, the selectors had assumed something that was untrue.

Such assumptions, according to a person I spoke to who knows something about employment protocol, is not the way to select candidates for interview. That should be done in a detached manner and should be based on the ability of the candidate as shown in the application form. Matters, such as what the candidate would intend to do in the job, should be addressed at the interview stage when the candidate can elicit the information needed to answer such questions.

This is just one example of the many faults in our amateurish selection system. Basically, a few, in most cases only a couple, of unqualified people decide who gets an interview and, ultimately, who gets a job, based on their own prejudices and particular hobby horses. Of course, this happens to an extent in all walks of life. But most concerns of the size of a national, religious denomination tend to follow the law quite strictly, something the Anglican churches in the British Isles believe does not apply to them.

Getting a job is one of the most seriously important things a person does in their life. Those responsible for employment, at every level of the Church, should be selected and trained up to be able to deal with the selection procedure at a level of competence that reflects the serious, life changing nature of the situation. That the lives of individuals and their families, and also the lives of whole congregations, can be altered for good or bad on the petty whims, often, as in the above case, the erroneous whims, of a person who has absolutely no experience of employment protocol, is a major indictment of an institution that should be doing everything it does in a caring and professional manner. Once again, secular organisations in my land are acting in a far more Christian way than the Church, which seems to be a common occurrence at this moment in time.

Comments

ASK MRS SMITH, SHE HAD A JOB ONCE — 14 Comments

  1. That the lives of individuals and their families, and also the lives of whole congregations, can be altered for good or bad on the petty whims, often, as in the above case, the erroneous whims, of a person who has absolutely no experience of employment protocol, is a major indictment of an institution that should be doing everything it does in a caring and professional manner.¨ MP

    Exactly…don´t forget that many people, in positions of responsibility or not, are simply LAZY. Who knows if you´re application was even reviewed properly…¨whims¨ says it all.

    Sorry your hope for employment didn´t work out that time…happy eye healing.

    Leonardo

  2. Some days I wonder about the CoE. We have that training and vestries get access to “transition consultants” who guide them and can keep them away from this sort of error.

  3. You are so right. I have recently been involved in such a process from the other side. Both I and my co-Churchwarden are VERY qualified to do it properly – and did so – and got a brilliant new Vicar who would never have been found via the old nudge-and-wink system. However, there are at least two priests now feeling rejected because their Area Bishop had nudged-and-winked them into believing that the job was theirs for the asking. It’s just not fair, is it?
    The consolation for you is that it would have been a nightmare working with people so inept anyway….!

  4. The consolation for you is that it would have been a nightmare working with people so inept anyway….!

    Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying the selectors are generally inept. I am highlighting only their ineptitude in employment procedures (and I would be just as inept without training).

    I’m asking for the training of good people to do a good job. Bad people getting put forward to do the job by their PCCs and vestries is a different problem that requires the widespread psychological repair of church congregations. That would be far more difficult than my request here.

  5. Dear Mad Priest,

    Your criticisms are often echoed in similar comments by clergy on our side of the pond. Most American clergy find our standard application form, the CDO profile, to be obtuse. We fervently pray a proposed overhaul of the system will bring some relief. Until then, this newsletter article: http://www.mecaclergy.org/newsletters/MECA_news_JulAug08.pdf can provide some guidance. The Clergy Leadership Institute is offering a seminar in clergy career development in Connecticut in late July. http://www.clergyleadership.com/training/schedule.html

    I’ve been coaching colleagues in job searches for fifteen years and as a big fan of yours, would be happy to offer you some insights from my work. You can e-mail me at oldnorthvicar@yahoo.com.

    Steve Ayres

  6. I have done a lot of consulting for search committees and spend a lot of time keeping them on track. Mainly that means getting them to look at the skills and abilities of the individual and the goals values of the parish to see if there is a match. We spend a lot of time beforehand trying to make the initial screenings as fair as possible. I’m sorry the processes you have been involved with haven’t been done well.

  7. Thanks, Steve. After the experience I refer to in this post, somebody from your side of the pond, with knowledge of the process, gave me some very good advice regarding the wording of my application for,. And, lo and behold, I got shortlisted for both the posts I applied to using his advice. So, should I need further advice I will certainly be approaching Americans like yourself.

  8. It is probably impractical to require everyone who sits on a parish interviewing panel to be trained in the process – my panel consisted of 2 reps from each one of the 11 Benefcie churches, plus the Rural Dean and Archdeacon. It was quite crowded!

    It was my understanding that it is the job of the Archdeacon to oversee the interview procedure, and to see that it is conducted fairly and properly. That way only one person needs to be trained.

    The Archdeacon in my interview in Stoke certainly gave strict limits as to what was proper to ask and what wasn’t, but maybe things have changed.

  9. It was my understanding that it is the job of the Archdeacon to oversee the interview procedure

    Yes, SR. And that happens in my diocese. But they don’t tend to be involved in the earlier stages, such as the shortlisting. Anyway, archdeacons hate upsetting members of the “giving” community.

  10. So how does this work, are the people who write the application form not the same ones who shortlist? If they are, how can they not know that your application was not generic. If they aren’t, what’s the point of the parish writing the application form?
    What am I missing?

  11. On the contrary, I believe that everyone involved in candidate interviews ought to attend an orientation meeting run by some qualified person, perhaps a consultant such as Mother Amelia or a layperson who has HR experience or equivalent, good sense, and has gone through the priest-hiring bit before as member of a vestry.

    Not everyone on a vestry is experienced at interviews, and a little preparation makes the vestry member more effective.

  12. In Chicago, within a few hours of the time we know a spot is going vacant, the canon to the ordinary who is our placement expert is on the phone with the wardens. The canon meets with the vestry BEFORE a search is begun, and has a list of diocese certified and trained transition consultants. Those folks meet with and train the search teams, serve as resources, provide access to any other needed pros and generally assist the searchers. Even our smallest parishes get this sort of help.

    No not every search team member is a professional HR person when they are done, but I think we do pretty well. I do agree that the standard database available from 815 needs major work. I am a data analyst by trade and have offered to help but national has a really bad case of Not Invented Here Syndrome. Still we do I think pretty well and it is not via the wink and smile system.

    FWIW
    jimB

  13. You have clearly touched a nerve, MadP. It’s as I have been saying for many a year now, Colleges don’t train prospective priests in many of the skills they need (like selection, finance, managing volunteers…etc.) and PCCs may well be well-meaning amateurs. A good Archdeacon is, indeed a God-send but the system in general needs both goodwill and luck to work.
    LL