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July 10, 2019

A 3-Step Process to Hire Perfect-fit Candidates for Your Volunteer-based Organization - An Interview with Brie Davis, Transformation Church

Transformation Church - Brie Davis Interview

Leadership, culture, belief—when you're hiring for a non-profit or volunteer-based organization, you've got to go way beyond the resume. 

It's a challenge Brie Davis knows all about. The Chief of Staff at the fast-growing Transformation Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma says, “Probably 80% of how we hire is based on how the person interviews and 20% is prayer and discernment. It takes time."

For belief-based talent pros like Brie, you simply can't afford to hire the wrong person. 

But with the number of staff almost quadrupling in just one year, we wanted to know exactly how Brie managed to fill her bench, without cutting any corners.

Here's her step-by-step process for hiring intentionally, carefully—even spiritually—to bring in perfect-fit leaders at every level of the organization.

Table of contents

  1. Hiring for a Church: Strategic Stages, Social Media Screening...and a Little Prayer
  2. First, prescreen like you mean it
  3. Stage 1: Screen for the must-haves
  4. Stage 2: The in-depth interview
  5. Stage 3: Meet the spouse
  6. Yes, you can systematize a belief-driven hiring process

Hiring for a Church: Strategic Stages, Social Media Screening...and a Little Prayer

Brie plays a downright pivotal role at Transformation Church.

Not only does she help lead the executive team, she also ensures that the culture of the church is the heart of every single thing they do. It's a big job, especially when you're growing. “We’ve had crazy growth in our church in the last year and a half and we're in a serious hiring frenzy right now. It's a great problem to have," says Brie.

By the end of the year, Brie's taking her team of approximately 30 staff members all the way up to almost 50. She knew her former hiring process wasn't going to cut it.

Next-level growth requires next-level hiring

"When we first started a year ago with an actual hiring process, we had it outlined as ‘week 1’, ‘week 2’ and so on. But we realized hiring takes longer than a couple of weeks, especially if you want to hire the right person. And every position has a different timeline," Brie recalls.

Instead of rushing to meet some arbitrary timeline, Brie decided to switch up the process and exchange ‘Weeks’ for ‘Stages’. This way, she and her hiring team would have more time to consider their options, and not feel so rushed.

Now, when a hiring manager at Transformation Church submits a 'New Hire Request' form (along with an attached ideal job description) that goes to Brie and her leadership team for approval. 

True to her role as Chief of Staff (and culture), Brie vets the request to make sure the job fits three core criteria: culture, organizational structure, salary range.

From there, it's on to her three-stage hiring process.

First, prescreen like you mean it

After the req gets the green light, it's all systems go. Brie and her team put the position online, both on their own customized Career Page and the classic high-traffic job boards like Indeed.com. 

(If you're a Breezy user like Brie, you can instantly post to all the top job boards automatically—zero copy/pasting required.)

As applicants come in, Brie and her team filter them to one of two simple columns: 'Considered' and 'Not Considered'.

"We use automated questionnaires at the beginning to make sure applicants are able to work in the US and take care of all that initial miscellaneous stuff," explains Brie.

Check social media for #nofilter insights on your applicants

Once they get a solid volume of applicants, they close the position and head straight to social media. "We check people's social media profiles before we do phone interviews and that's simply because we're a church. We want your lifestyle to be evident online as it relates to believing in what we believe in," says Brie.

After that, Brie and her team do a quick telephone pre-screening interview for all the applicants who are still sitting firmly in the 'Considered' cohort. (The 'Not Considered' applicants get an automated email thanking them for their application.)

The phone screen is led either by the hiring manager themself, or someone they've designated to screen applicants on their behalf.

"This is a part of the process that doesn't have any Actions assigned to it because sometimes when you do a phone interview you might realize this person is not the best fit, or maybe they're someone you want to consider at a later stage, or whatever the case may be," explains Brie.

Rather than over-automating the process and risk having to double back to candidates at a later stage, Brie and her team are able to pause and be intentional about how they treat each and every candidate who was considered.

After the phone interview, candidates who move to Stage 1 get sent two key forms: 

  1. Transformation Church's Statement of Belief
  2. The Church's internal Honor Code

From the church's permanent pastors to their temporary volunteers—every new hire must sign the Honor Code.

"Regardless of whether or not they have people reporting to them, every single member of staff is seen as a leader here at our church," says Brie.

In order to move forward in the hiring process, an applicant just has to email or verbally agree to the Honor Code. "We just want them to be aware that, 'Hey, we're a church. This is what we're asking. If you don't want to do that, that's totally fine but we need to be clear that these are the kind of standards we have,'" explains Brie.

Pre-screening recap:

  • Create an automated 'thank you' email to all non-qualified applicants
  • Use an automated questionnaire to tick off the technical musts like work authorization, etc.
  • Get your hiring manager (or designee) to run a quick phone screen
  • Ask qualified candidates to read and acknowledge your core values

Stage 1: Screen for the must-haves

Next, it's on to Stage 1.

The goal of this first stage is to screen for the non-negotiables: the fundamental skills and character traits needed to rock a particular role. 

For Brie and the Transformation Church team, this boils down to three key factors:

  1. Chemistry
  2. Competency
  3. Character

"It's great if we have chemistry and it's great if you've got character, but if you can't do the job eventually we're not going to be happy—and you won't be either," explains Brie.

For the competency interview, the hiring manager's involvement is absolutely mandatory. Most of the time, the hiring team is big enough to have two people in each interview, including the hiring manager and a team member or member of the executive team.

After the team debriefs, they send an Enneagram personality assessment to each of the candidates who they've decided to move to Stage 2.

“The candidate pipeline and email scheduling have helped us get organized. We can now easily move candidates from one stage to the next. We know we’re not missing anybody and we’re getting back to people as necessary,” says Brie.

Use a personality assessment to maximize your recruitment ROI

By waiting until after the first interview to send the personality assessment to candidates, Brie and the hiring team are reducing the cost burden of having to screen all applicants upfront. 

It's also a great way to keep their top candidates engaged in each stage of the process.

"We use the assessment specifically for self-awareness, which is a huge factor in being a good leader. We like to see if candidates can talk about things like negative situations in their lives, or how they handle disappointment. Obviously, you learn far more about somebody once you work with them, but it’s great to talk about these sort of things in the interview,” says Brie.

For Brie, the assessment has nothing to do with screening people out. "The goal is for us to get to know them better and learn how to communicate with them based on their personality type. It also helps us get ready for stage two when we get into the deeper questions," she explains.

There's no such thing as a "right" or "wrong" personality—but a lack of self-awareness is definitely a red flag.

"We've seen time and time again in leadership that if you're not aware of what a bad day looks like for you, we won't be able to help. It's hard to even have a conversation with someone who doesn't want to be self-aware," says Brie.

Brie and her team send the Enneagram results to each Stage 2 candidate, asking them to read those results before they go in for their next interview.

They've noticed that every time they do the Enneagram assessment, one of two things always happens:

  1. It confirms an element of the candidate's personality that they didn't know how to verbalize prior to taking the test
  2. It sheds light on something they didn't previously know or understand about themselves

Even if they don't decide to move forward, the candidate gets something out of the process.

Stage 1 recap:

  • Interview for baseline skills and character traits (either in person or via video call)
  • Always make sure the hiring manager interviews for competency
  • Ask candidates to move forward via a personality assessment

Stage 2: The in-depth interview

Once a candidate's made it through Stage 1 (and the hiring team is armed with personalized insights on each one), Brie and her team hold group interviews.

The goal of Stage 2 is to uncover insights on four core factors: culture, core behaviors, leadership and self-awareness.

The Stage 2 interview includes at least three members of the hiring team. The hiring manager can invite all the interviewers from Stage 1 (which can go up to six people, two for each of the Stage 1 interviews), or just three of them. But three is the minimum.

The mandatory parties for this stage are:

  1. The hiring manager
  2. A member of the executive team
  3. Brie

Up until this part of the process, Brie's role has been completely hands-off.

"It took me a second to realize I don't have to be in all these interviews," Brie laughs. "We trust our leadership, we trust our hiring managers to know the type of person they're looking for in a position. I come in to help ask about the culture-specific questions."

Part 1: Culture questions

Let's face it, not everyone can maintain a leadership mindset when the pressure is high.

"We're a very fast-paced organization. For instance, yesterday we decided we're going to consolidate two services this Sunday. We have five days to tell everybody we're changing the service time," laughs Brie.

The goal with the culture questions is to shine a light on the little unspoken things that are crucial in determining a new hire's success.

Here are a couple examples of culture questions:

  1. How are you with multitasking?
  2. How do you cope with having several different projects at one time?

Most of the culture questions were formulated based on Brie's direct experience working with the church's lead pastor, someone who has a big personality. 

"Candid conversations, passion and motivation—these questions are designed specifically based on the way we work here and the way our pastor leads," she explains.

And she makes no apologies about it.

"Most of our staff don't have offices. They're in an open space. Somebody could come in, throw a ball and start a whole kickball game in the middle of the day. We literally have a soul train line on people's birthdays. If you're not interested in that kind of culture, you would not have a good time here."

"I want to be so honest about our culture that they're not shocked when they come here. I mean I'm Chief of Staff and if I'm not part of the party, that's a problem," she laughs. "Another thing about our culture is we consider ourselves H.O.T."

(That's humble, open and transparent for any of you who had other ideas.)

"We talk very candidly with one another, we're a high feedback culture," says Brie.

The church also has a Culture Code composed of 12 guiding principles to help reach their vision. It's a message shared with everyone, including both members of the team and the congregation. 

"We want them to know that this is the culture you're stepping into when you come to Transformation Church," Brie explains.

Part 2: Behavioral questions

Once the culture questions are asked, the team uses a second list of questions designed around each of their eight Core Behaviors.

"We use this for hiring, for quarterly and annual reviews with staff...our entire year now is outlined according to our core behaviors," says Brie.

For example, one of their core behaviors is 'take it personal', meaning that every member of the team always takes ownership—they don't point the finger.

So they ask problem-solving questions like: Give us an example of a time you failed at a task and had to take responsibility for it.

"We want our staff to exemplify both the Culture Code and the Core Behaviors. They align in a lot of ways," explains Brie.

In fact, for the month of April, Brie and her team are focusing on the core behavior of 'continual improvement' by tying that into all weekly and monthly staff meetings.

Part 3: Leadership questions

Last but definitely not least is the team's #1 hiring criteria: leadership.

"If you're here on a Sunday and you have a badge on that says 'Staff', everyone is looking at you as a leader," says Brie.

But leadership is a notoriously tough trait to screen for.

Brie has a few proven questions to help:

  • What kind of leadership experience have you had?
  • Describe your leadership style.
  • Have you ever been mentored by someone? If so, how did they impact your life?
  • Have you ever mentored someone?
  • Why would people want to follow you?
  • Why would someone trust you? What makes you trustworthy?
  • How do you keep your marriage and family healthy, even while working?
  • Describe the best boss you ever had.

Each and every question is designed to get the candidate into a leadership frame of mind.

"We're trying to get to a place with our culture where we don't hire anyone who isn't a leader. We're volunteer-heavy and we want to be able to get to a point where we can pay really well for high-capacity leaders who can train and coach on what we do, instead of being staff-heavy with a bunch of people working on a bunch of little bitty pieces," explains Brie.

For her, it's not just about business strategy—it's also about spirituality. 

"Everything that God's given you, we want you to use that fully in your role at the highest capacity—you know how to train and mentor, you know how to train and coach, you know how to have critical conversations. And that's from our executive team members to our building assistant, we want to make sure of that," she says.

Currently, only about a third of Brie's current workforce was hired under the principle of leadership so it's a bit of a work in progress—but one that's been made much easier now that the team has a streamlined hiring process.

"When we first spotted Breezy at the bottom of another church's website, we weren't even looking for a hiring tool. To be honest, we didn’t even know there was such a thing. We didn’t realize we needed it at the time, but now that we’re in the process of hiring a large number of people in a short amount of time—Breezy’s been a lifesaver."

4. Self-awareness questions

Now for the final part of the interview—this is where Brie takes the reins.

"Because we're a humble, open and transparent staff, I ask childhood questions. I ask about their relationship with their parents. I ask about their marriage, 'What does your husband or wife think about you coming on staff here?' We'll bring up things in their Enneagram results that talk about the dark side of their personality, 'When do they see this happen? What are the warning signs for us that you're having an unhealthy day?'"

This may sound a little over-the-top for some, but it's an approach that lets the candidate lead the discussion about what they need from an employer and the unique attributes of their personality that make them a fit for the role.

This is also the only part of the interview where the questions aren't written down.

"When the conversation starts flowing, I know what question to ask next and we just kind of roll at that point," explains Brie.

One question that usually comes up is: 

"Some people argue that personality is given before we're born. Others say that our environment creates it. How did your environment create your personality?"

Based on the candidate's answer, Brie and her team might ask questions that may even help them heal some part of their past.

"We can't lead from an inauthentic place. We can't give them something that we haven't experienced so that is very important. This is not just practical work, this is spiritual work," she explains.

And her questions are designed to go deep:

  • How has God guided you in this past year?
  • What lessons have you learned in your life?
  • What's your prayer life look like?

"If someone is reluctant to answer, they're probably not ready to work here because we are 100% honest about everything we do," says Brie. For her, it's all about authentic leadership.

Whenever something happens with a new hire or current member of staff, this part of the interview (in combo with those handy Enneagram results) provides a baseline for having a constructive conversation.

All these interviews are conducted face-to-face with the entire executive team present. At this point, they’re usually ready to make an offer. But in some circumstances, they add an extra stage.

Stage 2 recap:

  • Ask cultural, behavioral, leadership and self-awareness questions
  • Use the results of the candidate's personality test to guide the conversation
  • Structure your questions around your core values and performance expectations
  • Use broad questions and scenario-based statements to make your candidates think

Stage 3: Meet the spouse

This hiring stage is typically exclusive to candidates applying for a pastoral or executive role. 

"We like to invite them and their spouse to come and meet with us before we make a final decision," explains Brie.

"By working for a church, your personal and professional life can get muddied up a bit. So we try very hard to present a safe environment for candidates to share and talk. And we’ve had good feedback about this approach—so we know candidates appreciate it, too."

This interview is always done face-to-face onsite at the church's premises.

Assuming all goes well, Brie's team runs a background check and reference check before welcoming the new member onto the team!

Stage 3 recap:

  • Invite the candidate and their partner to meet in person
  • If the candidate is from out of town run the Stage 2 and 3 interviews back-to-back
  • Run a background and reference check before sending your offer letter

Yes, you can systematize a belief-driven hiring process

"I can't even imagine that at one point we were emailing applications to people. It seems so ridiculous now," laughs Brie.

"Breezy is a one-stop-shop for our entire interview process, which helps so much given that our interviews have so many stages—it’s not like you have one interview and you then get the job."

For forward-thinking talent leaders like Brie, hiring strategy is always a moving target. "We’re trying to create a culture where we hire slowly and fire quickly. Having a system has helped the entire team to make that transition while staying organized—everyone can see the same thing at the same time," she explains.

No matter how deep, focused or unique your approach, there's always a way to build a system that screens the right people in.