Before we jump into the topic of hiring your first technical leader, let me explain why I feel confident to speak as an authority on the issue. First, I’m the former product manager for the LifeChurch.tv Digerati Team (YouVersion, Church Online, Open, ChurchMetrics, et al…) and I’ve hired over 100 technical folks in all sorts of roles.
I’ve hired front-end and back-end web developers, iOS and Android developers, SysAdmins, UI/UX designers, data analysts, and even a Symbian developer (Nokia’s old mobile operating system). I’ve hired for staff roles, freelance roles, and supplemental contract teams.
Second, I’m a web developer myself. I’ve worked in agencies building WordPress sites and landing pages. I worked at Treehouse as a Rails developer and I’m currently working on a new project called TrainedUp. I’ve experienced the process of hiring for technical roles on both sides of the interview table.
So, trust me when I say that hiring someone to lead all-things-technical at your church can be daunting.
In fact, hiring a technical leader is one of the most difficult and frustrating experiences for any leader. It’s worse for non-technical leaders because of the unknowns of the job role being hired for.
The biggest question when hiring is, how do you know you’re hiring the right person?
Here are 5 ways to make sure you hire the right technical leader the first time.
1. Hire for fit before function.
It will be tempting to hire the most technically talented person who applies for the job. After all, you need them to excel at their role above all else, right?
However, there is no level of skill that can compensate for someone who doesn’t fit your church staff culture, who doesn’t align with your values, or doesn’t mesh with your team. Your technical leader will most likely interface with everyone on your church staff and most of your lay leaders as well.
Remember, always hire a person, not a set of skills. Skills can be learned, fit cannot.
2. Watch for non-verbal queues during the interview.
It’s easy for tech-minded people to stay in the weeds. We love details and bragging on the speed increases we pulled out of an old server. But if the person you interview talks more about technical stuff than leading people, then you’ve probably got the wrong person on your hands.
Remember, you’re not hiring a set of skills, you’re hiring a leader. And if this is your first technical hire, then you need a high-capacity leader that can grow with your church. Give me a luddite with great leadership instincts over a technical genius with no people skills.
3. Assess their teachability.
Any technical hire is only as good as their learning skills. If they’re not teachable or don’t have a knack for picking up new knowledge and skills, I promise you will have a hard time with that person.
To assess their teachability, ask them about a time they had to learn a new skill to accomplish a task. They’ll most likely tell you about the skill. Next, ask them how it made them feel. You’re looking for answers like “excited” or “fun”, not “frustrating” or “a waste of time”.
4. Don’t be fooled by certifications.
I once hired a developer with a resume full of impressive certifications. More than half of them were completely irrelevant to the job role, but I was wooed by them nonetheless. The interview process was fraught with red flags, but I ignored them because of the pedigree this guy carried.
He turned out to be a terrible hire.
Certifications aren’t a bad thing. They can give you an idea of what proficiencies a person has. However, my best hires over the last 10 years have had zero certifications. They did great work, were incredibly valuable to the team, and contributed far more than the actual work they produced.
5. Move slowly.
Don’t hire a technical leader until you absolutely have to. Try to find a capable lay person in your church to handle some of technical maintenance like computer upgrades or website updates. If you must, hire an IT consultancy or a freelance developer.
Make hiring a full time technical person your last resort. I’ve seen too many churches bring on a full time technical person, only to end up with a full time social media manager and email newsletter sender.
My final bit of advice for you is to get help from an outsider if you’re unsure of the type of technical leader you need and what skills that person should have on day one. A consultant can spend a few hours helping you with technical interviews or writing up an accurate job description and save you thousands of dollars and bad morale down the road.