Career Placement Handbooks

Applying for Positions


Applying for Positions

This section focuses on the initial stages of applying for an open position, such as writing resumes, CVs, and cover letters. You will also find information on obtaining appropriate references and submitting them to prospective employers. Finally, the importance of including a Philosophy of Ministry and a Statement of Faith is discussed.

Resumes

Having a well-crafted resume is critical to the success of your job hunt. Present a sloppy or disorganized resume and your prospective employer will likely think that you are sloppy or disorganized. Present a carefully constructed, clean, organized and thoughtful resume that truly represents you and your background, and a prospective employer is more likely to seriously consider you for an open position.

This section takes you through the process of writing a resume specifically for a ministry position. (For more information on writing a standard resume, see the Career Placement Handbook for Non-Ordained Ministry.) There are several differences between a standard resume and the type of resume you will need to submit when hunting for ordained employment, particularly in terms of which sections to include or exclude. 

  • Spiritual Component: As with any endeavor, your preparation for obtaining an ordained position is first and foremost a spiritual exercise. The task of pursuing professional ministry should be accomplished through prayer and the earnest seeking of counsel from the Lord, your family, and Christian mentors. Allow the Lord to guide you through this process and to illumine his will for your life as you go out into the field to harvest for him.

  • A Different Kind of Resume: Resumes for ministerial positions are different from business resumes. Often, when applying for jobs in the business world, potential employers will spend less than a minute reviewing your credentials. In the case of ordained employment, churches want to get to know you and will likely spend more time examining your resume to get a sense of who you are. For that reason, pastoral resumes should be longer and contain more information than you would normally include in a standard business resume.
  • The good news is that if you have already devoted time to crafting a great business resume, you will not have to start from scratch when sitting down to write your ministry resume. You can cull, reformulate, and expand entire sections of your resume, such as your education, employment history, volunteer experience, and so on. The next section covers how to begin the process of writing your resume from start to finish.
 
Writing

This section provides an overview of the process of translating your professional experience into a written document, beginning with work to be done prior to writing your resume. Part of writing a business document is knowing what sections to include and in what order, as well as what is not relevant and what should be omitted.

Before beginning the writing phase, make sure that you have compiled a list of your complete employment history, as well as volunteer experience, college and graduate education information, and any awards you have received or other achievements. It is also worthwhile to keep a list of your skills, gifts, and abilities. Part of the task of writing a resume is determining what aspects of your professional experience to include, having it all gathered and organized in one place will make this step much easier.

Guidelines
  • Length: Your resume should be no longer than two pages. Whereas a standard resume is only one page, a ministerial resume can be a bit longer. This allows you ample space to showcase your most compelling qualifications.
  • Formatting: Your resume should be cleanly formatted. Avoid non-standard fonts or creative layouts. Your task is to create a neat looking document that will allow a prospective employer to glean information about you. Since electronic submission of resumes is common practice, be sure to use a font (such a Times New Roman or Arial) that is readable on any computer.
  • Submission: Follow carefully any and all submission instructions. Failure to do so may imperil your future at a church or elsewhere.
Sections to Include
  • Heading: The information below should be included in the heading of your resume. Make sure to spell check this section carefully. Prospective churches will not be impressed if you misspell your name or contact information.

    • Full Name 

    • Address

    • Email (Use a professional email address)

    • Phone Number

  • Education: You may organize this section chronologically (with your most recent degree at the top and each subsequent degree below it) or according to relevance (with education most relevant to the position for which you are applying). Include any degrees earned, your specialization, and date of graduation. Also note if you earned a minor or honors (such as cum laude). If you have a bachelor’s degree, do not include high school information in this section.
  • Grade Point Average: Generally, if your GPA is above a 3.0, include it on your resume. If it is below that, it is best to leave it off. Though you may not be applying for an academic position, including a high GPA on a ministerial resume shows the amount of dedication and perseverance it took to finish your Westminster degree.
  • Relevant Coursework: If you have taken courses or seminars that are relevant to a specific position (but outside of classes required for your degree), you may consider including them. This is especially true if you have taken courses at more than one seminary. However, if you are short on space, this material can be excluded.
  • Employment History: A ministry resume should embody who you are and your skills as a potential spiritual leader in a community. Your employment history should reflect traits that are desirable for ministers to have. However, do not discount a position you have held because it was not ministry. Potential employers are looking for an array of traits that are attainable in a wide variety of positions. Many skills, such as leadership aptitude, effective communication, and the ability to teach, are transferable from a former position to ordained ministry.
  • Volunteer Experience: If your work experience is slim, or if you have volunteer experience that is particularly impressive or relevant to a position, include it in a separate section of your resume. Your unpaid mentored ministry experience is an example of the type of experience that can be included in this section (paid mentored ministry experience should be included under employment history).
  • Honors or Activities: Honors and activities that are directly related to the position for which you are applying can be included on your resume. If you don’t have a substantial employment history, listing honors and activities is a good way to communicate your accomplishments. This section can include college or graduate school honors, but not high school honors.
  • Skills: Space permitting, include skills that might make you more attractive to a church such as the ability to communicate verbally, administrative skills, writing skills, and so on. This is a useful section to include if you do not have a lengthy employment history and need to expand your resume.
Sections to Exclude

Unless specifically requested, the following sections are often regarded as unnecessary.

  • Objective: Carefully consider whether including an objective is necessary. Your cover letter should contain your reasons for seeking employment at a particular church or organization and repeating those reasons in your resume could be superfluous. An objective that is too broad or too narrow can significantly weaken your resume. However, a well-written objective may enhance your resume. The decision to include or exclude an objective is yours.
  • References: All employers know that your references are available upon request. It is unnecessary to note this information in the resume. It is also unnecessary to include references’ contact information in your resume or cover letter. Since space is at a premium in your resume, stating obvious information could prevent you from maximizing that space.
  • High School Information: If you have a bachelor’s degree, do not include information from high school.
Resources

These resources from other seminaries provide more information on crafting great resumes.

Sample Resume

Sample Ordained Ministry Resume

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Sometimes a curriculum vitae (CV) will be requested instead of a resume. Having one on hand will ensure not only the timely submission of your application but will also allow you to present a document that is well-crafted. Waiting until you find an open position to write your CV might result in a sub-standard document that lacks important data about you and could, ultimately, hurt your application.

The principal differences between a resume and CV are length and content. Your resume is meant to be a one or two-page summary of your education and experience most relevant to the open position. Your CV, on the other hand, should include all of your substantial educational and employment experience as well as any awards, publications, honors, interests, affiliations, and volunteer experience. The CV will typically be at least two pages long, if not more, and offers you more flexibility in terms of sections to include and how to organize them.

If you have been in ministry for years and have an extensive employment history, your CV will, naturally, be longer and more substantial than a newer minister's. However, if you only have a few years of ministry experience, your CV should not be longer than a few pages.

You will likely have to adjust or substantially rework your CV depending on the ministry position to which you are applying. Even if you’re applying for what appears to be identical positions at different churches, you might need to tailor your CV to emphasize certain aspects of your experience that best fit the desires of each church. One way to do this is to rearrange the order of your CV so that the most relevant and compelling information appears closer to the top. Another way is to include specific experiences that might not be relevant for one opportunity but relevant for another. For example, if you are applying for a position at a church that requires a great deal of involvement in its youth ministry, be sure to include all the experience you have with youth from your college years to the present (even something that may seem trivial, such as a summer spent as a camp counselor years ago). If the open position emphasizes, instead, the need for a pastor who can reach out to the elderly members of the church, your summer job as a camp counselor would not be relevant, but your time volunteering at a nursing home in college certainly would be worth including.

Organizing your CV

Much of the formatting for your CV will depend on what aspects of your experience you wish to emphasize. Generally, categories should appear in order of importance (e.g. name, contact information, education, teaching or ministry experience, and so on). You may choose to organize the information in each section of your CV chronologically (the most recent entry first) or according to relevance (with your most compelling experience listed at the top of each category). Organizing your CV chronologically allows the reader to easily survey the breadth and consistency of your experience. However, if your most recent position is not as relevant for the ministry position you are seeking, fronting experience that best qualifies you might better serve your needs. Your goals for organization should be clarity and readability. Note that education and experience gained while in high school should not be included.

Formatting

Formatting should be minimal so as not to distract from the information contained in your CV or make it difficult to read. A good way to get formatting ideas is to look at the CVs of professionals in your field. Try to survey an appropriately diverse sample group, including people who have long, well-established careers, as well as people just starting out. You should choose a format that delivers the most important information as clearly, easily, and effectively as possible. Make sure to choose standard fonts and provide ample spacing; a cluttered CV with funky fonts will likely distract your reader and muddle the information you are trying to convey. This is especially important if you are submitting your CV electronically. Non-standard fonts do not always transfer well from one computer to the next and tend to give your CV an unprofessional appearance.

Content

Some information must be included on your CV: name, contact information, undergraduate and graduate degrees earned, and professional experience. Some information should not be included: information from when you were in high school, traveling you did just for fun, menial jobs you’ve held, interests or hobbies that are unrelated to the context or purpose of your CV. Much of what you include is up to your discretion. Be sure not to crowd your CV with common and relatively indistinctive or unimpressive details. On the other hand, if you devote some time to it, you are very likely to think of things that could enhance your CV – ministry experience or occasional teaching or writing opportunities or collaborations, mission trips or church initiatives, and so on.

Remember that the key principle is to make an effective CV. This will require economizing when necessary and expanding when appropriate. You must not be shy about what may feel like shameless self-promotion – if you can make it sound good without being dishonest, include it.

Perhaps the best way to proceed is to create a master CV that includes every professional or volunteer experience you’ve had and anything else remotely relevant. If you have already created a similar document for your resume, you simply need to expand your parameters to include interests, skills, volunteer positions, or other experience that you have had over the course of your professional career. Consider any post-high school awards, honors, publications, presentations, volunteer experience, jobs, research experience, teaching experience, skills, affiliations, ordination/licenses, personal/familial information, etc. Make sure to include dates for each of these items. Once you have created a master CV, you can customize it by paring down or expanding it to fit the job for which you are applying. Spending the time now to build a great master CV can pay off in the long run.

Sections You Must Include
  • Identifying Information

    • Name: Your name should appear at the top of your CV. Include either your full legal name, or your first name, last name, and middle initial.

    • Address: Provide your current home address.

    • Email Address: Your email address should be professional. Make sure that your email address is spelled correctly and that your spam folder settings will allow correspondence from potential employers to reach your inbox.

    • Telephone Number: Like your email address, double check the telephone number you provide for accuracy. If you have a landline and cell phone, you may wish to include both. 

    • Nationality: You may include your nationality, especially if you are applying for a foreign job or you are ministering to a non-American group of individuals.

    • Education: Include the name of each degree, major and minor (if applicable), the institution from which you earned that degree, the location of the institution, and the date on which you earned the degree (do not include high school information).

Employment History
  • Include each employer’s name, your job title, and the dates which you held the positions. You may also include your chief roles, responsibilities, and duties. This is especially true if your experience makes you a strong candidate for a particular position. Deciding whether or not to itemize your roles is entirely up to you. The research you put into looking at representative CVs should help you make an informed decision for this section.
  • You may wish to separate your employment history into ministry experience and other professional experience. Organizing your CV in this manner allows you to highlight your ministry experience in a way that quickly and clearly expresses your qualifications for a particular job. However, if your ministry experience (whether paid or unpaid) is slim, a better option for you may be to combine these two sections into one general section.
Skills/Other Education
  • Include skills that would be relevant to a particular position (for instance, proficiency in the Microsoft Office Suite).
  • If you are ordained, you may include your ordination information, such as the denomination in which you have been ordained as well as the date and location of your ordination, in this section or in a separate section.
  • You may also include non-degree related education such as seminars, special classes, or certifications.
  •  Foreign languages in which you have acquired proficiency may also be subsumed under this heading, or in a separate section. If an open position has stressed knowledge of a second language or biblical languages, listing the languages you have acquired in a separate section will help draw attention to your language abilities. You may decide that containing your acquired languages within a more general category is a better option.
Additional Information

This section can contain a wide variety of other relevant information about you, such as awards or honors earned, professional affiliations, volunteer experience, relevant or extensive travel experience, papers and presentations you have given, publications, teaching experience, guest lectures, professional blog details (with the caveat that a controversial blog will likely curtail your employability in certain contexts), mentoring, theses, and scholarships. What you choose to include will depend upon what aspects of your experience you wish to emphasize and what qualities a church is seeking. If you have not had a long employment history and are struggling to fill even two pages, including many of these sections may help to bolster your CV. However, if your ministry and employment experience has already stretched beyond ten pages, consider curtailing (or possibly even excluding) additional sections that do not significantly strengthen your application.

  • Family information: You will have to decide if you wish to include information about your family members in your CV. It is acceptable to list your spouse’s name and the date of your marriage as well as the names and ages of your children. This is valid information to include on a ministry CV because it helps to paint a more complete picture of you as a person and minister.
  • Interests: Since churches are usually motivated to get to know you as a person, including your interests and hobbies is not a bad idea (particularly if they make you more appealing as a minister). However, be sure that your hobbies don’t detract from your viability as a serious candidate. For example, being a Spurgeon buff and including this information on your CV showcases your interest in Christianity’s history and in great preaching, as well as the level of commitment you possess to theology and to ministry. While honesty is certainly important in crafting your CV, you are under no obligation to reveal personal information (such as hobbies) if you feel that to do so would impair your chances of success at a specific church.
  • References: Though it is not necessary to include references in your CV, you may do so if you wish, since space is not as much of a factor in your CV as it is in your resume. However, be sensitive to the fact that your references may want to keep their contact information relatively confidential. Revealing their names and contact information early on in the employment stage may not be necessary (unless specifically requested by a church).
Submission

Be very careful to follow submission instructions exactly. If the document type is not specified, using PDF format will help to ensure that your CV is easy to open on all computers. If the church requests a specific file type, make sure to provide your CV in that type. The use of standard fonts and margins will facilitate the smoothest possible transfer of your application documents from your computer to your prospective employers.

Sample CVs

See the sample CV included in this handbook for ideas on formatting and layout. Also, be sure to spend some time online looking at other sample CVs. The following websites provide some great places to start your search.

Resources

The following books and websites are great resources for you to reference as you begin the process of creating your CV:

Cover Letters

Like your resume or curriculum vitae, the cover letter gives you the opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective employer. Your cover letter should both highlight particular areas of your experience that are best suited for the open position and provide a sample of your ability to communicate clearly and concisely.

Be careful to strike the right tone in your cover letter. You should present yourself in the best possible light without sounding arrogant. Speak honestly regarding achievements and successes, as well your talents and strengths, but don’t brag. On the other hand, the cover letter is not the place to discuss your weaknesses as an employee nor is it the right place to give your testimony (your testimony is traditionally included in an application as a separate document). The cover letter is strictly meant to introduce you to a prospective employer and to briefly explain why you are the best candidate for the position.

Writing

The following tips will help you write a clear and cogent cover letter that is easy to read and conveys the proper information about you to a prospective employer.

  • Length: Keep your cover letter to one page. You should include three to four paragraphs.
  • Formatting: Like your resume, your cover letter should be neat and well organized. Use standard fonts and one-inch margins.

  • Date and Heading: Include the date you are sending the letter as well as your prospective employer’s name, company or church name, and address. It is always best to address the letter to a specific person or committee.
  • Structure: Your cover letter should contain the following sections:
    • Introduction: Indicate how you learned of the position and why you are applying for it. Also, provide basic information about yourself (such as your education history, your denominational affiliation, etc.).
       
    • Main Body: Highlight past experience and skills that pertain directly to the position. For ordained positions, experience with management, administration, teaching, and interaction with people are desirable. Ministry experience (or, if you’re a seasoned candidate, the most pertinent experience) you’ve had should also be noted.

    • Closing Paragraph: Express an interest in interviewing for the position and thank the reader (or readers) for his time.
Resources

The following links provide sample cover letters and additional advice on writing a great cover letter for ministerial positions.

Sample Cover Letter

Sample cover letter for ordained ministry

References

Obtaining references when applying for a job in ministry can be trickier than when applying for any other type of job. Because of the nature of ordained work, trust becomes a huge factor in the hiring process. You must choose your references accordingly. This section is intended to help you decide whom to ask to serve as a reference, how and when to obtain letters of recomendation, and how to interact with former employers.

  • Whom to Ask: It is vital when seeking ordained employment to choose references who can speak directly about your work. Don’t choose a professor or pastor merely because he is well known. Ask those who supervised your work and who are willing to lobby for you. Those with whom you have cultivated close relationships will be your strongest references.
  • How to Ask: Make sure that you actually ask if someone is willing to provide a reference for you before supplying his or her name. This is not only considered common courtesy but it allows the person time to think about your strengths and skills in order to provide a better and more thoughtful answer to a prospective employer. If someone hesitates to be a reference, find another candidate. You want someone who will provide an enthusiastic and positive evaluation of you and your work.
  • When to Ask: Give your potential references enough notice so that they can reflect on your work, but not so much time that they forget that you are job hunting.
  • What to Include: Make sure that you obtain correct contact information from your references and that you know their preferred method of contact. When supplying their information, include: name, professional title, company/school/organization, address, phone number, and email.
  • Former Employers: Since most employers today require you to provide a complete job history and contact information for previous employers, it is courteous to let them know that they might be called even if you do not include them as references. They will be less likely to be surprised when contacted by your potential employer. Advance notice will also give them an opportunity to reflect on your work and plan out how to provide an accurate account of it.
  • Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Ministry: During your time in seminary, it is recommended that you begin to assemble your Statement of Faith and Philosophy of Ministry. The statement of faith is a summary of your theological positions. Take a look at your denomination’s statement of faith to get an idea of what to include. Many prospective employers in ministry will request this statement. The philosophy of ministry outlines your approach to doing ministry in the context of the church. Having these documents prepared before you begin your job search will help to streamline and, ultimately, expedite the process.

 

Handbook Sections:

1. Introduction
2. Calling
3. Ordination
4. Finding Open Positions
5. Applying for Positions
6. Candidating