Resume Guide

Like any other career application process, a concise and persuasive resume represents the first step to landing an interview for a position in ministry. As the first item a hiring manager sees, this document needs to effectively summarize your qualifications and experiences as they relate to the job description. However, unlike other professions, a ministry resume must also detail your religious philosophy, the passion you hold for your faith, and a practical history of your role as a spiritual leader. Additionally, it should relay your objectives moving forward and how you plan to lead and care for the congregation you wish to join. To achieve these goals, a good ministry resume requires careful planning and needs to showcase who you are, both as a ministerial professional and as a compassionate, ethical individual. Specificity is paramount. This guide includes information on how to best tailor your application to an employer's requirements, ideology, and mission.

Do Your Research

The key to good writing is careful research. Ensure that you fully understand the job description, noting which qualifications the employer considers absolutely necessary and which ones they prefer. Additionally, turn to the organization's website and social media platforms to discern not only its history and organizational philosophy, but also current programs, initiatives, and, most importantly, goals. Then, craft a ministry resume that directly responds to these elements. As you discover more about the church and congregation, it is also crucial to reflect on whether the position leads to your own professional growth and personal happiness.

Write Down Your Key Points

Learning how to write a ministry resume may seem daunting. To ease into the process, jot down key points you want to address, remembering to tailor them specifically to the employer and position. Next, create an outline, elaborating on points where necessary to make your credentials, accomplishments, and objectives clear. Ensure that your overall tone combines confidence and approachability. This may mean admitting your weaknesses, which is acceptable and, in fact, expected. Many churches seek leaders who display humble qualities and an awareness of their shortcomings, while also actively working to improve themselves and those around them.

Format Your Resume

With key points and an outline completed, the next step entails structuring your ministry resume. This includes expanding phrases into complete sentences and organizing information under logical headers. At the preliminary stage, hiring managers spend only seconds scanning an application, so on top of detailing professional qualifications and work experiences, a resume must also visually engage the reader to make it stand out from the pile. You can achieve this effect by employing concise and clean formatting.

Types of Resumes

When written correctly, a resume provides a reflection of an individual, addressing their personal qualities and history, and their professional qualifications and relevant experiences. A candidate can emphasize any of these elements to meet their specific needs by using the correct document type. Three main ministry resume formats exist, each with their own distinct structure and purpose: the reverse chronological, the functional, and the combination. Ministerial candidates should choose the style that best suits their skills and the position they are vying for, adapting the form where necessary.

Reverse Chronological
A tried and true form, this resume type places professional experience at the forefront, starting with the current or most recent position and moving backwards. Ministerial professionals who possess extensive and relevant experience benefit most from this format, but it can also highlight frequent changes and gaps in employment and a candidate's age.
Functional
Sometimes referred to as the skill-based resume, this type emphasizes credentials over work history. For this reason, recent college graduates, career changers, and other ministerial professionals who lack relevant experience prefer the functional resume. However, its strength also becomes a drawback, as employers can plainly see when a candidate does not possess experience.
Combination
Also known as the hybrid, this ministry resume format works best for seasoned professionals because it enables them to creatively combine professional experience with skills, licensure, and certification. By eradicating the either-or restriction of the previous two forms, the combination resume allows candidates to shore up their weakness without hiding them, which employers often perceive as disingenuous. Its adaptability also makes it the most complex and difficult to write.

Required vs. Preferred Qualifications

Because a ministerial position entails pastoral care and leadership on top of general administrative duties like program management, postings for such callings contain extensive criteria. Required qualifications reflect the education, training, and experience a professional must possess for consideration. Preferred qualifications represent a wishlist of qualities and experiences that lend themselves to success in the position. Though they are not absolutely mandatory, candidates who demonstrate more of the preferred qualifications do stand a better chance of landing an interview.

Though they are not absolutely mandatory, candidates who demonstrate more of the preferred qualifications do stand a better chance of landing an interview.

Some employers will not consider applicants who cannot prove they fulfill the employment criteria. Luckily for jobseekers in this field, most clerical leaders view a candidate's qualifications holistically and therefore tend to value personal qualities, philosophy, and accomplishments as highly as they do official certifications and work experience. Even if ministerial professionals do not meet every required qualification, they should still apply if they believe they can impress in the interview and perform on the job. Writing a persuasive resume includes addressing all the required and as many of the preferred qualifications as possible without overwhelming the reader and rendering the document inaccessible. Consult sample ministry resumes for more information on how to best display information.

What Should I Put on My Resume If I Don't Have Any Experience?

If you do not possess much relevant professional experience, construct a resume that plays to your strengths, while preparing to discuss any gaps in work with the potential employer. Place the qualifications, education, and skills sections above employment. Consult ministry resume templates for visual examples of how to effectively organize this information. Include sections for unpaid work and paid employment in secular fields. These kinds of experiences are valuable if you use them to highlight skills transferable to the position you are applying for. Technological know-how, in particular, is highly sought after as churches seek to strengthen their online presence in order to welcome more people and connect existing members. Employers in this field also value volunteerism because it demonstrates a commitment to helping others. Include experience you have with schools and community organizations.

Clerical leaders view ministerial candidates holistically. This translates to other means for you to demonstrate compatibility with the position on your application. Ministry resumes generally also contain sections for a personal statement of salvation and call to God, doctrinal belief, and ministry goals. By writing these sections with specificity, you can ensure the church receives the full picture of who you are. The ministry goals section is particularly important because there you can detail the plans you have for the congregation should you obtain the position. Employers also value the input of professional references and religious mentors.

What Is ATS?

Due to the ubiquity and accessibility of online applications, employers receive large numbers of applications to just one job posting. To handle the quantity, employers often use an applicant tracking system (ATS). The software program categorizes and ranks ministry resumes based on the number of desired keywords they contain. This streamlines the initial part of the hiring process, saving employers time by eliminating resumes with mostly filler content, a strong indication of a candidate's lack of qualifications. But because the ATS operates using algorithms, the system routinely disadvantages those who do not explicitly include specific terms. To craft an effective resume, ministerial professionals must work within and overcome the ATS.

Tips for Outsmarting an ATS

  • Simple Headers Use common terms that show up in keyword searches, including "skills," "professional experience," "education." And do not neglect to include city, state, zip code, and, if you are residing outside the U.S., country because employers tend to filter applicants by location.
  • Clean Format The standard ATS cannot handle graphics or unusual fonts, so stick to a straightforward layout. In general, fonts like Arial, Tahoma, and Verdana at the 11 point or above are acceptable.
  • Keywords/Phrases You can pick out keywords by studying the job description, but also conduct further research for phrases relevant to your position. These may include "youth group," "spiritual formation," and "pastoral counseling".
  • Industry-Specific Jargon Theoretically, the ATS's keyword function should identify ministry resumes that most closely align with what the employer wants in a candidate. You should fluidly incorporate targeted language that reflects your relevant experience and familiarity with ministerial duties.
  • Tailor Your Resume - Create a ministry resume that responds to an employer's mission, philosophy, and desired qualifications. This means retrieving information from their website and social media outlets on top of analyzing the job posting.
  • Save Your Resume Under a Professional Name - Every step you take in the application process should help you stand out among the applicant pool. Instead of attaching a document vaguely named "myresume.doc," make it easy to remember and retrieve with a format like "firstlast_specialty_resume.doc".
  • Make It Easy to Read - Detailed work experience and distinguishing personal characteristics do not mean much if the employer cannot read the resume. Prioritize a clean format over fancy fonts and excessive coloration, as such smoke and mirrors may also convey your attempt to obscure lack of qualifications.
  • Include a Cover Letter - This document lets you bolster significant skills, achievements, and experience through quantifiable detail and anecdotal evidence. The cover letter also constitutes a great place to address weaknesses and elaborate on your philosophy of pastoral ministry.
  • Keep It to One Page - A bloated and unfocused ministry resume distracts from its own content, making it frustrating to read and off-putting for employers. By keeping to one page, you force yourself to use only the most important information.

Common Mistakes Applicants Make on Their Resumes

  • Typos

    Proofread your work for these and other easy-to-fix errors. Most employers perceive typos as a red flag, reflecting an applicant's lack of competence and professionalism, and deserving of outright rejection.

  • Including Personal Information

    Appropriate information includes full name, phone number, email address, licensing and/or ordination, and blog or social media presence. You do not need to furnish your entire home address, only city, state, zip code, and, if living outside the U.S., country.

  • Including Salary Information

    By furnishing salary details, you close off opportunities for negotiation during interviews. It may also reflect poorly on your character as a ministerial leader. If pushed, speak in terms of benefits and affirm your flexibility.

  • Using Nicknames

    Acceptable usage includes a shortened version (e.g., Bill for William) or a middle name instead of a first, especially if this nickname appears on a state I.D. or other official documents. Above all else, be consistent.

  • Using an Unprofessional Email Address

    In most cases, you can use a Gmail account with a variation of "firstname.lastname". However, many employers prefer emails sent from your own professional domain.

  • First Person Pronouns

    Your resume contains precious and limited space, so do not use "I" needlessly. The reader understands that you speak through the writing. Repeatedly employing first person pronouns is simply redundant.

  • Unprofessional Voicemail

    A voicemail should be concise (usually under 25 seconds) and convey professionalism in tone and content. After introducing yourself, include a thank you statement and, more importantly, let the caller know when they can expect a response.