Please help me get this job!
April 19, 2012 8:37 AM   Subscribe

I have a job interview tomorrow for a disability support worker position. The job entails assisting people with disabilities to participate in various recreational activities. I REALLY want to get this job, any tips, especially tips relevant to this field? (with which I don't yet have experience - some snowflakiness within)

To apply I had to provide a CV and cover letter plus complete a written application which focussed on things like why I want to work with people with disabilities and how I would demonstrate positivity, flexibility and self motivation in the workplace. Because this is a job I would be really enthusiastic about and I think, well suited to, I spent an hour on the application, and related my experience as a fitness instructor to the requirements of the position (building relationships, listening to clients to understand their needs, developing a flexible, person-centric approach to help them achieve their goals, learning from mentors etc), and described how my personal experience being temporarily unable to perform my day to day tasks by myself due to an injury gave me a lot of empathy for people for whom that is a permanent experience, and an appreciation of the importance of support being available and delivered in a way which is both respectful and empowering. I have experience volunteering with recreation programs adults with intellectual disabilities, though this was in 2008, but have not been employed in this field.

Added difficulty: Per my previous question I had previously been planning on a career as a personal trainer until I got injured. Originally I thought I'd look for temp work until I was able to get totally fit again, but since I saw this job advertised I realised it fits with my values and I really want to do *this* and just train clients on the side once I'm better as the hours are 9-3 (perfect!). I would be fully committed to the job if I got it and willing to undertake further study if required. How best to explain this?

I sent off my application yesterday and got a call today for an interview tomorrow. What suggestions can you make for improving my chances tomorrow? Any tips specific to this field? I would love love love to do this job!
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would just have them read your question when they ask you about your interest in the position. Your interest and enthusiasm is contagious--I hope you get it. And very importantly, you did not confuse empathy (which is appropriate) for sympathy ( which is nice but not what you need as a professional).
posted by rmhsinc at 8:49 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Being a sibling of a person with a disability, as well as someone who is involved in hiring decisions at an unrelated nonprofit, I have to say that you seem like an ideal candidate. Your volunteer experience with adults with intellectual disabilities, your demonstrated work toward a career in one of the helping professions (PT) and the transferable skills you gained through this work, your personal experience of short-term disability and the resulting empathy for people for whom this is not a short-term experience... All of this points toward the kind of person I'd hire for this type of position. The only word of advice I'd offer is to ensure that the interviewer(s) appreciates your commitment to this new career track and why you feel that it's a better choice for you than physical therapy. Your enthusiasm for and engagement with the field is exactly what an interviewer wants to hear/see in a candidate, and your background really does seem to lend itself to the role. Good luck!!
posted by pammeke at 9:05 AM on April 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Tell them what you told us. Your story is very compelling. Based on all that you've told me, you seem like a good fit (as in fitness! pun!) for this position.

The tip I have is just to convey your story and enthusiam. "Rap it out" with someone, like a pitch. It's a good story but you need to deliver it well, so practice it with someone IRL before you do it for the interview. That way you can be sure that you convey all the positive aspects you told us without getting sidetracked or nervous.
posted by fuq at 9:08 AM on April 19, 2012

I currently have been working with people who have both intellectual and physical disabilities for about 18 years. In my experience with interviewing people the ones that we tend to gravitate towards are those who have had previous experience - but not always. We first and foremost look for empathy, compassion, and willingness to learn. Someone who has a strong sense of self, community, and understanding that all people deserve access to all things. The biggest things that I personally look for is someone who gets that though some people may not communicate in the same manner as we do or have the same abilities as others, they are all capable and deserving of a full life. You've done a very good job of presenting your point of view and motivation here; you're definitely on the right track. Good luck!

-Mrs. Ampersand
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:09 AM on April 19, 2012

My significant other does a job very similar to this. One thing to mention and to emphasize is that you will be patient and that you will treat them as individual people, speak to them on an adult level and respect their wants, needs and abilities. Way too many people, even those with a lot of experience in the field, fail to do this and treat their clients as children by either bossing them around or baby-talking and bribing them.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:46 AM on April 19, 2012

Empathy and compassion are the most important skills. I work part-time with a disabled person and my client can be very trying at times. You need to be able to be calm in a time of crisis. If they get mad or upset with you for various reasons that may not seem like a big deal to you, but you must remind yourself, they don't always see things the way you do. You need to be able to explain why such and such isn't possible (money, time, skill level etc etc), but also try to see something from their side.

My client has the mental age of a 8-9 yr old and various psychological issues as well. There has been times that I've had things thrown at me, attempts to hurt me, and I've been fired numerous times by my client for not giving into her will (she can't fire me). Some times it can be very frustrating, but you must remain calm and never yell/fight back.

It will definitely test your empathy, but after a hard day it's very rewarding. Without people like us, some of them would never get to expirence life or even do basic things we take for granted.

Good luck! May empathy and compassion always be at your side :)
posted by Sweetmag at 9:47 AM on April 19, 2012

I've been on the interviewer side many times looking to hire someone to work with people with psychiatric disabilities. My general interview advice is to let your genuine enthusiasm for the job come through and to treat the interview like a conversation. People get nervous and stiff in interviews (understandable!), but it really helps if you explain why you're a good fit for this job in a natural and unforced way. Don't be afraid to ask questions--it shows that you're interested and engaged. Given the population, be aware of stigma and language. If you've volunteered with people with disabilities before you'll probably be fine, but nothing torpedoes an interview faster than something like using the term "normal" to refer to non-disabled clients. You want to convey that you'll be flexible, but also that you will respect your clients' choices and autonomy. It's a good idea to have some anecdotes in mind that illustrate how your past job or volunteering experience have prepared you for this job. We always ask if a person has had a difficult client before and how they handled it. That's a biggie.
posted by Mavri at 9:56 AM on April 19, 2012

I would think you'll get some questions about professional boundaries, contact recording, and also safeguarding... Good luck!
posted by misspony at 10:20 AM on April 19, 2012

I hire support workers, and volunteering experience is just as valid as paid (as is family/ personal experience). For people without much experience, I'm looking for a strong value base, which you've definitely exhibited in this question (person-centred practice, assumption of capacity for decision-making, partnership working with families/ friends/ other professionals). Read up about normalisation and the social vs medical models of disability.

Otherwise, an understanding of different communication styles and methods (and the skills and creativity needed to develop resources to facilitate communication, whether using a computer or otherwise), knowledge of the signs of abuse and what you would do about it (safeguarding, as misspony mentions), and, sadly, paperwork and administration skills (we do a numeracy/ literacy test as part of our interviews). A commitment to teamwork is also important (you'll be working with other support worker's service users when they're off sick, most likely, and they yours), as is demonstration of ability to find appropriate community resources.

For a high-level, sure-fire interview, I would read up about local and national initiatives and try to demonstrate an understanding of the broader policy context in which you'll be working. Read up as much as you can about the organisation as well (is it government or non-profit?) and the programs they have available. Acknowledgement of the health needs of people with intellectual disabilities would also be advantageous (higher incidence of epilepsy and diabetes, dual diagnoses, sensory and vision impairments, speech and language difficulties).

Does your injury limit the amount or type of work you can do, physically? If there are restrictions on what you can do (pushing a wheelchair, for eg) then you need to mention these.

Good luck! Based on what you've written here, I'd probably hire you :)
posted by goo at 12:53 PM on April 19, 2012

Oh and resilience and strength! It's a hard job, and you need to be emotionally resilient to do it well.
posted by goo at 12:56 PM on April 19, 2012

I agree, you sound very enthusiastic about it and I'm sure that will show in the interview. Just take your time (you can say, "give me a minute" to collect your thoughts to slow yourself down) and try not to get too worked up about it. good luck!
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:25 PM on April 19, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks so much everybody, you all gave me really useful advice and encouragement - I got so nervous that I forgot a lot of what I wanted to say but I hope I did ok! I'll find out next week :)
posted by lifethatihavenotlivedyet at 12:32 AM on April 20, 2012

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