Tips for interviewing with a crisis hotline
August 13, 2012 10:42 AM   Subscribe

What are some great tips for interviewing for a crisis hotline?

I'm interviewing for a crisis/suicide hotline volunteer position in a couple of weeks. I have no experience but I do have a degree in psychology and I have a keen interest in suicide so I know some facts, stats, etc. I'm usually horrible at interviewing but know I am better when I thoroughly prepared, so I know practice makes perfect and all that jazz. What kinds of questions do they ask? What would they like to hear? I know there is intense training involved so I doubt they would expect me to know what exactly to do in every situation beforehand.
posted by A 90s Kind of Guy to Grab Bag (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you read A Slender Thread, by Diane Ackerman? I'm sure there are better and less poetic resources out there, but it might be a good read for you to get in the mindset (without being bombarded with statistics and gruesome images).
posted by Madamina at 10:49 AM on August 13, 2012

I did the training and worked on a hotline for nine months...PM me if you want some more info, I don't want to reveal everything here.

I think the people that were successful demonstrated a commitment to wanting to learn the hotline's techniques (ie not coming in and acting like they knew everything already) and also were open about their personal experiences with mental illness/addiction/depression, either about themselves or involving family/friends.

And yes, the training is very intense!
posted by sweetkid at 10:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think you should also be prepared to explain how you'll be able to stay professional, and keep the appropriate emotional distance from your callers. I think one of the hardest things about these types of jobs is that they can be very overwhelming. Be sure to formulate a plan for when YOU might need support, and explain what it is, if you're asked.
posted by tinymegalo at 11:05 AM on August 13, 2012

I'd be prepared to explain why you want to do it, and have an answer for something like "tell me about a time you didn't follow through on a commitment" - they may have people who just flake out on their volunteer commitment and want to be sure you don't do that after they train you.

I think you want to convey that you're cool in a crisis, compassionate but not over involved, reliable, and have common sense to follow their procedures and ask for help if you need it.

And don't forget to ask questions to see if it's a place you think would be a good fit for you (even if you're already decided you want to do it, ask about what a typical shift is like, etc).
posted by mrs. taters at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2012

I worked on a hotline for about 9 months, too. The interview process really wasn't tricky. They would have plenty of time to weed people out during the training.

I left partly because the frequent callers with border-line personality disorder were wearing me out. I would ask during the interview what their frequent-caller policy is.
posted by Coventry at 11:45 AM on August 13, 2012

I would ask during the interview what their frequent-caller policy is.

Yes, the frequent callers are (surprisingly) the most difficult part, much more so than the people in real crisis, because you're particularly trained to deal with that and less so people who call frequently but you're not their therapist -- I could go on and on about this but I'd say definitely keep this in mind and ask about it -- but don't seem too put off by the prospect of these calls because you will get a lot of them.
posted by sweetkid at 12:17 PM on August 13, 2012

When I worked for a crisis hotline, some of the more frustrating calls came from people who weren't in the crisis for which I was trained. (Only frustrating because I felt more impotent, not because I begrudged them calling). There are just so few social resources out there, people needing a place to sleep, or ride back to their home, or a number of other resources called the rape crisis hotline just because it was a local number they could call for help.

So, this may not help for your interview, but I would familiarize myself with the other local safety net institutions, their role in the community, and what those institutions can specifically provide to people in crisis situations. Some do things better than others; in our county there was a directory of these services. Knowing how to triage those types of calls would definitely be a skill.
posted by Kronur at 12:36 PM on August 13, 2012

I did this for awhile (not suicide, but rape crisis hotline/hospital advocate) and the interview was mostly asking me why I wanted to do this and whether I was comfortable helping someone seek an abortion.

I asked a lot of questions to show my interest and I think that is probably what they are really looking for because they want people who are truly interested in the work they will be doing.

So come up with some good questions and go through all the reasons why you want to go do this type of work and you will do just fine.
posted by fromageball at 3:44 PM on August 13, 2012

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