Interview Etiquette: The Care Edition

Wednesday 17 February, 2016

I’m one of the many disenfranchised disabled people who’ve been left with no option but to employ a personal assistant/support worker directly through direct payments, because the care companies are not good enough or sticking to the high quality of care, including consistency, that they promise to their “clients”. The company I left the first one for was such a shambolic affair that I would suggest they change their name from “Your Life, Your Way”, to “Your Life, Every Way But Your Way, And Good Luck Hearing Back From Us Within A Week Even When It’s Urgent”. I would even organise a whip around to help pay for the name change costs.

It’s not easy going fully independent. There is paperwork, there is tax, there is insurance. There is the ever looming fact that it’s all on you if something goes wrong (Holy responsibilities, batman!), and if you’re not a confrontational person, you might find yourself wanting to dig a hole under your bed and hiding there if an issue does come up. But I was left with no choice, and I find myself, for the second time in less than 6 months, on a search for someone to employ.

I understand how the job centre works. I know because at a point in history I was subjected to Remploy’s practices, and currently have relatives under the power of Ian Duncan Smith’s misery-inducing regime. Advisers tell you to apply for all jobs, every job, or you will be sanctioned, so help you God. They tell you to ignore the stipulation for driver’s licences, levels of experience wanted, specified genders wanted, qualifications required, and sometimes they demand you apply for places you know can’t cater for your disability, all under the threat of Sanctions for non-compliance. I do understand all of that, and the job centre have to understand that it’s affecting employers as well, but alas, they don’t care in any direction.

But I do. And I, an honest understanding person, want people to be more honest and up front with independent, private household employers looking for Personal Assistant/Support Workers/Carers. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say it’s better for us to know right from the off rather than go through the motions of believing you want the job just as much as we want applicants. I’ve now had two lots of experience trying to find someone. The first time, I can’t remember how many people applied overall in the end, but on the first day of interviews, nobody turned up. Myself, my mum (of ill health herself) and my friend were in a little office for a good portion of the day, waiting for all the people who had confirmed their interview slots to turn up, and none of them turned up. The second interview day, out of 6 people who had confirmed, only 3 people turned up. I was lucky that amongst those 3, there was one great applicant worth hiring. But, over all, I was disappointed with the process on many levels. This second time, I had 9 people apply and confirm for interviews spread over two days, and only one person turned up.

So, I’m going to give people a list of What To Do/What Not To Do when you’re looking at adverts for a care job, based on experience I had with Applicants.

1) Either turn up or cancel. Don’t just not turn up, it’s rude. It waste’s people’s time and it kills any chance for a last minute offering to another person who might take the interview slot.

2) If you know you no longer want the job, even within 24 hours of the interview, let the employer know so that, again, they can try and offer the slot to someone else.

3) If you don’t actually want the job, because you’ve been made to apply for it, say so.

One applicant confirmed their slot but then needed a different time. It wasn’t possible on that first day, but I said I’d get back to them about the second interview day when I knew the time and date for it. I emailed them with the new details, and I heard nothing back. Just to double check, I gave them a call a few days later and asked if they were still interested in the job. They said they were. I said that I’d emailed them with another interview offer but heard nothing back. They said that they’d been so busy, they hadn’t had time to check their emails. I understood, because that’s happened to me too. They said yes to the time of the interview, they thanked me for calling them and letting them know about another slot, and they looked forward to meeting me.

They didn’t turn up.

4) Read the advert carefully. Also, consider what’s in the advert as well as what might be between the lines. Ask yourself if all elements are something you would be able to do. Think of the real demands of care, it’s not all shopping trips and making cups of tea.

Universal Jobmatch has a personal details safeguarding system where someone will ring you up to change the wording of your advert if you’ve put too many personal details or you’ve used exclusionary terms in your advert – They have restrictions on specifications, due to equality laws. I am not allowed to discriminate on any basis whatsoever. There are exemptions – i’m allowed to specify female carer – but there’s not many other exemptions allowed.

Sometimes the full role, the full expectations, even the times the job takes place aren’t allowed to be included, because of vulnerable adult safeguarding. And with UJ, I don’t think there’s a system that allows you to ask for more details. You, as a Jobseeker just apply and hope for an interview. Maybe you could use the email or the phone call from the potential employer to ask for more details, before an interview is confirmed and you find out there that the job is not something you can do, for whatever reason.

I’m talking about two experiences I had, and I’m trying not to get too specific, in order to save any potential hurt feelings. But basically, one experience was that I had at least two people misunderstood the advert, or misread the advert. My advert spoke about helping me, an individual disabled young adult, but both of these people assumed they’d be working as part of a team and caring for the elderly.

The other experience is that, although I’m not allowed to discriminate, people with their own mobility problems also applied and it was clear they didn’t realise how physically demanding a job it can be. I don’t need lifting and handling, but there is walking on their part, manual wheelchair pushing, steep slopes, a lot of standing up, and probably other micro-necessities that I can’t think of right now, that you really only notice when you can’t do them. I’m talking from experience of being on the other side. It’s one thing to ask someone to pass you something, it’s another thing to reach up, grip an item, hold and carry the item, pass it over… and then do that all again in reverse when they’ve read the ingredients on the back and realised they’re allergic to it.

For the most part, the lack of disabled people in work places, in various industries, lifestyles, is a lack of effort by the employers. But physically assisting a fellow physically disabled person is not one of those jobs that can really be catered for, and that is something I learnt years ago in my more mobile days, from assisting my friends less physically mobile than myself, to the detriment of my own health. It takes compromise for that to work, for both people to be happy, and quite frankly, to me it’s a compromise enough employing people to depend on. I had just had a PA from YLYW who had her own disability, and though we muddled on, it made planning things difficult. Can we get to this train station in time to get to this place or home in time? Will she be able to carry this today? If the weather’s bad, where will we go, because she can’t push manual wheelchairs up steep slopes and my electric wheelchair doesn’t do bad weather?

Selfish as it may sound, when you only have a guaranteed four hours a week to leave the house, you want to make the most of them, and you need to be sure the person with you is 100% up to the job. I’m not able to offer trial shifts, I have to go with my feelings during the interview.

6) Ask yourself if a permanent, long term care job is something you really want to go for when you know you’ll be leaving in less than a year.

This is a job with a three month probation period to work out kinks in the system and talk through any prospective problems that may pop up. It’s a job where you get to know each other, you get used to each other, and though you might not be friends (Mostly not recommended, though on one occasion it has worked out wonderfully, and not to get too sappy here, but she has kept my spirits up during this whole debacle), you will become a significant part of your employer’s life. You might leave your job at the doorway, but an employer in this capacity is a disabled person who will depend on your consistency, care, empathy and professionalism. Availability is a commodity worth it’s weight in gold, yet we all know the pay is pennies thanks to the government.

It’s understandable that you have better plans for the future, but your employer might need to depend on people for the rest of their life, and people coming in and out of their life every 6 months can be upsetting and unsettling. This isn’t a holiday job. If you’re after a temporary job, go for a temporary job or an agency job, because god knows nobody expects consistency with agencies. If not for nothing else, think of how big a pain in the arse it is to go through finding a new PA, and dealing with the lack of care package facilitated in the interim, every 6 months when their employee leaves cos the better job they had lined up, because of uni, because of whatever comes up.

7) Follow what the advert asks of you. If the advert asks for CV, apply with a CV. You’re not going to impress anyone with a request for an interview if you’ve ignored what the advert asks of you. Especially when it’s a job where you’ll be doing a lot of what the employer asks of you. You’ve basically failed test number 1.

I’ve had a few applicants say that they don’t know how to send a CV. And whilst that’s something I can believe, because not everyone is computer literate, there is an “Upload file” button right above the message block with the extra information of “Use this to send your CV”. If you really can’t upload your CV for whatever reason, you need to offer an alternative. Copy and paste it into the body of the message, or link to another site which does host your CV.

Just evading the request won’t get you anywhere with anyone who is trying to protect themselves from bad applicants, you’ve made yourself look questionable and you’ve caused yourself to blacklisted.

People wonder how so much negligence happens in care homes and care companies, and it’s because people aren’t properly vetted. Private, independent employers like me can’t do much, but faith in a CV and follow up references are one way. I think some people scoff at my over-professional tone and my fastidious nature when I go into Employer mode, but I’m not just going to give the job to someone who sends me a message in text talk promising me they’ve got the experience. Where’s the proof? It’s my health and safety in your hands, here. Give me something I can work with.

8) Ask questions and be honest. One bad piece of advice I was given before the first round of interviews was to tell the applicants what I wanted from them, under the misguided belief that if the applicant doesn’t feel up to the job, they will say so there and then and maybe end the interview early. It didn’t work, they all smiled and nodded. I could tell they just told me what I wanted to hear, what they thought would get them the job.

Think this through. You’ve just been told that hours could change, with advance notice but still, calls could be cancelled at short notice, and that you will have to call in sick if you have so much as a cold and risk losing your pay. You’ve also just been told that part of your job will be to play bodyguard when an angry parent with a buggy wants to fight to the death for the wheelchair space, but understandably your potential employer won’t let up and sit by the doors because it’s a Wheelchair space. At what point do you want to have the conversation where you say you don’t think this job’s for you after all? In the interview where it dawns on you, or, say, afterwards when they hire you? After your first week? First month? After your pay is less than it should be because you had to call in sick to save your employer from catching it and suffering from it worse?

Private, independent employers looking for PAs aren’t going to go back to the jobcentre and complain about you. Not if you actually turn up. We’re too busy trying to seift through the unsuitable applicants that we’d much rather complain about (Female applicants only means Female Applicants Only, Local area means anything north of Southport is a ridiculous distance for you to be travelling) and deal with finding new applicants when the people we had hopes for didn’t turn up. Also, I think we’re all far too decent and understanding for it. We’re suffering under the same heartless bunch of scumbags. As you’re being forced to adhere to a heartless regime, we’re having our benefits and carepackages skimmed to the minimum and waiting to be forced under the same regime ourselves.

My last piece of advice is possibly the absolute most important one. You might like to write this one down so you remember it forever.

9) Do not get your potential employer’s phone number mixed up with your ex’s, and subsequently, absolutely do not leave threatening messages on their answering machines believing you’re leaving them for your ex. Best to just not leave threatening messages to anyone at all, really.

Admittedly I can’t prove it was them because they blocked their number, but I’m a big believer in Occam’s Razor, and I’ve got great voice recognition skills.

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