Interviewing a support worker

Woman sitting at home interviewing a support worker on a video call.

Right, so things are getting ‘real’ now! You’ve got your position description ready, you’ve advertised in all the right places, you’ve vetted the applicants down to the two or three most likely candidates — what’s next? An interview, of course!

Why interview?

Just because someone responds well to your advertisement doesn’t mean they’re perfect for the job. People can and do exaggerate their experience, skills and capabilities when applying for jobs, so it’s really important that you meet the person and have a series of questions ready to ask them.

Engaging a new person to support you or your loved one is a big deal. It’s a serious undertaking and shouldn’t be entered into lightly. You are bringing a total stranger into your home, or another person’s home and life, to possibly perform very intimate care. It matters who they are and how they present themselves to you and talk about the role and themselves.

How to interview a support worker

Step 1: Be prepared

If you’ve never been in the position of having to interview someone before, it can be quite nerve wracking, so the better prepared you are, the less stressful it’s going to be. Take someone with you to support you, take notes and help you keep on track if you’re nervous. It’s okay for there to be two people conducting the interview at least for the first few times, until you build your confidence and feel comfortable with the process.

If you are interviewing more than one person for the role, try and interview them back to back, on the same day if possible. It gives you a better overall picture of each person compared to the others. Leave at least 30 minutes between interviews if you can, to allow the interview to go over time, which they will occasionally, and to allow you time to make sure you’ve gathered all the information you are going to need to make a good decision.

Prior to the interview, think about whether you want the candidates to bring any documentation with them i.e. evidence of training, qualifications, Working With Children Check, Police checks, drivers licences, etc.

Prepare your questions. Refer to Steps 5 and 6 below for suggested question topics.

Step 2: Give yourself enough time

Allow a good amount of time for the interview so that you don’t end up rushed and skip over questions that are really important. Give the person time to relax as they too are probably feeling a bit nervous.

Step 3: Use a suitable location

Find a place that is suitable in terms of:

  • Travel time to the location, for you and the people you are interviewing.
  • Neutral ground. Not in your home or that of the person being supported. You don’t really want a string of candidates traipsing through the home, especially the ones that aren’t successful. Keep the home address to yourself until later in the recruitment process.
  • The suburb will probably have been mentioned in the advert. That’s all the person needs to know at the interview level of the recruitment process. Atmosphere conducive to an interview. Quiet, well lit, comfortable seating, access to refreshments (a coffee or tea can put a nervous person (possibly you) at ease), amenities, easy parking.
  • A location that supports the importance of the interview. So, not in a park or noisy food hall.
  • Possible venues: Private room in a library or community centre; lounge or bistro of a club; small; private table in a quiet cafe.

If possible, identify a location in or near the suburb where the support will be provided. If the person is late because of the distance travelled or because they had to come by public transport, or if they really had trouble getting to the interview, it may be that they aren’t going to last in the job for the same reason.

Another important consideration is whether to involve the person to be supported, in the interview process. This is quite a tricky question, as the immediate response might be ‘of course’. If the person is you, then the answer is obvious! But if it’s not you, think about it!

What type of questions are you going to ask the candidate? What are you going to tell the candidate about the person they will be supporting? What if it takes a long time to find the right person and you have to interview 10 people over a couple of weeks? Perhaps you are recruiting for a child. Does the adult person have the capacity to discern the right person from the wrong one? How is their judgement? Do they understand the importance of the interview process and the consequences of engaging the wrong person?

And they might! And if so, absolutely include them in the process, but if they really aren’t going to understand what you are doing and why, then it’s perfectly okay to conduct the initial interviews without them. They will come into the loop soon enough.

Step 4: Have your questions ready and take notes

The first few minutes of the interview should be spent putting the candidate at ease. How was their trip? Did they find parking okay? Would they like a glass of water or a coffee?

Explain to the candidate that you are going to ask them a series of questions and you or the person with you, is going to take some notes, just so that you aren’t relying on your memories at the end of the day.

Step 5: Explore the qualities you are looking for in a candidate

For example:

Compatibility: This is such an important component of the relationship between the person being supported and the person providing support…are they compatible? Will they like each other? Do they have things in common? Will their personality types get along or clash?

Availability: What are the candidates current commitments? Are they actually available at the times, on the days and for the hours that you are seeking? Can they work evenings and/or weekends? What about public holidays?

Reliability: This can be a hard one to ascertain and it might only be discoverable when speaking to referees, but can you think of questions or scenarios that explore the person’s views about being reliable and their actual capacity for being reliable.

Attitude: The person or people you chose to support you need to have the right attitude and shared values. You can ask questions which test these things. Ask some hypotheticals, for example:

  • If xxx became distressed or upset in a public setting and people were looking at them, what would you do?
  • If you were given feedback that said you weren’t fulfilling the requirement of the position, what would you do?

Step 6: Skill set, experience, personal qualities and interests

This is where you can really explore background, previous work experience, qualifications (if they have any and if you think they are relevant). Ask to see documentation that proves any statements made about qualifications and previous work experiences.

Ask open-ended questions about themselves, their lives, their work history, why they are interested in this position, why they are moving on from current work, etc.

Pose some ‘what if?’ questions that are relevant to the person requiring support. ‘You are supporting Sione one evening and he just won’t have a shower and get ready for bed. What will you do?’

‘You and Felicity are in the supermarket doing the weekly shopping and Felicity has a seizure, what will you do?’

Step 7: ‘Red Flag’ moments

These are the moments when something is said or done that raises a ‘red flag’ for you, that this candidate just isn’t right for this position. It may be that they:

  • Came totally unprepared for the interview
  • Brought none of the documentation you asked to see
  • Arrived late with no explanation as to why
  • Couldn’t come up with adequate responses to your ‘what if’ scenario questions
  • Any other combination of things that when looked at as a whole, tells you they just aren’t ‘the one’.

Do not feel compelled to tell people your decision at the end of the interview. You may have other candidates to interview and you’ll get back to them by the end of the week or in the next couple of days. Do actually go back to people even if they aren’t right, as they did make time to attend the interview and you don’t want to burn any bridges just in case they may not be right for this position but they might be right for another one further down the track. It’s simply good practice to be polite, friendly and respectful in all your dealings with people regardless of the outcome.

Step 8: Now what?

You’ve found one or maybe two people you think are ideal. If you aren’t the person needing the support, the next step is to find a way of bringing the person needing support into the picture. After all, they are the person who will spend the most time with the person you are choosing, so as much as possible, they should be involved in the final decision making process regarding who you engage for the job.

Again, though, don’t use the person’s home as the place for the first meeting. Remember, you are wanting them to make the final choice wherever possible and however that might look, so again, use a neutral location so that if the candidates you think are ideal, don’t make the final cut once introduced to the person they would be supporting, you haven’t identified where the person lives or exposed them to more scrutiny that is warranted at this point.

If you are recruiting a person to work with a child, you may need to then move to trial sessions spent in the home with the child prior to making the final decision, but still go through the above process first and hopefully the person you bring into your home is very likely the one you go on to engage for the job.

Do you have ‘trust’ issues?

Trust is a really big and important part of bringing paid support into a person’s life, especially for children and adults who have significant intellectual disability and who may not be able to speak. Who can you trust? How do you gauge who is trustworthy? How do you go about building trust?

There are no simple answers to these questions and as much as it may sound trite, it is often a bit of a guessing game and as long as you have shown due diligence in your recruitment process and have actually checked that the person has the clearances and credentials and experience that you are seeking, it is often a leap of faith in the hope that you are making the right choice.

You should also be thinking about safeguards. How can you safeguard someone who lives alone or who can’t speak? This topic is discussed more fully in Engaging paid vs unpaid support.

Things to remember

No interview process is fail proof. Sometimes it’s a leap of faith, but if the person ticks the majority of the boxes, and they are the most important ones, the leap can be worth it.

If you are happy with your process, use it again. If you think you missed some important element which led you to make a poor choice, tweak your process and your questions.

But whatever you do, do not proceed to engage someone out of desperation or because you are sick of interviewing! That will only lead to problems down the track that will be just as time consuming and challenging, if not more so, and you will have to start all over again anyway.

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