A career as a Direct Support Professional may be for you

Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) assist speople who have disabilities and senior citizens with a number of activities to live more independently and reach their goals. DSPs have the power to make a big difference in the lives of others because they provide a majority of the hands-on care and support to those they work with. What DSPs do is gaining more and more respect and professional recognition. If you or someone you know is interested in this important line of work, here are some useful tips.

While there are a great many job titles that fall under the category “Direct Support Professional”, this article will focus on job search strategies for Personal Care Attendants (PCAs). Because of the large number of different types of DSPs, it is necessary to simplify this topic to one type. But some of the strategies here will apply to other direct support roles.

Approach the job search professionally, by researching your options and evaluating what interests you. Then, gather information on the employers which appeal to you the most. Create or update your resume and write a cover letter specific to each employer. This is an important step, do not overlook it. Completing these steps will emphasize your professionalism and your new employer will respond with professionalism. The next steps will be applying for a position, interviewing and waiting for responses. The last step will be choosing which job offer to accept based on criteria that will maximize the potential for a good fit between you and the employer.

Evaluating one’s interests:
If you have experience working as a PCA, then you will know your interests and preferences. Think about what you have appreciated most as a PCA when deciding what direction to go in your job search. Perhaps you especially enjoy working with children or maybe you like working with adults who have speech or developmental disabilities or mobility impairments. If you have no previous experience as a PCA, you should begin working with consumers that you have been trained to work with. In time, you will discover what you are happiest doing and what situation is the best match for your personality, abilities, skills, interests and preferences.

Researching your options:
When researching options for employment, it is recommended to start very broadly. Learn about any employers you may have heard about or any that have been recommended to you. Make a list of any and all possible PCA employers you would like to work with. Start gathering information on those that are most attractive to you, based on word-of-mouth knowledge, first impressions, their advertisements and what you may have noticed about them during your initial broad sweep of PCA employers. Find out how long the PCA employer has been in business, how many staff and office staff are employed, what is their employee turnover rate, how many consumers they serve, what the needs of the consumers are, how many hours you can expect to work and whether you will be reimbursed for mileage between consumers. Determine the location where you would like to work. Also, consider that since you will most likely work in a community- or home-based setting, such as a home, school, or workplace, you may not need to commute regularly to your employer’s office. Ask about their orientation and training programs. This is a major indicator of the professionalism of the PCA employer. You want to stay away from those who do not offer orientation and training because this means that they are not operating up to adequate standards. PCAs must receive orientation and training in order to be successful working with consumers. Once you have gathered enough information to feel like you have a fairly clear picture of each employer you would like to apply to, you are ready to preparing the application and for the interview process.

When you apply for a PCA position, you should first call the employer, state that you are interested in applying for a PCA position, and inquire about there process. Then, follow the steps outlined for you. Most likely, you will make an appointment to visit the employer, receive an application packet, and if you have all necessary information, you may complete the application in their office. When your application is complete, submit it with your resume and cover letter.

When you are called for an interview, prepare for some of the questions you may be asked. You may be asked questions during the interview that you have not thought about before. When this happens, it is OK to let the interview know that you need a moment to think about how to answer the question. This shows thoughtfulness and careful judgment. Be self-confident and professional throughout the interview. This will make a good impression and build trust for the employer. How you present yourself in the interview will indicate how the employer may expect you to perform your job duties. Be at your best and let your strongest qualities show through.

Choosing an offer to accept:
After interviewing, it will usually take some time before you can expect to hear back from the employer you interviewed with. Try to be patient (hiring you too quickly could be a warning sign) and try not to take it personally if you do not hear back from an employer at all. There can be many factors that enter into their decision and you will not likely have access to all of the information or the reason for a rejection. During this waiting period, send thank you notes to each employer for the opportunity to interview. When all goes well, you will receive a job offer, or perhaps more than one. When deciding which offer to accept, use criteria that will enable you to accept the PCA position that is the best fit for you. Some criteria have already been discussed in this article, such as considering the orientation and training program of the PCA employer, location, and how many PCAs and office staff are employed. Think about the workplace culture that you picked up on when you interviewed. Compare wages and benefits offered by each employer. Create your own criteria and map out what is most important to you.

After you have chosen an employer, you will need to choose the consumers you would like to work with. In short, you should also interview with a consumer and get to know him or her before starting your working relationship. Compatibility between the PCA and consumer is essential after all you’ll be having personal contact with them in their home for extended periods of time. Your abilities, skills, and training should also be a good fit between you and the consumer.

Now, you have learned about the process of seeking a PCA employer to work for. Remember, PCAs are highly valuable service providers. Be sure that you are treated as a professional and that you conduct yourself as a professional. Also, remember you’re in their personal space, treat it respectfully. This will promote the personal care assistance field as the true profession that it is.

Good luck with your job search!

Bridget Siljander is president of the Direct Support Professional Association of Minnesota (DSPAM). She may be contacted at bridgetsiljander@yahoo.com or 612-272-0281