Applying for Jobs Begins from the Ground Up

There’s no denying that, in the current climate, it can be difficult to find a job. Whether you’re looking to work for the first time or have recently become unemployed, prospects now may seem fairly grim; but the truth is that there are still jobs out there if you know how to target your applications.

The essential first step is to decide what type of role you are looking for, and then to match your skills to that role. If, like me in the past, you suddenly find yourself redundant after twenty years in the same role, it’s easy to fall into a couple of traps: either forgetting so many of the good skills you have developed over time; or expecting that prospective employers will be able to “read into” what you’ve done and understand its relevance to them. Similarly, if you’ve never worked or are returning to the job market after a substantial absence, it can be tempting to put together a “one size fits all” application and just hope that someone will spot your potential and give you a break.

Matching your skills to the job is something our Development and Skills Officers have been doing for a while now, and over the last couple of months they have helped some of our participants navigate the application process and get interviews in a variety of different roles and industries. In each case they have started building from the ground up, helping participants to decide what they want to do, showing them how best to present their existing skills and then guiding them through the rest of the application.

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Peer Support continues throughout the Pandemic

Usually HeadsUp Peer Support Workers (PSW’s) meet with Participants in cafes, libraries and other informal spaces, but because of the social distancing guidelines during Covid 19 we can’t meet face to face right now, but we can and do still enrol new participants over the phone. We know that there are lots of different support needs, especially at the moment, and we can still offer our support by exchange of email and continue with telephone, email and video calling.

In our first conversations we will still work with participants to build a picture of their character and life experiences helping us see how we might support them in planning their next steps into work or training.

Quite often whilst chatting people will divulge other issues that are happening in their lives that are preventing /have prevented them from moving on and we use our signposting training to encourage the individual to seek additional help. For example if someone is experiencing heightened anxiety due to the lockdown- we might encourage them to contact their GP surgery to make an appointment to chat about how they are feeling. We are aware of local and national organisations that support people in crisis in many different ways and can put them in contact with them, or can refer on their behalf.

We acknowledge the importance of presence, in as much as being isolated and the fear of the seriousness of the virus has meant that even the most enthusiastic people longing to get into employment, training or education aren’t in a place to do this right now and that’s ok. We will stay in touch, offer support and continue to look at ways that can help prepare these participants for when it is possible.

Equally, some are ready to seek work, education or training as soon as possible and there are many ways to offer support. Our Development & Skills Officers might offer help with IT Skills, CV and cover letter writing, mock interviews, creating an email address, and these aspects are still being offered by HeadsUp using phone calls, video calls and we’ve even produced some fantastic videos available on YouTube which run alongside our one to one sessions.

We are helping those who can help themselves, for example one of our participants was to have a Skype interview which was making her very anxious as she didn’t know how to do this. So, simply using a series of telephone calls her PSW helped her to create an account for both herself and her partner so that they could practice having online conversations and get her used to seeing herself on screen.

Another individual asked for support in answering interview questions, coping mechanisms for interview anxiety issues and a mock interview, so different members of the HeadsUp team organised a practise telephone interview so that the participant could give it a go in the security of their own home. Feedback was then given to the participant and it turned out to be a really effective tool showing that the individual was more capable than he was giving himself credit for, and this was a huge confidence boost for him.

So as you will see we have adapted perfectly well in supporting our participants during this pandemic, and it has in no way dampened our enthusiasm or commitment to obtain the best outcome for each individual. We are missing seeing people face to face, but we realise the power of hearing someone’s voice and making that connection, communication is key!

Not alone …..

As well as offering employment or training advice and support, as Peer Support Workers (PSW’s) we also offer a broader moral support to our participants. There can be many factors involved in individual cases which all need to be addressed to ensure that someone is ready and able to return to work.

For example one participants life has been extremely hard recently. She has 2 young children, no local support network and a difficult relationship with her ex-partner (her children’s father). So, how can she even be ready to start work if she’s trying to cope with lockdown, home-schooling her children, her own mental health issues and, on top of all that, dealing with domestic abuse?

But this lady is a fighter, she is determined to get back into work, provide a safe and loving environment for her children and take back control of her life. However, she cannot do all of this at the same time, and she cannot do this alone.

Part of our job as PSW’s is to recognise when we need to find other sources of help outside of that offered through our own employability project. In this instance we have signposted our participant to various local support groups for those suffering domestic abuse and we have reached out to colleagues for additional support and guidance. At HeadsUp we have a Wellbeing and Safeguarding policy to keep both staff and participants safe, and we make our Safeguarding Lead aware of relevant information to enable them to follow things up and provide any further support should it be required.

Sometimes the most important thing we can do is make sure that our participants know that they are not alone.

Accessing Technology Funding

As  project we pride ourselves of providing practical and wellbeing support for our participants, all of whom have had mental health challenges during their lifetime, but still really want to job search and find work or training. But alongside skills and personal wellbeing  you also need access to some kind of technology to take full advantage of the websites and information available to help with the job search process, and actually, most job applications are now solely on line.

So if you don’t have a laptop or smart phone, and of course in recent months we haven’t been able to visit libraries and suchlike where you can often use tech, what are you to do?

One of our Peer Support Workers (PSW) has supported two of her participants to access technology funding in order to help them with their search. One of the participants was able to secure funding from her local Job Centre Plus  for a smartphone enabling them to job search from home whilst the libraries are closed. Another participant was able to get funding for a laptop so that they can work towards a mental health nursing qualification at home.

Our fantastic team are great at taking a challenge and helping to find a solution and this scenario is no different as both participants would not have been able to progress had our Development and Skills Officer not sourced the government funding, and the PSW supported the participant in successfully applying.

Great outcomes for the team and our participants, especially under such challenging circumstances!

If you have your own Job Coach at a JCP then have a chat to them about how the Flexible Support Fund can help them overcome a substantial barrier to employment.

Home working – it’s great (isn’t it?)

We have adapted and found ways to keep delivering our project and we are proud of that, but that’s a discussion for a different blog. The focus here is on our Peer Support Workers (PSW’s), the people in our team who normally provide that face to face participant support but are now themselves working from home finding their feet in the different world we all find ourselves in. It’s not easy, and everyone has had up’s and downs that’s for sure (and to be expected).

How have our PSW’s done it? Faced the challenges of working from home, staying positive and motivated, looking after the own wellbeing and then still being able to provide the support that is so important for our participants.

We asked our team of PSW’s and here is how they’re doing it………

The positives: there were quite a few! Lots of people enjoyed being able to focus and concentrate more when they needed to and loved having less travel so more time especially in the mornings. Several people have also surprised themselves by enjoying learning new ways to stay in touch, especially digitally – they expected to not like that bit!

The not so greats: It took people a while to get ‘strict’ on having a ‘home time’ and turning off their laptops/phones and the initial tech set up was tricky at times. Main issue is the lack of face to face contact with ‘other humans’ and all that that gives us. Some felt less able to fully support their participants too but appreciated that it is great that we can keep going in such tricky times.

Keeping organised: Lists and diaries is the name of the game here for pretty much everyone. Helping to keep focussed and providing assurance that they’ve managed to do what they set out to do.

Keeping well and positive: Taking regular breaks was a response from all, even if you must put it in your diary to remember! Focusing on what has been achieved rather than what is not possible (which is why crossing things off a list works well). Allowing yourself to acknowledge how you feel and adapting what you are doing to reflect that when you can i.e.: a simple task if you are perhaps feeling overwhelmed by the current situation. A big one is having a definite ‘home time’ and putting your work away.

Staying Motivated: Sticking to routines, getting up at certain times, proper lunch break and so on. Having goals and rewards, a cuppa and a biscuit once you have achieved a task for example. In true form several responses from our PSW’s were that ‘if our participants can keep going then we certainly can’ and this is the very attitude that makes our PSW’s the great colleagues that they are, and why they are so appreciated by the participants who they support.

The final word is to the pets of our PSW’s who provide ongoing amusement with their snoring and snuffling just at that point when there’s an important work call to make 😊

Teamwork = ‘Mock Interviews’ still an option for our participants

One of the most important skills an employer looks for is the ability to work in a team, and here at HeadsUp we are proud of our track record of pulling together for the benefit of our participants.

Recently, a Peer Support Worker identified that one of his participants would really benefit from Development and Skills Officer support and referred them to Jess, his local “DSO”. Even though we are all currently working remotely, Jess was able to quickly establish a rapport through a series of telephone chats and agreed that the participant would benefit from a mock interview.
Looking at the specific job role the participant was interested in Jess was able to construct a relevant interview, and enlisted the support of Geoff (the other DSO) to hold a telephone mock interview “in character” as an employer to make the experience as realistic as possible.

The interview was a success, with all those involved learning a great deal from the process: most importantly the participant was able to receive structured feedback from a complete stranger, just like in real life.

We all know things are “different” right now; but it is increasingly likely that recruitment will take place through telephone or video interviews. We are proud that we are able to deliver such practice to our participants, helping them to the front of the queue when the time is right for them to turn to work, education, training or volunteering.