How did you become an IPS employment specialist?

I got into my career with Working Well Trust after having a job as a headhunter, which was fine but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do long term. I decided to take a break as I had only recently graduated and travelled for a couple of months, and then started to apply for jobs when I came back. In my time out I had been volunteering with Shout!

Crisis Helpline, and I knew that I wanted to work for a mental health charity but was finding it difficult to find jobs that I felt particularly enthusiastic about, and I was applying for a lot of roles where I really liked the look of the company, but the role wasn’t what I wanted. I came across the WWT job on Charity Jobs, and it was the first one that I had really wanted to apply to/get because it would use some of the skills I had learnt in my previous role, but would be using them in a very different way.

I know a couple of my colleagues also came through a similar route with recruitment backgrounds. The idea of helping people who really needed it to find jobs appealed to me and even though I was concerned that I was slightly under-qualified I thought there was no harm in applying and I ended up getting the job! I think for me the combination of my experience with Shout combined with the employment experience might have made up for me not having a high amount of experience.

What does a typical day look like?

Day to day the job varies a lot, but generally, I will have client meetings booked in, with space in between to do case notes/admin. Part of my role is also to engage with local employers face to face on behalf of my clients. This is interesting because when I first started this was probably the bit I was most apprehensive about doing, and I had to really make myself go and do it that first time on my own, but actually everyone that I talked to was pretty enthusiastic about us as an organisation, and were keen to work with us if they could.

For me the best bit is without a doubt the meetings with clients. They’re so varied that you can’t really ever get bored, and they make the work day go very quickly! It’s also very rewarding when a client gives you good feedback on a meeting or something you have done with them. The team is also amazing here which makes a difficult day so much easier to deal with, and everyone works in a really open way, so if you are unsure about something you can ask literally anyone and they will try to give you new way of looking at things or a new idea you hadn’t thought of. 

A challenge of the job for me so far has been a client who had previously been enthusiastic disengaging from me without an obvious reason, which is difficult because even if you know you did your best to support them you always wonder if you could have done something different and they wouldn’t have disengaged. I think I knew from when I started the job though though that one of the challenges for me would be trying to not get overly invested in individual clients, because you work with people and you just want the best for them, so its hard to not feel like you should have done more at points.

Were there any qualifications or professional development skills which have helped you develop in your role?

I recently went on a course run by the Recovery College called Understanding Psychosis, which was run by someone with lived experience. This was fascinating and really useful as I realised I actually had very little actual understanding of what psychosis means, especially for the individual experiencing it, and how I had been biased by films/popular culture that depicted it in an (unsurprisingly) inaccurate way. This will then be very useful for me in terms of interacting with any clients who may have psychosis. 

I don’t currently have any other courses booked in, but I’m sure I will do another course at the recovery college when they have their next semesters courses available.

What advice would you give to someone considering your role or area of work?

I think for people who are looking to get into this type of role, especially if your background/education isn’t anything related to psychology or mental health services, I would say try and do some volunteering that is related to mental health/allows you to work with people with mental health.

I know it’s not always possible to volunteer as you need to actually earn money, but there are a lot of things you can do that are quite low commitment. I know for me the Shout volunteering was great because all the learning and work was done online from home, and the commitment was only 4 hours a week, split into two 2 hour sessions. So anything you can do that shows you have a genuine interest and commitment to this type of work is important to try. 

I think three qualities that I’ve so far found pretty important are people skills, patience, and resilience. Which to be fair is probably similar for a lot of jobs, but particularly people skills are essential when you’re meeting clients every day.