The population is getting older, and sicker. I am not sure whether we can label it is as an achievement of conventional healthcare, and the so called “civilization”, but without a doubt it means one thing: more and more elderly (and not only elderly) people need care and assistance, often for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The situation results in an unprecedented boom of nursing homes business, but also in the unprecedented numbers of job openings for Personal Care Assistants, or if you want “PCA”, on all major job boards. If you are patient and have passion for helping others, you may find a meaningful purpose in this job, and a decent source of income. But what will happen in an interview?

First and foremost, it depends a lot on whether you interview with an agency, or with the family member of the person who you will eventually care for. The interview with the agency will always have some structure, and they will follow a template with each candidate. On the other hand, interviewing with the family of the elderly, the impression you make on them matters the most, and whether they can imagine you working with their beloved mother, father, grandmother, or whoever you will care for. Let’s have a look at some questions you may face, especially while interviewing with an agency, but you may hear them also from the family members.

 

Why do you want to work as a PCA?

Let’s be honest right from the start. This is neither an easy job, nor a well paid one. Of course, it depends a lot on your client, the person you care for. With some it will be easier than with others, but nevertheless you will have to be at a certain location–for example their house, often for 24 hours, and though you may be working just for a couple of hours each day, you will be on duty all the time. Which obviously limits your personal freedom to a huge extent. Therefor money cannot be your primary motivation in this case. If it is, you will leave the job very quickly.

Talk about a meaningful purpose you see in the job of a personal care assistant. Maybe you have an experience from your own family–you took care of your ailing mother, or you’ve observed a personal assistant doing a great job, and understood the huge impact they had on the quality of life of the person they cared for. With your empathy and understanding for suffering, you can definitely envision getting a lot of personal satisfaction from doing this type of work.

Of course, you can also refer to the stage of your professional career. If you’re in your fifties already and lost the job because of the pandemic, perhaps you do not have many options left. And sure enough you do not want to flip burgers at this stage of your career. One way or another, they should get an impression that you really want the job, and see some positives when it comes to the actual work.

 

What is your experience with this type of work?

Any experience is better than none. Even if you just observed someone caring for someone in your family, it is better than nothing. Of course, any experience from a nursing home, hospital, or any other setting where you cared for someone is a big plus, because it implies that you know the hardships of the job, and are mentally ready to face them once again.

One thing you should keep on your mind: if you worked as a personal care assistant for someone but do not have the job any longer, they will almost always ask you why you left that job. Of course, in many cases the client simply died–death is a part of life after all, and it makes for an easy answer.

But many personal care assistants leave their jobs because they cannot tolerate something about the client (be it their nature, their reactions in certain situations, or even attitude of their family members), and talking about such things is walking on a thin ice in an interview. Because it can easily happen that you may face similar issues in your new job. Anyway, try to stay positive when narrating your experience. Focus primarily on the good things, the satisfaction the job gave you, and how you helped the person you cared for to have a better time…

How do you imagine a typical day in this job, working as a personal care assistant?

My advice to you: mention as many duties as possible. Definitely helping with cleaning, bathing, maybe even changing diapers. Doing some chores around the house such as basic cleaning and cooking comes without saying.

Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will have to do all these things with the client. But it is better to mention more duties, and hear later that you won’t have to take care of them, than saying you imagine just cooking and reading books for your client, or perhaps taking them for a walk, while in fact they expect much more from you. Once again, the interviewers (be it an agency or the family members of the client) care mostly about your attitude. Show them that you are ready to take care of everything your client may need during the day (and during the night, if you’ll be on for 24/7).

 

How do you balance, physical, medical, and emotional needs of a client in your work?

Best personal care assistants do not care only about physical well-being of their client. They know that life is more than basic needs, and it doesn’t matter if we enjoy our prime years of youth, or the autumn of our life, bound to a wheelchair, or even to a bed.

Ensure the interviewers that you understand that the job encompasses more than just assisting the client with their basic physical needs. You will make sure that they will have someone to talk to anytime they want, that they will feel proximity of other human beings, and that you will be attentive to their emotional needs as well as their physical needs.

Without a doubt, this isn’t always an easy balance to achieve, and it may be particularly tough with some clients. Nevertheless, you will try your best within the limits of their diagnosis (should they have any), and won’t give up easily.

 

What do you consider the most difficult aspect of this job?

The worst thing you can do is claiming to not see any difficult aspects of the job. They won’t hire you if you say so. Because the job is difficult, and you should see it realistically in the interviews. Maybe you do not particularly enjoy helping the clients with personal hygiene, or you find it extremely hard lifting them up from their chair or moving them around the house (since you aren’t physically strong).

Some people find it hard to be on the shift for virtually 24/7, never really having 100% certainty that they can relax, and turn off for a while, or even go for a walk. You should pick one of these things (or any other one), and claim that you find it difficult. Then you should elaborate on your answer, saying that perfect jobs do not exist. Without a doubt, you won’t find it easy on some days. But you will always keep on your mind the bigger picture, the meaningful purpose of your work, and the good things, and without a doubt they will help you get over the difficulties. Or at least you hope they will…

 

Other questions you may face in your PCA interview

  • How long do you want to work as a personal care assistant?
  • What do you know about Alzheimer disease (or about other diagnosis the client has)?
  • Can you cook? What meals can you cook?
  • Imagine that a client accuses you of a bad service, with no apparent reason. They start shouting on you and won’t stop. How will you react?
  • What will you do to make sure that you notice quickly if the health of your client starts to deteriorate?
  • Is there any type of a client you do not want to work with?
  • In your opinion, what role should family members play in the work of a Personal Care Assistant?

 

Conclusion, next steps

Interviews for PCA jobs belong to interviews with an easy difficulty. And while some questions may catch you by surprise, as long as you get ready for the most common questions, and show right attitude to this type of work, and to various challenges it presents, they will typically give you a chance to prove your skills in the job.

Do not forget to ask questions about the client, their life, health issues, and emotional needs. It helps to demonstrate that you really care, and are not interviewing with them by a mere chance, or because you somehow cannot get any better job at the moment….

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Matthew Chulaw
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