I’ve seen many SLP bloggers posting about their impending graduations and job searches. This prompted me to do a post to try to help them, in some way, learn from my “mistakes” or naivety. As new SLPs we are all excited for that first CF position. Then when you hit the ground running in those first few days, weeks, months, and even years at this point, you realize that not everyone shares your desire and enthusiasm. There are budgets, parents, higher-ups, and state governments to answer to. There are sub-par colleagues and parents that have been worn down by the “previous SLP” or “the system”. There’s Medicaid billing, IEP deadlines, lack of funds, and more and more people to whom you must justify your job.
I’ve compiled a list some questions that you might want to ask during your interview; some I wish I had asked. Not only to “appear interested and engaged” in the process/institution, but to cover your own behind in the future! Because, when push comes to shove, no one is going to be looking out for you except you. All that being said, I am confident that if I had asked these questions, and was told that my caseload would be 100, I’d have to pay for my ASHA dues AND my supervisor’s, and that I’d be evaluated based on what my worst enemy thought of my therapy techniques, I would have taken the job regardless. Granted none of the scenarios I described were ever the case, but the job market in my hometown was grim and I needed to be able to pay back Sallie Mae when she came knocking.
Here are just some off the top of my head:
-What is the typical caseload?: The maximum number of students a SLP can service at one times varies by state, but some institutions give their clinicians FAR fewer than the state mandated number. I’ve heard of caseload numbers between 5 and 80. Obviously this is a huge gap and undoubtedly determines how and how well the clinician does her job. Did anyone see the blog post by Chapel Hill Snippets? 7 students?! For real?! That’s craziness to me. Crazy jealousy!
Here is a helpful article from ASHA on caseload/workload.
-How do you do Medicaid billing?: When i started my current job, Medicaid billing was done on paper. I was unable to do it, because I did not yet have my Cs. Just this year, in January (yes, mid-year. How wonderful a learning curve to adjust to, I know.) my district implemented a district-wide online Medicaid billing program. In fact, for a couple of months we had to do our data for EVERY student online. This meant hours and hours and hours and hours (catch my drift) of extra work. We took data in a session and then had to transfer it all to this online program. I think in my next life I’m going to be a “consultant”. They’re the geniuses who designed this program, having no prior knowledge of my job, responsibilities, or efficiency in online programs in general (I presume.) But, I’m not bitter. As of now, since there was so much backlash from us SLPs citing the anti-ease of use of the program, we now only have to use this system for our ISP and Medicaid eligible students. It’s still a huge pain. If the company who did our IEP writing program had made our Medicaid program, it would have been a near God-send. You at least want some understanding of how it’s done before going into it. That’s not to say that it can’t change drastically within a year (or two…).
-What is involved in your teacher evaluation process?: All of those in the education field must undergo some sort of evaluation process. Some seem completely arbitrary while some are valid and essential. In my district, the people who are evaluating the SLPs are our communication disorders program supervisors; they are also SLPs. They know the drill: the subject matter, the pros and cons, and the dos and dont’s. I am eternally grateful the someone who’s walked in my shoes is evaluating me. She is fair and helpful in her criticisms. I know not all of my fellow SLPs are as lucky.
-How many program/staff meetings will I be obligated to go to? How far will I need to travel?: I have to go to monthly communication disorder program meetings, in addition to any staff meetings the school might hold, plus most special education department meetings within my school. The only one I need to travel for is the monthly “Speech” meeting, and it’s no more than 10 miles away. I’m fairly certain it’s about that distance for the majority of the SLPs in my district. All of these meetings are held on Monday afternoons. All elementary students have a half day on Mondays, so Monday afternoons are dedicated staff development periods and planning times. I realize these meetings are necessary to get essential program mandates to the staff, however, I’d love just a couple more Monday afternoons to myself to laminate/cut/organize/do progress reports/write IEPs/etc. All in all, they’re not bad.
-What sorts of professional development do you provide? Pay for? (I.e. ASHA): Each year, the head of our communication disorder program rallies for our ASHA dues to be paid by the district. I am eternally grateful for this gesture. We are also given the chance to ask for administrative leave should we want to go to the ASHA convention. This is unpaid leave and it is granted on a case by case basis. However, it is understood as a worthwhile venture and many SLPs in my district go regularly, by their own choosing.
-What is the job of the person hiring me? (Principal, superintendent, SLP?): Of the 5 face-to-face interviews I went on while searching for a job, the people interviewing/hiring me consisted of the following: 2 SLPs, 1 superintendent, 1 special education personnel (I don’t know or don’t remember her specific title, but it wasn’t SLP) and 1 recruiter. The recruiter interview was sort of a joke. That’s not to say that obtaining a job from a recruiter is a joke, but I got all dressed up, put on my big girl high heels, and anticipated a highly structured professional interview in which I’d talk about therapy techniques. It was anything but. She basically asked how she could “sell” me to her “clients”. It just wasn’t the illustrious first interview I’d hoped for. I was interviewed by a SLP at a private practice. She asked worthwhile questions and really wanted to know what kind of therapist I’d be, not just what kind of employee I’d be. Being interviewed by a superintendent (and a slew of other administrative professionals) was somewhat unsettling. They knew very little of my field of study, about the skills I need as a therapist (that are different from those required of a teacher – their probable first profession), and only asked questions about what type of employee I’d be. For this job, I made it to the next level where I had to do a “mini lesson”. These students were not speech/language students and I was only told what grade they were in. It’s safe to say I bombed it, only because I had ZERO idea what they’d be looking for. Given that chance now, I’d do it drastically differently. The interview with the nondescript special education personnel was for a private school for students with Autism. She took pride in her school and showed me the variety of students, classrooms, and professionals they had. She asked relevant questions and I felt good about it. When I got home from the interview and checked my email, I found an email from her, earlier that morning, saying she position had been filled and I didn’t need to come in. Errr, what? I had driven an hour and a half to get to the interview, filled out the paperwork, answered her questions, chatted with her, thanked her for her time, and was told I’d hear later that week. Now I see an email that had been written prior to all of that saying “thanks but no thanks”?! It was the strangest experience and I was mad. I was confused, angry, hurt. It was ODD! If I got nothing else from that, I learned I am thankful to NOT have gotten that job; who’d want to work for a company that’s that shady?
The job I ended up taking is the same one I currently hold. I had to move 4 states away from my family and hometown just to find a worthwhile job that I wanted. (I did NOT want a hospital position. I don’t do bodily fluids/functions well. Although, i could have gotten one considerably more easily) I was interviewed by a panel of 4 SLPs. They were the only ones who looked at my grad school portfolio that I poured my heart, soul, and every office supply ever into! They read my writing samples, asked about my therapy techniques, questioned how I would go about relationships with colleagues, parents, and administrators, and the sorts of discipline strategies I’d use. not to mention, they commented on my houndstooth kitten heels! 😉
This turned out to be the right job for me. Now, I could always use a smaller caseload, a couple fewer meetings a year, and there are certainly frustrations that come with any job. But, there is no threat of my position being cut (unlike where I moved from!), I’m full time, and I know I am appreciated. I’m appreciated by my supervisors, my principal, my colleagues, my students, and their parents.
Good luck to all in their job hunts! Go with your gut. And, check your email before you leave for an interview!
Please comment below to add any questions I may have missed!!!