Interviewing on a Suicide Hotline

Crisis line reference checks and interviews are one part of the process for becoming a volunteer. A reference check usually involves the volunteer coordinator, distress line manager or other individual who is responsible for screening volunteers calling two or three individuals that you have written down (often an academic or employment reference, and then a personal reference.)

The purpose of the interviews are to determine your suitability for volunteering and to ensure that you won’t be negatively impacted by your helpline work. Below are some potential questions you might be asked on your interview

Common Interview Questions

What do you know about our service?
This question is important because a lot of people come into this field with an incorrect view of the day to day. For instance, some people believe that every call that they take will be someone who is highly suicidal. Certainly, on some lines there will be a bigger proportion of suicidal callers than others, but the majority of calls to most crisis lines (even suicide hotlines) are not imminent risk situations. Being aware of this is helpful.

Additionally, you may want to research how many calls the crisis line gets and how many volunteers they have. For example, some crisis lines get one call an hour, or even go stretches with no calls. (This is common for Samaritans branches where calling a single number gets a call bounced to the next available branch.) Other lines are much, much busier.

What made you interested in becoming a volunteer?
Sometimes people have visions of wanting to become a helpline, crisis line or suicide hotline volunteer because they want to save people. They imagine themselves as a counsellor who is able to fix people’s problems. Unfortunately, a lot of people’s problems can’t be fixed, and when we try to, we promote dependence.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to become a volunteer to learn if social work or crisis intervention is right for you. Building skills, learning to network, and giving back to your community are all great reasons for joining a crisis line.

As well, it’s important to recognize if you’re interested in becoming a volunteer to fix your own problems. This will likely result in you being negatively affected by the work – and you should probably complete counselling or therapy first before approaching helpline work.

What relevant experience do you have, if any?
You may not have any experience as a peer counsellor or other kind of experience, and you may lack coursework in social work, but communication courses are helpful, as is customer service or call centre experience.

Remember that crisis lines will provide all the training you need, but anything that helps improve your ability to communicate helps. The most important thing is to be empathic, non-judgemental and to listen!

Have you ever dealt with stressful or crisis situations?
Obviously stressful situations can be common on crisis lines. The important thing is to consider whether you’ll be able to handle the pressure. Certainly, you may not have intervened in a suicidal crisis before, but any crisis experience can help.

Do you have personal experience with suicide?
It’s important that if you were suicidal yourself, or you lost someone to suicide, that you’ve taken time to work through your issues before beginning crisis line work. This can be triggering.

Are there any issues you may be uncomfortable talking about? For instance, some people have issues with intimate partner violence, abortion, or other issues that you may need to remain neutral in on the crisis line.

Finally you may have to perform a roleplay. For instance, you may be given a statement like, “Me and my husband got into a fight again. It’s the same thing all the time, he just never listens!” And you have to say how to respond. A good response that incorporates crisis line empathy statements would be something like “Wow, that sounds like it’s really frustrating for you.”

Important Definitions

There are some important definitions that may improve your interview performance.

Active Listening – Active listening is a form of listening that involves listening to really understand what the individual is saying. This involves elements of the active listening process, which includes voice tone and body language, pace, open and close-ended questions, and demonstrating empathy.

Empathy – Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and recognize the emotions they’re experiencing. This involves the use of empathy statements.

Your Interview

Hopefully these questions have given you a better idea what a helpline interview may contain. Were there any questions in your interview that I missed? Let me know in the comments section.
Cite this article as: MacDonald, D.K., (2015), "Interviewing on a Suicide Hotline," retrieved on December 14, 2017 from http://dustinkmacdonald.com/interviewing-suicide-hotline/.
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