Recruiting Peer Supporters and Promoting Your Project

The recruitment of Peer Supporters for your project is key to its success. This is where building good relationships with key stakeholders in your community will have an impact. Recruitment can be challenging. The number of people living with HIV who are ready, and have the right qualities to be a Peer Supporter may be relatively small in your area. By its nature, HIV lends itself to secrecy and guarded disclosure. Therefore hiring a hall, advertising a recruitment day in your local paper and waiting for people to walk in off the street is unlikely to be very successful. The more likely routes for your Peer Supporters to find you are through the clinics and organisations you have promoted your project to. You should plan your strategy for recruitment, and be creative!

Being a Peer Supporter is a more specialist form of volunteering that requires a certain set of skills, knowledge and experience. It also requires a certain type of person with particular personal qualities. Unlike any other form of support, peer support requires a person to pull on their lived experience to help another person move on with their life. In HIV peer support, Peer Supporters have to be able to disclose their status again and again, each time they meet someone new, or start a new group. They must be able to understand what is and isn’t appropriate to share and when to share it. Peer Supporters need to understand that their role is to support and allow people to open up in an environment where they know they are truly understood and listened to. Given that your Peer Supporters will be alongside people who may at times be vulnerable, adopting safe and robust recruitment practice is not just advisable, but your responsibility.

It can feel daunting to think about how to recruit Peer Supporters effectively and safely. However, with a well thought through, creative plan you can be more confident that you have the right people in place to offer good quality support.

Guidelines for effective recruitment of Peer Supporters

The following guidelines will provide a framework that will help you to ensure consistency. They are not prescriptive, but if you follow the principle you will ensure effective, safe recruitment.

Checklist for recruitment of Peer Supporters

Have you:

  • Ensured that you have all the correct policies and procedures in place?
  • Written a Role Description?
  • Decided how you are going to promote and advertise your project?
  • Decided upon, and designed a selection process with accompanying paperwork?
  • Collated an information pack for enquirers that includes an application form?
  • Decided how you will shortlist candidates?
  • Decided how you will feedback to people who are not successful at application or selection stage?
  • Collated a pack for successful candidates with clear information regarding the next stages?

What are you looking for in your Peer Supporters?

What qualities should your Peer Supporters have? The National Standards for Peer Support in HIV outlines the competencies that Peer Supporters need for each of its standards. Mostly, competencies can be developed through training and experience. There are also personal qualities you will be looking for in terms of assessing people wanting to be Peer Supporters:

Self-Awareness

People with good self-awareness will be more reflective of their practice, more open to feedback and aware of their strengths and weaknesses. Good self-awareness means that Peer Supporters are able to grow and develop in their role as they understand where they need support and further development. Peer Supporters are in the unique position of providing support because of their lived experience. Therefore at times they may need support themselves, and they must have the self-awareness to know when to ask for it.

Awareness of others

Peer Supporters must be able to assess when it is appropriate to share their own experience – if at all. A common issue in any kind of peer support is people in the support role taking up too much space with their own experiences, rather than using their shared experience to empathise and listen. The person being supported is looking for a space to open up and be listened to by someone without judgement who has really stood in their shoes.

Sensitivity

Supporters who have a sensitive approach will better understand confidentiality and boundaries. In peer support in particular, the boundary lines are thinly drawn and move all the time. A Peer Supporter may be supporting someone they were in clinic with the day before, or who they have been in another group with. They may have mutual friends, or go to the same social spots. None of this excludes them from supporting each other, but does mean it is important to understand and think about boundaries all the time. It also demands that Peer Supporters have the sensitivity to understand the importance of confidentiality.

Peer Supporters also need to be able to listen and feedback sensitively. They are not advisors or counsellors, but they may be suggesting action or posing questions to gently guide people to think about their life or behaviour in a particular way that could promote change.

Commitment

The recruitment, training and support of Peer Supporters takes up resources – both time and money. In terms of commitment, you want people to be committed to the role and to be able to give a certain amount of time to it. The best Peer Supporters are clear about the time they can offer, clear when they cannot offer time and deliver on what they have said they can do.

You cannot make, and should not be pressurising Peer Supporters to stay with your organisation for a certain amount of time. However, you do want to attract people who want to commit to the project over a period of time. It is reasonable to suggest that you would like an initial commitment of six to twelve months. You cannot enforce this, but by talking about this during the recruitment process, people start to think early on about whether or not they are ready to commit.

Flexibility

Flexibility is not just about when your Peer Supporters are available, it is also about who, how and where they will offer support. All Peer Supporters will have boundaries of their own, and this is fine. However, someone who is only willing to support working women, one-to-one, in a particular room, on Wednesdays at 3pm – will be difficult to match to a mentee regardless of their skills and other qualities that may make them very suitable for the role.

Open to Learning and Development

Developing practice, reflecting on experience and identifying where further learning or support is needed is a key part of being a Peer Supporter. The training and development does not end as soon as the peer support relationship begins. Peer Supporters need to keep their knowledge and practice up to date to be able to be effective and make a positive impact.

What competencies should your Peer Supporters be able to develop?

There are areas of skills and knowledge that you would expect Peer Supporters to have some understanding of – but that can be developed in training. For HIV peer support, you will be looking for people with the potential to develop competencies including:

  • Basic knowledge of HIV and treatments, including how to talk to other people about your HIV status and potential reaction
  • Insight into wellbeing and self-management strategies
  • Understanding the importance of self-care
  • Ability to demonstrate practical knowledge of sexual health
  • Recognise diversity and know how to work with this
  • Ability to manage risk and carry out risk assessments, ensuring everyone is kept safe
  • Effective listening and communication skills
  • Understanding of confidentiality and boundaries
  • Understanding of safeguarding
  • Understanding of monitoring and ability to maintain accurate records
  • Understanding of SMART goal setting and action planning and able to support mentees to set goals and action plan

The above competencies feature in The National Standards for Peer Support in HIV as part of the toolkit for effective Peer Supporters. Download a copy here.

For your project, you will decide what competencies your peer supporters need, depending on the type of support you are offering and the activities involved. You may find that you do not need or want to include all of the above competencies. These are intended as a guide only for good practice.

What are your Peer Supporters going to do?

You should know what your Peer Supporters are going to do at the project planning stage and this needs to be clear in your recruitment strategy. The kind of peer support you are intending to offer will affect the skills and experience you are looking for. You need to recruit appropriately and according to need. If your support is online only, you will need people with the accompanying IT skills. If you are only developing group support for MSM, you will be hoping to attract people in this category. If you are hoping to develop both group and one-to-one support, you will want people with both group facilitation and one-to-one skills. If your project is going to be delivered in a range of settings, your Peer Supporters will need to be able/willing to meet with people in, for example, community spaces. Clarity regarding your project is a recruitment tool; the clearer you are at this stage, the more likely you are to attract the right type of people and the less work you will have to do at this stage.

Have you written your role description?

You will need a clear role description to give to people interested in offering peer support at application stage. This does not have to be a complicated document – in fact a concise document (no longer than two sides), clearly written is not only easier to read, but more likely to be read. A template role description can be found here.Your role description should include the following information:

  • Project name
  • Title of role
  • Location of role (i.e. at organisation/external)
  • Ideal time commitment
  • Name/job title of person supervising Peer Supporters
  • Overall purpose of role
  • Main tasks of the role
  • Any vetting requirements for the role (e.g. DBS)

You should also include a person specification. This defines the role and outlines what you need. It also helps you in your recruitment as it will include a set of criteria for the role that you can use as part of your assessment.For a Peer Support Volunteer role, your specification should include:

How will you assess the suitability of people to be Peer Supporters?

You need to design an assessment process for people applying to be Peer Supporters. You may decide to have one-to-one or group interviews. However you decide to carry out your assessment, you should make sure that it is consistent, i.e. the same for all candidates. Your assessment exercises and questions should be designed against the qualities, skills and experience you have decided you are looking for in your Peer Supporters. You should also record your assessment for each candidate and keep it with candidates’ records.

Good practice for assessment:

Whatever your project is like, you should have some kind of assessment. Wherever possible have two people assessing candidates. Not only is this easier for note taking, but two people offers a more balance observation of the candidate. As your programme develops you could use Peer Supporters to help with assessment, if you feel they have the skills and qualities to do this. This a good use of resource, a development opportunity for your Peer Supporters and is valuing the people helping to deliver your project.

Be clear with the candidate about the purpose of the interview, what you are going to do during the interview, whether/when they can ask questions. The assessment process is not a trick, the more transparent you are with your candidates you are about what you are looking for, the more honest they are likely to be in answering your questions.

Put the candidate at ease – they may be very nervous as becoming a Peer Supporter could be a big step for them. Make sure they know how formal/informal the interview is, your expectations and what you are looking for.

Ask open questions and give the candidate plenty of time to answer.

Make sure your body language and eye contact with the candidate reassures them that you are listening to them.

Feedback regarding the assessment process is important. If your candidate has done well at interview and is going to be a Peer Supporter, tell them what went well and the reason you want to proceed. Let them know if there are areas you feel they will need to work on and reassure them about how you will support them – training, supervision etc. It is equally important to feedback to candidates who have not been successful. Again, tell them the reason why you do not want to proceed. If you think they could be a Peer Supporter in the future, tell them what they need to do to be successful in the future. If you feel that they do not have the qualities or potential to be a Peer Supporter, signpost them on to other organisations or types of role that you think may be more suitable.

How are you going to attract Peer Supporters to your project?

There will be different ways you can attract Peer Supporters to your project. Before you decide on your recruitment strategy, ask yourself some questions that will help you decide how and where you will recruit, and your message:

  • How many Peer Supporters are you hoping to recruit?
  • What kind of peer support will they be offering?
  • Where will they be offering support?
  • What skills and experience do they need?
  • What training expectations do you have?
  • What commitment are you expecting?

Promoting your project

It is likely that many of the places that you may recruit Peer Supporters from, will also be a route of referral for people needing support. Referrals will come from a variety of sources, some of them will be the same people you have talked to in the development of your project (see – Establishing networks in your community click to link).

Any opportunity you have to talk about your project is another potential Peer Supporter or person able to access support. Giving presentations to staff in clinics, local organisations, GP surgeries… anywhere you think there is potential for people living with HIV to access information and services, is an opportunity to find future Peer Supporters and people looking for support. Talking to local newspapers or on local radio is also a great way to reach out. There may be local programmes that your target group would be likely to listen to, for example Brighton’s community radio station, Radio Reverb hosts a weekly ‘HIV Happy Hour’. Writing articles and short pieces about your project is also a great way to promote what you are doing and attract enquiries.

You need to plan what you are going to talk about to make sure you are promoting everything you want to about your project. Hopefully you have the chance to talk to a wide range of people and organisations. Whoever you are talking to, you need a consistent message. Writing a statement or press release for your project that everyone involved in promoting the service can refer to ensures that key points are being covered whenever you talk or write about it.

A note about promoting HIV peer support

If you are promoting your project and you are a current Peer Supporter, you need to think about your audience and your disclosure. Disclosing your HIV status as a Peer Supporter in a safe space is different to talking about your project on a radio show, in a local paper or to a group that is not closed. You are the best person to decide what you want to disclose about yourself but make sure you think about this before you promote your project in the community. Talking this through with peers/colleagues first can be useful, even if you think you know what you want to do!

See also ‘Dealing with Referrals’

Key points to cover:

  • Who you are – name of organisation or group
  • What you will be doing – one-to-one/group peer support
  • Why you are doing it – information about how HIV peer support helps, why it is important, how it complements clinical and psychological support services
  • Where you are – how to find you
  • What you need – Peer Supporters/people for support and numbers
  • What the project involves – time limited/open ended support?
  • How to apply to be a Peer Support Volunteer– is there a time frame/recruitment process/training?
  • How to contact you for peer support
  • How to refer people to you for peer support