Distilled down to its barest essences, the role of the agency I’ve been describing is fulfilled primarily by its specialists. These individuals must interview applicants, document their information, and request the necessary data to properly dispose of their cases in a timely and accurate fashion. This is far more difficult than it may seem, but is not nearly as difficult as can be interpreted. I can offer two analyses of the two leadership groups under which I served as an employee: the first of which could do no right, and the other with the right mentality in place.
The average day is simple enough, and can vary depending on your job assignment. Ultimately, you have 8 appointments a day, convening with an applicant every 45 minutes starting at 8:15am an ending at 3:15pm (on average). There is a certain rhythm with this job and this schedule. A comfort that is built up by the rigid structure that allows for a focused assault on your day as it were. Because applications are due on the 30th day after the day of application (e.g: an application on 7/1 must be completed by 7/31), it is fairly obvious when you receive your work list for the day of which cases you need to ma (nage by close of business. One cannot start before 8am and stay after 4:30pm (due to the demands of the job in large offices, it sometimes feels like the 8 hours is not enough to complete all your necessary work – this is not a possibility as some years ago, the State lost a lawsuit against workers that had been doing this).
Best practices means you get the list from your supervisor by 8:00am (they typically arrive between 7:15am-7:30am and stay until 5:30pm-6:00pm – they can do this, as management are not held to the same laws). First thing’s first, you check your email inbox, your work mailbox, and snag your applications. If you’re lucky, you can get the daily report on your work list back to your supervisor before your first interview and deny any applications whose applicants failed to comply with the interview process. Policy states that the interview is a mandated part of the process. Then, you get your first applicant interview of the day screened, meaning you check all available data to which the agency has access (note: THIS DOES NOT MEAN CREDIT CHECKS; THERE ARE NO CREDIT CHECKS NEEDED). During this screening, you should take the time to examine the previous case actions within the past year by reading the documentation from that time. If you’re lucky (again), the interview takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes, given you 15 minutes to wrap up your notes and additional time to move on to the next application to repeat the process. This occurs 8 times a day when interviewing.
During these downtimes, you can check to see if work due that day has had information returned by the applicant to complete their cases and make determinations timely. As bad as this sounds, at some points, you may be rooting for no shows to get cases done or to return telephone calls as you can. By the time 3:15pm rolls around, hopefully you’re set up and ready to process anything else that must absolutely be done that day and then completing applications that are due on forward dates (this is hard to do especially for certain roles that have similar due days or if you’ve got a lot of applications due on the same day). If you get the time and have the inclination, read policy. Reading policy is always key to understanding your role with the agency.
Under previous leadership, I have seen this day turn into interviews until 4:15pm at 30 minute intervals (which is near impossible to do). I have seen “walk-in” reschedule days where applicant were invited to come and wait in the lobby (sheer and utter foolishness) to be seen in the order in which they arrived. I have had to take my normal 8 appointments and then take 5 more on top of that due to poor scheduling or errors on behalf of the agency (we -have- to correct these because it is the responsibility of the agency to do things right).
No matter how hard you work or how well you work, you will always have complications. An applicant will be not be as forthcoming in an interview and you’ll have to work doubly hard to get the correct information, a very difficult case will present itself when you’re there, a phone call will come in and you will have to respond, &c. There are a million different ways to get sidetracked that are out of your control. The point is to never be sidetracked by anything you can control (cell phone use, talking, &c) unless it’s absolutely necessary. This is precisely why I listened to so much music at work when I was a specialist, and then this diminished when I became a supervisor so that I could have an open door at all times.
Under previous leadership, specifically my rodeo clown of a supervisor who had never been trained on policy or worked with applicants for benefits, I was given the additional burden of completing supervisory responsibilities. While this was difficult to complete in addition to my normal responsibilities, it did prepare me for the future.
String four of these days together and include a day upon which you are given no interviews to work cases down and that is your work week as a benefit specialist. It can be overwhelming at time as you deal with the typical ebb and flow. To put the numbers into context, as a specialist, you will begin receiving 32 applicants a week for a total of 128 a month. These numbers stack up quickly.