Having interviewed each of our 60 ABA therapists, and perhaps 100 more that were not the right fit for us, I have become an expert on why people change ABA jobs. I always ask, “Why are you leaving your last position?” Amazingly, I get three reasons 95% of the time. And, perhaps not surprisingly, they are some of the reasons why I left my first ABA job years ago to start Progressive Behavioral Science. Like so many other ABA therapists, I didn’t know about these things when finding my first ABA job. I hope by sharing them here we can help other new ABA therapists avoid our same mistakes!
(By the way, if you are a parent reading this, you ought to check and see how your ABA provider does on these questions. They are a great window in what is important to the company, and how it runs- two things that will 100% affect the service your child receives.)
1) IS THERE A NON-COMPETE AGREEMENT?
No one teaches you about this, and yet it is enough to destroy your entire career. A Non-Compete is an agreement which you sign upon starting with your new company (or, less commonly, afterwards) which basically makes you agree that you will not work for a competitor. People sign it because a) they don’t understand its impact, 2) they think optimistically they will never leave the company, or 3) the employer tells them not to worry, because it limited. Let’s deal with these one by one.
The impact is huge! I know so many therapists who are miserable where they are, but can’t leave because they can’t practice ABA anywhere else. The employer reduces their hours, dumps a bunch of “free” work on them, and tortures them in other ways, and they are stuck. As far as leaving the company, if the company relies on non-competes to keep its people from leaving, you will likely WANT to leave eventually (or they wouldn’t need it!). And what if you are fired? Finally, even “limited” non-competes can really hurt… if you can’t practice ABA in a 50 mile radius, and live in Ft. Lauderdale, that basically means you need to move to Key West, or Stuart, or somewhere even farther.
If there’s one thing new ABA therapists should learn, it is to avoid any form of non-compete. They hurt your career, and by preventing freedom in the provision of ABA services, hurt special needs children. They staff companies with people who are stuck, rather than people who want to be there. Many South Florida firms still use non-competes. If all new therapists refused to sign them, they would be gone- but because people don’t know, they get victimized. DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE!
(PS- Courts seem to think they are bad, too, and many are found to be legally unenforceable… if you’re stuck under one, you may want to see a lawyer)
2) HOW OFTEN AND WHEN DO YOU GET PAID?
This is something else nobody thinks about, especially those finding their first job. Based on the way ABA companies are reimbursed for their services, cash flow can be a real issues for some ABA companies, which basically get paid for their insurance clients in April for work they did in February. Some companies manage their finances successfully, but others are unable to pay their people promptly as a result. This means that weeks (and even months!) – go by before a therapist is paid.
This can take a few different forms. You may have to wait 2 or 3 months once you start to receive your first paycheck, or this may be called a “trial period” where you don’t get paid at all. And once you’ve been there a while, there may be a long lag. Some companies even attach a series of conditions to getting paid, which give them flexibility to yank or withhold checks when they need to.
I have looked around and can’t find another profession that does this- but this is amazingly common, at least here in South Florida. We at PBS pay everyone every two weeks for work they just performed by direct deposit. Get a guarantee that you get paid regularly and immediately for work you do! We work too hard to not be compensated on time!
3) WHAT MATTERS- QUALITY OF SERVICE OR QUANTITY OF SERVICE?
This is tougher to measure, but as a professional, you will likely want to find a business that puts a premium on quality of service, not just how much money they bring in. Find out who runs the company- is it a certified ABA provider, or someone with a business background? When you interview, do the questions they ask show a love for the practice and for special needs children? Are there many training opportunities, and are they compulsory or voluntary?
One of our therapists, Ivis Muniz, put it this way: “Places where kids are just another number. It’s crazy how many places I’ve worked for where no one really even cares about the child or the family – all they care about is the billable hours and how much money they can make off the case. Finding a place where people really care about the child’s progress is the key to happiness in the workplace.”
I couldn’t have said it better! Ask the following question at your interviews- “What does Company X do that is not in its financial interest but produces better quality of service for special needs kids?”
There you have it- the three biggest mistakes ABA therapists make when finding a job. We are so incredibly lucky to have chosen this profession, and I know you’ll agree that providing good service and helping families is our greatest reward. But the things in this article matter. Don’t forget them- and best of luck!