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How to Revolutionize Your Social Work Job Search
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Social work is not just a career; it is a choice to dedicate your life to the well-being and advancement of others in your community. This can mean providing services directly to those who need help, or it can mean working for change to improve social conditions. And according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for social workers in the United States is on the rise. Take charge of your job search with these 16 tips.
Tip #1: Get the relevant education.
Social work is defined by a body of knowledge, practice standards, credentials, and licensing, and there are accredited education programs all over the country. A Bachelor’s degree is required for most direct-service social work positions, but some tracts like clinical social work require a Master’s degree or even a Doctorate or Ph.D. Any degree in social work must come from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
Carefully consider how you’d like to specialize by comparing the job duties, education, and pay of social workers with similar occupations, and enroll in a program that matches your interests. Licensing requirements vary by state; for more information, visit the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).
Tip #2: Prepare for the job search while you’re still in school.
If you graduate in June, begin searching as early as February or March. School social workers will find the most job postings in March and April, when current employees are making decisions about whether to stay or leave for the next school year. You can start the licensing process early too; contact the ASWB a few months before graduation to request your application as a Licensed Social Worker (LSW).
Tip #3: Assess and gain a new perspective on your skill set.
Expand your search beyond a preconceived notion of the profession. Social workers are found in schools, police departments, hospitals, clinics, private practices, public agencies, and many other types of workplaces. Clarify the nature and boundaries of your role in the helping process, and brainstorm new and different directions for your job search. Be honest about your skills, your experience, and what you need to do in order to achieve your goals. You can also reach out to people using social media to gain a broader perspective of the field.
Tip #4: Update your resume.
With these new career perspectives in mind, update your resume. A resume is a short document that carries a huge amount of information. Explicitly, it lists your contact information, experience, and education, while implicitly it reveals your organization skills, attention to detail, and ability to articulate yourself. A common mistake is to cram in too much information in an attempt to talk oneself up. Opt for simplicity. Combine sentences that are similar, change job responsibilities to job accomplishments, highlight key skills, and eliminate anything that is irrelevant to the job you’re applying for. Proofread for typos, misspelled words, and bad grammar. Show it to as many friends as will read it, and get input from both professional and social contacts.
Tip #5: Create a cover letter template.
Review samples of cover letters, then create a word processing template formatted with your contact information, an opening paragraph, and a closing paragraph. As you apply for jobs, you can fill in the details of the position you’re applying for while not needing to recreate the document anew each time.
Tip #6: Polish your presentation.
Invest in business cards (starting at $50-$100), a personalized and professional e-mail address (free from many providers), and a voicemail dedicated to work. Set up e-mail labels or even a separate account for your job search and networking. Take a professional photo for your social media thumbnails. You may even set up a website with your resume, portfolio, and contact information; a domain costs less than $10, though various website building tools add expense. Always have your resume ready to send electronically, and keep a hard copy in a professional folio with your appointments book.
Tip #7: Build your network.
Many jobs are never advertised, going instead to connections made through a professional network. Research industry events and workshops, and attend as many as possible. Maintain contact with professors, advisors and peers from your education program. Reach out to new contacts for informational interviews and coffee dates. If you have a positive relationship with a number of people who know you’re looking for a job, your effort could be rewarded with a job referral down the road. Be perennially patient and enthusiastic.
Tip #8: Find new job information sources.
Scour the Internet for groups and forums relevant to your job search. Most major cities have a council of non-profits, and their websites can be a great place to start looking for jobs. Scour the resources from college career offices and the departments of Labor and Social Services. Use social media. Build a Twitter list of handles that post social work jobs and offer discussion on the profession.
Tip #9: Register for job search engines and sign up for job alerts.
Job search engines can sometimes be a time suck given their relatively low rate of return, but you should be registered and familiar with the major ones such as US.jobs, LinkUp, Indeed, Monster, SimplyHired, and Career Builder. Some engines are directed at the social work and non-profit sector niche, such as Idealist.org. Set up preferences to define the scope of your search, and use job alert emails to receive job listings in your inbox.
Tip #10: Use social media.
More and more employers are using social media for recruitment. If you do not have a presence on social media, or if you’re not leveraging that network, you will be at a disadvantage in an increasingly competitive job market. Create a LinkedIn profile and keep track of your networking conquests. Build a Twitter list of people and organizations that post social work jobs and that offer discussion on the profession. Let your Facebook friends know you’re looking for a job. The career site Monster even has a Facebook app, BeKnown, that lets you apply for jobs directly through Facebook.
Tip #11: Remove electronic barriers between yourself and potential employers.
If you’re qualified and available for a potential job, the potential employer will have two things left to assess: your worthiness compared to other candidates and your fit in the work environment. The best way to stand out in both aspects is to make yourself into a “real” person (instead of a name and an e-mail address) as quickly as possible. If you apply for a job online, follow up by e-mail, phone call, or even site visit if appropriate. You’ll be harder to forget as a candidate if you’ve introduced yourself to the hiring manager or other members of the office who can make sure your name is not forgotten.
Tip #12: Find a mentor.
Reap the knowledge of an industry veteran and gain an advocate who will promote and encourage your career. Engaging in a mentoring relationship is an intellectual pursuit, not a resumé-building exercise; it takes time and commitment from both parties. Identify someone who has made career decisions that you admire, and get to know them. In successful relationships, the mentor feels the reciprocal effects of additional information and support as well as a boost of energy in their own career.
Tip #13: Get comfortable with talking about yourself.
In both job interviews and networking, you must be comfortable discussing your strengths and weaknesses, your views on the profession, and your own career plans. Learn how to describe your work and interests in a way that captures the attention and imagination of potential employers. Draft one to two paragraphs summarizing your history, accomplishments, and goals, and honor one of the time’s most tested interview practice techniques: eye contact with a mirror.
Tip #14: Volunteer.
Gain insight into your desired profession and make contacts through volunteering. Check out the non-profits in your area and land a regular volunteer gig. Your dedication despite the lack of pay will show these contacts your you’re serious, and volunteering is an appropriate addition to any social work resume. This would be a great way to find a mentor as well.
Tip #15: Consider temp or per diem work.
While on the hunt for a full-time position, consider taking per diem or temporary social work positions. These opportunities can lead to permanent placement or, at the very least, an extension of your professional network. One such per diem agency is Social Work p.r.n.
Tip #16: Consider relocation or a longer commute.
Some areas of the country see chronic shortages of social workers. Most job search engines, including national databases like USAjobs.gov, offer the function to search by location. If you aren’t finding the right fit in your backyard, expand the filter. Consider commuting and relocation costs, and take the plunge for the right job.