Maybe you just graduated and are looking for your first social work job. Maybe you are searching out the perfect practices or internship. Maybe you’d have been doing this social work thing awhile and are looking for greener pastures, we all go through the interview process at some time. I have had many, many, many, many interviews where the outcomes have ranged from ecstatically successful to horrendous. I have also been interviewing and hiring people for years. Hopefully, some of my thoughts will help you land your perfect job.
I worked at a dialysis corporation for a few years in my career. We occasionally had large group social worker meetings that employees from the corporate office sometimes came to present. Often when Corporate came, they would talk about finances and insurance billing and the cost of doing business. Virtually every time, the corporate employee would say something like “as social workers, you all just want to help people and you don’t really understand or care about the money aspect.” It always felt very condescending like there was some deficiency with social workers because we care about helping individuals and that we all weren’t quite sophisticated enough to understand the reality of business.
Social Workers are actually extremely proficient at understanding how systems work and that nothing exists in a vacuum. When we look at the big picture it is easy to see how there is a business aspect to social work. Not only is money involved in how we can provide our services, we will work for businesses – our own or someone else’s. This will necessitate understanding business or management information.
Chances are – if you are good at your job – you will be asked to take on more responsibilities – probably become someone who manages people. The thing, though, just because you are a good social worker does not mean you automatically have the skills to be a good leader or manager. Your social work skills help you but there is a whole new world to learn. Maybe you dream of owning your own private practice. In both of these scenarios, you will have to develop skills that hone your business sense. If you know you want to own your own business or become a manager or director of some type, you may want to look at school programs that also have social service slanted business classes. (Some schools even have MSW/MBA programs.) Many MSW programs do not have classes on social service management. My MSW program only had one class focusing on the business aspect of social work.
Although I absolutely love the clinical aspect of my job, I think I am happiest with managing a staff at my current corporate job and also immensely enjoy running my private practice. The business aspect of social work is my favorite. Below is a mishmash of my thoughts on the business part of social work.
As the New Year begins, many of us look to the hopeful possibilities of the future. The New Year can be a catalyst to start over and grasp the future that will serve us best. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions, but I was thinking about what I could focus on in my clinical practice, in order for me to be a better social work practitioner. I was looking not to be a better employee or business owner but a better social worker.
I decided to focus on doing a better job of bringing spirituality into my social work practice. Even though social workers are trained to look at the whole person, for some reason, it seems like a lot of social workers have difficulty including spirituality in their services. Clinicians do a great job with the mind and body part of a person but falter a bit at spirituality.
Social workers are often confident with working with a diverse population so why is religious or spiritual preference any different? Maybe a social worker is worried about offending their client. They may be comfortable asking personal questions about their client’s sex life but spiritual life – not so much. Sometimes social workers are so cognizant of not proselytizing or pushing their own beliefs on their client, that they just avoid asking the questions. One I’ve been guilty of in the past is to avoid the question because I don’t want the client to feel like I’m judging them if they say they don’t have any spiritual practices. Some social workers may just feel like they don’t have the knowledge of the individual’s religion or spirituality to provide guidance.
The field of social work has been getting better, overall, including spirituality. Virtually any assessment tool that you find today will have questions on people’s spirituality. Time and experience have taught social work that a person’s spiritual beliefs not only help them feel whole but can be a strength. A person’s spiritual beliefs may give them hope or confidence for the future. A person’s spiritual beliefs might give them a sense of belonging or connection to the community.
Conversely, sometimes there may be shame involved with religious beliefs or other barriers. A person’s identity and history is wrapped up in their spiritual beliefs. If we fail to ask about someone’s spirituality we are missing a part of them we may be able to help heal.
As a social worker, you often work with vulnerable and struggling clients. One such group, you may work with are individuals diagnosed with a mental illness. Mental Illness does not discriminate. Any population you work with, will likely have some people living their life with mental illness. Sometimes because of media portrayals and other misconceptions, working with people diagnosed with mental illness can be scary or daunting.
There are many types of mental illness. The DSM-V (where the criteria for different mental health diagnoses is listed) has about 991 pages.
Below are some basic definitions of common diagnosis you might come across.
One definition of Mental Illness I like is from the Mayo Clinic
Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions —disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. Many people have mental health concerns from time to time.
I like this definition because it normalizes mental health issues. Mental health conditions run on a continuum. Just like people, mental illness is complicated and some people struggle with more difficult issues than others.
Specific Diagnosis Definitions (Also using the definitions from the Mayo Clinic.)
- Major depressive disorder — prolonged and persistent periods of extreme sadness
- Bipolar disorder —also called manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, depression that includes alternating times of extreme sadness (depression) and extreme happiness (mania) (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mood-disorders/basics/definition/con-20035907)
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder – excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities may be a sign of generalized anxiety disorder. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder/basics/definition/con-20024562)
- “Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder in which people interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior. Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia isn’t a split personality or multiple personality. The word “schizophrenia” does mean “split mind,” but it refers to a disruption of the usual balance of emotions and thinking. (//www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/schizophrenia/basics/definition/con-20021077)
Those are just some of the diagnoses you may come across in your work. Let me share some tips for a social worker to remember when working with this population.
A weird phenomenon in a society that is so much instant gratification and making sure “I” get my fair is that individuals are notoriously bad at self-care. Individuals take their responsibilities seriously and want to do great jobs at being a Social Worker, Parent, Friend, Caretaker or son or daughter, that all energy is focused on this task. It is admirable to live up to responsibilities and care for others, but there are pitfalls to not also focusing on self.
Social workers run the gamut on technology and social media. Some hate it and some love it. I love it! If you are reading this article – you are participating in it. My personal opinion is that technology is the way of the world and we can embrace and utilize it or be left behind.
Social media assists the social worker with connecting with others. People spend a lot of time on their computers and smart phones. Social Media helps you market your practice and lets your clients know who you are. I don’t know how many times someone said to me “Your website was so welcoming” or “the quotes you put on Facebook really help me be more positive.” It humanizes you and you can share your message with others.
Social Media also opens up a path to communicating with other professionals. There are therapists in different states that I have never met in person but I have shared dialogue with and learned from. It allows for perspectives outside of just our immediate circle. Randomly, it has also helped me engage with my adolescent clients. In the world of technology I am old! The youth I see teach me about different sites and apps and it helps build rapport. (I would have no idea how to use or even what snapchat is if it weren’t for my adolescent clients!!!)
As a social worker, we care about people. We want them to live the best life they can. And…at least secretly – we are sure we know what the best choices are to get what we view as the best life.
It turns out though – that even though we are assisting people in finding their way – their choices and their desired outcomes aren’t up to us. One of the main tenets of social work is self – determination.
The National Association of Social Workers states self-determination is an ethical principle of professional practice.
“Social workers respect and promote the right of clients to self-determination and assist clients in their efforts to identify and clarify their goals. Social workers may limit clients’ right to self-determination when, in the social workers’ professional judgment, clients’ actions or potential actions pose a serious, foreseeable, and imminent risk to themselves or others.”
It is imperative that a social worker is aware of their own value system and beliefs so they aren’t subconsciously or subtly moving the client to the clinician’s goals. You want to act for your client’s best interest but who decides what that is?
We all know people are complicated. Social workers often assist individuals who are experiencing escalated feelings and behaviors and are at their most vulnerable. A good social worker is often called in to deescalate volatile situations. Social Workers are counted on by other professionals to jump in and calm a situation.
People tell me all the time that they couldn’t do what I do as a social worker. You probably hear stories about working in the field and think you wouldn’t know what to do if someone is in emotional crisis. It can be scary. However, I bet you wouldn’t be drawn to social work if you didn’t have some knack with people already. As you gain experience you will build on your innate people skills and learn different ways to interact. Here are some tips to get started. (And they don’t just work with clients – they can work with all your relationships.)
Social work is a wide and growing field. Social workers face numerous, challenging obstacles in their careers. Schooling and training are meant to give them the foundation they need, and prepare social workers to work in a variety of situations like schools, private clinics, and other places. More and more often, additional resources are popping up online to help continue to support social workers in their emotional and professional lives.
After the fallout of the economy, many were forced to reevaluate how to get a job. If you’re a seasoned Social Worker or fresh from college, here are some tips to get a job in the social work field.