As we approach graduation season there are tons of posts about tips for graduates. One such blog is on Social Work Helper. What I like about this blog is that this is advice I wish someone would have given me when I graduated. It’s great general advice.
I am here with some advice on interviewing and getting a job. Many people have been working for quite a while before ever getting their degree with summer jobs, after school jobs etc. so will have some experience of the process. What I think is helpful is to offer some practical advice.
1. First and foremost, get a professional – whether a career counselor at College/University or someone from a career centre – to look at your resume. You can also google “good social work resumes/CVs” or even be more specific “resumes/CVs for counselling jobs” to see what kind of experience they are looking for. A good resource for writing a CV or resume is a library. They will have tons of books on the topic and you can chose how to format it. I would suggest (this is more applicable in the states than in the UK) to have more than one format for your resume depending on what you want to highlight.
2. Tailor your resume/CV to the job. If you have the experience the organization or company is looking for make sure it is on your CV/resume. It could be the difference between and interview and nothing. Read the job description and or person specification clearly and understand what type of worker and what type of experience they are looking for. If you have it, make sure you outline it in your duties where applicable. If you don’t and you want that particular job I would suggest taking a position just below to get the necessary experience and keeping an eye out for your dream job after 6 months to a year.
3. Preparation – get to know as much as possible about the organization and find a way to work the information into your answers to their questions. Preparation is about:
– knowing what it takes to get the job: being able to sell your skills
– know what gives you the authority to do the job: understand how you fit in to the legal structure. This is especially true for child protection, adult protection, mental health and forensic jobs
– know, in so far as is possible, how Social Workers in the organization practice. Does the organization utilize a certain type of therapy or way of working over others? Why this chosen method? Does this fit with your own values, ethics, etc?
– know why you want to practice the particular type of Social Work you are interviewing for
– know how your current skills and experience match up with the duties and be honest where they do not, stating how you would address this if given the position
Once you get the interview:
1. Remember you are going to be nervous and most interviewers will expect that. There is nothing wrong with taking your time to answer a question. You can ask them to repeat the question, give yourself some time to take a deep breath and formulate your answer. Don’t forget to speak slowly and clear and make sure you answer the question in it’s entirity to the best of your ability.
2. It’s good to have a professional edge. A few ways to have this edge:
– Excellent writing skills: Spelling, grammar, sentence structure – all of it matters. If you can evidence that you are able to communicate not just efficiently in writing but also expertly, this gives you an advantage. As a Social Worker you will be tasked with communicating with people from various backgrounds who may or may not have any experience of the Social Work profession. You will be tasked with writing various types of assessments and reports. It is vital that your writing skills are up to par but taking it a step further gives you a professional edge.
– Confidence in speech: this isn’t about knowing it all. It’s about being confident in what you do know, being able to admit what you don’t and why, and how – if given the position – you would seek to address any gaps to ensure you are providing the best possible service to your clients, no matter the setting.
– Eye contact: maintaining eye contact with the interviewers may seem a difficult task as sometimes they are writing and trying to capture your words to be able to weigh you against other candidates, however it is important that when they do look up, you are looking at them. If there are multiple interviewers, then it’s best to divide your attention. A good technique I use is to move my line of sight every time there is a natural pause in my speaking but always look first at the person asking the question. Don’t forget there are others in the room. You will find other places that tell you to find one face and just look at that person, but that undermines your interview if someone else is addressing you.
– Have a personable manner. Being strict and stringent has it’s place in the professional world. Structure and boundaries assist us in maintaining a professional environment but you need to be mindful that interviewers are not only looking to match your skills and experience, if there is a team involved, they also have to assess how you will fit into the dynamics already established. There is nothing wrong with appropriately allowing your personality to shine through during an interview. Smiling and connecting your academic knowledge to your real world experience shows you to be human. When working with people it is important that your humanity is visible.
When chosing your area of practice:
– don’t feel that you have to stay stuck in one area for the rest of your life.
– Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself and develop new skills.
– Get to know where your strengths lie and apply to jobs that will showcase these, allowing you to excel.
– Get to know yourself – are you happy to stay on the frontline forever, doing the direct practice? Or would you like to move into an expert or senior role?
– When you find your niche skill up in it – make sure you stay abreast of the latest developments, make sure you are trying new things out and documenting how they work and under what circumstances you have used them, participate in professional development forums etc.
101 Careers in Social Work (a US based book) was a great help to me in figuring out all the areas of Social Work I wanted to try and what skills these areas were looking for. It helped me to get the most out of every job I had because I had a greater understanding of the skills I wanted to develop to be able to get the job I wanted. Remember, you work for these organizations but that doesn’t mean you can’t make them work for you as well. You are a professional and you may one day want to try something else, why not develop a varied skill base to add to your professional tool kit and make yourself more marketable.