Tips for Job Searching
by: Steve Karp, LMSW, Executive Director
The following are ideas, suggestions and recommendations on job searching based on my personal experience as an employer and a social worker. These are not meant to be all inclusive and to make the document work best for you, I encourage adding your own ideas, and if successful sending them to me so that I can continue to improve on these tips.
Before you can actively start looking for work you need a resume. Personally, I prefer resumes that list the person’s educational degrees near the top. A lot of jobs specifically seek a social work or related degree so let them know right away what degrees you hold.
Many resumes that I have seen start with an objective. I am not a great fan of the Objective Statement since it often is too narrow so does not fit the job I have to offer or it is so broad as to be pretty much meaningless. If you are going to use an objective consider tailoring it so that it is relevant to the job being applied for.
Be succinct in description of jobs held. Choose your words carefully to convey your work in a way that is strong and accurate. Consider designing several versions of your resume so that you can best tailor your resume to the type of position you are applying for. One way to do this is to emphasize your skills differently by highlighting up front those skills and experiences that best match the job you are applying for.
Consider whether if it is to your advantage or disadvantage to list the dates you received your degrees. For example, I received my BSW in 1977, so an employer could quickly calculate my approximate age. For candidates in their 50s and 60s it is clearly a disadvantage to give away your approximate age. This may also be true if you are in the 20s as you may be seen as too young. Age discrimination does occur in our field. On the other hand a more recent degree may be seen as being more current in theory. I mention this as a strategy for your consideration.
Keep in mind that most resumes will be given a very quick read. You need to get the attention of the reader and “make your case” within 1-3 minutes.
Increasingly resumes are being prescreened through electronic submission. Keywords are being sought based on the job. This may mean rewording your resume for each position you apply for so to match the wording in the job posting. For example if case management is one of the required tasks you would want to list case management in your resume and application.
If you belong to NASW or another professional organization, include it in your resume. The majority of employers prefer candidates that belong to their professional organizations as employers see these candidates as more up to date on, and more committed to their chosen profession. Often candidates place this information toward the end of the resume under the heading of “Professional Affiliations”.
If you have received any professional rewards make sure to include it in the resume.
A good cover letter can make a difference between getting an interview or not. I for one like when an applicant submits a thoughtful cover letter. Here are my do’s and don’ts for cover letters:
- Keep it to one to two pages.
- Say why you are applying for the job – what makes this job special.
- Tell the reader what they cannot easily find in your resume or elaborate on what is in the resume.
- Strike a degree of confidence about yourself.
- Connect the needs of the job to your skills.
- Check grammar to make sure it is grammatically correct. Most employers are probably reading this first – make a good first impression.
- Do not make claims as to your experience that cannot be found in the resume. I get this a lot and it is a real negative. For example, the applicant tells me how they have experience with a certain population but the resume does not indicate the same.
- Avoid misspelling words, using poor grammar or having run on sentences.
- Do not end the cover letter by telling me that you can solve all my problems and/or that I cannot possibly live without you as an employee. Confidence is a positive but bragging turns me off.
- I saw a resume that started out by saying how surprised they were that the job only required 5 years of experience. They had 20 years of experience and thus was questioning our wisdom of only seeking a 5 year minimum. You may question the job posting but do not do so in a cover letter. It comes off as argumentative and arrogant.
NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK……….
If you are a student who is preparing to graduate I suggest starting the active job search about 60 to 90 days prior to graduation. A lot of jobs will take a month or more for searching/interviewing/selection. Employers may be willing to wait for a candidate to graduate but most employers are probably not willing to hold off more than a month, especially for entry level or direct line positions.
If you are unemployed or underemployed (for example not working in your field) let everyone know. Many jobs (possibly most jobs) are not advertised broadly if at all. It is not uncommon for an employer to ask me if I know of anyone looking for work. Many organizations will send notices out to their networks prior to publicly advertising. Getting your name out there is a good thing. Folks to network with include professors (current and former), field instructors (again current and former), colleagues, co-workers, friends, and family. The only caution is if you are in a social work job be careful who you speak with if you do not want your employer to know you are searching.
Try to make opportunities to meet practitioners who are in the field you are interested in. Many practitioners are willing to take the time to talk to a graduating student or new graduate as to the services in the field and potential jobs. When interviewing such practitioners ask them for names of others you can speak with and ask for a list of agencies they may suggest you contact. Always send a thank you note (hard copy or email) following your meeting.
Attend conferences, such as NASW/CTs statewide conferences, and professional meetings where exhibitors will be. Many of the exhibitors at the NASW conferences are seeking to attract new hires.
Just as you would go to work most days for a set number of hours you should make the search your job. Work it most days, not intermittently and set aside time each day for the work of job hunting.
Do not spend lots of money printing up resumes on fancy paper. Most applications are online and when you can apply online do so. Otherwise it may raise questions as to how tech savvy you are.
Some folks send resumes to agencies without having a name of a person to receive it or even knowing if a job is open or coming open. My experience is this is waste of time. At minimum you need to have a name of a person who is responsible for hiring and even than unsolicited resumes are of minimal use.
The volume of resumes can be substantial and the cost in time and postage to respond is significant. Thus many organizations will not even respond to you unless they are interested in speaking with you. Don’t take it personally.
If you are a NASW member you can sign up for the CT Chapter’s job notice emails that will email you jobs as we get them and prior to our posting them to our website. You can also become active in the chapter and through NASW/CT meet colleagues throughout the state. We have had volunteers who have found employment through connections they made within NASW.
Once you have applied for the job but before you even get the interview if you know someone who knows the interviewer or director ask that person if they will put in a good word for you.
There are common sense aspects to interviewing, such as being on time and if you are going to be late (perhaps an accident has backed up traffic) call to let someone know, and dress professionally even if you know the agency has an informal environment. As your mother may have told you, first impressions count!
I like candidates that have done their homework about the agency. This can be as simple as reading the agency website so that you have a familiarity with the mission, programs, populations served, etc. You can let the employer know this by the way you answer questions and by what questions you ask them.
Think about what questions you have of the employer. You cannot know how much time you may have to ask your questions but it is always best to have some ready and prioritize what you want to ask in case you cannot get to all of them. When it comes to questions on salary and benefits I like when an applicant prefaces the question by asking if this interview is the appropriate time to ask or will there be a second round of interviews where it will be more appropriate to discuss salaries/benefits?
Think about what might be asked of you. There are common questions that you can mentally prepare for, such as “Why are you interested in this position?” or “Tell me how your skills and experiences relate to the job?” The more prepared you feel the better you will likely present yourself.
If you are asked a question you are not sure how to answer it is fine to be honest. For example my first NASW job was as the political director of the NYS chapter. When asked as to my knowledge of NYS politics all I knew was that Mario Cuomo was governor. I could not fake my way through what I did not know so answered by admitting I was not familiar with NY politics and then went on to say I felt my political skills met the jobs needs and how I thought it was most important to have the right skill sets and that I was sure I could learn the specific players. I got the job, learned the legislative process and players in Albany, and am still with NASW 25 plus years later.
Finally, I would say that you need to go into the interview feeling good about yourself and your chances of getting the job. I find that I can quickly pick up on a candidate that feels discouraged about the job search. While it can be understandable, it does not make for the best impression. I do not want to hire someone who looks like they will immediately need EAP services for their mental state!
Send a thank you note. It can be short and email or hard copy is fine. What it should say is how much you appreciated the opportunity to be interviewed, reiterate your interest in the job and if you think of a selling point you did not get to say or want to repeat, this is the time to do it. I have been faced with two strong candidates and the tipping point was that one of them really wanted the job and let me know it by her note and then a follow-up call.
If you know someone who knows the decision maker(s) in the agency and if that person is willing to put a good word in for you, this is the time to ask them (unless they did it pre-interview).
No matter what they tell you as to the timeline for hiring expect it to take longer than stated. If you hear back in the expected timeframe that is great but often decisions are delayed for various reasons. Having gotten the interview any decent employer will be in touch one way or the other. If you never hear from them again perhaps you would not have wanted to work there anyway.
You may accept the job immediately if it clearly is where you want to be. It is however fine to ask for some time to consider the offer. It is also fine to negotiate details of the offer, such as starting salary, start date, and availability of LCSW supervision. If you are waiting to hear on another offer it is best to be honest and let the employer know that. The employer can than determine how much time they are willing to give you before they need a final answer. Remember, at this point they want you.
If you take a job and shortly thereafter get a better offer you must be very thoughtful as to what to do. Leaving quickly may bring you immediate benefits but leaving quickly does affect your reputation and can come back to bite you. I am not saying you should not make the move, just think it through carefully.
Finally, a note about receiving LCSW supervision through the employer vs. outside of the employment setting. LCSW supervision can be contracted outside of your job however the cost will likely be $40-$100 per hour. A job that offers a lower starting salary with LCSW supervision may financially be the better offer.
JOB PLACEMENT SERVICES:
I know of one job placement agency in CT that specializes in behavioral health care staffing, that being Delta-T Group at 1-877-384-2885 or www.delta-tgroup.com In addition, if you are a student you should inquire as to whether your school offers any assistance through a career center.
There are numerous websites that have social work related job postings. Amongst the ones I have found most useful are:
National NASW Joblink & Career Center
The Nonprofit Network
Remember, your first job is likely not your last job. It is easier to find a job that best suits you once you have at least a year or two of social work employment. So consider being flexible at first to reach where you ultimately want to be.
Updated September 6, 2016