11 Job Search Lessons for Health and Human Services Gradsby Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 01/25/19
As a university professor, the spring semester brings an annual ritual: my organized, proactive, and perceptive students demonstrate profound levels of anxiety. They lose their focus in class, and become fixated on a mission. As candidates for Masters’ in Social Work (MSW) degrees with a clinical specialization, they are readying for graduation and entry into the workforce. They are developing resumes, gathering professional references, and using their remaining brain cells and energies on securing stable employment with strong benefits (e.g. provision of or reimbursement for clinical licensure supervision, solid salary, insurance coverage). In speaking with my educator colleagues across academic programs and professions, I have found this ritual to be universal.
A trend accompanies this ritual: student energy shifts from electric to supersonic. Full attention is replaced by distraction. The race is on to learn EVERYTHING needed to ace interviews and dazzle prospective employers. A traditional weekly count launches of remaining days until graduation. They set job alerts from employment websites, and keep phones at the ready waiting for calls, watching for voicemails, or emails about that last interview status; all in hopes of a job offer.
This week’s blog is dedicated to my students past and present, plus those from across our interprofessional workforce. Here are 11 lessons to actively consider in seeking your professional employment.
Lesson 1: Organize your efforts
Approach your job search like your favorite class. Set up an electronic folder on your computer, with subfolders:
· Cover letters
· Standard interview questions
· Applications submitted
· Positions you interviewed for
· Key information about the places you applied to
You may opt to develop an excel spreadsheet to track the positions you applied for, perhaps including application dates, whether or not you heard back and when, interview information, contact information for who you are meeting with, job recruiters, etc. The choice is yours on the best way to keep all the ducks in a row, but do something that works for you!
Lesson 2: Keep your resume focused, comprehensive, and competency-based.
Your resume is your ‘professional face’ to the working world. In your zest to post and/or send it out to a potential employer, you can easily include too much information, be too wordy, or not use professional language. Keep in mind the following:
· Formatting: There are diverse resume examples across the Internet so make sure the template meets your professional needs. Start with the career planning office at your college or university. Other resources include:
· Use competency-based language: Every profession has competencies viewed as their pillars of practice. Use that language to describe your roles and note a high level of professional expertise, whether for a practicum, internship, or professional role. For example, ‘Intervened with adolescent population’ instead of ‘worked with adolescents’. Another example is, ‘engaged in counseling’ instead of ‘provided, or did counseling’. Competency-based language can be found in your course syllabi and licensure regulations for your state or territory.
· Spelling and grammar matter: Remember, this is your first impression to perspective employers. If they see errors, they will wonder, ‘if you can’t take the time to proofread your own resume, why should they believe you’ll do any better for them on the job?’. Attention to detail matters.
Lesson 3: Reach out to references early and keep them informed
You will want to have your references ready to roll. Reach out early to any professors and other professionals you want in your corner. Keep a list with you so that if you are contacted by a potential employer, you can easily provide reference contact information. Keep one or two professional letters of recommendation from key references in your online file folder. Make sure your references are kept in the loop as well, so they know to be expecting a call or email requesting information about you. In this day of phishing emails and scams, everyone is being more cautious about simply providing information to anyone who asks. As a result, your reference can easily miss an important request to provide a recommendation!
Lesson 4: An interview is a reciprocal opportunity
It’s exciting to be contacted to schedule that interview! However, going on an interview is not a guarantee of employment. In fact, it is common for candidates to spend so much time during an interview discussing their expertise, they forget to actually ask questions about the workplace.
Do your research about the organization before walking in for the interview. Look at the employer website to learn their mission, vision, and goals. See what you can glean from the site about how the organization conducts business. During the interview, ask questions about their operations, their short and long term goals, and how they see you fitting into these plans. This will convey your interest in the position for the present, and future. While you want a job, you want the right job. Ask questions that will inform you if this particular job is the best one for you. A strong list of potential questions is available at Big Interview
Remember, while interviews are for the potential employer to interview you, they are also for you to interview the employer. Having this mindset will provide you control of the interview, and help decrease your anxiety about the experience.
Be personable during the interview. You want to feel comfortable having dialogues with the person you will report to. Getting a particular job is as much about the flow and ease of these dialogues, as your qualifications for the role.
Finally, don’t leave without asking what the next steps are, and expected timeframes for their final decision. Some organizations take 2 days to make a decision, while others take months! Know what you are facing, especially in prioritizing other options and offers!
Lesson 5: Be ready to name your unique strengths, and demonstrate them.
It’s common for job candidates to be asked how they would handle a specific situation. This could involve a client, their family, or potentially the management of dynamics between colleagues. Actively identify the strengths you possess, and how they would make a difference to the situation and hiring organization. Consider:
· How do your strengths set you apart from other candidates?
· Why should the organization hire you?
· What clear examples can you provide so the employer understands your worth?
· How you can show your ability to work with a team?
· You will be asked about your weaknesses or challenges. Be prepared to respond in a professional manner, and have your answer ready.
Lesson 6: The only constant in our industry is change
Becoming a business owner who empowers the competence of health and behavioral health professionals was not on my radar 35 years ago. How my career path evolved is a blog in itself, but know this: the industry will change as will you; you must be open to what it means for you to change with it.
Lesson 7: Set up and maintain your professional social media profile.
Leverage social media and set up your professional social media profile using established websites and job bank platforms. Facebook has its merits but there are other sites which focus on job opportunity and recruitment efforts for the health and human services workforce. DON’T wait until after you graduate.You want to The following sites are strong starting points:
Along with these sites, follow industry best practice to set up that profile. Use a professional photo, and not a selfie with your BFF, pet, or family! Put that professional image forward always! You can find strong guidance at and .
Also, don't forget your professional associations! They are a vital professional voice, with all having a robust social media presence. Join them to access job searches, practice advocacy, networking with employers, resume guidance, and more!
Lesson 8: Negotiation is expected!
Some negotiation is expected for any job. Too often I hear from those seeking roles in the health and human services world that they were so excited to receive a job offer, they never thought to negotiate, or realized they even could! You can, and should always negotiate for the following:
· A higher hourly rate or salary
· Coverage/reimbursement for professional fees (e.g. licensure exam application, exam prep courses, professional association dues)
· Coverage/reimbursement for clinical supervision, if not offered onsite. For social workers, this is a critical item for discussion during the hiring process. The regulations for the required supervision hours of licensure vary across the states. As a result, not every employer offers this desired benefit to social work employees. They may only provide it internally. Organizations have been known to pay anything from a portion of the rate to thewhole amount charged. However, it is critical to inquire about the options. Education about the importance of the supervision process and advocacy for how it gets implemented may be required, but will be worth the effort in the end.
· Remote work day(s): this is becoming the norm for many organizations
· Flexible work hours: this is equally becoming a norm as organizations focus more on workplace satisfaction to reduce attrition.
Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know. Ask questions! The answers may surprise you!
Lesson 9: Don’t be thrown by the title or qualifications of a position
Too often people opt not to interview because the title isn’t what they expect. Titles can be deceptive for those in health and human services especially! It can be easy to view a ‘case manager’ role as primary level position that doesn’t leverage more advanced clinical skills or independent practice. There are different levels of case management practice, from those using baccalaureate level social work skills for housing, addiction, or community-based programs to higher level of professional case management roles for hospitals and managed care health plans. Your title may never include the words social workers, or nurse, but potentially other names, as population health coach, behavioral health or wellness coordinator, to name a few. Do your homework and see what the scope of the role includes before you dismiss a powerful opportunity.
By the same token, don’t dismiss a role based on qualifications alone. I know some application processes will ‘kick you out’ for not possessing hard competency qualifications, like a particular degree or licensure. However, there are knowledge and experience competencies that can sway you. For example, volunteer roles, internships and practicums are experience with a population so make sure to consider those in your search. Don’t assume you’re not qualified!
Lesson 10: You can say no to a job offer, or leave a job prior to the one year mark
You want an income when you graduate; I get it. There are loans, bills, and expenses. However, strive for it to be the right job. What looks like the best opportunity can become a site you quickly seek to escape! In these times of organizational mergers and acquisitions, employer cultures and those persons you report to shift quickly. You may not be a fan of any of these changes.
Extend your clinical gut and listen to it during the job search. Don’t jump on the first offer or settle if something feels off. Process the opportunity with peers, former professors, and other mentors. If you are working and think it’s time to leave, apply for other roles and go on interviews. Interviewing is a powerful way to define if leaving is the answer or not. Remember the grass isn’t always greener; there are brown spots everywhere.
Lesson 11: Leave a legacy
Fifteen years ago I made an intentional choice. I was concerned about the amount of burnout and compassion fatigue I witnessed across the workforce. I recognized that to have quality health and behavioral healthcare, a quality workforce was essential. Knowing professional development benefits were being cut across 60% of all employers, I had to do something to address the education gap.
I created a company where every contract I take, every publication and presentation I engage in, every student I educate, and professional I train allows me the opportunity to empower the workforce. A competent and quality driven workforce is my mission, vision, and will be my legacy. This legacy keeps me focused and motivated. What will your legacy be?
I invite my colleagues to add other practical lessons to empower our next generation of professionals as they embark on their employment journey.
Until next time.......Stay Resilient,
#mustdobetter #interprofessionalimpact #empower
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