15 Job Search Lessons Amid COVID-19 For New Health and Human Services Graduatesby Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 05/06/20
15 Job Search Lessons Amid COVID-19 For Health and Human Service Graduates
2020 brought a new dimension to the annual spring ritual I experience as a university professor. My usually organized and focused students demonstrated more than their share of anxiety. As candidates for Masters’ in Social Work (MSW) degrees with a clinical specialization, they are traditionally readying for graduation and entry into the workforce this time of year. Yet, courtesy of the pandemic their efforts to secure gainful employment took enhanced skill!
This blog is dedicated to my students past and present, plus those from across the interprofessional workforce. Here are 15 lessons to activate your job search
Lesson 1: Organize
Set up an electronic folder on your computer, with subfolders:
· Cover letters
· Interview questions
· Submitted applications
· Recruiter contacts
· Info about jobs applied for
Consider developing an excel spreadsheet to track positions with key logistics (e.g., application dates, whether or not you heard back, when, job details, contact information). How to organize is up to you, but do something!
Lesson 2: Keep your resume focused, comprehensive, and competency-based
A resume is your professional face to the work world. In your zest to post or send it out to potential employers, you can easily include too much information, be too wordy, or not use professional language. Keep in mind:
· Formatting: Use a resume template meets your professional needs. Start with career planning offices at your college or university. Other resources include:
· Use competency-based language: Every profession has competencies viewed as the pillars of practice. Use that language to describe your roles, whether for practicum, internship, or professional job. 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 also lives in course syllabi, and licensure regulations for your state .
· Spelling and grammar matter: A resume is your first impression to perspective employers. If they see errors, they will wonder, ‘if you can’t take the time to proof your own resume, why should they believe you’ll do any better on the job?’. Attention to detail matters.
Lesson 3: Have references ready!
Reach out early to professionals (e.g., professors, mentors, colleagues, supervisors) you want in your corner. Keep a list handy to provide reference contact information as needed. Maintain one or two professional letters of recommendation in your online file folder. Be sure references are kept in the loop so they know to expect a call or email requesting information about you. In this day of phishing emails and scams, everyone is more cautious about providing information to anyone who asks. As a result, your reference can easily miss an important request to provide a recommendation!
Lesson 4: Stay in the know of current COVID 19 realities and impact
Maintain a basic foundation of COVID-19 facts and impact on the target population for potential employers. Brush up on Crisis theory, Trauma-informed care interventions, and related short-term counseling techniques. Also, view the website for potential employers for special pandemic initiatives. This info will help you develop ideas about how you can best serve the organization; a great way to tout your expertise in the interview!
Also, Telehealth is all the rage! While most new professionals are familiar with technology, use of platforms with clients is another thing entirely. Down the road you may consider training or a certificate in Telehealth. There are considerations for the state(s) you are licensed in and reimbursement. Great guidance is across the internet, though exploring this topic will vastly extend this blog. At the least, read:
- 10 strategies to use virtual platforms. While geared to Telemedicine, it provides excellent considerations for all virtual modes of care delivery
- NASW article on Telemental Health Practice
- Telebehavioral Health Institute
Lesson 5: Know brief assessment tools and resources
With the uptick in mental health issues across populations, and even amid the workforce, have a working knowledge of assessment tools for managing anxiety, stress, and depression. Short-term assessment tools are the bomb, with quality resources on the SAMHSA website, Therapist Aid, plus my last blog
Lesson 6: interviews are reciprocal opportunities
Interviews are not a guarantee of employment. Candidates can spend so much time during an interview discussing their expertise, they forget to ask key questions about the workplace. Do your research about the organization before walking in for the interview. View the employer website to learn their mission, vision, and goals. See what you can glean about how the organization conducts business, especially COVID-19 specific information. During the interview, ask questions about operations, short and long term goals, plus 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 job is the best one for you. A strong list of potential questions is available at Big Interview
While interviews are for potential employers to interview you, they are also for you to interview employers. Having this mindset gives you control of the interview, and helps decrease any anxiety in the moment. You want to feel comfortable conversing with those persons you will work for and with. Getting a particular job is as much about the flow and ease of these dialogues, as your qualifications for the role.
Finally, ask about next steps, especially timeframes for decision-making. Organizations can take 2 days to make a decision or months. Know what you are facing to help you prioritize other offers!
Lesson 7: Ask about job stability
Amid such unpredictable times and job uncertainly, it’s appropriate to ask about potential layoffs and job furloughs. Some positions are funded by grants, so ask how long the position is funded and what happens next Any employer would be curious if you didn’t ask! Hiring freezes are also common; this information may be shared up front or not. You don’t ask, you won’t know.
Lesson 8: Be ready to name your unique strengths, and demonstrate them
Job candidates will be asked how they would handle specific situations. Actively identify strengths you possess, and how they would make a difference to situation posed, plus the 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 demonstrate 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 9: The only constant in our industry is change
These are the most fluid times to day for the healthcare industry. Know this: the industry will change as will you; be open to what it means for you to change with it.
Lesson 10: Be open to short-term or part-time roles
These times are unprecedented, however new opportunities abound. An exciting short-term or part-time role may turn into the best career option never anticipated. There are COVID19 patient notification projects through health systems and organizations, employee assistance and mental health support initiatives, and other exciting jobs worthy of exploration, including through the VA. Don’t dismiss positions that are different from what you expected!
Lesson 11: Set up your professional social media profile
Leverage social media to set up a professional profile, using established websites and job bank platforms. Facebook has its merits but other sites hone in on recruitment efforts for our workforce strong starting points:
Keep that profile professional! Use a polished photo versus a selfie with your BFF, pet, or family! Solid guidance lives at
Lesson 12: Negotiation is expected
Negotiation is expected for any job. Too often I hear those on the job hunt were so excited to receive a job offer, they never thought to negotiate, or even realize they could! Negotiate for:
· 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 critical to discuss in the hiring process. The regulations for required supervision hours of licensure vary across the states, so not every employer offers benefit to social work employees. They may only provide supervision internally. Organizations have been known to pay anything, from a portion of the rate to the whole amount charged. ASK about the options. Education about the importance of supervision and advocacy for how it gets implemented may be required, but will be worth the effort in the end.
· Remote work day(s): becoming the norm for many organizations
· Flexible work hours: also becoming a norm as employers focus more on workplace satisfaction to reduce attrition.
You don’t know what you don’t know, so ask questions! The answers may surprise you!
Lesson 13: Don’t be thrown by the title or qualifications of a position
Many don't apply for a position if the title isn’t what they expect. Titles are deceptive! 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 application processes may ‘kick you out’ for not possessing hard competency qualifications, as a particular degree or licensure. Other knowledge and experience competencies can sway the decision. 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 14: Take the right job, not just any job
You want an income when you graduate; there are loans, bills, and expenses. However, strive for 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.
Listen to your clinical gut 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 15: Enjoy the job search
I get that there is pressure for employment, but enjoy that job search. This is your time to explore unique options, practice new skills, and demonstrate what you’ve learned. Practice makes perfect so get out there and enjoy the search!
I invite my colleagues to share other practical lessons to empower our next generation of professionals as they embark on their employment journey.
Until next time.......Stay Safe, Sane, and Resilient
#ProtectHealthBehavioralHealthWorkers #interprofessionalimpact #safedistancing