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10 Job Search Lessons to Guide New Health and Human Service Professionals

by Ellen Fink-Samnick MSW, ACSW, LCSW, CCM, CRP on 03/25/18

      As a university professor, spring brings a unique annual ritual: my usually organized, proactive, and perceptive students demonstrate profound levels of anxiety.  They lose their focus in class and become fixated on a different mission.  As candidates for Masters’ in Social Work (MSW) degrees with a clinical specialization, my students are readying for graduation and their entry into the workforce. They are developing resumes, gathering professional references, and focusing their remaining brain cells, if not energies on that holy grail; securing stable employment with strong benefits (e.g. provision of or reimbursement for clinical licensure supervision, solid salary, insurance coverage). In speaking with colleagues who are educators across academic programs and professions, I have found this ritual to be universal.

Several weeks ago I noticed the energy in my classroom was on overload. It was halfway through our spring semester, and I realized it must be that time of year.  I made the spontaneous decision to shift our lesson plan. I wanted so badly to reduce my students’ apprehension and asked my class of thirty to each write down one question about the social work profession and their job search. I wanted to know one thing keeping them up at night. ‘Will you answer them all today?’ they asked. I replied with an emphatic, ‘Yes’.  I could immediately feel the anxiety in the room lessen. 

This week’s blog is dedicated to all of my students past and present, plus those from across our interprofessional health and human services workforce. In it I provide ten key lessons to actively consider in looking toward employment in the professional health and human services workforce. 

Lesson 1: 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, it can be easy to include too much information, be too wordy, or not use professional language. Keep in mind the following:

  • Use competency-based language: Every profession has competencies viewed as their pillars of practice. Use that language to describe your roles and denote 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 counseling’. Competency-based language can be found in course syllabi and the licensure regulations for your state or territory.
  • Formatting:  There are diverse resume examples across the Internet so make sure the template meets your professional needs. Strong resources include:

o   Indeed.com 

o   The New Social Worker 

o   ResumeGenius

Lesson 2: Obtain references and keep them informed

You will want to have your references ready to roll. 

  • Reach out early to any professors, and other professional persons who you would like to use. 
  • Keep a list with you so that if you are contact by a potential employer, you can provide reference contact information. 
  • You may also want to have in your possession one or two professional letter of recommendation from key references. 
  • Make sure to keep your references 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.

Lesson 3: An interview is a reciprocal opportunity.

How exciting to be contacted to schedule an interview! However, going on an interview is not a guarantee of employment. In fact, it is common for candidates spend so much time during an interview discussing their expertise that they don’t obtain information about the appropriateness of 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 form the site about how the organization conducts business. During the interview, ask questions about their operations, their short and long term goals.This effort will convey your interest in the position for the present and future. Also make sure to ask about the timeframes for hiring and next steps. 

While you want a job, you want the right job for you. Make sure to ask questions that will inform you if this particular job is the most suitable position for you at that point in your life. A strong list of potential questions is available at Big Interview 

Remember, interviews are for the potential employer to interview you and for you to interview the employer. Having this mindset will provide you control of the interview, and help decrease your anxiety about the experience. 

Lesson 4: Be ready to name the unique strengths you possess, and then demonstrate them. 

It is 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 that you possess, and how they would make a difference to 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 that the employer understands your worth
  • How you can show your ability to work with a team?
  • That you may be asked about your weaknesses or challenges. Be prepared to respond in a professional manner, and have your answer ready. 

Lesson 5: The only constant in our industry is change. 

30 years ago becoming a business owner who empowered the competence of health and behavioral health professionals was not on my radar. It is a blog in and of itself to share how my career path evolved, but know this:  the industry will change and you must be open to what it means for you to change with it. 

Lesson 6: Set up 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. Do NOT wait until after you graduate. You want to make sure to tout your clout! The following are strong starting points:

Along with these sites, make sure to follow industry best practice in setting up that
profile. Use a professional photo, and not a selfie with your BFF, pet, family; you get my drift! You want to put that professional image forward always! You can find strong guidance at 10 Things Recruiters Look For On Your LinkedIn Profile and Online & Social Profiles courtesy of Career Services at Princeton University.

Lesson 7: Negotiation is expected!

Some level of negotiation is expected for any job. Too often I hear from those seeking new roles in the health and human services world that they were so excited to receive a job offer, they never thought to negotiate for the following examples:

  • 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. Organizations have been known to pay anything from a portion of the rate to the whole 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 days: 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 8: Get the contact information for anyone you interview with

You want to make sure to obtain the name, and relevant contact email and/or address for anyone you meet with. This will provide you the opportunity to send a note of appreciation, which is a professional mark of excellence.

Lesson 9: Follow up

Several weeks after the interview, email or call the person you met with. This will convey your continued interest in the position, as well as demonstrate your ability to take initiative and follow through; both are integral traits sought by potential employers.

Finally, Lesson 10: Leave a legacy. 

Fourteen years ago I made an intentional choice. I was concerned about how the amount of burnout and compassion fatigue I was witnessing across the workforce. I recognized that to have quality health and behavioral health care, a quality workforce was essential. Knowing that professional development benefits were being cut across roughly 60% of all employers, I had to do something to address the emerging educational 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 students as they embark on their employment journey. Onward to your employment success!

Until next time.......Stay Resilient,

Ellen

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