It’s been way too long since I wrote a blog and now is the PERFECT time to restart this action. My Baccalaureate, Masters’ and now, Doctoral students are graduating, and ready to make their mark on the industry.
Yet it is my MSW students that I worry the most about. They face lots of considerations, especially in light of an ongoing Great Resignation and the newest dynamic of “Quiet Quitting”. How can you engage in a successful job search? What can you negotiate? Who’s interviewing who on the interview? Here are 15 lessons to activate and succeed in your job search!
Lesson 1: Organize
Set up an electronic folder on your computer, with subfolders:
· Cover letters
· Interview questions
· Submitted applications
· Recruiter contacts
· Key info about jobs applied for
Track positions on a spreadsheet with information including application dates, if you heard back and when, job details (e.g., salary, key benefits, virtual or in-person, multiple sites), contact information. I’m a fan of Excel, but how to organize is up to you!
Lesson 2: Keep your resume focused, comprehensive, and competency-based.
A resume is your professional face. In your zest to post and send it to potential employers, it becomes easy to include too much info, be too wordy, or use unprofessional language. Think:
· Formatting: Use a resume template, plus career planning offices at your college or university, and:
· Use competency-based language: Professions have competencies that are viewed as the pillars of practice. Use that language to describe roles for practicums, internships, or professional jobs; 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.
· Attention to detail matters: A resume is your first impression to perspective employers. If there are errors, they will wonder, ‘if you can’t take the time to proof your own resume, why should they believe you’ll do better on the job?’. Do spelling AND grammar checks!
Lesson 3: Have references ready!
Reach out early to references and keep their current contact information accessible! Maintain professional letters of recommendation in your online files. Keep references in the loop so they know to expect any calls or emails for information about you. With so many phishing emails, everyone is cautious about providing information. Your reference can easily miss a vital request to provide the recommendation that leads to a job offer!
Lesson 4: Know what matters to the organization
This lesson is two-fold: first, keep up on public health facts and their impact for populations served by the agency. Brush up on Crisis theory, Trauma-informed care, and short-term counseling techniques. This info will help you develop ideas on how to best serve the organization. Knowledge is power; this is a great way to tout your expertise in the interview.
Second, ask what DEIJ (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice) initiatives the organization has in place; this information goes beyond what may be on the employer’s website. You want to know exactly what initiatives have been put in place to ensure all employees, patients and clients, and other stakeholders feel included, safe, and experience a sense of belonging in their interactions with the entity.
Lesson 5: Know brief assessment tools and resources
With the uptick in mental health across populations and the workforce, have working knowledge of assessment tools to manage anxiety, stress, and depression. Quality resources live at Therapist Aid and AHRQ
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.
Research employers before the interview. View the employer’s website to learn their mission, vision, and goals. Learn how the organization conducts business. Ask questions about short and long term goals, and how they see you fitting into these plans. This tactic conveys your interest in the position. Interviews are for potential employers to interview you, but also you to interview them. This mindset puts you in control of the process, and decreases anxiety. Ask questions to learn if this job and setting are for you, such as those at Big Interview.
Remember, decision-making timeframes vary, so ask about next steps. Organizations can take 2 days to make final decisions or months! Know what you are facing to help prioritize other offers!
Lesson 7: Ask about job stability
Amid these unpredictable times, it’s appropriate to ask about potential layoffs and furloughs. Some positions are funded by grants, so ask how long the position is funded and what happens next; this is especially true of the termination of Covid-19 emergency declarations. Hiring freezes are still common and won’t necessarily be information shared. If 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 to handle specific situations. Identify your strengths and how they would make a difference. Consider:
· How do your strengths set you apart from other candidates?
· Why should the organization hire you?
· What examples can you provide so the employer understands your worth?
· How can you demonstrate your ability to work with a team?
· You will be asked about your weaknesses. Be prepared to respond in a professional manner, and have your answer ready.
Lesson 9: The only constant in our industry is change
You might be happy to NOT be in school for a bit, but be open to new learning: 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
An exciting short-term or part-time role may turn into the best career option never anticipated. In these interesting times, more MSWs are accepting multiple part-time positions. This option can promote greater flexibility, while minimizing burn-out. Also, don’t dismiss positions that are different from your expectations!
Lesson 11: Set up your professional social media profile.
Set up a professional profile using established websites and job bank platforms. Facebook (or Meta) can help with networking, but use other websites that highlight recruitment:
Keep a profile professional! Use a polished photo versus a selfie with your BFF, pet, or family! Solid guidance is at What Recruiters Want to See on Your LinkedIn Profile
Lesson 12: Negotiation is expected
Negotiation is expected for any job. Negotiate for everything:
- A higher hourly rate or salary
- Remote options or flexible work hours
- Coverage/reimbursement for professional fees (e.g. licensure exam application, exam prep courses, professional association dues)
- Coverage/reimbursement for clinical supervision and if it is offered onsite. Organizations may pay a portion of the rate to the whole amount. They may only provide supervision internally or have waiting lists. If supervision is provided, you may need to promise to stay at the organization for set number of years post-completion, or pay pack a set amount.
You don’t know what you don’t know, so ask questions! The answers may surprise you!
Lesson 13: Don’t be thrown by a title or position qualifications
People apply for jobs based on titles; titles are deceptive! Learn about the scope of each role before dismissing a solid opportunity.
Don’t dismiss a role based on qualifications alone. Application processes may ‘kick you out’ for not having hard competency qualifications (e.g., degree, licensure). Other knowledge or experiences can sway the decision; volunteer roles and practicums with a population speak volumes. Don’t assume you’re not qualified!
Lesson 14: Take the right job, not just any job
You want an income when you graduate, but strive for the right job. 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 mentors. We may be amid the Great Resignation, but, the grass isn’t always greener; there are brown spots everywhere.
Lesson 15: Enjoy the job search
There is pressure to be employed, but explore opportunities. Get out there and enjoy the search!
I invite colleagues and followers to post other practical lessons below to empower our next generation of professionals!