Job Searching

It’s that time of year again. Graduations are coming up, and students are anxiously scanning the online sites, talking with field instructors, and struggling to figure out where they can find the perfect fit for their skills and passions and, then as financial realities hit, where they can find anything remotely related to social work that pays a living wage. Many of my students have had success with NPConnect, and I have personally hired people who have found me through that site. For social workers interested in advocacy and organizing jobs, though, the job search can be even more frustrating. It’s always especially discouraging for me, then, to be so excited that my students are so excited about pursuing a career that includes macro practice, and then to share their disillusionment when we struggle together to find a good advocacy job, at least in the Midwest. They ARE out there, though! Do not despair! I made a good living for more than 6 years doing advocacy and community organizing with mostly undocumented Latino immigrants in Kansas City, Kansas, and I have several colleagues, in this part of the country, whose jobs include at least substantial responsibilities for similar types of work. So, while I don’t have any wonderful jobs to hand to anyone on a silver platter, or any magic wand to wave, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned, especially from students over the past few years, about how to start making a living while really making a difference.

  • Don’t put too much stock in job titles or job descriptions. Often, they were written by HR people or CEOs who haven’t done much advocacy, so there is no clear set of ‘keywords’ to search for advocacy jobs.
  • Find an organization that you’re excited about and schedule an informational interview. If you’re still excited about the agency, see if they’re hiring for any jobs. It very well may be possible to start at a job that isn’t primarily advocacy, include some organizing or lobbying as part of your job responsibilities, and then pursue, in partnership with the organization, funding and support to expand that part of your job. That’s how my advocacy career started, and I know of others with similar stories.
  • Prepare for the fact that, if you get a job at a primarily advocacy organization, you may be working with very few other social workers. This is where selling your skills and your degree may be very important. In the document below, I’ve included some language that you might want to use to talk about social work with non-social workers; your skills are relevant, but you may have to explain how.
  • Don’t rule out working for elected officials–it’s not the only way to learn how lobbying/policymaking work, for sure, but it can be a good way to get really in-depth knowledge of a specific topic and build relationships.
  • Prepare a portfolio. While these aren’t often used in social work (although they are increasingly requested), having a policy brief, press release, strategy plan, organizing materials, and other work product that you’ve created can help to convince prospective employers that your social work degree prepares you to make an impact on their advocacy work.
  • Obviously, network–not just with social work colleagues, but think about elected officials with whom you’ve worked, coalition organizations, lay leaders in your organization, media contacts…make sure that people know that you’re looking for a job, because you never know who can help you!
  • Advocate for yourself! Just as you would prepare a campaign to win the support of a particular target, approach your job search with an eye towards strategy–who do you need to convince, what arguments would most likely sway them, to whom do they listen, what relationships can you leverage?Students and former students, let me know–where are you in your job search? What strategies have been most successful for you? If you’re in your ‘dream’ advocacy job today, what does it look like and how did you get it? What do you wish you would have known before starting out?

    Selling Social Work

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