Guest Post by Kavya Velagapudi: How I landed an awesome macro practice job

From Melinda: So many social workers and new graduates are encountering a difficult labor market. To offer encouragement to them and to celebrate those who are successfully navigating the environment to secure terrific jobs that will have a significant impact, I have asked Kavya Velagapudi, a recent KU SWAAP graduate, to tell her story. Thank you, Kavya, and congratulations!

My Job:
It seemed like the odds were against me: A less popular Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice degree, the recession, and the summer. But I am now the Program Coordinator at a brand-new non-profit called Low-Income Family Empowerment (LIFE) in Adams County, Colorado. Adams County consists of Commerce City and Federal Heights and portions of seven other cities.

LIFE was started by the Adams County Housing Authority. Although the hiring agency is LIFE, I am the program coordinator for the Strong Families Initiative, which is a collaborative effort among six agencies that work with low-income families in the Adams County. The partner agencies of the Strong Families Initiative, including LIFE, received a grant for fourteen months (May 01, 2009-June 30, 2010) to continue their efforts and make new additions to their plans. My role is to coordinate the elements of this grant. However, I have been hired at the end of July, which gives me only eleven months to accomplish the requirements of this grant.

There are four main elements to my role:
1. I act as the information and resource specialist. I will be developing a map of services and resources available for low-income families in the County, find service gaps, and increase needed workshops and classes. The biggest challenge I have is to bring our partner agencies together, since they have traditionally been competitors in the Adams County. My role is to facilitate the collaboration efforts and coordination of services among our partner agencies and other service providers in the County.
2. I will be coordinating the efforts to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness in the Adams County. I will soon be hiring a contractor to conduct a study to understand the extent and distribution of homelessness along with an analysis of services and programs in the Adams County. Based on the results of this study, a plan will be developed similar to Denver’s Road Home, which is Denver’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. This aspect not only allows me to collaborate with several stakeholders in the community, including city government, non-profit entities, county’s housing authority, and other service providers, but it makes me the key person in this county-wide collaboration effort.
3. I will be involved at some degree with all initiatives in the County that provide services for homeless populations, including emergency shelters, permanent housing, cold weather care initiatives, rapid re-housing, food banks, and other supportive services.
4. As a brand-new agency, LIFE has only one full-time employee: Me! This means that I will sometimes stray from the requirements of the grant and do what is necessary to run the agency. This includes helping design a logo to finding funding to continue LIFE, including my position.

How I found the job:
I developed networks and contacts during my graduate schooling. They have been helpful in directing me to the right resources. Apart from that, I kept a list of all websites that post non-profit jobs; http://www.idealist.org, http://www.change.org, and other national social work job listing websites were some of them. I also bookmarked non-profit job websites of cities I was willing to move to. Since Denver was my first option, I moved there immediately after graduation. I found the job posting for Program Coordinator position on Colorado Nonprofit Job Board website. A week after I applied, my first interview was set. The interview panel had four members and the interview lasted about an hour. I was given a call a week later and I was told that I was one of the finalists. The second interview was set in a non-traditional interview format. I was asked to create a speech to procure the funding necessary for LIFE to remediate homelessness in Adams County. I developed a 10-minute presentation, which I presented to the second interview panel consisting of eight individuals, including LIFE’s Board of Directors and other stakeholders. A week later, exactly two months from my graduation day, I was called with a job offer. I started in my job the next week. The entire interview process took about 20-25 days.

Tips for SWAAP students:

  • Sell your skills- Do not underestimate your education or experience. Be confident when you speak of yourself during job interviews. For example, I was asked if I ever coordinated a program in my first interview. I told them that I have not, but given an opportunity, I can. Rather than prolonging the conversation about my lack of experience in the area, I then spoke about the experience and education I have.
  • SWAAP is a plus- Think of SWAAP as your strength, rather than as a setback in your job search. It is a common belief that you can become an administrator after working in the clinical field. This is true. However, there are several programs that are in need of good administrators across the country. I will take the liberty here to say that most social work programs suffer largely due to the incompetence of its administrators. Being a great clinical social worker does not qualify one to be a great administrator. However, I do stress that administrators need to know the population they are working for. Without putting a human face on the work we do, we cannot be successful administrators in the non-profit world. We need to have a strong mind with a good heart. If we have a mindless heart or a heartless mind, we will not get far. Get a SWAAP degree and firsthand experience to go along with it.
  • Be patient and do not compromise- Every graduate student ends up in debt at one point or the other. But do not let your financial situation determine which job you take. If you can, wait until you find the job that will take you where you want to be five years from now. Do not settle for anything less. I suggest you take a part-time job to pay the bills temporarily. Most of us are in social work for personal reasons. Remember these motives during your job search. It is easy to experience burn-out in jobs that merely provide a paycheck without a sense of fulfillment. Being in a wrong job can cause more harm than being unemployed.
  • Research and network- Develop contacts, network, search job sites, and websites of organizations you like. (I spent on average 10-12 hours a day searching websites and emailing my contacts in the two months I was unemployed.) Be persistent! This does not mean that you apply for all jobs you are qualified for. You have to pick and choose what you like and apply for those jobs only. Otherwise, you will get tired of seeing letters of denial from multiple agencies! (I only applied for about 10 jobs and had only two interviews. One of them was a phone interview for a position in San Francisco. The second one was for my current position.)

    If you cannot relocate to another city or state, try finding employment at your practicum agency. If, for whatever reason, that is not an option for you, get involved in your school’s social work student group and share information among your peers. Although a student group seems like an unproductive use of time during graduate school, it will prove to be far more valuable when you are looking for jobs. If you are currently a student, involve yourself in the group as a student representative. If your school’s student group is not currently active, propel it yourself. This is a valuable SWAAP experience that involves organizing, networking, marketing, and administering that you can talk about during an interview, as I did during my first interview for my current position. If you graduated already, keep in touch with your graduating class. They will have information that you may not have. You can share contacts and resources through a Facebook group.

  • Always remember your mentors in school and keep in touch with them. My mentors had faith in me as I went through some rough times. Their faith in me is something I clung to as I pushed myself to try harder and aim higher. When you find the job you want, thank the people who contributed to your success- your mentors, professors, classmates, family, and friends.

    I wish you the best of luck! Please feel free to contact me at kavya.velagapudi at gmail.com for any reason.

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  • 2 responses to “Guest Post by Kavya Velagapudi: How I landed an awesome macro practice job

    1. I had no idea the job market isn’t swimming for social workers. But they need us out there. No doubt about that.

      • That’s a big part of the problem–when the economy gets worse, social services are cut, which means fewer job opportunities for social workers at precisely the time when economic conditions and related stresses mean that more people need help! The job market varies considerably by field of practice and part of the country, but my students are definitely having a harder time finding full-time work than in past years.

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