My Work Search

So, I’m looking for some more work. Kind of. Not a job, really, because, with two now-toddlers and a preschooler at home, I’m still not in a place where I am ready to take on a full-time job. I still 100% love teaching, and I’m really excited about some of my plans for my classes in the year to come, but I am ready to get back ‘out in the field’, so to speak, more, and I am now trying to figure out what that means for me.

As part of this process of discernment/work search, I’m meeting with a lot of people, both contacts from my years of nonprofit work prior to the kids’ arrival, and newer contacts from the past couple of years. I also sat down this week to read through the <a href="Idealist.org guide to nonprofit work for ‘sector switchers’“>, which, of course, I am technically not, but it includes an emphasis on “re-careering”, which, I learned, I am doing, so much of it was still applicable.

Rather than run through the highlights of it as a tool (and, if you’re looking for a job and haven’t already made a habit of checking Idealist.org’s job listings and general advice for job-seekers in the nonprofit world, you should), I thought I’d try to give some insights on my own journey back to social service-type work in the hope that that might provide some help for my graduating students (all of whom are going to get fabulous jobs VERY soon, I just know!), committed ‘volunteer’ advocates who are thinking about turning their passions into a full-time gig, or others who might be reading this and thinking career development. I realize, though, that I am in a very, very, very lucky position: I don’t need to provide our family’s primary income (or at least very much of it), I already have a terrific part-time job with the university, and I had a prior job that was all about getting out of the office and building relationships, so I have a deeper and broader network than many re-careering social workers. Take all of that as a caveat, and please know that I don’t take it for granted. But hopefully there’s something here you can use.

One of my biggest challenges right now is figuring out where to land, or what Idealist refers to as the ‘lens’ through which to enter the nonprofit arena. Even though I’m publicly identified with immigration (and immigrants rights are VERY important to me), there are so many issues about which I’m passionate: child and family poverty, health care, early childhood education, women’s rights, labor, human rights, family violence, housing, civil rights…you get the picture. If I think in terms of organizations as an entry point, it’s not much easier; there are literally dozens of organizations I admire here in the Kansas City area. Role-wise, it’s a little easier; I know that I am interested in advocacy (um, obviously), organizing, and management, but I can also imagine some direct service positions that would allow me some advocacy work that I would find stimulating.

One thing that I liked about the Idealist guide, and that I know is a crucial factor for me, is the importance of organizational culture. I know a lot about the cultures that don’t work for me–I don’t work tremendously well in very structured bureaucracies and tend to prefer smaller organizations, but I need to prioritize the elements of organizational culture that matter most to me. It also recommended using Guidestar to learn about organizations’ financial portraits, to get a sense of where their funding comes from and how stable they are. I’ve never done that in a job search context before, but I like the idea.

In addition to that thinking, I have some homework to do:

  • Some kind of self-inventory of my skills and interests, to try to narrow this whole thing down a little bit, maybe by scanning available job postings to see what really leaps out at me. This is all made more difficult by the fact that I’m really not looking for a job job, but rather some way to make some money for getting a little more involved in social change work/social service.
  • Figure out if there are gaps in my experience or demonstrated commitment to certain issues that I need to fill to get the job that I want, and then figure out how I might fill those–some additional Board service or new volunteering gigs, maybe some certification or continuing education courses? It’s hard to figure out when I’d fit this in, given my current commitments with the kids, but that calculation in itself might tell me that I really want to delay this ‘re-careering’ a bit more than I had thought.
  • Part of that gap analysis has to deal with relationships–which relationships can I leverage today, and what new relationships do I need? This likely means doing some informational interviews and some additional networking, at least informally.
  • I need to do some market research, because I’ve been out of the field just long enough to not have much of a sense of salary ranges, either for full or part-time work or for the kind of consulting work that I’m currently doing (mostly by guessing at what to charge). I’ve started combing through these nonprofit sector employment data; look for another post at some point discussing what this means for social work students. It’s harder for me, perhaps, than some social workers, to figure out what I’m “worth”, since I really haven’t ever done what most employers or social workers would consider social work (even though I, of course, DO!) throughout my career. My salary was typically in between what a direct practitioner and a professional lobbyist would make, but I’m thinking of heading in a slightly different direction, which likely means a different scale. One of the pieces from this Idealist.org guide that resonated the most with me was a discussion about salary negotiation as “self-advocacy” and encouragement for nonprofit professionals to see this as a demonstration of how they will stand up for those they are representing. When it’s framed that way, it’s easier for me to see why it’s important to stake my claim, so to speak.
  • Equally challenging for me is determining a long-term strategy/career plan. Truly, I’ve never had one. My social work practice has always been more about responding to emerging needs, getting wrapped up in exciting campaigns, rather than planning out a trajectory of the titles I want or the positions I covet. That’s good and bad, I think–for me, I’ve only sought credit where it can enhance the power that I need to move causes, which can lead, admittedly, to sometimes drifting, realizing suddenly that 3 years have gone by without a raise (or a vacation, but that’s a whole different story). Now, I need to think in terms of what makes sense long-term for my family. I honestly don’t see myself going back to a ‘full-time’ job (which, for me, probably means like 50+ hours/week) for several years–I want to be able to participate in the kids’ activities and run our family more actively than that would facilitate. But I do have some goals about where I want to be; I just need to figure out how to get from here to there.

    I’d love to hear from others who are either seeking new social work jobs, have landed terrific jobs and want to talk about how they got there, have great resources for social work job-seekers, or, even have specific advice for me related to any of the above challenges. I’ll keep you all posted as I work through this journey and trust that I’ll find the right way, somehow, to match my skills and passions to some kind of work where they can be helpful (and I can have a lot of my kind of fun!).

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