Tag Archives: careers

Macro Social Work and Maximum Career Success in 2012

My students and I just finished our fall semester. For them, that means a few weeks without practicum or policy studies. I’m sure they’ll be glad to get online without seeing frequent posts from me about new policy developments or insightful new articles that I’m just SURE they’ll love (can you ever listen to too many Robert Greenstein podcasts? I think not.).

For me, the break between semesters means decorating Christmas cookies with the kids, trying to come up with gifts for the dozens of people who help us raise them throughout the year, and catching up on the stack of reading that has grown on my nightstand throughout the fall.

But I’ve also had several conversations with students in the past couple of weeks about their futures, and what the next year may hold, especially given that my Advanced Policy students will receive their MSWs in the spring, in a job market that honestly doesn’t look much better, at least in some sectors, than it has for the past three years or so (which is to say, not too good). Increasingly, my students are getting started early in researching organizations that might provide some career opportunities for them, which just might mean that they’re taking my career advice about seeking a good fit between you and the organizational culture, rather than searching for the perfect job description.

But I’ve been doing some investigation into other resources for young nonprofit professionals, most of which are good fits for social workers, too, especially those who see nonprofit administration as a promising career path. These macro social workers will need to understand how organizations work, and how they should work, what the context of social service delivery will look like, and how to chart a career progression for themselves that will position them for long-term success in an often volatile market.

In this thinking, I’ve benefitted greatly from the wisdom of former students, especially from the recent past, whose own job experiences provide inspiration and comfort to today’s graduates. I’d love to hear from more of my own former students as well as other new social work professionals, regarding these resources, others that you’d recommend, or the advice that you wish someone had shared with you at the inception of your macro social work career. I’m particularly interested in how to help students bridge the direct practice jobs that are somewhat more plentiful to the macro work they seek. It requires finding opportunities to build skills and relationships in one service context that you can leverage in another, and demonstrating leadership in direct service that can lead to opportunities to lead on a larger scale. I don’t mean the assumed “work your way up to management” role, but, rather, intentionally complementing one’s macro social work education with strategic direct practice experiences, in pursuit of an overall portfolio designed to deliver a chance to shape our field.

  • I’ve shared Rosetta Thurman’s blog on my blog roll before; I find her writing topics and style thought-provoking, refreshing, and genuinely additive to the conversation about young people in the nonprofit world. There’s a lot here to prompt all of our thinking (regardless of age) about the future of nonprofits and how to build impactful organizations by investing in people, but, especially for newer professionals, there’s also tangible advice about how to network, which conferences are worth your time and money, and how to build your personal brand. You should also check out her book, How to Become a Nonprofit Rockstar. Sometimes we think that someone has to be speaking directly to social workers to have anything to say to us, but I never fail to find something in Rosetta’s thinking that resonates with me.
  • Another blogger with relevant advice for new nonprofit workers is Alison Jones, who blogs at Entry-Level Living. She comments on the state of the nonprofit world, too, but also has advice about how to jumpstart your nonprofit career with formal service programs, how to integrate into nonprofit culture as a new employee, and how to tell the story of your college education in order to win a nonprofit job. Especially in this job market, it’s also critically important not to feel alone, and the community that arises on these two sites can complement the “real-world” support network that job-seekers so need.
  • Some new online forums, mostly completely self-moderated, have popped up for those seeking social work jobs. While there may not be too many actionable tips for social work graduates looking for a specific setting or geography on these pretty broad sites, there is an opportunity for solidarity and a chance to gain a sort of high-level overview of the landscape of the social work job market. One is the Social Worker Jobs Forum and another is the Social Work Job Bank (this last one is affiliated with The New Social Worker Online, and does have a stronger community moderation component).

    Here’s to a very bright new year, indeed, for social work graduates.

  • Economics of Studying Social Work: Guest Post from The Professional Intern

    **Note from Melinda: I was approached for a guest post by Jesse from The Professional Intern, a blog/website written by and for high school, undergraduate, graduate, and adult education students. One of the frequent topics on the blog relates to the financial aspects of higher education, and life beyond, and I think that the resources contained here, and on the site, will be helpful for social work students and recent graduates, too, particularly given how frequently my students’ career decisions are influenced by very real financial considerations. In an ideal world, the important work that social workers do–whether 1:1 with clients or on the macro level–would be compensated so that social workers can take care of their families and pursue their individual financial goals, too. That will take reforming the incentives facing nonprofit organizations, valuing the contributions we make to society, and creating public policies accordingly. Until then, consider Jesse and his colleagues fellow travelers on the quest to “do well while doing good.” Thanks, Jesse!

    People who go to school for social work aren’t in it for the money. They realize they’re facing a lifetime of being underpaid and overworked. But just because you’re never going to strike it rich doesn’t mean you have to carry a load of debt around with you.

    Before you go
    One of the most important decisions you can make when you’ve decided on your career path is where to go for your degree. This is one of those times when you have to be real with yourself. Going to a pricey private college may not be easy for you later if your parents aren’t helping you pay your loans. Admissions counselors will tell you that 99 percent of students will get financial aid. While that’s completely true, they often leave out the fact that this is only a few thousand on a $35,000 price tag.
    A more affordable option is attending a state school. They tend to run at about $16,140 a year. With scholarships, they can often be brought down to about $10,080, according to a recent report. Scholarships will only knock private school tuition down to about $21,020.

    If you need to work while you’re attending college, look into an online degree or a community college. Many state schools can also have more flexible schedules with night classes that will help you in your quest to do it all.

    Once you’re there
    Student loans can often be used for any educational expense. This can be stretched easily to include some things that you might not actually need, so it’s one of those times that we have to apply the advice we often give to others–how should we prioritize our budgets?–to our own financial decisions. Remember that you’ll have to pay this money back sooner than you’d think.

    On that note, any money you take from your technical loan money should be repaid by the time you graduate. If you have loans that charge interest, pay those back immediately. For the loans that don’t accrue interest, go ahead and put the money in a savings account that you can’t access through a bank card. If you need extra help ensuring you don’t spend it, ask your parents to put their names on your account and require that you all be there to remove it.

    Consider signing up for AmeriCorps if there is a program in your area (or another, similar service program). AmeriCorps is a government-funded program that allows people to give back to their community in various ways. In return for your service, you receive a living stipend. Upon completion of the program, you also receive an education award, which can be applied directly to tuition costs or loans. Depending on the amount of hours you put into the program, you could end up with a couple of thousand dollars on top of your living stipend. It’s best to do the AmeriCorps program as an internship, since it will take a considerable time commitment. Many of the projects that members can sign up for are directly related to social work and can provide valuable experience along with the much-needed money.

    And now, the fun part
    The fun, of course, comes from having your degree. If you’re unable to find a job right out of college, take one that you can find and continue searching hard for a job in your field (ML: again–the same advice social workers often give our clients!). With the economy the way it is, even low-paying jobs are sometimes hard-to-find. In the meantime, call your loan provider and see when you’ll need to start paying back your loans. Most have a waiting period of about six months. If you graduate in May, your first payments will begin around December. You can usually find out everything you need to know by going to their website and digging around. However, if you call you will get an opportunity to talk to real people who know your situation and can help. Memorizing the number might be the most important step you can take.

    If you have trouble paying back your loans, here are some options you can take.
    • Defer your loans:
    Deferring your loans is the first step you should take when you lose your job or can’t make payments on a low salary. All it takes is a call to your loan provider and a short explanation of why you need a deferment. You only have a set number of these to go through though, so be sure you’re using them only when absolutely necessary.
    • Extend your payback period:
    If your loans exceed a certain amount, your payback period may be eligible to be extended. Remember that this will make it harder to buy a home and a new car later on down the road, since you’ll have more money already tied up in loans. The amount you currently owe back is also reflected in your credit score, so be sure to check and see how much it’s affecting you before you extend it another 5-10 years. The average loan’s standard payback period is 10 years, but can go up to 15-20 if you meet the requirements.
    • Consolidate your loans:
    In the funny loan world, you can have two separate loans from the same provider, both due separately. If you find this has happened to you, simply call your loan provider to ask them to be combined.
    • Check the time of month:
    If rent is due the same week as your student loans, most companies will allow you to switch the due date. Remember that it will take a month or so to go in effect, so don’t think you can use this to get a couple weeks of free deferment.
    With all of these options available, you should be able to manage loan repayment on even the tiniest salary. Remember to also list the amount you’ve paid towards them on your taxes, as some of that money will be tax deductible. Be proactive about your loans, and you’ll be able to stay on top of them.

    Does anyone else have advice to share? Recent graduates, what are you encountering in the job market, and what has worked for you? Those with longer tenures in the working world, what has this perspective taught you that you wish you’d known before?

    Good news for social work administrator salaries?

    by nomm de photo, via Flickr's Creative Commons

    The nonprofit world has been buzzing for the past few months over news of long-awaited changes in how nonprofit organizations are rated. For several years, the primary measure of nonprofit “excellence”, according to many of the sector watchdog organizations which prospective donors and others consult before making decisions of support, has been the ‘overhead’ to ‘program’ ratio (both in quotes because of their rather dubious definitions). There are tremendous problems with this very blunt measure, the most serious of which is the fact that it does not actually measure anything very helpful about a nonprofit’s work at all, namely: is it actually solving the social problem it sets out to solve?

    But another problem with the reliance on overhead ratios as the benchmark of nonprofit success is its depressing effect on the salaries of those working within nonprofits because, of course, salaries are most often counted as “overhead”, especially the salaries of nonprofit administrators (anyone not engaged in direct programming).

    But there is cause for hope, as macro practice social workers head for graduation this spring, when many will officially become part of nonprofit organizations’ “overhead”, applying their skills and knowledge to the effective operation of organizations that, if led by talented people with clear visions of social change and real leadership to marshal resources towards that change, will be part of the solution to our most vexing social ills.

    Late last fall, Charity Navigator, the largest and most prominent of the nonprofit watchdog groups, announced that they are totally revamping their formulas for evaluating nonprofit organizations. They will heavily discount their old reliance on overhead ratios in favor of (yet unannounced) metrics that emphasize impact.

    Very exciting, really, for all of us who care far more that our nonprofit organizations actually achieve what it is that they set out to do, rather than how much money they spend on salaries in order to get it done. (And, as an aside, I really think that’s just about everyone. I mean, people get all riled up about xyz nonprofit executive making “too much money”, but if I show them a program that spends 100% of its revenues on ‘program’, say, having a volunteer hand out $100 bills to homeless people, I can guarantee you that they wouldn’t be too excited.)

    But, it’s almost graduation time, so let’s talk about what’s really on the minds of macro practice soon-to-be social workers everywhere: getting a job that will pay you a decent (read: pay your loans and still earn a real, living wage) salary.

    According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the median hourly wage for social service managers, the closest category to social work administration, was $26.92/hour. Assuming full-time work (which, certainly, cannot be assumed in today’s economy, but most management positions are full-time), you’re looking at about $54,000/year. Doesn’t sound that bad, probably, except when you consider that that’s a national figure, which is distorted by the much higher costs of living in some parts of the country (and correspondingly higher wages) and when you look at the BLS numbers for chief executives, who earn a median $76.23/hour, about three times as much, to do very similar kinds of work: manage budgets, oversee personnel, interface with external stakeholders, plan for the future, deal with threats, and solve problems.

    Enter this whole discussion about overhead and how we should define and monitor a “good” nonprofit organization. The way that I see it, as long as low overhead equals good organization, then there are very powerful incentives for nonprofit leaders, including other social work administrators, to keep administrative salaries low, even dangerously low, to the extent that it can be difficult to recruit and retain the best and brightest minds.

    If, conversely, we start defining a good nonprofit organization as one that excels at its mission, that succeeds in addressing the problem that is its target, that innovates, that surpasses expectations…then won’t there be just as powerful an incentive to find the very best person possible to lead that organization, even if it costs more to hire her?

    It’s crazy, really, when you think about it. If a society’s values are lived out in its allocation of resources (which they largely are), then it would appear that we value the creation of new items for Taco Bell’s value menu more than the eradication of homelessness. Or the cure for AIDS. Or the end of child abuse.

    You get the idea.

    There will obviously be a lag, as the changes in the sector’s barometer slowly infuse themselves into organizational practices. But I truly believe that we’ll see a rise in the demand for top-notch nonprofit organizational leadership in the years to come, and the salaries to go along with it.

    Now social work administrators have to make the case that we are uniquely qualified to provide that leadership. That’s another challenge, but one that I can imagine my students and former students will tackle with gusto.

    It’s that time of year again…J-O-B

    So another terrific class of macro social workers is getting ready to graduate from the University of Kansas (and, I’m certain, many other schools of social work around the country!), and, while the social work job market may not be quite as tight has it was for the class of 2009, it’s still a rough field out there. At this time of year, my thoughts turn to job searching in macro practice and how to help graduating students and other social workers who are looking for macro practice jobs. To get us started, here is a list of links of online job sources (all in nonprofit/social change work), a couple of articles about job searching in a recession, and a presentation on using purposeful internships to set yourself apart from other candidates (it’s good; sorry for the random punctuation around it–I spent 30 minutes trying to cut it out and moved on!).

    Keep me posted on your job search process, and please, once you’re successful finding a great job that allows you to advance your life while serving your cause, share your tips!

    Opportunity Knocks
    Opportunity Knocks has listings of nonprofit jobs, a Nonprofit Wage and Benefit Report, a place to post your resume, tons of helpful articles, and a list of job fairs around the country.

    Idealist has nonprofit job listings and hosts career fairs in a number of cities. Sign up for email alerts for nonprofit jobs in your area.

    Jobs For Change
    This is the one that I wrote up last year. They also have columns and advice for job seekers.

    Mostly administrative-type jobs in the nonprofit, health care, and government sectors.

    Philanthropy Careers
    These are pretty fundraising-heavy listings, but there are some administrative positions, too, and it has high volume.

    Council on Foundations
    This site has a lot of postings and thorough descriptions.

    Philanthropy Journal
    This site includes entry-level nonprofit jobs plus those in management/leadership.

    The NonProfit Times
    This is kind of old-school, basically the classified ads for the nonprofit world’s newspaper. They also operate a career advice center.

    This is unofficially for the Gen-X and Gen-Yers–part of OnPhilanthropy. I subscribe to their FLiP blog for insights on nonprofit leadership for young adults.

    Don’t forget Craigslist. More nonprofits are putting openings there because it’s a free listing.

    More Resources:
    Nonprofit Job Searching in Tough Times

    Nonprofit Job Search Tips



    Nonprofit Leadership: The Next Frontier

    photo credit: ButterflySun via Flickr

    I’ve had this report, Ready to Lead, on my desktop for a few months, but I just got around to reading it. If you share my concerns about the future of our nonprofit sector, are headed to executive leadership in a nonprofit organization yourself, and/or have questions about the leadership in your area of practice, you should read the whole report (it includes a thorough overview of the sample and methodology, so I’m not reiterating that either). Here, I’m highlighting some of the findings that have the most relevance for social workers, and for the organizations in which we work. In particular, although the authors of the report didn’t include this at all, there are some public policy approaches (big surprise!) that I think could help to address some of the challenges and gaps indicated by respondents.

    I’d love to know what you think, not just about this report but about the state of leadership in your nonprofit. If you are a young professional, what do you see as your career trajectory? What influences your professional decisionmaking about organizations and positions within them? What skills and experiences must good nonprofit leaders possess? If you want to lead a nonprofit organization, do you feel ‘ready’ to do so? If not, what help do you need? What would help your current leadership to succeed?

    Most provocative findings, and my thoughts:

  • By 2016, the nonprofit sector will need ~80,000 new managers per year! They have to come from somewhere, and, as we think about the future of social work and social work education, we have to figure out if we’re committed to ‘growing’ these leaders ourselves, and to really carving out a niche in nonprofit leadership, or if we’re going to see those positions go increasingly to individuals from the corporate world and/or from planning or nonprofit administration programs. It matters, I believe, what value perspective the leaders of our organizations share, but we have to acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of social workers choose a more direct practice/clinical track, and that that may mean that social workers increasingly find themselves working for non-social workers.
  • These worker preferences, in fact, continue to influence career decision making well into an individual’s advancement. Fifty-five percent of the sample (most of whom are already working in nonprofits) say that their interests or skills don’t align with executive leadership in nonprofits. Fear of distancing themselves from the work and/or reducing their job satisfaction were some of the primary concerns.
  • There’s not as much ‘hiring from within’ as in the for-profit sector–only ~1/3 of current executive directors were hired from their own organization, and 55% of survey respondents believe that they need to leave their current organizations in order to advance.
  • Not surprisingly, these experiences are different for women and people of color than for white men. While more people of color and foreign-born nonprofit workers aspire to executive leadership, white men in the sample were more likely to be on a leadership track, more likely to have received executive coaching, and more likely to say that they are currently ‘ready’ to lead. Obviously, this has major implications for social work education, which also tends to attract a majority white student body. If we’re going to truly reflect our society, and best equip our organizations with talented, skilled, prepared individuals with a desire to lead our organizations into the future, we have to aggressively recruit, actively mentor, and intentionally place more bright leaders of color.
  • Only 17% of respondents have a degree or certificate in nonprofit management or administration. Importantly, of those who do, relatively few feel that it, specifically, has prepared them for nonprofit leadership. Again, as we think about the future of our profession, we need to continually evaluate the skills and competencies that we transmit through our degree programs, communicating with nonprofit organizations about those skills they most need.
  • We need to confront the financial realities; many of our most talented nonprofit employees may leave nonprofits, especially as the economy improves, so that they can earn more money. One of the recommendations was that foundations invest in multiyear funding and institutional capital to allow for more adequate compensation packages and to facilitate succession planning. But here’s where public policy can come into play, too. Several respondents mentioned student loan debt as a major concern–obviously, more state and federal aid directly to higher education, as well as more generous financial aid packages, could reverse the tide of rising student debt and free graduates to make career decisions without worrying about default. Likewise, young nonprofit workers are particularly concerned about retirement savings; ensuring Social Security’s long-term solvency as well as adequacy, and restoring a measure of progressivity to pension/retirement systems could take some of this pressure off young workers during their careers.
  • And we can’t ignore the role that nonprofit organizational culture itself plays in creating and perpetuating this problem. Several respondents mentioned the ‘dated power structures’ that inhibit mentoring; the poor work/life balance; and the increasing demands on executive directors to do more with less as disincentives to their own pursuit of executive leadership. Addressing these factors as part of organizational advocacy strategies could make work life better for all those in nonprofits, improve agency functioning for clients, and, in the long-run, make these institutions easier to run, thus attracting more candidates for the job!
  • I’m a social worker too! Guest Post by Heather Bradley-Geary, macro practitioner

    Note from Melinda: Heather Bradley-Geary, macro social worker extraordinaire and all-around awesome person, agreed to do this guest post to give my students and others a sense of what it looks like to make the decision to choose macro social work practice and to make a career out of it. I know that she’d love to hear feedback, so please leave a comment with your reactions, and, thank you, Heather!

    State Government Worker…Social Worker? Say What?

    Hello! My name is Heather Bradley-Geary and yes, I am a Social Worker. Yes, I work for the Government and no, I am not a clinician. I received my undergraduate degree in Music Therapy. After graduation, I provided direct care to children diagnosed with Autism. Although I love music and children, I was quick to learn that Music Therapy was not my true passion. After two years, I left my career in Music Therapy and started working in the inner-city providing neighborhood revitalization. It did not take long for me to realize that this was my calling in life and went back to school to pursue my Master’s degree in Social Welfare, with an emphasis on Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice.

    The first year in the Masters program, I often felt scared that I had not chosen the right path; however, when administration classes began (my last year), I walked into a room of twelve amazing women (my classmates) and never felt more sure of my decision to continue in social work. Don’t get me wrong; I am so thankful there are clinicians in the world. However, I would be a terrible clinician. I cannot focus on the micro level and always have the urge to change the system.

    After receiving my Master’s Degree in Social Welfare, my career path led me to where I serve the state of Missouri currently. I work for an agency of the state as the Trust Fund and Community Initiatives Manager. I can honestly say I wake up every morning and am excited to go to work. What an amazing feeling to make a difference on the macro level. My job entails administering the Missouri Housing Trust Fund and the Balance of State Continuum of Care, both funds that serve people who are considered very low-income. My job always gives me the ability to advocate for those that seem “invisible”: the population experiencing homelessness.

    My life’s work is to end homelessness. Housing is a right and not a privilege. I strongly believe that no person should have the ability to decide who should receive shelter and who should not. Every human has the right to shelter. Even further, every human has the right to permanent housing.

    I am a social worker and I live by the Code of Ethics every day. Social work is so much more than counseling one on one. It is the constant advocacy to provide for every human. My chosen field is to end homelessness; when I leave this world, I hope that a footprint has been set and the mindset in our world is that housing is a civil right. I want to make homelessness a word from a different lifetime.

    On a personal level, I could not live my dream without the amazing support of my husband, Brian Geary, and my truly wonderful children, Breanne and Micah. My wish is that my children learn from my example and always advocate for the “invisible” and those who cannot advocate for themselves. I can tell you that I learned from example from my loving parents, Scott and Pam Bradley.

    My words of advice to anyone who reads this blog is to live your dream! Be true to yourself. It is okay to be a social worker and not a clinician.

    In peace,

    Heather Bradley-Geary
    hbgeary at yahoo.com

    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.

  • 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