Social Workers Share Their Top 5 Job Hunting Recommendations

beautiful african female graduate in library on graduation day
An MSW graduate posted a question regarding her difficult job search on the closed NASW LinkedIn group. Colleagues responded with their own stories and many provided job leads as well as recommendations for making the job search less stressful. This post shares the top five recommendations.

New MSW graduates find themselves in a precarious position. They are told that they need work experience to be hired. They also find themselves in competition with licensed more experienced colleagues. Some discover that jobs in their area of interest are not available.

Labor projections indicate that social workers are in demand and will be for a number of years. Knowing this, many MSW graduates expect to be hired shortly after graduation. MSW graduates also need to be gainfully employed soon after graduation. The cost of attending graduate school is expensive and many MSW graduates need to repay student loans.

Looking for work is work and requires the same discipline, dedication, and commitment that a paid 9-5 job requires. Social work colleagues stated that it is not unusual to look 3-6 months before receiving a viable offer. Job searches are complicated by the varied nature of the social work profession. Social work has a number of areas of practice such as medical, child welfare, mental health to name a few. It also utilizes various service delivery models such as in-patient, outpatient, or referral based. A social worker may work as a case manager, care manager, psychotherapist/clinician, supervisor and more. Also determining where to look and how to look for employment is often difficult.

Social work colleagues frequently recommended the following actions:
Network – the phrase “it is all in who you know” does not have to be a bad thing. Knowing people who can help in a job search is an asset. When I moved to Georgia, my then fiancé contacted a family friend, who worked for community mental health. The friend hand delivered my resume which eventually lead to a fantastic job opportunity.
Social workers tell their clients to use their resources, being a member of a social work community or other professional community is a valuable resource for social workers.

Pursue Licensure – many states require an individual to have a license to practice social work. Licensure is also required to independently practice clinical social work. In some cases, MSW graduates may work in a clinical setting with appropriate supervision. A facility that does medical or mental health billing will require licensure because insurance payment is predicated on the service provider being a licensed individual.
Licensure provides opportunities to work in various levels within an organization. It also suggests that the licensee has attained a defined standard and level of competence and knowledge. Many states provide licensure for BSWs, MSWs, and post-graduate clinicians.

Relocate – Supply and demand for MSWs and post-graduate social workers will differ based on geographical location. Major metropolitan areas have access to a larger pool of applicants. Metropolitan areas offer unlimited opportunities that are attractive to professionals. People are constantly moving to these areas. These areas are also often home to colleges or universities with graduate/professional schools. This increases the competition for limited number of available jobs.

Research locales to determine whether there is a demand for MSWs. Employers in these areas will pay premium salaries to attract and retain qualified applicants. MSWs should also consider looking for work in rural areas. Rural areas often struggle to attract highly qualified candidates. New MSWs may find opportunities to gain skills, earn higher starting salaries, and receive employer support for licensure. Work in a rural area may not require relocation; however, it may mean a longer travel time to and from work.

Consider Part-time, PRN, or Contract – Many MSWs graduate with less practical experience than an employer seeks. Recommendations to address this concern included taking a part-time position. While this will not necessarily solve the need for a livable wage, it will allow the MSW to gain paid work experience. It is also not uncommon for part-time work to lead to full time work within the same organization. Another recommendation included working on an as needed basis. Social Work P.R.N. was one organization that was mentioned repeatedly. Social Work P.R.N. provides a range of services including temporary and permanent placement. The final recommendation was to work on a fee-for-service basis. While these options may not be optimal for a new MSW graduate, they provide opportunities for growth.

Shift area of interest – MSW graduates complete internships in their areas of interest and feel disappointment when they are unable to work or find work in those areas. Colleagues suggested that the job seeker might need to consider a different path. Clinical positions require licensure and because some areas are saturated with licensed social workers, a new MSW graduate will have difficulty finding clinical work. Recommendations included geriatrics, nursing homes, skilled home care or hospice.

While looking for employment is daunting, it can be more agreeable by understanding the trends in the social work field. It is also important to understand the state laws governing social work practice. Do not give up.

I would love to hear from you. You may join the conversation by commenting on this post on our Facebook fan page REAL Social Workers Online Magazine, joining the “Social” Social Workers Project or connecting with me on LinkedIn.

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