Getting ready for the next step: The MSW job search

I have received multiple emails in the past month or so from prospective students asking questions about employment opportunities after graduation. With graduation less than two months away, many of my peers (including myself) are currently either entering or fully immersed in the job search. The most important thing to remember about post-graduation employment is that the UNC School of Social Work does a great job of supporting its students in their job search, and offers multiple opportunities for gaining assistance in your job search. Ultimately, the consensus from recent graduates is that most, if not all students are gainfully employed upon, or closely following graduation. The opportunities are out there, and they are vast. You just have to know where and how to find them. By taking advantage of most of the job search assistance opportunities provided by the UNC School of Social Work, I have been given some great advice that I have narrowed down to a few key points that may hopefully help you to feel a little more prepared:

• By the end of the fall semester, come up with a timeline for your job search so that you have plenty of time to take advantage of all job search and preparation opportunities that may come up, without experiencing interference with your already busy schedule and professional commitments. This will help you to go ahead and establish whether you would prefer to take a break after graduation, or whether you would like to jump right into employment. Ultimately, this will prevent you from either jumping into a job too early, or scrambling for a job at the last minute after realizing that your funds have run dry.
• Start early, so that you have a better idea of what jobs are out there, where jobs are located that are relevant to your interests, the typical salary ranges, as well as when jobs are posted and how often. Just getting a general idea of the online job search patterns can tell you a lot about the agency posting the job positions- including their rate of turnover, and other signs of how happy their employees are.
• I did not realize how important simply knowing what key words to use during your job search could be! Ex: In the healthcare field, there are vastly different job positions available listed as case manager vs. social worker vs. care manager vs. MSW
• Network!! I cannot emphasize this enough. People told me to network in the fall, and I was not excited about this in the beginning. However, I made a few connections over my time at UNC who accepted my resume and ultimately sent it out to their connections. Not only were they able to give me the inside scoop on relevant employers/agencies, but they were also able to provide me with the first look at job openings in their agencies. The easiest way to network is by contacting professionals who have spoken to groups that you participate in. For example, professionals who have hosted workshops within the School of Social Work, or guest speakers in your classes. They are volunteering their time at the school for a reason. They care about future social workers and want to help you get connected to the professional world.
• If you are interested in a job at your field placement, let them know well in advance of your applying for other positions. Send an email, or talk to them in person about this. Start this conversation by saying something like, “I have really enjoyed my time here at (name of agency), and would love the opportunity to apply for any openings in the near future. I am in the process of putting my resume together in order to apply for jobs in the community, would it be okay if I sent my resume to you in case of any openings?”. The agency that you have been working with has invested a lot of time and resources into your training, and you have become very familiar with the way their agency operates. It is likely that they would be interested in you staying if the opportunity presents itself!
• Utilize your campus resources- meet with Career Services, ask faculty to look over your resume. Everyone has a different opinion about how a resume should be written, and what proper job interview etiquette consists of. Getting multiple opinions will help you to make the ultimate decision for yourself.
• School events- attend them!! UNC School of Social Work offers so many events, including Networking Nights, resume workshops, career fairs, and an NASW resume review, among many others. This is a great way to meet recent graduates who have successfully acquired jobs, and can offer insight and advice.
• I had one recent graduate tell me the following, which I have found to be very valuable in my job search:
-First of all, trust your instincts. If you find a job opportunity that excites you, go for it. Do not settle. Know your strengths and value yourself as a professional with a lot of talent and worth. Make a list of your must-haves and your deal breakers for a first job, and stick with it!!
• When you are ready to start applying, start early! Do a few trial run applications to get comfortable with the online job search process. Some job applications are simply emailed to a hiring manager, and some require the creation of an online account. Even if you have been gainfully employed in the past, the online job search is constantly changing. Many companies use hiring software to scan your resume for keywords in order to narrow down the hiring pool. Simply getting comfortable with writing cover letters and tweaking your resume for various jobs will help you to become more confident when applying for the jobs that you REALLY want. Remember, if you are offered an interview for a job that you were not that excited about, you can always say no to a job offer. Additionally, practicing your interviewing skills on jobs that you are not too invested in definitely will not hurt in the end!

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