The Interview and Following Up – Part Three of a Three-Part Series

In session one of this series, we focused on conceptualizing and planning your job search and career.  In session two, we explored the topic of how best to prepare and organize your job search.   The third session is focused on building on these ideas to get to the finish line – the big first job!

Most people think in extremely simple terms about the final phase of the job search process – but there are actually numerous steps each of which is important to think about and prepare for.  This last session will focus on the keys to executing the interview, follow up, negotiation and job launch aspects of a new position.

This session will focus on:

– Mastering the many kinds of interview formats available and how to be ready for them all

– Effectively following up on the interviews you complete

– Negotiating the job offer successfully

– Tips for getting your new job started in a positive direction.

General Social Work Career Resources (ADD THEM TO YOUR QUICK READS – MANY USEFUL TIPS):

Questions you may be asked in a social work interview

Career Guide for Social Work – Columbia University School of Social Work – Great resource

Resumes and Cover Letters for Social Workers Guide – from University of Montana


How to excel at every kind of interview

The major 8 types of interviews

The interview – different types

Six secrets for crushing job interviews

Job interview tips for social workers

Following up on an interview

What to say when following up on a job interview

Tips for interview follow up

How not to follow up after a job interview

After the interview:  Four ways to follow up

How following up can help you land the job

Negotiating the job offer

How to negotiate a job offer

The exact words to use when negotiating salary

The art of negotiating job offers

11 tips for negotiating your next job offer

Why women don’t ask for more money

Negotiating the terms of employment – social work

Negotiating a higher salary – social work

Ten questions to ask when negotiating salary

Starting Your New Job!

10 tips for your first day of work

10 must-reads before you start a new job

Tips for young professionals starting a new job

10 tricks to starting your new job on the right foot

Seven deadly sins for new hires

10 skills to thrive in today’s job market

If It Takes a Little Longer Than You Expected…

Avoiding job search burnout



Preparing and Organizing Your Job Search – Part Two of a Three-Part Series for Social Work and Human Service Job-Seekers

In the first session, we focused on conceptualizing and exploring a social work and human service career.   Building on this, this next session will help you get ready for a successful job search.

Getting a job increasingly involves a carefully developed, organized and executed job search process – one that involves social and in-person networking (see previous session), as well as preparing key materials (such as resumes and an effective online presence).

Questions for this session include:

– What does “organizing a job search” mean and what are ways of doing it?

– What are the keys to preparing high-impact cover letters and resume?

– How are ways to utilize one’s emerging professional network to find jobs?

– What is important about establishing an online identity and presence (including how to scan for and repair previous online identity issues)?

– What are the most commonly used interview questions and how can you best prepare to answer them effectively?

Useful Web Links

Tips from Social Work

10 Things I Learned in My Social Work Job Search

Organizing a job search 

Job Search Organizer

Organize Your Job Search

4 Tips for Organizing Your Job Search

7 Tools to Organize Your Job Search

Preparing high-impact cover letters and resume

7 Secrets to an Eye-Catching, Gig-Nabbing Cover Letter

How to Write a Great Resume and Cover Letter

Resumes and Cover Letters for Social Workers

Resume Development for Social Work – Key Words and Phrases

10 Essential Tips for Your Amazing Social Work Resume

Utilizing one’s emerging professional network to find jobs

7 Brilliant Ways to Use Your Contacts to Get a Job

Using Social Media to Land Your Dream Job

How 50 Cups of Coffee Can Change Your Life – great piece about informational interviewing!

Establishing an online identity and presence 

Tips for Students:  Creating a Professional Online Appearance

LinkedIn for Students

Do Pre-Job Search Google Explorations About Yourself – That is What Employers Will Likely Do

Most commonly used interview questions and tips for preparing for them

Fifty Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions

Most Frequently Asked Interview Questions

Fifty Top Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Conceptualizing Your Social Work Career – First of a Three Part Series – Useful Weblinks!

In addition to academic achievement and engaging field experiences, social work students are understandably thinking about jobs and career planning.  Questions to consider include:

  • What are ways to begin working on an individualized career plan in addition to completing one’s coursework?
  • What is professional “branding” and what does it have to do with your individual social work career?
  • How can you build a vibrant and influential network of social work contacts along the way in your educational experience?
  • What is your short and long-term plan for your career and how can decisions you make as a student increase your chances of bringing your aspirations to life?
  • How can you “read” the social work job market, spot trends, discern key language identifying what employers are looking for and be competitive?

The School of Social Work at Portland State University will be sponsoring a year-long brown bag series to assist students in ramping up to being “job market ready” in time for graduation.  Focusing on a wide range of topics, this series is free, open to all students, and designed to be a practical compliment to other aspects of one’s social work education.    Please note that first year students are especially encouraged to attend – job hunting may seem a long while away but the earlier you engage in this work, the better you will be able to maximize EVERY contact, class and experience.    Being well-educated is only the first part of a successful career – come learn about key components of career planning and development to build the best possible launchpad for your social work future.

Each session will be facilitated by Dr. Laura Nissen accompanied by recent alumni of the school to shed some light on “real life” experiences of the contemporary social work job search process in our region.    Extensive resources, tools and links (including to other career support/development services at PSU) will be made available in the series. 

Overview of Session One (Fall Term):

Conceptualizing Your Social Work Career.   Maximizing your role as a student to discover/explore a wide variety of social work roles, practices and settings, and organizing your explorations into your own unique blend of preferences and contacts.   Developing a professional network 101.  Conceptualizing your individual social work professional identity (your “brand”) and evolving it throughout your social work education.  This session will be held on Wednesday, November 13, from 4-5:15 at the school (room to be announced).

(Session Two will focus on preparing and organizing for your job search and will be held in the winter term, and Session Three will focus on conducting an effective job search and will be held in the spring term. Additional supportive web pages will be made available to support these sessions later.)

Useful Weblinks

Exploring Social Work as a Profession

Be a Social Worker

A Broader Vision for the Social Work Profession

National Association of Social Workers

Oregon Chapter of NASW

U.S. Department of Labor Social Work Job Trends

The Social Work Career Link

Identifying the One Thing You Were Born to Do

Identifying your mission in life – focusing!

Creating your social work career – clarifying your focus

How to find meaningful work:  Start by asking the right questions

Building a Professional Network

Create and Nurture Your Network Before You Need It

Networking 101

Top Networking Tips from the Experts

(More to come on using social networking to boost your contacts in the next session.)

Developing Your “Brand”

Three Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand – And Why It Matters

Build Your Brand

Why Having An Online Brand Matters

Thinking About Work Skills of the Future and Spotting Trends – See the Jobs Before They Appear

Future Work Skills 2020

Careers 3.0 – Future Work Skills/Future Work

Bridging the Digital Divide in Social Work Practice

Social Work:  Rich History, Bright Future

The Future of the Affordable Care Act – A Social Work Perspective

A Future of Social Welfare & the Social Work Profession:  A Global Perspective

Career Supports and Resources Through Portland State University

Portland State University State University Career Center

Ten Ideas for a Meaningful Social Work Education Journey: Notes from a Fellow Traveler and a Few Reflections From 20 Years of Teaching and Education Practice


“To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced” Parker Palmer, 1998, p. 97.

 It seems there are things I keep saying, keep repeating, keep reassuring and clarifying for students across my teaching life/world.   At a certain point, I thought maybe it would be interesting to write them down in one place.   These are things that reflect the parts of social work education that are not in the syllabi, or the attractive brochures that are used to promote programs…rather…these are the “implicit” view of social work education as I’ve experienced them as a faculty member for many years.    These are my own views…from my own location…and sent forward, with love for the students and colleagues I’ve been fortunate to work with and learn with over the years.  P.S. Just like my students, I’m changing every day.  This post is a moment in time, based on where I sit today…with the full knowledge that the learning keeps coming…

 1.   There is a sense that “when you’re BSW or MSW is completed, your career will begin, so get ready.”   But this couldn’t actually be further from the truth.  In fact, your career in social work started before you came into the program, can pick up enormous momentum while you’re in school, and continues after you leave.  Every experience, every class, every book, every discovery, every contact COUNTS.   Realize and build your professional network (one of the most important assets any professional has) AS you move through your degree programs.    This includes your fellow students, your instructors in school and in the field, an expansive set of possibilities regarding those you might do informational interviews with as a student.   Be thoughtful, be strategic, be a builder/joiner of community in the areas you want to practice within.

2.  Get ready for conflict and discomfort.   Sometimes social work education is really warm, appreciative and affectionate.  Sometimes it is about tension, discomfort and literally “confronting” things in our world, and things in ourselves, that are challenging, unpleasant and sometimes out and out wrong.    This is such a vital set of opportunities.  Nothing about social work is about “getting along” with a status quo that is ineffective, inequitable, inhumane.   While social work can be about facilitating progress in a variety of ways (some of them gentle and accommodating).    More often, in my view social work is about pushing, challenging,  entering conflicts – even sometimes creating conflicts so that new paths to possible resolution based on social work ethics and values can be surfaced and forged.   It takes skill, humility and a keen sense of strategy and timing to do this well.   Expect to find yourself unsettled and learn from this constantly.

3.  Social work education is getting fancier and more sophisticated every day.  New frameworks, new research, new possibilities.   That said, at its best there is also something to be said for developing and keeping a focus that is elegant and simple.    In my mind, social work is about change.   There are an extraordinary array of options on how to focus on this (change in ourselves, change in individuals, change in families, change in organizations, change in communities, change in the world at large – includes resistance as well as affirmative change) but, for me, change is the constant.   Whether this, or something else, find a focus (a reference point) that you can return to and organize your own thinking outside of the jargon and professional frameworks.   It is helpful if you find a focus that is not so erudite and academic that no one besides the purveyor of the term and a few followers knows what it means.

4. Social work education includes some paradoxes.  A few as examples:  learning is (at its best) a mix of safety vs. discomfort as was stated earlier.  Other paradoxes might include:  don’t lose yourself, but don’t fear transformation;  we have an ethic of valuing diversity, yet much of the knowledge we think of as “social work scholarship” comes from a very specific hierarchical, privileged, western perspective; social workers are change agents, yet often become mired in large bureaucracies that do not change;  the importance of not “jumping into” a course of action prematurely without adequate information vs. the need to sometimes act decisively in an urgent situation of violation or injustice; social justice vs. social control.      My own experience is that we often operate in the liminal (in between space) amid these paradoxes.     Learning to navigate them – finding a pathway through matters for your well-being and your integrity.  Know which direction you “lean” with regard to these paradoxes, but, for the most part, beware of either/or thinking in many social work practice situations.

5.  Learn to sift and sort through information effectively.  Learn to organize it.  Often our power as social work comes from being able to use information for individual or  public good.  Respect the importance of this early and develop good habits early.   Don’t miss out on a chance to be an effective agent of change because you didn’t have access to the vital information needed to make a difference.

6.  Degree-based learning is invaluable, empowering, but keep an eye on the reality that some of the most important learning came before your degree started and will continue after your formal education has ended.    Prepare for lifelong learning, and think about your degree as a chapter (an important – and expensive one) but only a chapter.    A related issue is to retain your own momentum and sense of discovery and agency on lifelong learning.  Too often, this gets degraded into some form of “required continuing education” as a matter of licensing or regulation, rather than something that belongs to the worker and is guided by the passion and interests of a worker that keep a career vibrant, evolving and ever-renewing.   (Think about people you know in both categories…which kind do you want to be?)

7.  Cultivate curiosity, passion and your social work imagination.  Social work is not “fixed” but constantly changing and being re-invented every day by people who practice it.  New ideas, new ways of applying old ideas, unique and powerful combinations of ideas are all awaiting discovery, integration and possibility.   Curiosity, imagination, ideas are disruptive possibilities and to my way of thinking, essential aspects of effective social work practice.  No one will cultivate your curiosity, or the related passion you feel for your practice, but you…easy to get lost in the shuffle.

8.  Courage and humility.  Social workers face some of the most challenging individual and social problems imaginable; racism (and all of the isms), poverty, injustice, trauma, human suffering and too often, systemic indifference.    As social workers, some of us have never or seldom directly encountered these phenomena, and others of us have lived with them on a regular basis.   It takes courage to commit to a learning process about how to dismantle “oppressions” and engage individuals, families, organizations and communities in related action and healing.    It takes humility to acknowledge that even within the same classrooms, there can be vast differences in student experiences with these topics.  It takes courage to interrupt oppressions – sometimes the most courage when it is within what is perceived to be a “safe space” but in fact this is one of the most important places to do so.    Our classroom spaces become essential places to do the work of practicing dialogue on difficult or challenging topics (our own implicit biases and challenges for example), and then carrying these lessons out into the field to do the larger work of dismantling them in our systems, services and communities.   It takes humility to come to terms with the fact that many in the social work practice ranks come from privileged backgrounds, and that often, the job may be to focus on being an effective ally rather than having the answers, fixing, or taking control of the change situation.

9.  Writing –  a certain kind of writing and thinking is valued in higher education, but keep in mind this is only an illusion.   In fact, the more important point is that communication is important for social workers.  Being able to think critically, integrate ideas, pursue knowledge through research or community building, and form (and execute) action plans are just as essential.   Writing in some respects becomes a kind of academic proxy for all of these things.     Think about your own communication strengths and needs, and plan to push out.   Think beyond writing papers, and writing legislative briefs, websites, letters to the editors, research and/or literature summaries, case studies, court reports.   Think about creative writing (including all the arts) as a way to collect your own, and your clients’ experiences and voices.     Think about giving speeches or providing testimony – challenge yourself if you are not comfortable in these areas.    You will write in school.  Resist the idea that this is the only (or even best) way to communicate.

10.  Cultivate some expertise in a few clear areas before you leave your educational program that can serve as a launchpad for the next leg of your career.   Being well-rounded is vital, and we live in a world that values “expertise” on various topics.  The truth is that most social workers enter an “area of practice” whether that be child welfare, addictions, juvenile justice, or justice-based equity work.   Sometimes the expansiveness and diversity of social work education (theory, practice, research, policy…) can cause students to feel as if they are going in many directions at once in a way that is not helpful.    As early as feels comfortable (exploring is important too!), try to focus in on 2-3 fields or areas of practice, and begin amassing a knowledge base of ideas, skills, policy, research, etc. in those areas.   Keep track of them.  Build your own working bibliographies and guides to practice/literature as you progress through your academic program.  When you are finished, you’ll have a terrific Launchpad for your first post-school jobs and be helpful in sharing “the state of the art” in various areas in interviews, and once employed, with colleagues.

Special thanks to Michael Hulshof-Schmidt (almost M.S.W.) for feedback on this piece.

Comprehensive Substance Abuse Bibliography – Always in a state of revision!!

I will never be done revising this bibliography and study guide, but I am amazed at the progress, development and activity that has been occurring in the addictions field.   So much changing – at the same time – so far yet to go.   I use this for my own teaching, writing and other work – but thought I’d share with those of you who may wish to keep your own learning alive.   Always interested in hearing about other good resources too.  I will never be done revising it for sure.   Use and enjoy!  This will be posted in the study guides/bibliography section and updated periodically.

Twelve Sites on Addictions Social Workers Need to Know

There is really no social work practice setting in which one will not encounter addiction challenges, yet most social workers receive scant training on addictions science or practice.   The following list will get you started.

1.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration – this is the primary federal website for behavioral health care programming including links to evidence-based practices for treatment of addictions across a wide range of populations.   Great resource for learning about new resources and funding – especially of interest – resources on trauma and behavioral health care elements of health care reform.  Dig deep – there are so many resources here (including the national clearinghouse of alcohol and drug information, and a site within the site dedicate to co-occurring disorders best practices).

2.  Faces and Voices of Recovery – national association “celebrating recovery in all its diversity” and promoting the engagement and positive portrayal of persons living in recovery from addiction.

3. Drugs, Inc. – excellent website providing information and films on various drugs of abuse (however alcohol is not included).   Includes human physiology dimensions, psychological dimensions, social, legal and policy dimensions.

4. AIDS Action Committee website dedicated to providing resources for addiction treatment providers to include harm reduction tools and techniques regarding HIV prevention, and services for persons living with HIV/AIDS.

5. National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health – national resource center focused on behavioral health equity tools, resources, and research.

6. One Sky Center – national center dedicated to excellence in substance abuse and mental health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

7. National Black Alcoholism and Addictions Council, Inc. – national center dedicated to excellence in substance abuse services in the African American community.

8. National Latino Addiction Treatment Community Network – specialized national resource center dedicated to science-based strategies to improve addictions-related health outcomes in the Latino community.

9. National Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Addictions Professionals and Their Allies – specialized national resource center focused on the prevention and treatment of addictions in the queer community.

10. Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America – national resource center for communities dedicated to substance abuse prevention and community wellness.

11.  Physicians and Lawyers for National Drug Policy – national association of physicians and lawyers dedicated to the promotion of evidence based resources in medical and legal settings.

12.  Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions. Excellent place to locate the emerging “social work lens” in addictions practice.

Freedom of Information, the Internet and Collected Stories About Aaron Swartz

Following the story of Aaron Schwartz has been heartbreaking.   As I’ve noted openly, I’m the proud daughter of a librarian.  This means several things…I grew up in libraries, I would never tear, deface or mutilate a library holding (or a book in general…), and I have a DEEP respect for freedom of information.  I wanted to create a post to collect some of the stories, tributes and eulogies of this young man and the importance of his actions to defend freedom of information in our democracy for those that had not been acquainted with the story yet.   In no particular order:

The American Library Association has given Aaron Swartz its first ever posthumous award

Democracy Now Piece on Aaron Swartz and the freedom to connect

TruthDig Piece on Aaron Swartz and his legacy

Journal staff resigns in solidarity with Swartz and open access

CNN Story about Aaron’s suicide

At a time of unprecedented information explosion, this is a story that should cause much reflection and solidarity among anyone who cares about the free exchange of information and the future of the internet as a tool for liberation and democracy.  Thank you Aaron.