Q: I qualified as a social worker in 2000 and became a senior care officer in a large local authority. In 2004 I was assaulted at work and received a back injury, and ended up leaving work on health grounds. I am now looking to return to work as a social worker but am concerned about my length of absence and previous job title.
A: I wouldn’t worry at all about your previous job title. Descriptions of fundamentally similar jobs in different authorities vary enormously, and in any case few of them give any indication of what the job is all about.
For this reason, when you are applying for jobs it’s a good idea (space permitting) to give a succinct description of your main responsibilities in your old post. The trick is to make it pertinent to the job you are applying for. So, if managing other social workers or being a mentor is a feature of the role, play up your previous management experience. If there isn’t space on the application form, use one of the narrative boxes, or supply a covering letter which translates your previous experience and skills developed to fit the new specification.
If your concern is that the new role primarily carries a caseload and doesn’t draw upon your management skills, you need to make your previous casework experience the focus of your application. If you haven’t had any, or it isn’t recent enough, you should look at doing some training to update your skills and knowledge. The golden rule when applying for any new job, whether or not you’ve had a gap in employment, is to at least be absolutely on top of any recent policy and practice developments.
The other issue is your health. You don’t specify whether the assault was by a service user, colleague or member of the public, and perhaps it doesn’t matter. But perhaps it does.
As an employer, I would want to reassure myself that you were fully recovered and fit for work. I would, of course, be happy to provide any (reasonable) aids and adaptations, not just to satisfy disability discrimination legislation but because it makes good employment sense to help you focus on your work rather than on an uncomfortable work station.
You could expect an interview question around the incident and how much closure has been achieved in case any non-mechanical adaptations need to be considered – for example, no lone-working.
You also referred to leaving work on health grounds but don’t specify whether this was on the grounds of capacity or ill health retirement. Capacity is where your health was deemed unlikely to improve sufficiently in the near future to be able to return to your job, or to be redeployed in an alternative one. Ill-health retirement carries the same judgement, but says it is a permanent feature and can therefore release your pension early. Under the latter, you aren’t banned from working ever again, but the pre-employment occupational health screening will be very thorough and you would need to check with your pension administrator what the situation is regarding that.
Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant
We want to publish your advice too. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org by 24 September.
4 October question
I have seen an advert for a job in a neighbouring authority but know that if I apply for it my current boss will find out as she knows various people who work there. I don’t want to miss this opportunity, but equally don’t want to make my life hell if I don’t get the job and have to stay put with everyone knowing I tried to leave. What should I do?
We will answer this question in the 4 October issue of Community Care.
Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our HR expert and your peers to email@example.com