How to…find that elusive first job

Graduates seeking their first role as a qualified social worker can take simple steps to enhance their employability, finds Daniel Lombard

Picture posed by models Credit: West Coast Surfer/Mood Board/Rex Features

The original version of this article was published in August 2011 and an updated version in September 2012

Consider support work

Taking up a paid support worker role, such as care co-ordinator or community worker, is one way to keep your skills up to date. You might consider doing up to six months in a support role, while continuing to apply for qualified social worker jobs. “It’s important to guard against gaps in your employment,” says Lee Lovekin, team manager at social work recruitment agency Liquid Personnel.

Tricia Day, group manager at Hertfordshire Council’s Social Work Academy, suggests making sure the role includes tasks relevant to social work, adding in relation to children’s services positions. “Employers look favourably on experience of working with children and young people,” she says. “If you’ve undertaken assessments of need or designed support plans for children or parents, make sure you include this information in your application.” Contact job centres, the NHS, councils and charities for opportunities.

Pebblebum, on Community Care’s forum CareSpace, adds: “Ensure that you mention on your application that, due to the current climate, you are looking to gain further ‘practical’ post-qualification experience, to reduce the risk of being told you’re over-qualified.”

Be proactive

In addition to searching through job ads, Lovekin suggests networking and building relationships with managers and other social workers. “Attend jobs fairs and seminars, join online networking groups and forums, such as LinkedIn, and try to network with managers, recruiters, and other social workers. This can help you to find out about new opportunities as they arise.” Don’t be afraid to let people know you are looking for a job.

CareSpace user Dee30 recommends contacting all local authorities within travelling distance and asking whether they have a newly qualified talent pool. “You will fill out an application and join a shortlist for jobs in the area,” says Dee30. You could also write speculatively to employers explaining your position and ask for a shadowing opportunity.

Volunteering can be a good way to develop social work skills, especially for graduates who did not gain statutory experience on placements. Dame Lorna Boreland-Kelly, head of the Children’s Social Work Academy at Croydon Council, says positive examples of volunteering in applications she has dealt with include placements at homeless youth projects, Sure Start programmes, NSPCC ChildLine and after-school clubs.

Improve your CV and job applications

Keeping your CV up to date is important, and applicants should tailor each CV or application to the specific role. Remember, quality beats quantity when it comes to job applications. “Get advice and help on writing CVs that target specific jobs rather than relying on sending out generic CVs to a lot of employers,” says Claire Barcham, the College of Social Work’s professional practice development adviser. Your university’s careers advice service may be able to provide such support.

It’s also important to display knowledge of the local community, as Barcham states: “Research possible employers and locations, so that you can demonstrate when you write your application that you have relevant knowledge and skills in relation to their work in their community.”

Prepare for interviews

Boreland-Kelly says the journey towards becoming a social work professional starts as soon as an invitation to interview arrives. “Research the demography of the area, re-read the role profile and your application form,” she suggests.

Day highlights the importance of preparing examples of good practice already demonstrated during training. “At an interview, remember that employers are looking for a competent candidate who understands the statutory role of the social worker, so be ready to relate your experience to the questions being asked, use examples of your good practice when on your placements and show your ability to assess and plan,” she says.

Finally, always ask for feedback on how you did at the interview, so you can improve your technique for the next time.

Read up on research and policy

Even after social workers have qualified, they are expected to keep up to date with the latest research findings and policy developments. Check the websites of key organisations including the Social Care Institute for Excellence, Directgov, Skills for Care and Community Care for updates.

Boreland-Kelly suggests that subscribing to Community Care Inform, the online information resource for children’s services professionals, would be a good investment. She adds: “I am always impressed when applicants at interview can recall recent research material to emphasise a point they are making.”

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