Career clinic: Landing the social work job you want

Q: I qualified in 2007 with a third class degree in social work and couldn’t afford to re-do the year. My placements were in the substance misuse field, and I now have a year’s experience as a carers’ liaison officer. However, I have recently applied for at least 10 jobs but not heard back from any. What would you suggest I do?

A: You are now two years on from gaining your degree and social work qualification, and have the added experience of being a carers’ liaison officer, but you are still not landing the social work job that you want.

You might want to see if you can get some feedback from the employers who are not shortlisting you. If that’s not possible, solicit a view from someone you respect about the quality of your applications and check that you are demonstrating you can meet the essential criteria in the personal specifications.

I would also contact the social work tutor from your course who I’m assuming is one of your referees. Ask what’s in the reference and whether there are any comments which might be making it less likely for you to be shortlisted. Also ask the tutor for advice on possible future career pathways. Share with them your aspirations and seek feedback on whether they are sensible, taking into account your academic and practice performance on the social work course.

If you then feel that employers are unlikely to see you as a strong candidate at this time for a qualified social work post, consider seeking employment in an organisation employing social workers, where you work alongside social workers as, for example, a community care officer, social work assistant, community support assistant or family support worker.

It may enable you to broaden your experience beyond substance misuse. It might also give you the opportunity to build up your credibility and reputation within an agency employing social workers and place you in a stronger position to apply as an internal candidate for a social work role. This will depend, though, on your performance and the competence and capability you demonstrate.

But if the feedback you get from your tutor is that moving in to a qualified social work role may still be difficult for you, do think positively about how you can still make a contribution within social care. You are already making a contribution in your work with carers, and you should seek comment from your current manager about your performance.

Ray Jones is professor of social work at Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, and was director of social services in Wiltshire

This article is published in the 30 July edition of Community Care under the headline “Need to build up more credibility”

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