Congratulations on successfully completing your social work undergraduate or master’s degree. Like me, you’re probably feeling proud and excited to join the workforce. Below are some useful tips to help you in the search for your first social work job.
Service user group
Now is the time, if you haven’t already done so, to think about whether you’d like to work with adults or children and families. If you had two contrasting work placements at university, you can use that as a basis to decide in which area to specialise. One of my mentees was sure she wanted to work with youth offenders until she did her last placement within a local authority adult safeguarding team.
Statutory or non-statutory
Most social workers move between statutory and non-statutory social work roles throughout their career. Both are very rewarding and give real opportunities to make a positive difference. However, some students have described struggling to gaining a statutory role after coming straight from university without two years post-qualification experience. Do not give up! I know a newly qualified social worker (NQSW) who, for personal reasons, had a three year gap after graduating. After the gap he spent eight months applying for several jobs, both statutory and non-statutory, without any luck. But after eight months, he started getting interviews and then several job offers. He is now an innovative team manager.
Now that you have decided which service user group to work with, you might want to think about the sort of team you would like to work within. For example, a children and families social worker can work in any one of a diverse range of teams, from duty and assessment to children in need, child protection, looked after children, children with disabilities or fostering and adoption. However, be mindful that there is no easy way out; social work is both rewarding and challenging across all spectrums. As a new graduate you should not limit yourself to one particular team. Be willing to work in any team that you are allocated and be prepared to work hard and learn from experienced social workers who are buzzing to share their knowledge.
There is a wide range of books that will help you with your first social work interviews, as well as enable you to make the transition from student to social worker. Rebecca Joy Novell’s Reflections of a Newly Qualified Social Worker; Audrey Tait’s Direct Work with Vulnerable Children; Adams & Sheard’s Positive Social Work: The Essential Toolkit for NQSWs and Bogg & Challis’ Evidencing CPD: A Guide to Building Your Social Work Portfolio” are all invaluable resources.
The job specification will stipulate the expected qualification, duties, skills, knowledge and experience required for the role. When you are answering the questions on the application, state your qualities and experience using illustrations. So, don’t just say, “I have many skills which will be beneficial”. Instead, give an example of your skills from placements, university and other work experience. Don’t just tell the recruiter what you’re good at but illustrate how.
The Assessed Year in Employment (ASYE) scheme was introduced in 2012 to support NQSWs. Although, the scheme is not mandatory, most NQSW are encouraged to take up posts which offer an ASYE. The scheme comes with many benefits such as a protected case-load, regular supervision and time for reflection, opportunities to identify strengths and areas of learning and to develop a portfolio and how to evidence professional development.
Not everyone can drive or has the privileges that a car can offer. If this is the case, then you’d be more suitable for a location where there is easy access to public transport. Driving, however, has its advantages as you are able to visit as many families as possible without the delays of public transport. Recently, one of my mentees posed the question, “Position or location?” You may find yourself in a similar dilemma, for instance you may get an ASYE job in a distant location. In the end, you have to decide whether or not the distance will affect your ability to do the job to your highest standard.
Be mindful of some of the prevailing social issues in the location you’ll be working in and how best to work with service users who may be experiencing those challenges. Some of the issues may be child protection, domestic violence, and mental health concerns. Familiarise yourself with your Local Safeguarding Board pack, as there is a wealth of information on issues and practices that we may not be culturally aware of, such as child trafficking and female genital mutilation.
Students are often wary of working with an agency or local authority with a poor Ofsted rating. However, this can be a great opportunity to contribute to the improvement of the agency you work for. As a new generation of social workers, we need to remember that we have a wealth of knowledge, skills and experiences we can use to help children and families to improve their lives and have better outcomes.
Most social work interviews include a practical test such as a family assessment or presentation. Some local authorities may allow you to do the assessment in the open office to give you a feel of the work atmosphere. As you would have done in the Readiness for Practice module, do mock interviews with colleagues and ask for feedback. In the interview, be honest if you do not know the answer to a question and have not had any experience in the subject area. Your honesty and willingness to learn is the most important thing. Remember you’ve just qualified – you are not supposed to know everything.
Shanti Boafor is a newly qualified social worker and former MSW student at Kingston University