by Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP
Have you thought about how to market yourself during your social work job search? You are competing with social workers with the same or similar degrees, credentials, licensure, and experience as you. How do you make yourself stand out from the crowd of qualified applicants to land that social work job?
All degreed social workers have accumulated a collection of experiences from various jobs and internship placements and have developed a variety of marketable skills. It is the thoughtful presentation of your career accomplishments that can provide professional opportunities and advancement. When applying for a position, it is essential to market your specialized social work package, so an employer can easily assess your candidacy based on how you are qualified and how you are better fit than the competition.
Important note: There is a difference between marketing yourself and selling yourself during your job search. “Selling” yourself can often turn into trying too hard to fit into something that might not be right for you or the organization. Marketing yourself as a professional social worker is about knowing your value and understanding that there is no one out there exactly like you. Being able to articulate your value is key.
Your Personal Marketing Plan
First things first—create a Personal Marketing Plan for your job search. This isn’t a new job search strategy but one that social workers don’t often use. Applying for anything and every job posting is not strategic and can actually hinder your job search instead of help. To increase your chances of being successful at your job search, you should treat it as a full-time job. Check out the article 5 Tips to Help You Stay Strong During Your Social Work Job Search for more on job search planning: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/5-tips-to-help-you-stay-strong-during-your-social-work-job-search/
Let’s start by getting comfortable with Marketing 101. Every job seeker should become familiar with the 4 P’s of Marketing: Product, Promotion, Place, and Price. Let’s apply this to your social work job search.
You are the product. To effectively market yourself as the product, you need to examine what characteristics and skills make you unique and help you stand out among competing job searchers. You need to be able to articulate what kind of social worker you are, what populations you serve, and what skills you have as a professional social worker. This can include professional, volunteer, and leadership experience; professional memberships (such as NASW); partnerships and alliances; education; and credentials.
What is your Unique Selling Point, or what is the one thing that makes you different from any other job seeker applying for the same social work job? What are your accomplishments, not just duties or job titles? Again, this is not about making yourself fit into a position that is not right for you, but highlighting how spectacular you already are and how your skills will benefit the organization.
How can you stand out from the crowd of dozens of other social workers who just graduated with the same degree and similar internship experience? Do you have a professional brand that will help set you apart from others? To help you explore your professional brand, I highly recommend The New Social Worker magazine’s Your Social Work Brand series: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/your-social-work-brand
From a business marketing perspective, people buy well-known brands they trust and feel good about. Employers want to feel confident about the employees they are investing in. Help them feel warm and fuzzy that you are the right fit for their open position by touting your unique social work acumen.
How are you promoting your product? What are you doing to ensure that potential employers know who you are and why you are valuable? The strength of your professional promotional tools may be the most vital piece of your social work career marketing. These tools include résumés, cover letters, your elevator speech, and interviewing skills—anything you can use to get a job interview and ultimately get a job offer. How much time have you spent developing these promotional tools? Do you have a solid résumé and a striking cover letter that you tailor for each position? Do you have what it takes to articulate your skills to the employer during the interview? If you haven’t already, please take the time to read the following articles that will help you prepare your promotional tools:
- 10 Essential Tips for Your Amazing Social Work Résumé: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/10-essential-tips-for-your-amazing-social-work-resume/
- Cover Letters for Social Workers: Get Yourself the Interview: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/cover-letters-for-social-workers-get-yourself-the-interview/
- 5 Ways to Ace Your Social Work Job Interview: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/5-ways-to-ace-your-social-work-job-interview/
- The Social Social Worker: 10 Tools for Successful Networking: Includes information about the elevator speech and networking cards: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/the-social-social-worker-10-tools-for-successful-networking/
- Your Professional Portfolio: Documenting Your Social Work Career: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/your-professional-portfolio-documenting-your-social-work-car/
No matter how great your social work experience and how strong your Unique Selling Point, if you cannot effectively communicate these skills to employers, you will not land the job.
Okay, now you have solid promotional tools. Where should you be promoting your product? Where will you distribute this valuable information about yourself? As I mentioned, marketing is more than just applying for a job opening online. It is about building a campaign for your professional career.
Online: The first “place” you need to consider when you are promoting your product is a single website where you can send people that contains the above promotional information about you. This can be a blog or a website like your LinkedIn profile. This is content you can control and are proud to show your network and potential employers. It is imperative that this content and presentation is professional and well-managed.
Your network and networking: Networking, without a doubt, is the most crucial marketing tool for your job search. Your network consists of people who will help you distribute your product (you) to the employer. You need to access your network to let them know you are on the hunt and remind them of your professional skills, so they are willing to spread the word to their connections. Get out of the house to attend meetings, conferences, and events and to expand your network. You never know who you are going to meet who will connect you with your next job.
Target your search: Create a list of target organizations you want to work for that match with your area of practice interest, so you can focus your efforts. Researching information about what the organization does, what client populations it serves, and what will be expected of you will show the potential employer that you have the knowledge and motivation to be a successful employee.
Job postings: Yes, online job banks are a great place to see who is hiring, but also to get an idea of what organizations are in your area if you have recently relocated.
Cold calling: There is nothing wrong with picking up the phone to learn more about what an organization does or whether they are hiring. I had a member call me recently to let me know that she called an organization after their job posting deadline ended to see if they were still interviewing. They were so impressed with her professionalism and knowledge of their organization, they scheduled an interview with her for the next day. This uninvited job-hunting is a proven method of finding employment, but do your homework about the organization and know what questions to ask before you pick up the phone.
University career centers/Alumni offices: Keep in touch with your social work programs, because they value their alumni and want to keep you engaged. Most have job boards and newsletters with upcoming networking events and agency highlights.
Recruiters/Employment agencies/Job fairs: I have attended and been an exhibitor at my fair share of job fairs. Your local colleges and universities, NASW chapter, or community organization collectives may organize opportunities for job seekers to meet with hiring organizations. Take these opportunities seriously if they are available in your area. Even if the organizations who attend might not be hiring at that moment, this is a good way to get your name out there and use your promotional tools.
What is the value of your product? What is the fair market value for your level of skills, experience, and the position you are seeking? For job seekers, price refers to the entire compensation package you can expect from potential employers based on the value you will bring to the organization.
You should also consider the strategies you need to get the price you want and that the employer feels you deserve. Check out the following articles on compensation research and negotiation:
- 5 Salary Negotiation Strategies for Social Workers: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/5-salary-negotiation-strategies-for-social-workers/
- The Social Work Job Offer: Decline or Accept: http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/career-jobs/the-social-work-job-offer-decline-or-accept/
Remember, you don’t need to be someone else to get the job. Be yourself, but make sure you effectively communicate why you are a social work rock star and an asset to an organization.
Valerie Arendt, MSW, MPP, is the Associate Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers, North Carolina Chapter (NASW-NC). She received her dual degree in social work and public policy from the University of Minnesota and currently provides membership support, including résumé review, to the members of NASW-NC.