by Mireille St-Laurent, LCSW
During my time as a social work student, I faced many challenges. For one, being a transfer student who spoke French as a primary language and never having written anything in English was difficult, to say the least! I had moved to New Jersey during the summer of 2009, prior to the beginning of my junior year of the bachelor’s degree in social work. Although learning how to write in English proved to be difficult, I must say that the biggest challenge of all I had to overcome was my fear of not being hired or not getting a “decent enough” job after graduation. A decent enough job, in my mind, meant a position that would pay sufficiently and that I would enjoy doing.
I elaborated a plan and was prepared to work hard as a student, but also as an intern, to maximize my chances of being employed in a competitive market. As it turned out, the plan worked! Six weeks after graduating, I was hired at one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” according to Fortune magazine.
I accepted an offer for a position that was on my list of “second choices” within that agency (not bad!), while what I really wanted to do was not available just yet. But I had a foot in the door as a social worker. I was learning a great deal and earning a decent salary with great benefits. And I was paying my school loans!
Six months later, the person who supervised me during my master’s degree internship (also the manager), offered me a clinical position within that same agency. A year and a half later, I was able to obtain my clinical social work license in the state of New Jersey.
At the present time, I have nearly three years of experience as a full-time mental health therapist. Additionally, I provide teach-in opportunities on various therapy-related subjects, while continuing my professional writing endeavors and building my website and blog.
Looking back, I truly believe this plan gave me direction and some peace of mind along the way, in addition to contributing to my career achievements so far. As I am wishing you the same success, I would like to share this plan with you.
So, here are my five tips to maximize being hired upon graduation.
1. Figure Out Where To Start
One of the things I appreciate about social work is the variety of opportunities we have. For a student or new social worker, it can be challenging to figure out where to start. Essentially, if we manage to narrow down a few work options, it’s a step in the right direction. We all have “ideal work positions” we can imagine ourselves doing. Are you leaning toward working in the community? Is individual and family therapy appealing to you? Do you see yourself working in a school as a guidance counselor or as a case manager?
The key here, in my opinion, is to follow your gut. Although you may change your mind at some point during your career, to have a direction as a student intern can make a huge difference! Asking yourself, “Who do I want to work with?” seems necessary. Knowing what kind of tasks and responsibilities you desire to have on a full-time basis is fundamental.
2. Select Potential Agencies/Organizations
Dedicating time to look at agencies’ missions, benefits, employees, employment opportunities they offer, and their reputations is an essential step. Does this organization share your values? Does it offer work positions you see yourself in, opportunities for advancement, transfers, and education? Are employees satisfied, and if not, what are the main complaints?
Being proactive is indispensable, as is knowing which agencies are hiring near your home. If you don’t have any idea which hiring organizations could be good ones to intern for, start researching them early in your schooling. By obtaining the list of possible internship locations from the field placement staff of your university, it may become easier to find out who to look up on the Internet.
Don’t wait until the deadline to choose an internship (also known as field placement). Figuring out where you would like to intern—and possibly work—is an important step that will allow you to make good career decisions and connections. Some students overlook or postpone this step, believing they will have time to figure this out later. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake! Think about it; by the time you graduate, other social workers who have been working in the field for a few years, and who are ahead of you with their experience and connections, will most likely be the ones selected for the available positions. That said, if you already have a foot in the door as an intern, you stand a chance!
3. Intern Where You Wish To Be Hired
Interning where you wish to be hired makes sense, as it offers several advantages. First of all, by interning for an agency you elected to work for, you have the chance to obtain relevant information such as who may be vacating a position soon, possibilities for new positions or department openings, and access to internal job postings (before they come out on the web). Second, already knowing the employees and management allows for decreased stress related to job interviews, as opposed to applying to a new agency, with a new team, which includes individuals (with different personalities) you don't know, and starting your career in an unfamiliar organization.
That said, if you started an internship where you are unhappy, but are not considering leaving because of the hassle (searching for a new internship, interviewing again, possible hours lost), you may be losing precious time and opportunities. The hassle may be worth it in the end. Besides, your unhappiness will transpire in your behavior and work ethic, no matter how hard you are trying to hide your feelings about this unsuitable internship placement. Remember, this is your decision and there is a lot to lose (or gain)!
4. Conduct Yourself As If You Were an Employee
It’s done. You found out where you would like to intern and possibly work. You applied for an internship and got it! Congratulations! Making a good impression and working on your professional connections and ethical behavior with consistency is your next step. Your internship supervisor is someone who could potentially become your manager, and the employees are possible future colleagues or work connections at best. Remaining aware of the importance of professional work ethic here is essential. The way you conduct yourself can determine whether you will be part of the list of people to interview for the incoming available work positions within the agency.
Your supervisor is there for you (or should be). It is the time and place to learn, and if you show motivation by trying to figure things out by yourself first, asking questions on “how to,” and then confirming with your supervisor before making decisions, you are acting in a professional manner with good work ethics, while displaying drive and ambition. These qualities could set you apart when it’s time to select employees for opened positions.
5. Make Things Happen!
School is almost over, and it’s time to let your manager/supervisor know of your desire to be hired at your internship agency. If you already did so earlier in the school year, reiterate your interest to the appropriate person. There are probably others who are interested. Therefore, management must know you are still in the running. Get everything in place and ready to be employable by scheduling your licensure exam, completing the paperwork, and informing your supervisor/manager that you have done so. Chances are you probably feel exhausted and can’t wait to be finished with exams and papers.
If you are like me, you most likely feel anxious and may be thinking you may fail this terrifying licensing exam everyone is talking about. Don’t let the fear and tiredness keep you from your goals. You are almost there!
Follow up with your supervisor by informing him or her that you passed the exam and your license is on its way. Inquire about available positions at your internship agency, and show interest and motivation toward various work opportunities that may be available upon your graduation.
Remember, having a foot in the door as an employee will maximize your chances of getting your ideal position, once this great opportunity opens up. Stay positive, and soon your dream job will be within reach!
Mireille St-Laurent, LCSW, is a psychotherapist who works for Meridian Health in New Jersey. Her clinical interests and fields of research include familial conflict resolution, mild autism spectrum disorders, adolescent/adult depressive disorders, and anxiety-related disorders.