Despite the ongoing challenges of the pandemic we all face in our daily lives, not all is bad news. Jennifer Luna, director of the DiNitto Career Center, shares how some economic and systemic consequences of the pandemic may provide new opportunities for social workers searching for jobs in 2021.
The job market
After an initial drop earlier last year, social work job openings started to increase with the passing of the CARES act. The act provides grant options for nonprofits to provide substance-abuse and mental-health services, and block-grants to community-based organizations to provide social services and emergency assistance.
In the context of social unrest related to social justice issues, there has also been a growth of positions in macro social work.
Some examples of job titles you should be looking for are contact tracer, telehealth/telemedicine social worker, policy and advocacy specialist, health and inclusion specialist, and diversity and inclusion strategist.
Start now! Many of us are working from home and most interviews are offered remotely. Consider these suggestions before interviewing:
- Find a workspace that is quiet, well-lit and allows you to control interruptions.
- If using virtual backgrounds, make sure they are professional. Practice using them with friends or colleagues before your interview.
- Make sure that your internet connection is stable and that the audio and camera are all working on your computer.
- Sign in with a friend prior to your meeting, so you can assess that everything is working well.
- Don’t underestimate the importance of appearance. Dress appropriately from top to bottom, so that you are prepared for anything such as having to stand up to grab a power cord.
- Stay engaged in the interview by nodding, listening, and smiling. Don’t use the camera/screen as a mirror.
If you have been laid off or had to leave your job because of family responsibilities, make an effort to fill the gap between jobs. You can volunteer, learn a new skill or certification, or take a leadership role in an advocacy or community service effort.
During an interview, you may address your unique situation upfront, when answering the “Tell us a little bit about yourself” question. You can mention that your organization was hit by the financial repercussions of the pandemic. Be positive in your discussion and highlight skills and experience you have gained.
Always remember that the interview is a two-way process. Make sure to assess your personal needs, which may have changed because of COVID—you may be immune-compromised or living with someone who is.
These are a few of the questions you might consider asking of employers: How has this organization been affected by the pandemic? What equipment will be provided to work from home? How do you build community with staff who are working from home so they don’t feel isolated? What procedures are in place for employees who come into contact with someone with COVID? Does the organization provide employees and clients with the proper PPE?
Flexibility is key
As you have probably observed, there are delays in nearly all tasks related to a job search: setting and making appointments, receiving mail, contacting people who are working remotely, etc. Keep these delays in mind as you embark on your search.
In some states, licensing testing centers had to close because of COVID. Although most have reopened by now, new safety guidelines mean that fewer people can test at a time. Be patient and plan in advance. Be transparent as well, and let your potential employer know where you are in the licensing process.
One of the positive things of the current social work job market is that employers really do show patience and grace when hiring. Many are social workers themselves, and they understand the challenges of this uncertain time.