JustJob Interviews: Case Worker

JustJobs interviews professionals working in a variety of fields. The good folks there have given me permission to post some of their interviews here. So if you’re wondering what it’s like to work in a specific field, you might want to check in here frequently. I’ll be posting interviews as I get them.

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Are you one of those people who want a career in a very specific and not too popular field? This Case Worker found resources that helped her find positions in her specific field, instead of having to sort through hundreds of ads that did not interest her. Like him, others share their job hunt stories with us, from a Housekeeper to a Night Auditor.

Currently, I serve as a case worker with a small refugee resettlement agency. I was fairly lucky to stumble across the organization online, and, knowing that I wanted a position in the field of social work, I contacted the office and asked if they had any jobs available. I have been working as a case worker for two years.

The internet was an incredibly valuable tool for me in my job search. Since I knew that I wanted to work in social services, and, specifically, with refugees and immigrants, I researched all of the agencies doing that work in my region (or in areas to which I might have been willing to relocate). Other resources like job boards, and specifically Idealist.org, were also wonderful. Idealist provided me only with job openings in the nonprofit sector, which kept me from having to narrow down long sections of newspaper ads to find what I wanted. These sorts of job board and classified ad-style resources can help you see what jobs are out there and what sort of pay and benefits you can expect from them. Looking through those listings also helped me to be more creative in my job search, and let me see positions for which I hadn’t even known I was qualified.

I think that the key to successfully entering the professional workforce, or to changing jobs, is to recognize the common skill sets that lots of entirely different positions require. I didn’t have any direct experience in refugee resettlement case work, but I had been in other jobs which required patience and an ability to operate well under pressure. By focusing more on the concrete skills I had gained from my previous jobs, not on exactly what I was doing, I would be able to establish that I was capable of doing the needed tasks without any direct experience.

Though technology is incredibly important, it functions in an entirely different way in the field of social work than it would in any for-profit business atmosphere. The most important thing in the field of non-profit work is simply connecting with others doing similar tasks. There are regional and national list-serves for social workers in different areas of work, and those have always been incredibly helpful to me. Not only do the messages sent through these networks allow you to get a glimpse of the resources available in the area, and of the work others are doing, they let you get to know other social workers, so that, even if you haven’t had the time to meet in person, you can have a good idea of what others are accomplishing, and will find it easy to call on the community if you find yourself searching for a new position. Social networking websites are fun, but, in a field where person-to-person connection matters so deeply, I’ve often found that phone calls and longer emails tend to do a better job of helping me relate to my peers.

A few years ago, I applied for my dream job in an enormous national community organizing agency, and was surprised to be included among the handful of applicants that were asked to come in for the fairly grueling three-hour interview process. As a young professional, it is definitely exponentially harder to interview for a job you desperately want than for one you care less about. I had a large degree of humility going into the interview, and, since I had such great respect for the organization and the interviewers, I spent a great deal of that three hours getting tongue-tied, forgetting answers that I knew, and generally accidentally behaving like a teenager. The lesson for me, in that case, was one about confidence. No, foolhardy arrogance will generally not get you ahead in most workplaces, but simple confidence is absolutely necessary when you are interviewing. It can ease my nerves quite a bit to simply remind myself that I am actually qualified, that I am a professional, and am good at what I do.

Many young professionals that I know have jobs for which they did not initially feel qualified, but they applied anyway. Recognizing your skills, and acknowledging that they could be useful in the workplace, is a necessity. Perhaps it could be a waste of time to apply for that position as president of you alma mater, but, aside from a relatively small number of overly-ambitious options, you will be surprised at how many positions you are actually qualified for. If it looks like something you could do and would enjoy, then don’t hesitate to apply, and go into the interview knowing you have something to offer.

I mostly avoided my university career development office throughout my time in school, and, oddly enough, I don’t regret it much. The office at my university was geared almost exclusively toward students who wanted to enter the business world, and I was absolutely certain that that wasn’t my goal. The one thing that I did find helpful about the individuals who ran the department, however, was that they always had open office hours to help you review or create your resume, and to discuss interviewing techniques. Those were valuable skills that many of my peers didn’t learn in college, and to which I am glad to have been exposed.

I desperately wish I had taken more time in college for foreign language courses. No matter what field you enter after school, knowing a second or third language will always make you stand out among other applicants, and you will inevitably find yourself using those language skills in the most unexpected situations at work. I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunity to learn languages so easily then, because it becomes much more expensive and difficult once one is working full-time.

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