5 Things Every Graduating Social Work Student Should Do

5 Things Every Graduating Social Work Student Should Do

1. Keep an open mind

Congratulations on graduating! Wahoo! My guess is that many of you are still looking for your first post-grad job. As you do so, I highly recommend that you keep an open mind to what you’d be willing to apply for. Specifically, you should keep an open mind to the following:

  1. Population– After years of education and many, many hours as an intern, you might have a pretty good idea what population you prefer to work with. That’s great!…until there aren’t any open jobs for that specific population. Be open to working with a new or different group of people…it may surprise you just how much you love it! During college, I said that I had absolutely no interest in working in mental health. So, after I graduated, I had a few “priority” areas, such as refugees, maternal health, and community development. Contrary to all of my own plans, I landed my first job in mental health (and o still work there!). My job hasn’t been easy. And it is definitely not where I’ll be for the rest of my career. But I would never trade my experience in mental health. Ever.
  2. Pay Rate– ugh. Right? Since you just graduated, you’ve probably already heard “social workers aren’t in it for the money” probably 10,000 times. This is the point in your life when you need to start taking it to heart. Don’t expect to start making 40 or 50 grand a year right out of college. (The average pay rate for jobs was $11-12 an hour when I was applying for my first social work job in 2016.) When it gets hard, remind yourself of why you went into this field.
  3. Schedule– Are you expecting to work 9-5 Monday through Friday? A lot of jobs will offer those hours (or similar). But don’t count out working evenings, early mornings, weekends, or even a rotating schedule. I was hesitant at first about my job because it was a rotating schedule that involved working two to three overnights per week. The trade off was that I was more flexible to do things (appointments, lunch with my mom, etc) during regular business hours since I wasn’t at work.

TL;DR: Don’t count out jobs that don’t fit inside your personal idea of a perfect job. What you find might surprise you.

2. Become familiar with local resources

Get to know the local agencies in your community. If you’re living where you grew up or went to college, you may already have a pretty good idea of quite a few, but keep looking. This will help with 1. Finding a job and 2. Connecting your clients to appropriate resources. It may even help agencies support or partner with one another or it may even help you find a place to volunteer!

When I graduated, I moved back to the east coast with little knowledge of local resources. It wasn’t until I started working with clients that I started learning more about local agencies from my coworkers and supervisors. And it wasn’t until I volunteered at a local agency a year later that my world was opened up to many, many other resources and organizations.

3. Be OK with not going to grad school

There are many advantages to getting your MSW and you’ve probably heard them all by now. Your MSW can provide opportunities to be a supervisor, it can allow you to do clinical work, and it can fine tune your skills and knowledge. Your world of opportunity grows with an MSW. PLUS, you only have *so much* time to take advantage of Advanced Standing programs.

But it’s okay to wait. Take time to just work. Settle in. Learn about what you love, what you value, and where you want to go.

Learn what it means to be completely submerged in the field. Learn how to write effective goals, learn effective documentation strategies, learn how to build rapport. Learn how to set boundaries with your clients, your coworkers, and yourself.

I am so, so glad I waited a few years before going back to school. Not only was I mildly burned out from classes, but I simply wasn’t ready. I even considered changing fields and going to grad school for something else. During the past few years, I’ve been able to apply theory to practice, develop my skills, and learn new skills. Also, I’ve had to do and/or witness really hard stuff. Life changing stuff. Stuff you could read about in school, but not quite get it unless you’re in the distraction. So be okay with not going to grad school, either at all or just not right away. Social work is kind of like a forever school, anyways 😉

4. Connect with other social work professionals

These people will be your support system. Seasoned social workers can be a guide as you enter into the field. They were once in your position. They’ve made mistakes (big ones, too), they’ve been witness to the wild combination of joy and devastation that social work brings, and they’ve learned a lot in their journey. Find those social workers. Learn from them. Let them be a support in your life.

Your recently graduated peers will be going through similar experiences you are about to have. So talk to them. Be overwhelmed, heartbroken, celebratory, or frustrated with them. Your peers will remind you that you are not alone in these beginning stages. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Fun fact: networking with other professionals could even help you get a job. Check out LinkedIn, Facebook groups, or a local group in your area for general social work networking.

5. Practice Self Care

Again, you’ve probably heard this 10,000 times from your professors or internship supervisor. Please do practice self care. You may have also heard that your first year in the field tends to be the most difficult. You’re shifting from college life to adult life and you’re settling in to a new job. But you’re also going to experience hard things. And you’ll have a learning curve related to how to handle all of this new and difficult stuff.

So I recommend documenting what self care practices work best for you in certain situations. And practice, practice, practice. This is critical.

During my first year, I was witness to desperate situations, social injustice, and life of death type situations. I wouldn’t have survived any of these challenges without self care. I ran a lot. Oftentimes, running was my crying. I would process unfair situations and traumatic events while running. When I wasn’t running, I was crying on my way home from work, just to get the tears out. I cooked/baked a lot. I used that social work support system mentioned above. I even got a dog.

Do what you need to do. Take care of yourself, sweet friend.

I take self care so seriously, I write about it once a week. If you want a weekly idea/tip/suggestion for self care, sign up for my email list below.

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