Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

4 “Social Worker Types” in The Wire

I finally finished The Wire last month (only 5 years late).  This show really got my brain moving, but I will save those thoughts for another day.  The Wire focused on different (dysfunctional) systems within Baltimore.  I enjoyed looking out for social workers throughout the series.  Social workers usually get a bad wrap in the media.  Their characters are typically child protective services (CPS) workers that are following up on youth in foster care or taking kids from their parents.  Of course, social work is a huge field of which CPS is a small, but important area.

Here are the 4 “Social Worker Types” that stood out to me:

  1. “Counselor”  – Cutti, a man just out of prison, referred to Deacon as a “social worker type” because he offered Cutti advice and counsel.  While the Deacon was not a social worker, he played many complimentary roles including counseling, connecting resources, advocating, and community organizing.
  2. Child Protective Services (CPS) Worker – The CPS worker is trying to find a new placement for a child who has been attacked.  She is stuck in a bureaucracy that fails to find the child a new placement and he is put in a group home.
  3. Academics – The bumbling professor who was out-of-touch with the real world, but earnest to learning and make the world a better place.  And his Doctoral student, who was sharp and in-touch.  It was interesting to see the contrast.  Older white male = out of touch.  Younger black female = in-touch.
  4. Homeless Shelter Worker – She worked at a homeless shelter in Richmond, VA.  She cared deeply about her clients, and was able to locate a man who left the shelter very quickly (Go Richmond!).

The above four “social worker types” were most likely not educated as social workers.  Also, additional social workers may also have been hiding in scenes about the hospital, police department, schools, and local government – We are everywhere.

My overall take on the show’s view of helpers – The show shined a light on the helpers that came from within the community, which refreshing compared to the “young white woman swoops in to save the day” story line.  Bureaucrats and outside helpers had too much red tape and lacked understanding of real community need, therefore individuals from within were able to make more of an impact.

Any other “social worker types” that people noticed in the show?  What did you think about the portrayal of social workers in The Wire?

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5 Tips for 2013 Graduates on Finding a Job and Keeping your Self-Worth

I graduated from VCU’s MSW program in May 2012.  While looking for the right job for me, I applied for 37 position, got 7 interviews, and 3 offers.  I ended up taking all three of those offers, but that’s a story for another day.  I am now very happily employed at a planning and coordinating agency working to end homelessness in the Richmond region, which I landed in September 2012.

Job search is scary and exciting and a great time for reflection.  The truth is that I loved looking for a job.  In true social work fashion, I learned about myself from the experience.  But I wish someone had reminded me of a few things upfront.  So, 2013 graduates, here they are and I hope they help:

Keep your cool by finding what works for you.

Job search is stressful.  You may feel pressure to start applying as early and as often as possible.  You will get unwanted advice and lots of questions about how the search is going.  Find what works for you – both your mental health and your application process – and stick with it.

I was a ridiculous job searcher, but my process kept me feeling in control.  The first job I applied to was in February (not helpful to my job search).  I was ready- equipped with a job leads binder and everything the internet had to offer on job search tips and best practices.  This process worked well for me, but might make you very anxious.

Find what works for you and remember: YOU WILL FIND A JOB.  It may take you longer than others, but you may get more than them from the process.  The position you land may not be perfect, but it if moves you in the right direction that is all that matters.

Use this time wisely and have a little fun.

People say that applying for a job is a full-time job.  This is true, for the most part, but please don’t sit in front of your computer all day looking for positions.

Use this time to figure out what you want to do with your life, what you don’t want to do, what you are good at, etc.  Connect with friends for (cheap) drinks-reducing stress and possibly learning about a new opportunity.  Ask to meet with professionals in your field of interest-they are typically happy to meet with students and young professionals to offer advice and guidance.  Find free webinars. Go to community meetings and workshops.  Heck, go on vacation!  All of this is part of job search and will help you find something great for you (except maybe vacation – but hey you deserve it).

Think of each application as practice for the next.

Remember how I mentioned those seven interviews?  Four came out of the last four jobs I applied to (all in August).  That makes my record for the first 33 applications pretty crappy.  The moral is: You get better applying as you move through the process.

Get started now and make adjustments along the way.  If you aren’t getting calls then your resume may not be working- send it around to family/friends/Career Services for review.  Or maybe those hiring don’t recognize your name- go into the community and meet people (and add yourself to Linkedin)!

Stay connected with other graduates.

You can feel really alone in the process – Like everyone around you are landing jobs.  This is most likely not true, but if it is – even better for you (your competition is thinning out).  The first job offer I received was a position a fellow graduate sent my way.  Since we were both looking, we would send positions to each other that seems like a good fit.  It was really helpful to have someone going through the same process to bounce ideas off of and to bitch with.

Hold out for the right job.

Don’t jump at the first community mental health position that you get offered.  (Unless you think it will be a good fit for you.)  You most likely will not land your dream job.  But if the position does not seem interesting, doesn’t earn the money you need to survive, or the organization seems sketchy it might not be worth it.  Of course, I didn’t follow my own advice, so don’t be to hard on yourself, if you end up in something that is not the right fit, stay there, but keep looking.  It is OK to do what is best for you!

What other guidance might be helpful to 2013 graduates?  

If you have recently landed a job, what helped you with your job search? 

If you are an upcoming graduate, what field you are interested in.  Maybe you can make some connections right here!

Happy Social Work Month!  March is social work month.  As a proud social worker, I will celebrate by sharing social work posts all month with my thoughts, professional development tips, and fun facts about social work.

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