Thinking like a social worker

…any questions? Yes. I have plenty.

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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American Made: Smoothie edition

I am on a huge smoothie kick, after my mom got me the best Christmas present ever, a Vitamix blender.  I will put almost anything (apples, oranges, pears, bananas, rasp/straw/blackberries, kale, spinach, almond butter and the list goes on) in it to make a yummy liquid breakfast (on occasions not so yummy).  The other week, I found out that my beloved blender is made in America.  I got so excited I emailed my mom, who I think was less enthusiastic than I was.

“Vitamix products are built by hand in the USA with at least 70 percent American components.”

Now all I need is a Tervis Tumbler and straw and produce from my local market, and I will be a 100% American made smoothie girl.  (But I may love bananas too much to ever be 100%.)

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Saturday Morning Share: Avoiding sequestration

Happy Social Work Month!  This week seemed to be all about the sequestration, which is very depressing and frustrating to me.  So I have been avoided the topic all week.   Here are some of the goodies (minus the cliff) I found interesting this week:

Special Topics:


  1. Comparison of Benefits for Poor Families to Middle-Class Incomes Is Deeply Flawed – Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (I blogged on this topic back in December.  CBPP gives a much more in depth look at the senate document.)


  1. Mathematica 2013 Report on KIPP Middle Schools Impacts on Achievement and Other Outcomes and a rebuttal from School Finance 101
  2. School Culture and the Civic Empowerment Gap – Harvard Education Letter 
  3. More Black Men in College than in Prison – The American Prospect

Professional Development:

FREE Upcoming Webinars:

  1. March listing of free webinars on the Wild Apricot Blog
  2. Addressing homelessness and mental health challenges – Friday, March 8th @ 9AM
  3. Who is poor in this country and why – Wednesday, March 13th @ 2PM

Anything I missed this week?

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Questioning client advocacy

On Sunday night, I listened to the newest “This American Life” podcast about Harper High School.  I became physically upset when the school social worker essentially said goodbye to a student who was in trouble with the law.  I was mad at her – this beautiful woman who obviously cared so much for her students.  I wanted her to fight for him, to  call the police, and to plead with them to give him a second chance.

As social workers our basic instinct is client advocacy.  We want the best for our clients, and we are judged by our ability to advocate.  We pass the test if we can successfully help our clients navigate the complicated systems we live in.  We have our resource lists, agency contact, and social pleasantries ready to make a deal…. BUT

Is client advocacy the best way to address our clients’ struggles?

I recently attended an interesting clinic led by National Alliance to End Homelessness.  The presenter discussed how advocating for our clients may actually be detrimental to our communities.  We may be able to get what our clients’ needs through advocacy, but are they the most in need of that service?

By getting your client a resource, did you screw someone over who needed it more?

When it comes to limited resources, how can we create a process that is fair as possible?  The ER pops into my mind (obviously it has been popping into my mind a lot lately).  If you show up first to the ER with the flu, you are still going to be seen after the person with a knife wound.  It may seem bureaucratic and sterile,  but a similar process would mean that resources don’t blindly go to the first person who shows up or the person who yells the loudest (which might still happen at the ER).  Its about matching a person’s need, with appropriate services (not the most services you can give someone – which may actually be unhelpful).

Of course, most communities are not there yet.  If the system we work in isn’t there yet, how can direct service workers push their agencies and networks towards change?  How can service professionals help ensure we are serving the most vulnerable?  Especially when the person sitting in front of us seems to be the person in most need.

Back to Chicago – I was so upset, because in my struggles with client advocacy don’t exist in this situation.  Advocating with schools, police, courts, government programs doesn’t hurt anyone.  No one will get screwed over.  While we need to think about the long game, whats best for our community, we should still fight for second chances, safety nets, and a good quality life for all.

Did anyone else listen to the podcast?  What were your reactions?  And what are your opinions on client advocacy?

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Saturday Morning Share

I plan on sharing my favorite articles, blog posts, and reports from the week each Saturday morning.  Did I miss anything good this week?



  1. Ten Things You Should Know About #TheRealTANF – The Nation
  2. Poverty rates higher for blacks and Hispanics than whites and Asians – Washington Post
  3. Prison and Poverty Trap – New York Times
  4. Where you live determines how long you live – Richmond Times Dispatch


  1. Special Report: Class Struggle – How charter schools get students they want – Reuters
  2. For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence – US Department of Education  (Summary available at Education Week)
  3. This American Life 487: Harper High School, Part One – NPR (part two will be posted on Sunday evening)



  1. The 12 Things You Are Not Taught in School About Creative Thinking – Part 1 & Part 2 – Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog
  2. Motivational Interviewing: A Client-Centered Approach – Part 1 & Part 2  – Social Work Career Development Blog

FREE Upcoming Webinars:

  1. From Story to Action: Using Film in your Economic Fairness Campaign – Tuesday, February 26, 2-3pm
  2. How to Write Faster: Tips for Nonprofit Marketers and Fundraisers – Tuesday, March 5, 11am-12pm
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Questions about power from my trip to the ER

I previously mentioned that I spent a portion of my holidays in the ER.  Inside the hospital I “was seen” by at least nine different medical staff, each for only a moment at a time.  At least two said they would call within the next week to share my test results, but I was stood up.  The only time I heard from the hospital was the billing department confirming my information a month later.  I eventually called about my test results and was told I couldn’t get records over the phone (HIPPA – blah, blah, blah).  Instead, I needed to send in a release of information with (additional) billing information to cover $0.50 per page for my records.  Of course, once I receive my records, I will have no idea what they say, so that’s another trip/call to a doctor to translate.

I am very lucky that I am healthy and do not have to deal with the health care system on a regular basis.  All of the hoops made me cry from frustration.  Being at the hospital was a very low-point in my life, and the hospital offered me the minimum required of them (which I recognize may have saved my life).  The hospital gave me want I needed, but not what I wanted.  A simple phone call would have changed my whole experience.

How often do we as service professionals do the minimum required of us?  

There are so many hoops for our clients to jump through.  We have to say, “Please fill out these forms and come back in three weeks” OR “We can’t help you right now, try this number” OR “There is a waiting list” (without the bandwidth to call people back).  Customer service is placed on the service professionals, even though the system is rigged against a positive experience for clients.  In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of experience a client has, because they need the service.  (I would not have been at the hospital if I did not need to be.)   They can complain, but they may not have anywhere else to go.

We hold the power.  As social workers we don’t like to think about the power we hold over others, but it is often the basis of the relationship with the individuals we serve.  Power is one of the first things we discuss in school, and it is an issue that I will always struggle with.  As social workers we can and should treat others with respect while they are with us, make sure they have the information needed to make informed decisions, and follow-up to ensure a smooth transition and closure.  This is what I wanted from the hospital.

Does information and good customer service shift the power dynamics in our relationships with others?

I am not sure.  Of course, treating others with dignity and respect is a core social work value.  It seems more like the human thing to do than a technique to empower others.  I do think that information is key to empowerment – information is power.  If a person has a better understanding of the available options they can make choices for themselves – that’s whats it’s all about.  My issue is that  social safety net systems are set up for emergencies (people’s low points), so they often lack choices and space for consumer input.  A service professional can work towards empowerment on an individual level, but both the client and worker may feel powerless within the larger system.

Does shifting the dynamics in an individual relationship matter when the system so skewed?

Let me know your thoughts.  Multiple brains are better than one.

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American Made: Nephew on the way

For the past two weeks, I have my been test driving my underwear (mentioned in a recent post).  I love both brands: Uranus Apparel and Bella Materna.  They are both comfortable and have made it through the wash unharmed.  Through these purchases, I also learned that I am a size small, not medium in underwear!  This is great for my self-esteem, and also means I now own extremely comfortable undies.

Even more exciting news:  There is a little guy growing inside my sister(-in-law)!  I plan to shower him with gifts and love.  So far, I have scored a 50%, a failing grade, on my baby gift purchases.  Out of the eight gifts I have bought, three were American made (Angel Baby shampoo and lotion, and Prince Lioheart Dishwasher Basket); one was used; and four were made in China.  Luckily, I have plenty of time to improve my GPA.

Below are some good places for me to start:

  1. My local baby store, Franklin Goose, has a whole Made in USA section on their website.
  2. ABC World News encouraged their viewers buy Made in American for Christmas.  They have a a comprehensive list of items on their website.
  3. The blog Made in USA Challenge also has a long company list.

As always, I will update you along the way.

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A thank you note to my dad


Eleven years sneaked up on me today.  That’s how long you’ve been gone.  I not sure how to feel.  I am happy for my current life, guilty for being happy, sad for lost memories, and mad that people don’t know who you are.  In the past eleven years, I have graduated from school four times, got married, bought a house, and started my first real job.  You missed it all, but beautifully big government made you a part of my important milestones.

FERS paid for my expenses during college, and social security helped me with my first down payment on a house.  Some families experience terrible trauma without that safe net, but as a teenager, I was able to keep my house; continue hobbies; eat three good meals a day; hug mom every night; and go to college on time (and on you and mom’s dime).  I was able to save the money you left me to create a nest egg, where as millions of families used their social security to keep them out of poverty.  Because of these experiences, I know I will be safe and loved no matter what comes my way.

Now, I am a social worker, not because of bad things that happened in my life but because of all of the good.  I wish everyone could be hopeful for their future, have equal opportunity to achieve their goals, and have a safety net when things go wrong.  But that’s not the case (I will working on it) – Luckily, because of you and mom, I have hope, opportunity, and a safe net.  Your life brought my childhood trust and love, and your death continually reminds me how lucky I am.

Thank you for everything, and I love you,

Little E

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On a quest for American made

Happy Martin Luther King, Jr. Day!

Today, I have had the privilege of reading about Dr. King’s strong belief in economic justice.  He fought for equality for workers and individuals living in poverty.  So, how are you honoring MLK today?  I am buying underwear. (It is well-known, now that I am a blogger, I can make obscure connections between myself and great American leaders.)

About 7 years ago, during college, I became interested in worker’s rights and modern day slavery.  I wanted to do my part, so I decided to only buy clothing “made in the U.S.A.”.  This really helped to curb my shopping habit (I was a bit of a sale-rack junkie), because American made clothing is hard to find.  And once you find some, it is EXPENSIVE!

So, I made some loopholes for myself that I still use today:

  1. On top of clothing made in the USA, I can also buy anything I want if it’s second hand or fair trade.  I figure buying fair trade supports a positive world-wide labor movement, and buying second hand doesn’t really support anything (except the local business).
  2. I also don’t attempt to control what gifts others give me, so I happily accept imported Christmas/Birthday gifts.  When people remember my quirk and get me American made, I am extra excited.
  3. When I can’t find a clothing item at a reasonable price, and need to cheat, I buy from a local business.  For example, I feel uncomfortable buying bras online (where I do most USA made shopping), so I recently bought some bras from Kiss and Make-Up in Richmond.  Kiss and Make-up does sell a few US brands.

Because of these loopholes, a majority of my wardrobe is not from the U.S.  Now that I am working and able to afford more American made clothing, I want to change that.  My most current hunt: underwear!  (Which I quickly learned is a bad search term – stores use “panties”.)  I started off on Google and found Lingerie Addict has a great listing of lingerie made in the U.S.A.  I also searched the big box online stores like and for “Made in the USA panties”.  On top of the lingerie addict listing here are some other brands I found:

I wound up buying three thongs on sale from Bella Materna, and two 3-packs of Uranus boy shorts.  I would love to try the brand “Commando”, but the price tag is a little steep for me.  My total came to $79.30 for 9 pairs of panties, which is more than I would spend Wal-Mart, but on par with a Victoria Secret sales receipt.  Both companies import their clothing and have been chastised for child labor and extremely low wages.  So, I may not be changing the world this MLK day, but I know there is power in money.  I want want to spend my money where workers are safer and better paid.  Most importantly, I will let you know how I like my new underwear when they arrive!


National Poverty Panel: Not inclusive, but important start

I typically hate panels.  They consist of “important” people talking without respect for time or content.  With that being said I thoroughly enjoyed the intensity and clarity of thought at the “Vision for a new American” panel.  The beauty of the panel was that the soliloquies (which I typically hate) produced some great quotes and sound bites!  In the end, it was just refreshing to spend 2 ½ hours listening to passionate people talk about poverty in the U.S.

I am typically skeptical of too much talk (not enough action), but around poverty, we need more talking.  The government needs more input from individuals living in poverty, working to fight poverty, and researching poverty, so that as a nation we can improve our current approach.  There are great programs, data, and practices being used all over the country (and other countries) that should be supported at a national level.

The problem: poverty is complex. So where do you start on a national level? Housing? Health care? Criminal justice? Education? Food? Safety net programs? Jobs?

Tavis and the panelists were focusing their attention on child poverty, especially around quality of education.  I was disappointed that other populations and factors did not come up.  I did not hear any talk of men, mental health, housing, or substance abuse – topics that are often associated with lack of personal responsibility.  Children living in poverty is an easy sell.  They are seen as vulnerable and innocent to the failings of their parents and of the system.  So maybe we start there – focusing on education, social safety net, and health care to make sure that children have a “sidewalk” out of poverty.  But eventually we need to move to a discussion about “the guilty ones”, the single adults who also deserve a chance at social mobility.

For now, I am glad that this panel sparked more conversation around poverty, and I want to see the conversation continue.  The panel discussion is available at  You can also learn more about the project and sign a petition to the president at

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