Tips for Landing the Job
in human services & social work
Research the agency and target your cover letter to the nature and needs of each organization.
- If your cover letter indicates that you know something about the agency (and demonstrates that they are not receiving the same "cookie cutter" cover letter that 50 other agencies have received), then you will make a much stronger impression.
- Demonstrate the match between your skills, experience and personality and the nature and culture of the organization and, if you are applying to a specific job, the requirements of the job.
- How do you learn about an organization and its needs?
- Use Google.com to find the organization's Web site. What does their site say about how the organization conducts its business?
- Have any articles been written about this organization?
Visit our nonprofit research links. (BC students should look for the Lexis/Nexis link, in particular.)
- Network with other professionals in the field. Are there any BC alumni working there? If not, are there any BC alumni who might have the inside scoop on this organization? Look in the following categories: Human Services; Psych/Therapy/Mental Health; Nonprofit Organizations; Social Work.
ALSO - connect through professional associations.
Address your application to a particular person, if possible. In a small agency, this may be the director. In a larger agency, it may be the person who runs a particular program. If you have several names at an agency, send a cover letter and resume to each person.
If you have been referred by one of your networking contacts to a particular person at the organization, be sure to mention your networking contacts name within the first two lines of your cover letter.
Follow up your cover letter and resume with an e-mail message or a phone call.
- In an e-mail message, reiterate your interest in the job and restate your two or three strongest selling points. Request a time to meet to discuss employment opportunities.
- The phone call is your second choice, and only if an e-mail address is not available. If you make a phone call, you can ask if they have received your application, and if they have, request a time to meet to discuss employment opportunities. If they don't know whether they've received it, be prepared to provide a 30-second overview of your strengths and experience, then ask for the interview.
- Never call if you are responding to an advertisement that specifies no phone calls.
How to ace your interviews:
- When you are trying to identify potential employers, you focus on your needs and preferences. But in your application materials and during your interviews, you should keep the focus on the organization and its needs. Here are a couple of general examples to get you thinking about the needs of an organization:
- We know that welfare reform is changing the demands on many social workers employed by state agencies. What are the needs of these organizations?
- Another example: reform in the health care industry has changed the way that agencies are compensated for the services they provide. How has this changed the skills and experiences required of staff at these agencies?
- Show enthusiasm! Social work and counseling are difficult work. Managers want to hire people who are genuinely enthusiastic and motivated about their work. Be prepared to talk about yourself and your skills, of course, but perhaps even more importantly, you can demonstrate your enthusiasm for the job by asking some well-thought-out questions about both the position and the organization.
- For more interview advice, see our Interview Skills section.