Job Search Preparation
Social Work Career Resources
Navigating your career contains twists and turns, and although you may encounter roadblocks, you should also have the opportunity to appreciate stops along the way. Career Services is here to help you plan your career itinerary and reach your destination.
If you are still considering what career path to take, explore Career Snapshots to learn more about a multitude of social work career paths. Take an active role in your career development with the GSSW Career Pathway Tracker, and use the resources below.
Assessment & Exploration
Do you know how your innate skills and talents align with the social work field? As you engage with your coursework and field internships, it is critical to assess how your skills and talents fit with various professional roles, where you may need additional training or development, and how that all fits with your vision for working in the field.
DU Career & Professional Development provides you with several assessment tools to determine your strengths and interest areas. Complete an assessment and then email your Career Advisor to set up a time to review your results.
- ImaginePhD: A free career exploration and planning tool specifically designed for the humanities and social sciences
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: See how your personality type fits with a variety of careers and degrees
- Strong Interest Inventory: Identify themes that describe your career interests as well as specific degrees and occupations to research
- CliftonStrengths (also known as StrengthsFinder or StrengthsQuest): Identify your strongest skills and how to develop and apply them in your academic, personal and professional life.
Explore multiple agencies and work environments so you have a clear strategy for your post-graduate job search. Typically, it is helpful for students to develop a list of 20–25 target employers to focus their post-graduate job search. These employers should fit your interests and preferred work environment.
To learn about agencies already connected to GSSW Career Services, explore the Employer Database, which you'll find on the left-hand menu of your profile on the main career platform, PCO.
Conduct Agency Research
- Company website: Explore the agency website thoroughly, including looking at its mission and values statements. Glean whether the company is business-, client- or community-focused.
- Industry journals: Look for articles on the company in local and national outlets. As a DU student or alum, you have access to databases such as LexisNexis Academic for free at the library.
- Better Business Bureau (BBB): Find out if the company is accredited by the BBB.
- State agencies: See if the company is licensed with the state or through the state's regulatory agency and if there is any additional performance information.
- Your network: Do you know someone who has worked at or interned with the company? Does a past faculty member have a connection with the organization? Utilize your network (including via LinkedIn or PioneerConnect), and consider conducting an informational interview to learn more.
- Job search websites: There are a number of websites that provide general information about a company: Glassdoor.com, GuideStar, and the US Securities & Exchange Commission. Additionally, LinkedIn can provide insight into what is important to the company in the articles and events the organization posts and in who works at the company and for how long.
The following list of sample questions will help you evaluate whether or not the agency would be a good fit for you:
- Will you utilize your skill sets? Most individuals like to believe that they are contributing to the mission of the organization.
- Do you enjoy the work environment (for example, team vs. independent, rural vs. urban, emerging social work industry vs. traditional, structured vs. flexible work schedule, full-time vs. contract, etc.)? Your preferred work environments will likely change over time as your life and career develops.
- What are your non-negotiables, and can the agency meet your needs? Understanding your needs and desires for your first post-graduate position is pivotal and often differentiates you from your classmates.
- What are your next career goals? Being able to grow with an agency can help you to gain a solid foundation within the field of social work.
- Can this agency/position help you grow and feel challenged? Just because you have the offer doesn't mean that it is the right position. Especially coming out of graduate school, you'll want to continue to grow as a professional.
- Can this agency/position provide you with the support that you need to be successful? You can successfully navigate challenging situations and roles with the right support. Look into not only the initial training but ongoing colleague and supervisory support that will be provided.
- Will the salary and benefits meet your needs? Explore online salary information to evaluate whether the agency is able to offer fair compensation for your work.
An estimated 80% of positions hired were never listed on a job board, and 50% of jobs are obtained through acquaintances. Therefore, it's critical for the longevity and success of your career to infuse networking into your professional life.
Networking gets a bad reputation for being intimidating, awkward or even inauthentic. In reality, you are networking every single day! Any time you ask questions or give/seek advice, you are networking.
Networking is: Asking questions, seeking advice and building mutually beneficial relationships.
Networking is NOT: Asking for a job or internship.
Networking can occur anywhere, but here structured options include career fairs, online platforms (The DU Career Network, LinkedIn, PCO, etc.), volunteering, conferences/training/workshops, association and organization events, and meet-ups/networking groups.
Informational interviews are one way to explore career direction and open the secret job market, especially as a new professional or in a new location. During an informational interview, an individual seeks insights on a career path or industry, a company, or general career advice from someone with experience and knowledge in that area of interest.
Here are the steps to a successful informational interview:
- Request and schedule a meeting (determine the logistics for a phone, Zoom, or in-person informational interview)
- Prepare thoughtful questions, and spend time researching online to learn about the agency or the professional's career path. Consider asking questions outlined in this resource from the National Association of Social Workers: What Should I Ask at an Informational Interview?
- Respect their time. Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% listening, 20% talking. Remove distractions such as your phone, pets or background noise. If you scheduled a 30-minute conversation, pay attention to the time and politely end the conversation. If you end the conversation professionally, you can continue the relationship as you move forward.
- Follow up and stay connected. Send a thank you within 24 hours. Look for opportunities to reach out in the future, such as sharing articles or resources, or connecting with them through LinkedIn.
Here's a sample script to use in reaching out to request an informational interview:
Hello (specific name),
My name is ___. I was referred to you by ___ (or mention how you know them). Currently, I am a Master of Social Work student at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, with a focus on (list your pathway or interest area).
I am in the process of exploring post-graduation career options and would love to learn more about your work at (agency). If time permits, I would appreciate the opportunity to schedule a virtual 30-minute meeting to hear about how you got started as a (type of social worker). I can accommodate your schedule; however, I am most available during this time (list days/times of the week most available).
Thank you for your consideration.
(email & phone number)
(LinkedIn profile hyperlink or custom link)
Watch this 3-minute video about how to conduct an Informational Interview.
LinkedIn is the leading social network for professionals, including social workers. View this quick LinkedIn Best Practices overview video to learn how to create a LinkedIn profile, and review the additional resources below:
Critical parts of your LinkedIn profile include a tailored header and an about/summary section (Article with Summary Examples), a headshot and background image, and skills and experience sections. For assistance in developing these sections of your profile or to have your LinkedIn profile reviewed, reach out to GSSW Career Services.
If you are attending an in-person networking event, the Elevator Pitch, a 3-minute video resource, will help you learn how to start conversations.
Creating Resumes & Cover Letters
When it comes to writing your resume and cover letter, quality matters. Take the time to determine what skills and training are in line with your position(s) of interest and tailor your documents accordingly.
While your resume should speak to your professional style, there are a few general guidelines that will help you create a successful, tailored resume. GSSW students can have their resume reviewed by GSSW Career Services at any time; simply upload your resume on the "Application Materials" tab of your PCO profile.
To get started, watch this Resume Quick Overview, a 3-minute video to learn best practices for writing a chronological resume.
Although most people use a chronological format, there are several alternative formats to consider. Use the following resume templates for a professional, Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume.
- Chronological Resume Template: Lists experience chronologically from the most recent to the oldest
- Functional Resume Example: Used in specific situations (e.g., changing careers, candidates with large experience gaps, showcasing skills vs. paid experience)
- Combination Resume Example: Combines the best of both the chronological and functional formats
- Curriculum Vitae Template: Provides a full history of your academic credentials and experience; the length of the document is variable
- Federal Resume: Provides additional information typically required when applying for positions within the VA and other state or federal government agencies
Resume Formatting Checklist (Chronological Format)
- 2-page maximum length
- 1/2 inch margins around
- Preferred 11 pt. font for content, with an increased size font for name and section headers (12–14 pt. font)
- Avoid headers/footers, columns, graphics, headshot photos, graphs and tables
- Single-spaced with an extra space between sections
- Active voice bullet points (action verb + task + accomplishment) that include industry keywords
- Consistent formatting of information and dates, correct tense and punctuation
Resources & Online Tools
- Resume Quick Overview: A 3-minute video to learn best practices for writing a chronological resume
- Resume for Social Workers: Canvas workshop
- JobScan: An online tool that allows a candidate to scan their resume, cover letter or social media profile to see how it compares to a job description, to assist with successfully moving through an Applicant Tracking System
- 100 Essential Social Work Resume Keywords
There are a few main reasons why employers will ask for you to submit a cover letter with your application.
- Your cover letter showcases your professional writing ability.
- Your cover letter allows the employer to learn a little bit about you, why you are interested in the position and/or company, and your understanding of the role.
Candidates are encouraged to submit a cover letter with their application/resume whenever possible, even if a letter isn't explicitly required. Including a letter demonstrates your investment and interest in the opportunity. Just like sending a thank-you note, a cover letter isn't mandatory but is often appreciated.
Cover Letter Checklist
- Use your branded resume contact header at the top of the page.
- Address the letter to a specific individual whenever possible.
- Use single-spaced paragraphs with an extra space between paragraphs.
- Main paragraphs should tie your prior experience to the position you are applying for rather than simply listing all of your experiences.
Resources & Online Tools
- Cover Letter Quick Overview
- Cover Letters & Professional Communication Workshop
- Cover Letter Guide: Resource to assist you in writing a professional cover letter
Where will your career journey take you? Visit our Career Paths page to learn more about some of the social work career options available.Explore Career Paths
Job Search & Interview Strategies
From organizing your search and finding opportunities to planning for the interview and following up afterward, successful searches are strategized! A successful professional job search strategy uses a "quality over quantity" approach.
Organize your search:
- Prepare your application materials (resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile).
- Ask former supervisors, colleagues and/or faculty to serve as a positive, professional reference.
- Reflect on what positions, locations and types of work you are going to focus on.
- Determine an organization plan (i.e. select a specific email, organize a job search log, and set up a file folder to save job descriptions).
- Select attire or any other personal, needed resources (thank you notes, notebooks, etc.)
- Consider if there are specific resources that align with your identity through Identity-Based Career Resources.
Job Search Strategy
Remember that 80% of jobs are obtained through networking. Therefore, your job search strategy should contain elements of networking, outreach and application to posted jobs. Be realistic and intentional about the time you spend searching for a job while keeping a healthy mindset.
- Make a list of 20–25 target employers.
- Find connections at target employers (e.g., colleagues, faculty or alumni) and consider reaching out for informational interviews.
- Connect with human resource staff or recruiters within these organizations.
- Set up organization job alerts or candidate profiles within organizations' career pages.
- Make a networking plan (e.g., social media outreach, association events, conferences/workshops/training, etc.).
- Attend career fairs, employer information sessions and tabling events. Visit the "events" tab in PCO for GSSW-coordinated quarterly events.
- Identify job boards that align with your targeted job interest. Visit GSSW's Job Board, PCO, and the Career Snapshots for initial insight.
- Apply to positions with a 75%–80% match rate, considering qualifications and interest.
- Learn more via the Job Search Strategies Quick Overview and Job Search Strategy Workshop.
When it comes to a successful interview, practice makes perfect. Don't wait until you've been invited to meet with the employer of your dreams. Whether you'll be interviewing for your field placement or post-graduate jobs, make sure you've polished your interview skills to successfully navigate the interview process.
Learn strategies for an effective interview that will impress prospective employers. Gain knowledge of different types of interview questions and best practices for answering them with these two video resources: Interview Quick Overview and Interview Workshop.
Interview Prep Step-By-Step
- Research the organization online and make note of things that interest you and questions that you have about the organization.
- Go through the job description and compare your skills and experience with their required and preferred qualifications.
- Prepare and practice for open-ended, behavioral, and scenario-based questions. Review the 3 P's (past, present, and purpose) and STAR (situation, task, action, and result) formats.
- Prepare a list of 3–5 questions for the employer.
- Think through logistics for the video or in-person interview and plan accordingly.
Sample Interview Questions
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and how your education/experience prepared you for this position.
- What do you believe to be your major successes in this field of work? Failures?
- What experience have you had working with people of different backgrounds (i.e. race, sex, gender, culture) than you?
- How do you handle balancing/shifting priorities in a fast-paced environment? How do you practice self-care?
- What type of experience do you have collaborating with different agencies/organizations to achieve a common goal?
- How might your personal history be an asset/hindrance in your work?
- What is your knowledge/experience with harm reduction principles and strategies?
- Discuss one of the most difficult situations that you have experienced in the field. How did you deal with it? What did you learn from it?
- Have you ever been faced with an ethical conflict in your time as a social worker? How did you handle it?
- What do you think is the most important ingredient in successful clinical relationships? Supervisory/team relationships? Community relationships?
- You have been called to a local hospital to meet with an individual who is believed to be experiencing a mental health crisis. While the individual qualifies to receive services, you determine that the individual does not qualify for a 5150 (the 72 hr. hold). The doctor on duty disagrees and calls your supervisor to say that you have made a mistake. What do you do?
- You are working with a client whose mother calls on a daily basis for information. The client did sign a release that allows you to share information with the mother but the calls are becoming overwhelming. How do you respond to the situation?
- Describe a crisis situation in which you were the primary person responsible for assessing and intervening in one of the following areas: suicide, homicide, child/elder/dependent abuse. If not applicable, please describe how you would address a situation in which you were concerned that someone was at risk of suicide.
- Discuss some clinical practice skills you possess. Describe some treatment modalities or theoretical frameworks that you would draw from to effectively engage clients at our agency.
- On a scale of 1-10, how comfortable are you working with clients that require you to spend time in _____ (i.e. jails, in-home, hospitals, etc.)?
- Through your eyes, what are some ways a social worker can make an impact on a macro level?
- Can you tell us about a time when you utilized social media to make an impact?
- How would you go about collecting community resources in a neighborhood in which you have no relationships?
- What specific policy issues are of interest to you?
- Can you tell us more about your research experience?
- Can you provide us with a snapshot of your most recent research tasks/focus? What type of analysis was performed? What tools were used? How were the results presented?
- Can you tell me about your experience presenting findings to an audience?
- What do you think is the most important issue coming up in the next legislative session?
Sample Questions to Ask in an Interview
- What do you like best about working for this agency/company?
- What brought you here and what keeps you here?
- How often, and by whom will I be supervised? What types of supervision are available?
- Are there opportunities for professional development within and/or beyond the agency?
- What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to succeed in this role?
- I noticed on your website that your values are _____, _____, and _____, how do you see that come alive here at _____?
- What do you think would be the most challenging/rewarding experiences of working at _____?
- Is the staff on call, and how is that handled?
- What are some of the biggest challenges facing the organization right now?
- The job description mentions the person hired for this position would do _____, can you expand on this?
- The website says _____ organization practices _____. Can you tell me more about what that looks like in practice?
- What is the typical career path of social workers within this agency?
- To what extent will I have the opportunity to network with other agencies or other professionals in the field?
- What are the performance expectations of the person in this position in the first 3, 6, and 12 months?
- How would you describe the organizational culture of this organization?
- Is there anything else I can provide for you that would be helpful in making your decision?
Additional Interviewing Resources
- 10 Remote Job Interview Questions You've Got to Be Ready to Answer
- 10 Interview Questions to Determine If A Company is as Inclusive as it Claims
- Questions Students May Ask to Assess Your Organization's Commitment to DEI
- Adults with Asperger's — 7 Powerful Tips for Job Interview
Whether you are planning for your first interview or you've interviewed numerous times in the past, making sure you prepare, practice and polish your interview is key to success!
Career Closet: Need professional attire? This DU Career & Professional Development resource is open to all GSSW students and is located in the Burwell Center for Career Achievement.
Job Search Log: Initially, it's easy to remember where you've applied and what stage you are at with each interview. Once your job search is in full swing, however, it can get confusing! Use this job search log to stay organized.
JobScan: JobScan helps you optimize your resume for any job, highlighting the key experience and skills recruiters need to see.
LinkedIn Career Explorer Tool: Uncover potential career paths and see how your skills match real job titles.
JobScan Career Change Tool: Want to explore opportunities within traditional Social Work arenas, but also interested in exploring nontraditional ways to use your skills? Use this resource to locate career paths and job leads.
Cost of Living Calculator: Considering a move during your job search? The Cost of Living Calculator allows you to compare the cost of living expenses so that you can confidently decide on a location and target salary for your search.
Organization Directories: These platforms can help you to identify agencies within your state.
- Guidestar: A directory of nonprofit organizations
- Buzzfile: Lists companies within an industry
- Candor: Showcases whether or not an agency is hiring/not-hiring/freezing their candidate search
Temporary or Contract Projects: As you determine your job search strategy, you may consider temporary or contract projects within the social work field or use your transferrable skills to earn additional income. Here are a few helpful platforms for finding this type of work:
Accepting & Starting a Job Successfully
While it is exciting to be offered a job, the acceptance of a job offer can bring anxiety as you decide if it's the RIGHT position. In job searching and career exploration, it is important to determine if your potential employer's culture, goals and ethics align with your own. Here are a few tips to help you confidentially move forward ... with or without the company.
Social workers are trained to advocate for others. Now it's time to advocate for yourself and your profession! An employer will not rescind an offer for negotiating professionally.
Salary Question & Response Examples:
What are your salary expectations?
- "I am excited about the position and open to discussing salary; however, I would like to know a little bit more about what the position entails before I can give a number."
- "Since I am still learning about this role, I haven't yet set my salary expectations. As we move forward in the process, I would expect my salary to line up with market rates for my education and level of experience."
- "I am still learning about the role, but could you provide me information on the agency's salary range for this position?"
Salary Negotiation Process:
- Research your market value based on your degree, skills and target geographic location. See Career Snapshots for initial information.
- Prepare to be asked about (non-binding) salary expectations in your application and/or screening interviews.
- You interview and are offered a position by an employer (the offer can be verbal or in writing).
- If the offer is a verbal offer, ask for the offer in writing and time to review and consider the information.
- Make a counteroffer backed with proof and data.
- Wait for the employer to respond to your counteroffer.
- Either accept or respectfully decline the offer.
Market Value Tools
- Informational interviews with your network
- NACE: Job Seeker Salary Calculator
- Cost of Living Calculator: Considering a move during your job search? The Cost of Living Calculator allows you to compare the cost of living expenses so that you can confidently decide on a location and target salary for your search.
- Consider the full offer, including monetary, near monetary (e.g., 401K, medical/dental/vision, pensions, tuition, training, licensure supervision, relocation expenses, partner benefits), and non-monetary (e.g., schedule, flexibility, title, ability to advance, office perks, vacation, childcare, technology, supervision).
- Review the job description and highlight required and preferred skills and experiences.
- Evaluate your resume and work history for overlap.
- Based on the comparison, list 2–3 reasons (backed up with data) that justify your counteroffer.
- Make your counteroffer, in writing, to the human resources staff or hiring manager. Remember, you can make a counteroffer for a monetary, near-monetary, or non-monetary benefit.
Example of counteroffer wording:
"Thank you for your offer for the (position title). I am very excited about the opportunity and the possibility of joining your team. Given my (years of experience, education level, additional certification, and skill), I would like to request a salary of ($XXK)/(benefit)."