Searching for Jobs Outside the Traditional Social Work Setting

At Pan American Bank in East Los Angeles, two USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work students helped build a financial literacy program to teach the predominantly Latino community how to become more financially savvy through budgeting and saving.

“I didn’t imagine I would have a job at a bank after graduation,” USC alum Mirna Beltran said. “I’ve always wanted to work with high school-age youth promoting secondary education, pushing them to go to college. Even though I’m working in a different capacity, I’m still informing students of their options.”

Social workers play a valuable role supporting families and communities in need through tough challenges like homelessness, grief and mental illness. But earning a social work degree may open doors to careers that many in the field don’t initially consider.

Social workers are finding their skill sets are transferable and valuable in business and nontraditional settings, while businesses and other organizations ranging from NASA to IBM are recognizing the value social workers bring to workplaces by helping with challenges such as communication and relationship building.

“What our students bring into this is the human element,” said Tory Cox, Asst. Dean, VAC Field Education.  “We’re training [students] on management; we’re training them on leadership; we’re training them on how to look at finances of an organization and how to make decisions on finances.”

Applying for a career in a nontraditional setting like a corporate office may put candidates with social work degrees in competition with job seekers who have education or experience in fields directly related to the business. But Cox believes social workers can distinguish themselves from those candidates because of their focus on human development and the ways in which humans interact with each other, which can lead to “a progression in the bottom line for an organization.”

Still, working in corporate or nontraditional settings can be a change for social workers.

“One of the things about moving from a nonprofit to corporate [workplace] is that there are definitely more resources,” said Jennifer Pelham, a social worker who has held jobs in HR at IBM and now works as a change management specialist at the health care management company Vituity. “They can spend a little bit more money on things,” such as books and team-building resources.

But that bounty of resources can also create conflict for some social workers who feel guilty about pursuing a career in social work with the intention of helping those in need.

“Ethically, they feel that they should be serving those who are the neediest in our population, those who have the least amount of power,” said Cox. “If you work for a corporation, you may feel that you’re actually supporting the people you might otherwise be fighting against, so there’s that bit of conflict that can occur.”

At a recent school panel discussion, USC alum April White Castaneda, assistant director of human resources at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, described the challenge of interviewing for her first internship working in HR at Caltech.

“It was hard for me to take that internship because I felt that these people had a lot of resources and that was in conflict with what I felt like I should be doing as a social worker,” she said. “My instructor said something really important to me. She said, ‘Pain is pain … no matter where it’s at or where it is, and where you can impact and help alleviate pain, that’s what you should be doing.’ And that really stuck with me.”

When looking for job openings, consider searching for the following phrases:

  • Corporate social worker
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Employee assistance program

Recent employment opportunities open to social workers include:

Employee Assistance Program Regional Manager
United Airlines Inc.

Duties: Identify and resolve personal concerns that may affect work performance such as health, family, substance use or emotional issues and provide behavioral health expertise to employees and management.

Community Outreach and Corporate Philanthropy Manger
Twitter

Duties: Foster relationships with local community based and nonprofit organizations and implement community outreach initiatives, encouraging employee participation to further the company’s philanthropic goals.

Equal Employment and Alternative Dispute Resolution Manager
Department of Treasury

Duties: Develop plans to ensure the achievement of equal employment opportunity goals and implement employee assistance programs that address the needs of women, people of color and people with disabilities.

Cox says it is all about finding the right way of framing how this engagement works in corporations. He points to the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR), which encourages businesses to engage in the community. Social workers can play an important role to make sure corporate social responsibility is in the footprint for that organization or business.

“How do you build bridges with the community so that your presence there actually enhances the value of the community and also serves the organization? Someone with social work skills can take on that task,” he said.

Finding a Social Work Job in a Nontraditional Setting 

Selling Social Work Skills in Job Interviews

Social workers applying for a job in a nontraditional or business setting may find themselves in competition with candidates with more experience or education in a given field. If you are applying for a job in a nontraditional setting, highlight the following transferable skills to underscore the potential value you bring to a workplace:

Collaboration:

the patience and vision to bring people together with opposing viewpoints, build connections, resolve conflict and foster healthy relationships.

Community Organizing:

the ability to find commonalities around goals and identify paths to achieve those goals among groups of people.

Facilitation:

the skill to improve engagement among project stakeholders and enhance each employee’s connection to the overall mission and goals of the organization.

Marketing is critical for a social work graduate and persistence is key for an individual who wants to enter a business or nontraditional setting.

“There are not well-trodden pathways already in existence for this work,” Cox said. “Students who want to move in this space have to be persistent and be able to go into interviews where potential employers are talking to MBAs and answer the question: ‘Well, why are you here?’ ”

He noted many interviewers will likely see a social work graduate as a fish out of water, which interviewees have to be cognizant of and prepared to address.

“You have to sell yourself,” he said. “You have to sell your skills.  You have to have tenacity and persistence. And don’t take ‘No’ for an answer.”

Like any graduate searching for work, social work grads need to cover all the bases for a job search with these topics in mind:

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Citation for this content: The DSW@USC, the online Doctor of Social Work program at the University of Southern California.