With final-year placements coming to an end this academic year and graduation in sight, Social Work Tutor looks at when students should start applying for their first full-time social work positions.
One of the most common questions I get from social work students in their final year is ‘when should I start applying for a job?’
They don’t want to apply too early and end up interviewing for jobs that they won’t be able to start for another six months.
They don’t want to leave it too late and find out that all the jobs have been taken.
So, just when is the best time to apply for your first social work job?
In my opinion, it is best to follow these three rules:
Number 1: Apply around 3-4 months before your course is due to finish
Number 3: Find out what options are available on your final placement
Apply 3-4 months before your social work course finishes
The whole process of applying for a job- through shortlisting, interviews, references and police checks- can take anywhere between two to eight weeks (with it more likely being closer to two months than one). With most employers factoring in the need for successful candidates to have to serve some sort of notice period at their current place of work, putting out an advert to getting somebody in the office can take 3-4 months on average.
For this reason, I advise social work students to use this same time period as guidance when deciding to start applying for their first social work jobs.
Look ahead to a date when your final placement finishes, your portfolio is completed, and your dissertation will be handed in. Then, without putting too much stress on yourself by putting ‘find a job’ into the list of everything you need to do, work backwards 3-4 months.
That’s when you should start applying for jobs.
Apply as soon as you see adverts for newly qualified social work positions
The first exception to the ‘3-4 months’ rule of thumb is to apply as soon as you see adverts for newly qualified social work positions.
Keep an eye on your local council jobs pages and set alerts for new social work positions if the webpage allows. If you see any advert that specifically relates to ‘newly qualified social worker’ jobs, ‘ASYE’ positions or ‘social work academy’ intakes, apply for those jobs immediately.
The councils employing for these positions will know that applicants will not yet be qualified and, as such, there is no need to plan ahead to work out when you’ll have your registration few.
So, if any adverts of this type come up, get your applications in immediately.
Find out what options are available on your final placement
If you’re already in a placement that employs social workers and you’d like to work there yourself, consider your time there as a six-month job interview.
Do your best. Impress managers. Get to know everyone you can. Network. Learn the IT systems inside out. Try to spend time shadowing in different departments. Build good relationships with partner agencies.
All things you should be doing anyway, but even more important if you want to get a full-time job there.
Towards the latter stages of your placement, start sensitively enquiring about the recruitment process. Ask your supervisor if they know of any opportunities coming up. Ask the people in your team about the kinds of questions they were asked when they were interviewed. Email HR to politely enquire about potential newly qualified positions.
Ideally, you’ll have shown what a great asset you are to the team and they won’t want to let you go. In these positions I’ve known many students make such a good impression that they’ve been employed as family support workers or social work assistants before their registration has come through.
Whatever you do, don’t leave it too late and don’t let rejections get you down
Whichever of the three options outline above open up for you, try not to leave it too late before you start applying for jobs. The 3-4 months rule is a good one generally, but I’d rather you started applying early (and got told you wouldn’t be qualified in time) than left it too late.
The other important thing to bear in mind is not to let rejections get you down.
Some people will have the unfair advantage of a statutory placement, while your final placement was in a charity because your university ran out of options.
Some days you’ll just mess up in the interview and not come across as well as you should.
Sometimes you’ll be up against people who have had a lot more experience.
Just keep trying. There are loads of social work jobs out there and you’ll get there in the end.