Violence In the Shelter: The Price of Underfunding

Hello Readers!  It’s been a while…

This article is a personal response to a systemic and societal ill reflected in the abduction and murder of my colleague, Social Worker and NYC homeless shelter Director Ana Isabel Charle, who died senselessly nearly nine months ago.

So many have worked, and are working, so diligently to develop and implement a meaningful systemic response to this senseless tragedy.  This is my humble contribution to the effort.

Select the link below to view the article, and thanks!

Source: New York Nonprofit Media: Violence In the Shelter: The Price of Underfunding

The publication of this article was made possible through the generosity of NYN Media, with special thanks to Aimée Simpierre.

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The Easiest Hard Decision: When Caregiving Trumps Employment

For someone who has worked their entire life, unemployment is a peculiarly unsettling kind of purgatory.  This “social work practitioner” was not… practitioning… for nearly 16 months.  I voluntarily resigned my position with Catholic Charities in December 2012 because, as John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  That thing that happened had to do with family illness requiring boots on the ground on a full-time basis, and mine were the most qualified boots in the family.  Leaving the workforce was the easiest hard decision I’ve ever had to make.

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At first it was fine, as my attention was appropriately drawn to the business at hand, but then, in my in between moments, I started noticing the figurative dripping of the faucet.  I felt left behind, somehow, that the pace of life had been slowing dramatically as the world rushed forward without me.  And as sweet as that slowing was, in some ways, it soon became scary and disorienting.  Living close to a major highway I had, for years, been used to the sound of traffic.  Several months after plucking myself from the workforce, that formerly familiar sound of cars and trucks took on a different tone.  When the wind blew in the right direction I’d hear the morning rush and think, “That’s the sound of people going to work.”  It was a lonely time and as the months wore on that sound took on an increasingly ominous tone.

As the health of my beloved family member slowly began to improve, I had time to start worrying about dwindling savings and the ripple effects that would have throughout my life—housing, health insurance, car payments, the list goes on and on.  Oh, and did I mention student loan debt?  Three months into my self-imposed exile from the workaday world, I began my job search in earnest.  Three months after that I’d had a number of interviews and a few second interviews, but no offers.  I started to feel that I was at the whim of circumstances that I had no control over and honestly—I started to despair.

So what did I do?  What all obsessive-compulsives do—I made a list.  Two lists, actually.

In the first, I counted my blessings, laughing at the poignancy of what I’d said to a friend years earlier.  “When you have to count your blessings,” I’d quipped, “things aren’t going so good.”

Blessing-counting

  1. I’ve got my health
  2. I have a roof over my head
  3. I have love in my life
  4. I have enough food
  5. I’m bright and ambitious
  6. I’ve got a strong, marketable skill set
  7. I look good in a suit (old joke)

In the second, I jotted down what I believed I had control over.

What I have control over

  1. How well I love
  2. How honest I am
  3. How focused and organized my job search is
  4. How I react to events as they unfold
  5. How much I exercise
  6. How kind I am
  7. What and how much I eat
  8. What time I go to bed
  9. What time I get up
  10. What media I choose to consume
  11. What I want to write about

Unfortunately, the only thing that would assure #7 was #3.  So, I ramped things up.

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I revamped my resume.  Overhauled my LinkedIn profile.  Created excel spreadsheets to track my applications and follow-up.  Rekindled old business relationships.  Attended events sponsored by organizations I was interested in working for.

And, I created The Social Work Practitioner blog.

Not only did I want to share my knowledge and experience, I wanted to create a presence on the web that I had complete control over, that highlighted my skill sets, my approach to work, and demonstrated whatever abilities I’d developed as a thinker and writer.

Ten months, 77 applications, 18 interviews, 4-second interviews, and two offers later, I was back to work.  Three months in, I’ve attacked my role as Program Director of a residential facility for single adults recovering from mental illness con mucho gusto, to say the least.

unemp hired

Folks, gotta tell ya—it’s good to hear the sound of rush hour traffic again.  From the inside.

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“It’s Not My Job”—Keeping Job Descriptions Current

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Supervisors, how do you react when someone on your staff says, in so many words, “It’s not my job”?  It might come out sounding like “I’m sooooo busy” as they scurry away; “I’m still trying to finish that other thing you gave me”; “Can someone else cover that?”; “I prefer to stay in my lane”; or, heaven forbid, it may just sound like the classic push back of the title—“It’s not my job.”

Before flipping to the “Corrective Action” section of your Employee Handbook, it helps to understand why they might be saying that.  Is it that they don’t care?  Or, is it a legitimate cry for help—a boundary borne of self-preservation in the increasingly overburdened settings in which we practice our craft?

What can we do to reduce the likelihood that we will hear these kinds of messages from our staffers?

Minimize “piling on”

As supervisors, we are constantly prioritizing on the fly.  As we work inexorably toward meeting various program and funder goals, things invariably pop up that will wreak havoc on our best-laid plans.

Let’s say that this morning you asked a supervisee to work on something that will take them an hour or two.  When fifteen minutes later something more urgent comes along, don’t just drop it on them and walk.  If there’s no one else on the team to take this newer task on, set the priority for your staffer.  “I know I just asked you to audit these five case files, but something else has come along that’s more important.  You can put the case files aside for now—we’ll revisit that deadline—and focus on this first.  Let me show you what it’s about.”

I’ve made the mistake, as a supervisor, of “piling on,” and the person to whom I assigned the extra work naturally chose the task they preferred rather than the one that I felt was the priority.  My bad—I wasn’t specific.  It is up to us as supervisors to clearly identify the priority, to determine the timeframe and, if possible, to roll up our sleeves and help our staffer get it done—or at least get them off to a good start.  Especially if this newly prioritized task is something they may not have done before, getting the ball rolling with your staffer will give you an opportunity to make sure your instructions are understood and carried out properly.

“Piling on” is a fairly common occurrence that many staffers will push back on out of sheer overwhelm.  There is something we can do, though, to minimize opportunities for them to shut us down by invoking the nuclear “It’s not my job” option—work from job descriptions that are up-to-date, accurate, fair and relevant to the variety of tasks we ask staffers in every job category to perform.

Reviewing the job description

Supervisors, be sure to carefully review the job descriptions for all the categories of employees you will supervise (Case Manager, Case Aide, et cetera).  This should be done regardless of whether you are new to the organization or program, or if you’ve been there a long time.  Most job descriptions will have an “as of” or “revised” date on them, either at the top of the first page, or somewhere in the footer.  If the job description is a minimum of two years old, it may be time for a rewrite.  If at any time the role changes, even a little, it may also behoove you to do a brief revision.

I would suggest starting by sitting down with each staffer and reviewing their job description item by item.  Flag anything that might no longer apply.  Add any regular, or even occasional, task you may need your staffers to perform.  Do not commit to adding or eliminating anything they may suggest—simply let them know their input is important, their thoughts are heard and appreciated, and any changes will be carefully considered before being put in place.  When changes are finalized, they will be discussed with the staffer so as to avoid any confusion about what is expected going forward.

The one-task-fits-all directive

At the bottom of many a job description is what I call the line-item-of-death, the thing that makes eyes roll and teeth grind like nothing else.  It reads something like this: “All other duties as assigned,” in other words, “Do what I tell you.”  I hate this—I hated it when I was a front-line worker, and I hate it now.  Why?  Nothing says “I have the power and you don’t” like “All other duties as assigned.”  Everyone knows who “the boss” is —it is neither productive nor appropriate to lord over our supervisees the implicit threat of being written up if they don’t cheerfully take on “All other duties as assigned.”

If we as supervisors are doing our job of relationship building with our staffers; if we are demonstrating leadership by being willing to pull up a chair and work alongside; if we are willing to even taken something off their desk so they could focus on other priorities, odds are they will be there for us and for the team when, upon occasion, we ask them to step outside the normal boundaries of their job description.

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Depending on the size of your program or organization, you may need to consult with your Human Resources department.  In this case, the changes you would propose are functioning as recommendations for their consideration.

Matching job descriptions to performance appraisal forms

Once you make revisions to any job descriptions it is essential that you make corresponding revisions to the performance appraisal forms for that role.  It is neither helpful nor appropriate to evaluate a staffer, positively or negatively, for an aspect of their performance that does not exist in their job description.  Nor should they be overlooked for an aspect of their performance that was inadvertently left off their performance appraisal form.  Job descriptions and performance evaluation templates need to be in agreement in order to be comprehensive and fair.

For front-line workers, supervisors, or program managers alike, look at your own job descriptions carefully.  If there is something there that is irrelevant, or something you do of which you are proud that doesn’t appear in your job description, make a few notes.  Ask your supervisor or HR about a possible revision.

There is plenty to do in our efforts to advocate for the oppressed and underserved populations we serve as social workers, social work supervisors, and not-for-profit managers.  Knowing when “It is” or “Is not” the job of your supervisee to do something you ask of them is greatly dependent on the expectations you’ve set forth.  Expectations that reside in an accurate, fair, and current job description.

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Once Upon A Client: The Curious Case of Percy Pointer, Part II

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In Part I of “The Curious Case of Percy Pointer”…

Percy Pointer was my first client as an MSW intern in the Client Advocacy Project (CAP) at Coalition for the Homeless in New York City.  The CAP’s goals are to assist clients in their efforts to secure federal disability benefits and to leverage those benefits into a move from the streets or homeless shelter into housing.  But Mr. Pointer, though he had been referred to my program, didn’t seem interested in what the CAP had to offer.  During a session intended to pave the way for referring Mr. Pointer to outpatient mental health services, he mentioned that he would like to be able to visit his teenage daughter but didn’t have the money.

Was there an opportunity here to join a personal goal of Mr. Pointer’s to the program goal of helping clients secure disability benefits?  Absolutely.

Mr. Pointer’s voice became a little stronger when talking about Ophelia.  He sat up taller in his chair.  His eye contact improved.  Is this what hope looks like?

Still, Mr. Pointer resisted the idea of being “on the dole.”  He knew all about his heroin addiction and why he’d gone to prison, knew what it cost taxpayers to keep him there—it mattered to him.  To “keep taking,” as he put it, was a problem.  He wanted to work.  I knew not to challenge his beliefs or feelings about himself—it was time, again, for information.

I let Mr. Pointer know that SSD and SSI would only be provided if there was a genuine need and if he qualified (I knew he would, based on his history and consistent mental health diagnoses over time)—in other words, it wasn’t a handout for someone who didn’t want to work; I let him know that the housing he could get once benefits were in place would cost taxpayers less than keeping him in shelter; I let him know that he could still work and keep receiving his benefits dollar-for-dollar up to the amount of his award, seeing a gradated decrease in the amount of his award for every dollar he earned beyond the amount of his award (this calculation differs somewhat for SSD versus SSI); and, finally, that he can simply elect to stop receiving the benefit any time he wanted, especially if he was feeling up to working full-time again.  And of course, based on how he budgeted, he would have enough money to visit his daughter regularly.

Now I had his attention.  “Your call, Mr. Pointer.”  He looked at me searchingly, said thanks, and left.

Mr. Pointer was early for his next appointment.  We calculated the train fare, the amount he might expect if approved, other expenses, and determined that he could visit her a minimum of once a month.  “If she’ll see me.”  I shot back, “Hey, you gotta be in it to win it!” and we smiled.

Maybe seeing his daughter would be the meds he didn’t want to take.  Or, for that matter, his heroin.  Maybe regular visits with Ophelia would be the change that flashed the light I’d seen in his eyes for the first time.

We went to the local Social Security office the next day and applied.  I wasn’t going to give him another week to think about it, if I could help it.  Five months later, he was approved, and got a tidy check for benefits accrued dating back to the first of the month after the month in which he applied.  It was several thousand dollars.

I was ecstatic, feelin’ my bad social work self, learning that you could marry someone’s personal goals to your programs’ goals and make it happen—saving, I hoped, a life, and laying the groundwork to build a new life with his daughter.

Then Mr. Pointer disappeared.

After he’d collected his big check Mr. Pointer agreed to continue to meet with me.  The next step was to leverage these benefits into housing.  I’d found it odd that he didn’t show up for our next appointment and the following day contacted his case manager.  “He’s gone,” she said.  “He broke curfew the day he cashed his check and hasn’t been seen since.”

I was a little concerned, but when he didn’t show up the following week and still hadn’t been seen, I started to freak a little.  “Great,” I thought to myself.  “Nice going.  You got this guy benefits, he spent it on smack and is probably laying dead in a ditch somewhere.  Good job.”  I made it about me and was agonizing.  I didn’t have the number of his daughter’s foster family, he had provided no emergency contact information during intake—I had nothing.  I called local hospitals and the police and came up dry.

My supervisor was helpful in framing the situation for me.  “Don’t assume the worst.”  “We are not responsible for our clients’ behavior” and a bunch of other true stuff that I didn’t want to hear.  All I wanted was for Mr. Pointer to walk through that door with that little glint in his eye I had seen that one time.  I got back to work and, eventually, had to kiss the whole thing upstairs.  Someone talked about self-care and I looked right through them.  It was hard to think about myself.  I mechanically reminded myself “I did what I was supposed to do and that’s that.”

Once the need for more active self-care eventually sunk in, I started taking short walks during the breaks I hadn’t been taking and began pondering what I’d learned.  I learned that to engage and motivate clients it can’t be about you and what you are supposed to do to help your program check its boxes.  Clients need to be personally invested in the assistance you would offer.  If you can help your client imagine the future you would help them create and show them the tools to getting there that you have to offer then maybe—just maybe—they’ll buy in.

As for Mr. Pointer?  I completed my internship not having any idea what happened to him.

Epilogue

Three months later, I got a voicemail from one of my colleagues who knew Mr. Pointer, and knew I’d been worried about him.

“Hey Craig, call me.  It’s about Mr. Pointer.”  My heart sunk.  It wasn’t like, “Hey!  Call me!  Great news about Mr. Pointer!”  To me, it was like… it wasn’t a good voice—it was completely flat.  And frankly, part of me wasn’t sure I wanted to know what happened to Mr. Pointer.  I sat on the message for a few days.  But, I knew this particular colleague, and they always sounded like that when they spoke.  They’d be like “Hey Craig, call me.  I won the lottery” and they’d sound the same.

It was about a woman.  I can smile when I think about it now as I remember another client who got in a lot of fights who once said “It’s always about a woman.”

Mr. Pointer cashed his check and went out of state to visit an old girlfriend.  He wanted to show her he had money and try to win her back.  What Mr. Pointer didn’t know is that she’d taken up with another man, and when he rang her bell, they both answered.  There was a fist-fight, and Mr. Pointer spent a few months in the slammer before being released.

Out of sheer relief, I laughed.  Thank goodness there were only fists involved.  With everything I had been thinking I had put myself through hell—unnecessarily.  And perhaps that was the best lesson in self-care I’d ever learned.  When uncertainty is in the air, and it nearly always is, I say the following.

“Craig, until you really find out what’s going on with this you can do hard time, or you can do easy time.  If you want to do hard time, think of all the possible terrible things that can happen and believe them.  If you want to do easy time, accept that you do not know, and do not commit your emotions to worrying about something that you have no idea about, until you do know.”

I choose easy time.

Mr. Pointer, wherever you are, I hope you and your daughter are enjoying one another.  Until and unless I hear otherwise, it’s “Case closed.”

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Once Upon A Client: The Curious Case of Percy Pointer, Part I

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Sometimes the only power our clients have is the power to say “No.”

Or so they believe.  My first client ever as an MSW intern, Mr. Percival Pointer, didn’t want any services of any kind.  “If I don’t have anything, you can’t take it away from me.”

“Me, Mr. Pointer?”  I asked.  “Me, Craig, can’t take anything away from you?”  Mr. Pointer nodded.  He tended to talk in those terms—to Mr. Pointer, I was just another person melded with “the system.”  There was him, and there was everybody else.  If you were part of the latter group, he was vulnerable, and clearly, I was part of the latter group—nothing more than a huckster or snake oil salesman.  And Percy Pointer was not about to let himself be vulnerable.

But if Mr. Pointer didn’t want anything, what was he doing slouched in a chair in my cubicle at Coalition for the Homeless, week after week?  A case manager at CAMBA’s Atlantic House Men’s Shelter in Brooklyn had, a month or two earlier, asked him to come talk to me.  He gave Mr. Pointer a MetroCard for the trip into lower Manhattan and assured him that I would give him a card for the return trip.

I already knew, when I’d met Mr. Pointer, that I should never try to “sell” a client something they don’t want.  And what was I “selling?”  Federal disability benefits.  The goals of the program where I interned were two-fold.  To help the medically or psychiatrically disabled single adult homeless in New York City obtain the federal benefits (SSD/SSI) they may be eligible for, and to leverage those benefits into a move out of shelter.

But Mr. Pointer wasn’t buying.  “I seen guys lose the benefits, then they’re back where they started.”  Although it was unusual for someone to lose his or her federal benefits, he was right—people did.  And even if he wasn’t right, if that belief was part of the shield that protected him from being hurt, from losing, from having something taken away, he’d believe it.  You can challenge someone on the facts, but it’s much harder to challenge their beliefs—and it is of questionable value to do so.

But, I shared what I knew.  What he would do with that information was up to him.  I explained to Mr. Pointer about who lost their benefits and under what circumstances and how our program helped prevent people from losing the benefits they’d won and assisted those who had lost benefits and on and on and on.  Folks, if someone doesn’t want it, you can’t give it away.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pointer’s case manager expressed surprise that he continued to come to see me.  “He must like you.”  I was glad he liked me and was happy to see Mr. Pointer, but we had program goals.  I needed to engage clients who were genuinely interested in pursuing disability benefits and moving out of shelter.  And here I was, six or so weeks in, forming a bond with a client who wasn’t there for what I had to offer.  It was suggested in supervision that I meet with Mr. Pointer a couple of more times and refer him to outpatient mental health services, which seemed sensible to me.

But Mr. Pointer wasn’t interested in mental health services and wasn’t interested in meds, though he was seriously depressed.  He had been in prison for robbery and spent years using heroin.  The only reason he’d stopped using, Mr. Pointer told me, was because if he stole money and went back to prison he wouldn’t be able to see his teenage daughter.

“How often do you see your daughter, Mr. Pointer?”  “Almost never” he said.  “I can’t afford the train fare upstate.”

That was my light-bulb moment.

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“Mr. Pointer,” I said.  “Let’s talk about these visits to your daughter.”

NEXT WEEK:  “Once Upon A Client: The Curious Case of Percy Pointer” concludes as we explore the marriage of client goals, program goals, and ask “To what extent, if any, are we responsible for our clients’ behavior when they leave our office?”

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Cultivating “The Gratitude Attitude!”

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There seem to be a number of articles going around the web recently on the subject of how to deal with difficult bosses, and endless complaints about feeling underappreciated, overworked, stressed, unhappy, and on and on and on.  Fine, I get it, but frankly?  It’s wearing me out.  I’m tired of being told what to look out for, what to do, what not to do, and who to steer clear of.  I need a little positivity, please—a leader, in this realm.  As such, this week I’ve elected myself, and I’ll let you in on a little secret—I won by a landslide.  In fact, it was unanimous.  I chose myself to lead my life in the direction I want it to go, to be the change I want to see in the world (hat tip to Mohandas Gandhi) or, at the very least, to try my darndest to dispense with the negativity.

Therefore, I publicly declare that my first edict as King, President, CEO, and Rabble-Rouser-In-Chief of my life?  To cultivate “The Gratitude Attitude!”

Now I’m not talking good old-fashioned “count your blessings” (not that there’s anything wrong with that).  But I used to joke that if you have to count your blessings, maybe things weren’t going so good.  What I’m talking about is putting the lid on my complaints and instead accentuating the positive—seeing the good in people and drawing out the lessons in the painful and sometimes unproductive encounters dropped at our professional doorstep all too frequently.

The little piles of unpleasantness to which I refer include “gifts” from past supervisors and colleagues, some of whom were great, and many of whom challenged me in ways I didn’t always appreciate.  I’ll tell you one thing, though—most of those times I was thrown in the deep end of the pool (as opposed to under the bus) served the hell out of me because, without them, I’d have never known just how well I can swim.

Here, then, is my very public Gratitude Attitude shout-out to the supervisors and managers and colleagues who, by virtue of their heart and knowledge and professionalism, contributed significantly to the social worker and manager I am today.

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In no particular order, then, a hearty “Thanks!” to…

Lindsay Lambert
CAMBA

Lindsay is the first Case Manager I ever hired.  She had been so shy at her interview I had to ask her to speak up, twice.  This almost cost Lindsay the job.  But, I saw something in her.  Lindsay was smart and kind and was working hard toward her MSW, ultimately winning the position over some stiff competition.  Within three months, Lindsay surpassed the six other Case Managers and everyone else on my staff, and there were some real good ones.  Lindsay worked effectively with some incredibly challenging clients, always keeping her cool and getting the job done.  What did I learn from Lindsay?  Quiet people can be fierce!  Wow, if you get to work with a Lindsay, you sure are lucky, because she’ll get her job done very well, go to bat for you and always make you smile.  Thanks, Lindsay—hope to work with you again someday!

Tim Campbell
Coalition for the Homeless

Tim taught me more than anyone about the scrupulous respect and heartfelt compassion required to work successfully with the homeless and seriously mentally ill and, by extension, to all clients in need.  Tim’s an outstanding social worker and leader—a straight shooter, courteous, respectful, and radiates an inner strength that is reassuring to both clients and staff.  Tim held me to a high standard and always challenged me to live up to my promise—under his clear and caring guidance, I’d like to think I have.  Tim was (and still is, I’m sure) an excellent Director of Programs at Coalition for the Homeless, and I have much to thank him for.  So… thanks, Tim!

Samira Alieva
Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens

I have never had the pleasure of working with someone in such a senior position who has so much heart and humanity and compassion as Samira Alieva.  On top of that, Samira is competent and real and her heart is always on her sleeve—that’s why she is universally loved and respected by every person I met at Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens.  Samira is truly one-of-a-kind, and CCBQ is extremely lucky to have her.  For my part, I was very fortunate to have been chosen by her to run one of the most challenging of the many programs she is responsible for.  She gave me the best professional advice I have ever received, with regards to the role I assumed—“Own it!”  Thank you, Samira!

Additional shout-outs to some special peeps, some of whom are still with these organizations, some who have moved on:

Richard Slizeski, Hermine Pelta, and Giovannie LaRoc at Catholic Charities Brooklyn & Queens.

Jennifer Ponce, Mark Comrie, Julia DiGiacomo, Raisa Torres, Kathy Dros, Christina Hoodho, Shawn Young, and Claire Harding-Keefe at CAMBA.

Dova Marder, Valerie Porter, Jose Correa, Susan Nayowith, Marcelles Georges at the NYC Department of Homeless Services.

Lindsay Davis, Celi Collado, Jesus Velez, Allan Benamer, Rebecca Isaac, Mary Brosnahan, Pam Grove, Tony Taylor, Jerry Breen at Coalition for the Homeless.

I hope you’ll take a moment to think about colleagues present and past.  What qualities can you appreciate about them, even if they rubbed you the wrong way or sometimes made your life more difficult than it needed to be?  How did the ways they challenged you cause you to reach down a little deeper for something you didn’t know you had?  How did they help you become the professional you are today?  These are the things I hope you’ll think about, not only throughout your career but in real time, as things unfold.  There are valuable lessons to be learned, not only from the superstars who inspired us, but from the bosses who pushed us too hard, the colleagues who didn’t shoulder their fair share of the load, and the clients who seemed to find every possible way to sabotage their (and your) efforts to elevate their life condition.

So, let’s roll with the negativity—it’s inescapable—and get our Gratitude Attitude on!

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The Ever-Changing Resume

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I made a big mistake early in my career.  I forgot to dust off my crystal ball.

When I put together my first post-MSW resume in 2007, it was pretty simple and straightforward.  But if there’s one thing we can count on in life it’s change, and the resume is not immune.  What would my crystal ball have revealed about the changing face of the resume?

Listing accomplishments is taking on greater importance.

No longer is it the case that recruiters and HR-types are satisfied with descriptions of your skill sets, or thinly veiled lines pulled from a current or prior job description.  They want to know what you’ve accomplished, concretely, in your prior (or current) role.  In other words, how well you did what you were asked to do.

Here, then, is my advice to all newly minted social workers.

Track, in detail, not only your personal accomplishments in any given role,
but accomplishments that were achieved as part of any team effort.

For example, it is nearly always the case that we have funder-mandated goals to achieve.  Did your program meet those goals?  What?  Five years in a row!

“I was selected to represent my department on a five-member interdisciplinary team whose efforts led to our program surpassing contracted goals five years in a row.”

On an individual level:

“For two successive years I had the highest number of permanent placements for residents in our transitional housing program.”

In an interview, be prepared to back that statement up with the numbers you jotted down, back when.

I would be remiss, though, to suggest that this would be beneficial only to new social workers, though the beginning is always the best place to start.  No matter where you are in your career, it’s a great idea to make detailed notes about your achievements. Memorializing these milestones can be critical, because memory is fragile and fleeting—if you’re anything like me, you may not remember a heck of a lot of detail five or six years later.  Take notes and jot down brief stories with talking points throughout your career, for those interviews-of-the-future.  Careerrealism.com, a helpful job search site, reminds us that “…every job is temporary.”  This is real and true, and you want to be ready with stories and achievements and skill set descriptions whenever that time may come to make your next career move—whether you initiate it, or not.

A word on that top-of-the-resume “Objective

I think by now we’ve all pretty much done away with the “Objective” at the top of our resume.  “I am seeking a position with a great organization committed to outstanding service delivery to their clients.” “Oh, so you want a job?  I wasn’t sure why you were sending me a resume” says my imagined HR professional.  As things go, the classic “Objective” is obsolete and it’s not likely to come back anytime soon.

However, if the organization you are applying to asks for a statement on your professional career goal or goals you need to respond, and it’s best to be prepared.  In writing this personal mission statement, be specific and tie your career goals to the mission statement of the organization you are applying to.  This will help the recruiter or Human Resources staffer understand that “What I seek for myself aligns with what your organization does—we are a good fit.”  Then, the resume you’ve prepared will demonstrate concretely that you have the skill set(s) they are looking for, and your cover letter will describe, in narrative form, how you will add value to the program and organization.  It’s all got to fit—together, each of these elements (cover letter, resume with accomplishments, personal mission statement) will be greater than the sum of its parts and move you that much closer to winning the position you’re competing for.

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