If you're a social worker updating your resume, you're probably writing about individualized care plans and crisis management. Basic social work stuff, right? But how will you make your profile stand out against tens (or hundreds!) of your peers?
Your resume has one main purpose: to show what distinguishes you from other candidates in a way that makes you a great fit for the job. And the best way to do that is to show what you've done by emphasizing the benefits for the organizations and people you've worked with.
This means you have to go beyond the traditional roles or tasks, and use your resume to outline how you've solved problems, improved a certain process, started an innovative project, or demonstrated leadership. When you can attach a numerical result to the whole thing, it’s even better! (I know that most of what you do isn't measurable, because you're not an accountant or a sales rep... but you still have a couple of options to include numbers on your resume, as we'll see.)
In resume-speak, we have a name for these bits of information that make you look more professional and experienced than the pack: accomplishments. Let me share some examples of accomplishments that I've found in resumes of social workers, youth workers, case planners, and the like:
- Trained all new care coordinators on the computer system and how to do authorizations for all levels of care.
- Partnered with outside agencies to promote number of referrals to evaluations department, resulting in nearly double volume year-over-year.
- Attended SPRs and therapeutic treatment conferences.
- Complete two home visits each month for 15 families throughout [region].
- Managed and developed volunteer programs including intergenerational groups.
You might not see right away why these examples are compelling. However, when you contrast them with roles and responsibilities (examples listed below), which permeate most of your peers' resumes, the difference becomes more obvious. Imagine looking at a pile of 50 resumes, where most of the experience bullets look like the following list:
- Developed and implemented individualized care plans.
- Intervened in crisis situations using crisis management and de-escalation techniques.
- Communicated with client collaterals, members of treatment team, and outside agencies.
- Designed, implemented, and monitored behavior modification plans.
- Led weekly psycho-education and therapeutic inpatient groups.
Do you agree that most of these points are pretty much Social Work 101? They do talk about your job as a social worker, but they won't give employers the impression that you're better than the previous candidate.
The Accomplishment Advantage
Now, the beauty in the list of accomplishments (the first one) is the fact that it speaks your potential employers' language. It focuses on things that matter to them. You can train your co-workers, you've made programs grow, you're constantly learning. Beyond the accomplishments themselves, you are demonstrating soft skills (such as motivation) and values (such as your work ethic).
Imagine you're a manager and you learn that one of your mental health workers is moving far away, leaving a hole in your team. And you have an idea of the sort of professional you'd like to see there. If you're concerned with the team's dynamics, you might want someone with leadership. If there's just too much to do and everyone feels overloaded, a candidate with an eye for efficiency and program management will become quite appealing. In other words, you're looking for accomplishments and results that can solve your problems!
A resume does not succeed when it demonstrates that you can do the job properly. If only it were that simple! A resume succeeds when it makes you look particularly well-suited to deal with the employer's major concerns, when compared to your peers. And that's why focusing on your accomplishments increases your advantage.
Qualitative and Quantitative Accomplishments
Before moving on to practical tips for including your accomplishments on your resume, I want to clarify one point. I've already alluded to the fact that social work isn't an easily measurable profession. This can make translating your accomplishments to your resume a bit harder than if you were in IT or Finance, for instance, since a lot of information in these fields is already monitored in a spreadsheet or system.
That being said, there are things you can measure in social work. Which means your resume should have as many numbers as possible. But there are also meaningful qualitative accomplishments, and certain roles or tasks can help you stand out because of their context. Consider instances in your career when you’ve held a high caseload, managed organizational issues, or worked in a tough neighborhood. Develop a personal "top 5" of things that make you distinctive. It will help you write a good resume summary, and answer the critical interview question "Why should we hire you?"
How to write social work accomplishments for your resume
The list of accomplishments already presented might help you remember your own. Here are some questions that could also bring a light bulb moment. Make sure to go through this list slowly, while thinking carefully about each of your jobs.
- What extra training did you receive and how did it improve your work?
- Were you involved in a pilot project? What was your role and how did you contribute?
- What new ideas or programs have you launched? What were the results or what feedback did you receive?
- How did you go beyond the normal scope of duty?
- Did you train or manage people? How many? For what purpose?
- Did you work with particularly large groups of patients, or specialize in working with a particular type of patient?
- What efforts have you made to constantly learn new things?
With this material, you'll be off to a great start! Your resume will showcase your accomplishments and stand apart from the commonplace resumes that merely list job duties.
About the Author: Richard Poulin has reviewed hundreds of resumes over the last 10 years and is the Founder of Resume Hacking. He has also created a book series focused on resume accomplishments, tailored by profession, one of which highlights the best accomplishments for social workers to include on their resumes.