Many job seekers struggle with the deceptively simple task of writing their resume. It’s easy to see why. Borrowing from the famous lyrics of a famous song, there must be 50 ways to write a social work resume. Figuring out what to emphasize is tough—but it’s also be the key to landing an interview.
So how does one create a winning social work resume? What should be highlighted—your clinical skills, credentials, educational training, or work experiences? The savviest job applicants customize their resume to each job, and where you are in your career may dictate the ways you shape your story.
Customize your resume. Spin your experiences and skills to fit the job you’re applying for. If clinical skills are important and you’re only a few years into your career as a social worker, emphasize your clinical educational background and fieldwork training along with applicable experiences.
Decide between a functional or a chronological resume. Consider where you are in your social work career. A functional resume may work better for a more seasoned professional, or one looking to switch fields or job functions. For experienced social workers, the established area of expertise and skills should lead, even if the job they are associated with is not the most recent.
A chronological resume often benefits younger social workers or those who are fresh to the field. As a newly minted MSW, it may be best to play up your training as a student along with the skills you developed in your fieldwork assignments. Start with your education and academic specialization—then list your work experience chronologically.
Be descriptive. Explain your experience—and accomplishments—in detail. Don’t assume your interviewer knows what “delivered group therapy to adolescent clients” actually means. Was there follow-up referral work for individual counseling? How many clients were in your group? Was this for alcohol abuse? Depression? What treatment modality did you use? Flesh out the details, and mention any accomplishments. Quantify your impact: How did your interventions make someone (or something) better?
Use (the right) jargon. Some settings refer to the people they serve as patients. Others call them as clients. Research the setting in which you hope to land a job; use their jargon, when appropriate, to describe your relevant skills and experiences.
Validate your expertise. List all certifications, licenses, and any other credentials you’ve earned under the heading of: “Licensure and Certifications.” Don’t go overboard if you have oodles of certifications; select the ones that distinguish you the most.
Consider a heading. If you have at least three years of MSW work under your belt, consider using a heading at the top of your resume to summarize your experience and objectives. If you have been working as a professional for a few years, include information about your objectives so that interviewers can better understand who you are. In 2-3 sentences, quickly explain:
List volunteer experiences. If you have substantial volunteer experience, consider listing them chronologically under a heading titled “Volunteer Experiences” after your list of work experiences.
Detail your skills. This list would come under the header “Skills,” and would be placed at the very end of your resume.
Spell out acronyms. Not just because correct grammar tells you do so, but also because many employers use resume-scanning software that looks for key terms. Using acronyms might prevent your resume from getting past that very first review.
Use bullet points. This might be really obvious, but using bullet points to organize, present, and simplify your information makes your resume, easier to read. The clearer your experience is, the more likely it is that organizations will understand who you are and what you can bring to the table. Keep it clean, clear, and simple.
Provide job references. But not on your resume. List references on a separate sheet of paper. And always make sure your references know what jobs you’re applying for—and how to speak to your skills as they relate to the postion at hand.
Find an editor. Enlist a friend to proofread and provide feedback on your resume. It can be difficult to describe your roles, responsibilities, and accomplishments without sounding redundant. A friend can help brainstorm descriptive words and offer a big-picture impression of your resume readability.
Follow these 12 steps to craft a winning social work resume, and prepare to put your MSW skills to good use helping others.