You’re looking for a social work job.
Or you might even be a social worker already.
But you might be facing difficulties within your job. It doesn’t seem to fit you.
The question is:
- Can you create a better fit?
- How do you create a better fit?
Often, we think about what job to get. But we rarely think about what fitto get. You don’t just buy any clothes you see, right?
You try it on, to see if there’s a proper fit.
How about your social work job?
Who am I to say this?
You might wonder who I am to give you any advice on job fit.
I’m not a professor, or a job coach, or even a university tutor.
I’m a social worker.
And I’m a social worker that’s struggled a lot in different places.
As someone who studied social work abroad, my final university placement was a complete misfit.
It was so bad that they considered failing me.
Even in my current job, I wouldn’t say that I fit into the traditional mould of a typical social worker there.
That’s made me think about how to create a better fit.
If you’re still reading, know that I’ve failed a lot in job fits. But out of those failures, I’ve gathered a few useful lessons.
Allow me to share some.
The principles of social work job fit
There are some principles to hold to before thinking about how to make things better.
1. No social work job will fit perfectly.
Yup, you read that right.
There’s no perfect social work job.
No perfect job fit.
What’s the point of reading this right?
Well, the point is that because there is no perfect job fit, you adjust along the way.
Think of it as driving a car.
You wouldn’t drive in a straight line for the whole journey. You will occasionally veer off the lane.
You might make a wrong turn (oh yes, I know we do).
But what matters is that you are consistently adjusting along the way.
Let’s be clear too. I’m not asking you to find a fit.
I’m asking you to create a fit.
There’s not going to be a social work job in the world that’s going to fit you like a glove.
You need to create the fit that you want to see.
2. You are 100% responsible for the job fit.
No one is responsible for the job fit.
It’s not your organisation, your supervisor, your colleagues.
You need to make the effort to improve the job fit. Or not the job will end up harming you.
As Henry Cloud and John Townsend say in their book, Boundaries,
You are responsible for yourself. You are responsible to others.
No one but you can make the changes.
If you are waiting for someone else, or even the organisation, to change, you can keep waiting.
You must be the change you want to see.
The equation is simple.
Either you change, or the job will change you.
In other words, you either change or get sacked.
3. Know yourself.
Before knowing the right fit, you first need to know yourself.
To do that, it’s vital to ask some questions of yourself.
Introduced in management guru Peter Drucker’s classic article ‘Managing Oneself’, he asks readers to think:
- What are my strengths?
- How do I perform?
- Am I a reader or listener?
- How do I learn? Is it by reading, listening or writing?
- Do I produce results as a decision maker or an advisor?
- Where do I belong? In a big or a small organisation?
- Do I perform well under stress or do I need highly structured and predictable environments?
- What are my values?
But beyond that, Drucker also argues that in the late 1960s, ‘no one wanted to be told what to do any longer.’
And the question that we have to ask ourselves as social workers is:
What should I contribute?Peter Drucker, in Managing Oneself
Why bother with fit?
Okay, so you work, get your money, go home, eat, sleep, rinse and repeat.
What’s wrong with that?
Why even bother with fit?
Well… I’m not going to lie to you.
If you wanted to do social work as a job, there’s not much point finding or creating a fit.
Meaning, if social work, to you, is just a job where you get cash, buy things you need, and get the occasional impact, then creating a fit is not going to be worth it.
Because creating a fit is difficult.
But if social work is not just a job to you, but a calling, then creating a fit matters.
Firstly, you start to see yourself growing as a social worker.
I love this quote by Angela Duckworth. Angela is the author of Grit, where she studied what made great people great.
Some people get 20 years of experience. Others get 1 year of experience, 20 times in a row.
As a social worker, you would inevitably hit a plateau in your progress. You start to see yourself doing the same thing over and over again.
You don’t feel yourself growing.
But when you create a better fit, you are motivated to grow.
You see that your intentional growth creates better impact for the clients you see.
You want to grow.
And you make that growth happen.
Secondly, you see your impact rising exponentially when you create a fit around your strengths and interests.
I will admit this. I don’t like working with children.
For me, it isn’t that children are bad. It’s that I don’t like working with them.
It’s nothing personal.
In the same way, there are some things you like doing in social work. There are other things you don’t like doing.
If you force yourself to consistently do the things you hate, your impact is going to be capped.
But if you focus on your strengths, and what you love doing, you start seeing your impact rising exponentially.
As Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry once said,
We only replay your winning plays.
Lastly but most importantly, you become more fulfilled by your social work job.
You and I know those jobs.
Where we drag our feet to work, look at the clock, and wonder when it’s time to go home.
Work for a living.
Don’t just work for a dying.
How do you create fit?
As you can see from the graphic above, there are different elements in creating fit. It’s not about creating a perfect fit.
It’s about creating a reasonable fit.
But before you create that, you need to understand yourself, and the organisation. If there are areas where you fundamentally disagree, that’s the point where you need to cut ties.
That’s why before you join the organisation, it’s important to understand it first.
Use the interview.
Ask them hard questions such as:
- Why do you exist?
- What’s the culture within this organisation?
- What’s your strategy for the next 5 years?
The interview is not only for the employer to understand you. But it’s for you to understand them as well.
It’s about mapping.
I’m revealing my age here.
When I was 5, I used to remember my dad taking out a big map book in his car to find out how to get somewhere.
We still got lost anyway.
That’s not the point.
The point is that you need to map out your purpose to the organisational purpose. Map out what you want to do, to what the organisation wants to do.
If the routes ahead will fundamentally diverge, you need to ask yourself if it’s something you still want to do.
For example, on my last placement, with local authorities in England placing many cost-cutting measures in place, I fundamentally disagreed with this approach.
Yet I was placed in a local authority.
I disagreed that I, as the social worker, had to reduce services to clients in need in the name of “enabling independence”.
In reality, it was to save the local authorities money.
Map your purpose and skills to the organisation’s purpose, culture, and plan. If you diverge, it’s your choice.
You can’t know and change everything.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
The organisational culture is important in enabling you to do your work.
But if you haven’t joined, culture is hard to find out. You can talk to previous employees.
But there’s a limit to that.
If you’re in the organisation, you can’t change culture very easily too.
Create your own subculture.
Create your own tribe. Find people you can work well with.
Communicate the kind of culture you want whether it be through informal conversations, or organisation-wide staff emails.
Before you look at the organisation you want to join, you need to understand yourself.
This involves knowing your purpose, and your skills.
Your purpose (Why you do)
Why do you exist?
What’s the contribution you want to make?
What’s the legacy you want to leave?
What’s your ultimate concern?
Yes, yes, I know.
But important ones.
To better understand yourself, I recommend taking a day out to think through these 4 questions. These are adapted from Daniel Wong’s great book, The Happy Student.
- What are my values?
- What do I want to be remembered for when I die?
- What’s my definition of success?
- What’s my life purpose?
I’ve worked through these questions countless times as I’ve thought about quitting social work.
Here are some pointers that have helped.
- Pick 2 to 3 (maximum) core values.
- Imagine yourself at your own funeral. What would you want people to say?
- How would you define success for yourself based on the actions you take, rather than the results?
- Why do you exist?
Your skills (What you do)
Your life purpose is about why you do.
Your skills are what you do.
There are certain skills in social work within you, that are not readily found elsewhere.
If you struggle to know your skills, ask yourself:
- What do people say is unique about me?
- What can I do easily, that not everyone else can do as easily?
- What is the one special thing I bring to each organisation I go to?
If you still struggle, be intentional about finding out.
Books like What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles, and The Pathfinder by Nicholas Lore, were crucial in helping me.
You might think that career guidance books are trash. Pointless.
After all, this existential question
Why do I exist?
seems like a question no one else can answer but yourself.
But you aren’t the only one who’s facing difficulties in finding out what you should do with your social work job.
Many others have gone through similar journeys.
And they have come out stronger from it.
Give others a chance.
Give yourself a chance.
Understanding the organisation
Why does the organisation exist?
It can’t be just to provide social work services.
Okay, maybe it is.
Great organisations are guided by a shining star. A north light.
Before you enter an organisation, whilst having the interview, understand the purpose of the organisation.
Aligning that with yours, matters.
There are many aspects to organisational culture. It would be hard to cover that here.
For a more in-depth read, you can try Daniel Coyle’s The Culture Code.
But know this, culture intricately affects every single aspect of your work. It affects the way things are done, the people you work with, and the eventual results you will get.
Know the culture.
The other thing is:
You create the culture you want to see.
You can wait for your boss to say, work hard, play hard, trust each other!
But you are also responsible for the kind of culture you want to see.
Building a good fit, is about having your boss, and yourself, invested in creating good culture.
Okay, it’s hard to have a plan in social work.
Especially when everything seems to be always changing. You can’t control what will happen.
But there needs to be a strategy.
Is that strategy something you are comfortable with executing?
Creating a good social work job fit is vital.
How you create it though, is more intricate.
But what matters is intention. Be deliberate about it.
Don’t wait for it to happen.
You create the fit you want.
What are your thoughts on creating fit? Add your comments below!
On team cultures, Daniel Coyle – The Culture Code
On self-leadership, Peter Drucker – Managing Oneself