1. Tailor your résumé to the specialty field or job you want. You can write a general résumé to get started, but as you narrow your interests, you will want to package your experience in a way that will most likely catch the attention of employers.
2. You do not have to list an objective on your résumé. In fact, unless you will be able to change it to correspond to each job for which you apply, you should leave the objective off the résumé and use the cover letter to spell out what you want in a job.
- If an objective is too general, the employer will think you do not know what you want. If it is too specific and not perfectly in line with the job opening, the employer will assume his/her job is not your first choice.
- Use phrases starting with an action verb (see list below).
- Use language that creates a vivid picture for employers.
- Keep descriptions brief, but give a picture of the populations you have served; the social, medical, and/or psychological issues with which you have worked; and the social work skills you have practiced.
- Include issues with which you’ve dealt that would be transferable and of value in nearly any setting (i.e., substance abuse, sexual abuse, etc.). Use quantities, amounts, and dollar values, when possible (i.e., managed a $250,000 annual budget).
- Use professional terminology when appropriate.
- Be consistent with use of boldface, underlining, capitalizing, and italics.
- Send a cover letter with your résumé.
- Use personal pronouns (I or we).
- Include personal data (age, gender, race, etc.).
- Include a photograph.
- List street addresses of schools, former employers, etc.
- Have any grammatical errors or typos (hint: read the résumé backward to check for typos).
- Send your résumé without a cover letter.
Categorizing your résumé
You can use general headings such as objective, education, honors, research, skills, interests. It is best to use specific headings for work experience. This section presents those experiences you believe represent the work you’ve done that prepares you for the position for which you are applying. Examples of specific headings follow:
- Human Services Experience
- Community Organizing Experience
- Administrative Experience
- Program Planning Experience
- Clinical Experience
- Therapeutic and Advocacy Experience
- Child Welfare Experience
- Experience with Children and Families
- Experience in Gerontology
- Substance Abuse Treatment Experience
- and so on…
You may have two categories to advertise and emphasize two sets of relevant experiences. For instance, you may be applying for a job that requires administrative experience and experience with children. You may not have administrative experience in a children’s program, but you may have administrative experience from other employment. These are “transferable” skills (from one job to another) and are worth emphasizing.
If you are just graduating, the MSW is your most recent degree so you will probably want to begin with this section on your résumé to call attention to it. Over time, after you accumulate more experience, you will want to move this section nearer the end of your résumé.
- Try to keep the educational experience together (i.e., honors, research).
- If you are comfortable and proud of your GPA, it is fine to list it with your education.
- Don’t forget to list concentration, degree, and graduation date. Also include dual degree, or certificate program information, if applicable.
This is usually considered the most important section by employers, and most will admit that the skills acquired during activities, internships, volunteer experience, etc. are as valuable as paid positions. Those should be listed and highlighted. Under the heading for specific and related experience (i.e., child welfare experience) you can list these experiences along with paid employment in the same field. If you are a new graduate, the name of the agency is generally more eye-catching than your title (i.e., social work intern), so you should list the agency before you give your title.
In this section, you should highlight any skills or talents you have that may be useful in the workplace and that separate you from other applicants.
- Fluency or proficiency in a foreign language
- American Sign Language
- Certifications in CPR or Outdoor Leadership
- Public speaking training
- Computer skills, such as use and programming experience
If you have designed and delivered speeches and workshops or if you have been published, you may want to organize a category to highlight these skills. If you have work experience that does not fit in the “specific” categories you designed and you want to include it, you could add a category called “Other Work Experience.” You can also add categories for specialized training, relevant research, etc.
As a general rule, résumés should be one page long. Human service professionals, however, can afford to have more than one page if the experience included within the résumé is relevant and important to your social work career. Your most important experience should be listed on the first page, if possible. However, if you do choose to have a two-page résumé, it should be a full two pages, not one and a half pages. If your résumé is less than two pages, but more than one page, you may want to consider cutting the least relevant experience, such as non-human service experience. Additionally, undergraduate experience can be removed to make room for graduate experience.
You can use the résumé worksheet to help you gather the information you will use on your résumé.
Jane A. Smith
123 Friend Street · Boston, MA 02110 · (617) 999-9999 · firstname.lastname@example.org
Master of Social Work May 2014 (expected)
BOSTON UNIVERSITY, Boston, MA
Bachelor of Arts, Psychology May 2013
NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, New York, NY
Social Work Intern 2009–present
MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL, Boston, MA
- Provide supportive counseling and case management services to patients on the Oncology Unit
- Conduct psychosocial assessments
- Cofacilitate a support group for breast cancer patients
- Participate in multidisciplinary team meetings and family conferences
- Collaborate with multidisciplinary team members on behalf of patients
Social Work Intern Summer 2009
NEW ENGLAND HOME FOR LITTLE WANDERERS, Jamaica Plain, MA
- Provided individual and group therapy to adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues
- Cofacilitated anger management and social skills groups for adolescents aged 13–16
- Conducted family assessments
- Developed treatment plans and coordinated with Department of Social Services staff
JEWISH VOCATIONAL SERVICE, Boston, MA
- Provided counseling and job search assistance to individuals with disabilities and dislocated workers
- Assessed training needs and assisted clients in obtaining federal funding for training programs
- Coordinated with state agency staff on behalf of job seekers with disabilities
- Facilitated workshops focusing on interviewing skills and job skills assessment
- Developed and conducted staff training regarding disability and employment issues
Case Coordinator 2005–2006
MASSACHUSETTS HOSPITAL SCHOOL, Canton, MA
- Provided counseling and case management services to young adults with disabilities
- Conducted supported living assessments
- Developed individualized supported living service plans
- Coordinated community resources to assist individuals in achieving vocational, educational, and recreational goals
INTERNATIONAL CENTER FOR THE DISABLED, New York, NY
- Provided vocational counseling to adults with physical and psychiatric disabilities
- Developed individualized vocational training plans
- Facilitated a vocational skills training group
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SOCIAL WORKERS 2008–present
It is very important that you locate at least three references you feel confident will speak highly of your work and ability.
- These references could be a field supervisor, professor, and former employer.
- These references should be able to speak about how they think you will perform for a new employer and your qualifications for a particular position; it is generally helpful if your references work in human services.
- You should also ask the references what they are prepared to say about you to prospective employers.
- Current references, people with whom you’ve had contact in the last couple of years, are best.
Most employers will want to talk to your references by phone, so you must check with the people you ask for references if they will agree to do this. You will then want to prepare a list of names, titles, organizations, addresses, and phone numbers to present to the employer in the interview. It can be very frustrating to a potential employer to be unable to reach your references because they are on vacation or out sick. It can also hold up the hiring process.
It would be to your benefit to ask your references to write a general letter of recommendation for you to present to employers. You can then present the list of names and numbers to the employer and follow-up by indicating “in case one of the references should be difficult to reach, I have given you a general letter of recommendation each has written for me.” Having the letter will also give you a chance to see what the reference will say about you.