Prior to obtaining his position as a distinguished lecturer at the Rutgers School of Social Work, Bill Waldman served as the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services, the largest public agency in the state. In this position, he oversaw the Medicaid program, mental health services, youth and family services, developmental disabilities services, and state welfare programs.
WHAT DOES SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN A GOVERNMENT AGENCY ENTAIL?
There are many social work jobs available at the state level. Social workers can work as case managers in mental health or developmental disabilities, in family services, or in Medicaid. As Commissioner, Bill interfaced with social workers on all levels, from direct practice through management and administration. There are a wide variety of roles for social workers interested in working with the government. There are also a variety of levels of government in addition to the state, including the county level (e.g., county offices on aging) and the local level (e.g., municipal departments of health). Bill's favorite part about being Commissioner was working on projects that enhanced social justice, thereby giving better care and quality of life to New Jersey citizens, especially to those most vulnerable.
WHAT SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS DOES SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE IN A GOVERNMENT AGENCY ENTAIL?
Financial issues in state agencies are receiving a lot of attention at this time. Having served under three governors, Bill is familiar with severe budget cuts and the effect it has on services, forcing tough decisions to be made. Bill also states that the most difficult part of his job was the client tragedies that sometimes occurred, such as a child welfare client being killed or badly hurt. Social workers in state agencies may have to deal with painful and upsetting situations with their clients.
WHEN AND HOW SHOULD ONE GO ABOUT FINDING A JOB AT A GOVERNMENT AGENCY?
Bill's number one recommendation for job hunting is networking. He stresses that it is of the utmost importance for students to use everything at their disposal, emphasizing: "Think of all your resources, make a plan, and use them." Bill suggests that students join professional agencies, such as the NASW, and serve on advisory boards to meet potential employment contacts. He advises that students think about what area they want to work in, then identify a geographical area and do a thorough search of government and other agencies in that area. For example, Bill recommends the United Way as a great source to find local nonprofit agencies. To look for opportunities at the state level, students should consult the state of New Jersey's website.
WHAT DO HIRING MANAGERS LOOK FOR IN APPLICANTS?
To begin, Bill advises that students' resumes should be clear and accurate without any exaggeration. Any previous job positions should have the correct job title and dates held. Of course, resumes should be free of typographical errors as well. In these technological times, it is very important for students to be careful about any information on social networking sites, as Bill cautions that increasing numbers of employers are checking potential applicants. Students should research the agency prior to the interview and ask questions that demonstrate their research. It is always important for students to be polite, willing to learn, listen well, and give direct and thoughtful answers to interview questions. If offered a position, Bill advises applicants to obtain a "Letter of Hire" with a job title, start date, and salary. Students should not be afraid to advocate for themselves and think about their future in terms of benefits and opportunities. Since most people have many jobs over the course of their careers, it is important to think about the skills and opportunities available from the first job, as it will be a stepping stone for one's long-term career.