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Professional Development

Welcome to Work It With Juan! It’s professional development with a twist!

Hosted by Juan Macias, associate director of alumni career and professional development, who shares his expertise in professional development to help you stay up-to-date with your practice and grow your career.

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Episode 1: Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

Learn about continuing education units (CEUs): what are they, who needs them and where to get them! View Time: 3:46
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What is Professional Development?

To best help our clients, patients and communities, your education in social work shouldn’t end when you receive your diploma. Take advantage of professional development opportunities to stay up-to-date with your practice.

Professional development is a general term that refers to a wide variety of learning opportunities that supplement your formal education. It may include such things as trainings, workshops, seminars, conferences, panel discussions, film screenings and webinars.

It is designed to help you improve your knowledge, skills and work performance while staying current on research and developments in the field. Professional development can also provide you with opportunities to network with other practitioners, as well as help you grow in your career.

While professional development usually refers to learning you receive after your degree, students can also sometimes take advantage of these opportunities as they earn their social work degrees. In fact, many of our professional development events are also open to students!
 

An Overview of Continuing Education Units (CEUs)

Certain professional development opportunities will offer Continuing Education Units, or CEUs. A CEU is a unit of credit offered by a continuing education “provider” approved by a state licensing board. Providers include accredited schools (like the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work), associations (like the National Association of Social Workers), or other individuals or entities that offer continuing education activities and meet licensing board requirements. CEUs can be earned in-person or online.

CEUs are vital to Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs), who are required to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education for licensure renewal to stay current with their practice. The number of hours of continuing education required to maintain a license varies by state. For example, in California, all social work licensees are required to complete 36 hours of continuing education during each two (2)-year license renewal period.

You can receive CEUs by attending events or activities offered by continuing education "providers." Promotional materials for the activity will likely indicate whether CEUs will be offered for attending, and certificates are usually issued as proof that a practitioner has completed CEUs.

The next time you receive promotional materials for a social work event, look to see if it indicates that CEUs will be offered! It will often also state how many credits you will be eligible to earn at the event.

One more thing—and this is very important to remember—if you are eligible to receive CEU credits at an event, you must indicate this when you register or check-in for the event. If you miss this step, you risk losing the opportunity to receive the CEUs with certificate at the completion of the event.

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Episode 2: Pitfalls of Applications and Resumes

Juan and special guest April Castañeda, MSW ’99 and assistant director for human resources at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, address ways to overcome some of the pitfalls of job applications and resumes. View Time: 5:56
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WORK IT WITH JUAN Episode 2: Pitfalls of Applications and Resumes

TRANSCRIPT April Castañeda, assistant director for human resources, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

April Castañeda is currently the assistant director for human resources at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where she is responsible for driving HR strategy through innovation, talent management, and directorate partnerships. Prior to JPL, April was the executive director for human resources at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Throughout her 17-year career at Caltech, she held a number of leadership positions including senior director for employee and organizational development, director of staff education and career development, and director of consulting services at the Staff and Faculty Consultation Center. April holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) from the University of Southern California (USC) and a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Women’s Studies. She has taught graduate courses at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, and is currently a member of the board of Options for Learning, a nonprofit organization which provides early childhood education to low-income families.

How has your relationship/involvement with the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work helped or influenced you?

APRIL: I graduated with an MSW from USC in 1999. The industrial program was awesome and it totally set me up to go into the industry. My MSW provided me with a great opportunity to really grow at Caltech. I got hired at Caltech where I had my field placement as the manager of their employee assistance program. I then taught at the school for five years – a class on policy, a mezzo-level practice class in the industrial social work program (now called Social Change and Innovation) and a class on leadership.

What are the best ways to overcome or avoid potential issues on a job application, such as gaps in employment?

APRIL: It depends on what the gap in employment is. First, you need to always be honest about the years you worked in places. If there is a long unemployment gap, it is important that you still show you have continued to be involved in activities to keep your skills current. That is the main worry for potential employers - that people are not keeping current and keeping their skills sharp. Activities can include volunteering, providing your expertise, being a speaker, doing a free workshop, of participating on a nonprofit board, etc.

If the gap in employment is due to a maternity/paternity leave or caring for a loved one, you should include this information.

What should you do if you were terminated from employment?

APRIL: The most important thing is to never talk badly about your ex-employer. If you were laid off, you can mention that, or if your entire team transitioned, or the organization was bought out, etc.

If you were terminated, you can write “job ended” or that you transitioned to another job. You can discuss the details of the termination in the interview in a positive light (e. g., it was not a good fit, etc.). Another suggestion is if you are terminated from a position, you can always ask your employer if you can report your parting as a resignation. This can be negotiated with some employers and often employers will be okay with this if you ask them. There is no harm in this for employers.

Again, it is always important to be honest.

What about if you do not have enough experience for the job you are applying for?

APRIL: This is the worst for people who just graduated from school. You should list all projects, internships, summer abroad experiences, student government, field placements, and even jobs that are not related to social work (e. g., waitressing, retail). Include all experiences. The main objective is to show that you have been active and employable.

How should you handle it if you received a DUI?

APRIL: Some employers will not ask about convictions or a DUI until the interview. For example, JPL tells applicants they will have to go through a background check and asks if this is okay with you. At this point, applicants should share information about any convictions or issues that may come up on a background check.

Employers may still hire you if you have a DUI. It depends on whether the job involves driving or not. If it does, then a DUI will not work, but some employers will look at the other circumstances involved if the job does not require driving (e. g., how long ago the DUI was or how many there are). It depends on the industry and if the DUI will affect your ability to work. Some employers might exhibit more flexibility (e. g., substance abuse agencies) but others may not and be more strict, such as if you will be working with kids.

With regard to providing salary history and the new law in California (which may soon also be implemented in other states), how should this be handled?

APRIL: When I was employed at Caltech, it was mandatory to ask for salary history on the application. But I had this removed when I started in human resources, because research showed that asking about salary history always put women at a disadvantage. Personally, I do not care what someone made in the past. What is important is what the salary range is for a particular job. Now, at Caltech, they ask for what salary range you are looking for to see if your salary expectations are aligned with the salary range for the position.

The new law in California that began on January 1, 2018 California states that it is illegal in California to ask an applicant for his/her salary history. You may not base a hiring decision or a new hire's salary on their salary history unless they volunteer their salary history, in which case you may consider it in determining salary. However, the California Fair Pay Act also forbids employers from relying on prior salary, by itself, to justify any disparity in pay. Employers are also required to provide applicants with the pay range for a position upon reasonable request. California and New York usually lead in employment law so this may extend to other states.

If an employer still asks you about salary history on an application, leave it blank. If an employer mentions this in the interview, you can say that you left the question blank because the law in California (or any other state where this is applicable) has changed and you assumed that their application had not been updated yet, so you left if blank. If an employer persists, then you can tell them that it would be more helpful for you to learn if the salary range for the position is what you are looking for. If an employer still make it mandatory to provide your salary history, then provide it, but use this as information to evaluate the employer and decide whether you want to work with them.

What constitutes a good resume?

APRIL: At JPL, we get hundreds of resumes for each of our job openings, as do most organizations, so it is very important that you make it clear and concise.

Your resume is just the start of a conversation. It is like peaking someone’s interest to have a first date. In fact, I once did a workshop on how hiring is like the dating process. Your resume is like your online profile. The employer is thinking, “do I want to email you, get to know you better, send you a smiley face? ” Resumes are like interior decorating. What makes a good resume is personal for everyone.

I prefer chronological resumes because today employers are focused on work experience and this format allows employers to clearly see that. It needs to be organized – do not make a hiring manager have to work hard to gain the information they are seeking. Use data and analytics in your resume if you are able (e. g., number of cases/patients you see annually, budget size you oversee, etc.). Mention relevant experience and add details (e. g., types of therapy you provided, etc.). Proofread, proofread, proofread – I cannot stress this enough. If a hiring manager or employer sees typos in your resume they may think this is the standard of detail they can expect from you during employment and not want to go any further. As always, be honest.

You should have different versions of your resume for the different types of jobs you may apply for. Additionally, identifying keywords in the job description – such as minimum requirements - and then weaving those into your resume is always a good practice to catch a hiring manager or employer’s attention.

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Episode 3: Get That Job! (The Interviewing Game Show)

Join host Juan Macias, his lovely assistant Ramona Merchan, MSW ’08, and alum contestants Sean Taitt, MSW ’11, and Nikita Hearns, MSW ’12, as they compete on the new interviewing game show: Get That Job! View Time: 4:43
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Interviews

A job interview is a conversation between a job applicant and a potential employer. It is an opportunity for the candidate to learn more about the job and the agency or organization, and an opportunity for the employer to learn about the candidate’s personality, character and qualifications for the job. Based on the interview, the employer tries to determine if the candidate is a good match for the job and the agency or organization.
 

How Can I Prepare for My Interview?

  • Know yourself (personality, strengths, areas of growth, skills, interests, career goals).
  • Understand your skills and be able to connect them to those for which the employer is looking.
  • Know your resume well (education/courses, your field experiences, other work experiences, volunteer experiences).
  • In advance of the interview, reflect in-depth on your professional experiences to come up with your go-to answers to common behavioral questions employers commonly ask in interviews. These include describing your experiences with challenging/resistant clients; giving examples of how you approach teamwork and how you handle conflict; and describing projects or programs you have created or led.
  • Know clinical risk factors for depression, suicidality, abuse and neglect, substance abuse, etc. to be well-prepared for clinical vignette questions.
  • Research the agency or organization you are interviewing with. Know what they do, their mission, their current news and future plans.
  • Read and understand the job description.
  • Come up with a list of 5 - 7 questions for the employer.
  • Contact recent and established alumni who may currently work for the agency or have worked there in the past to get insight into the hiring process and agency culture.
  • Practice answering questions out loud with a friend in a mock interview role play. Video or tape record yourself and review.
  • Notify references and ask for their permission to give their names as people who are willing to speak on your behalf in regards to your work ethic, overall character, etc.

In preparing for your interview, there may be other kinds of specialized preparation or research that would be helpful to do, depending on the agency or organization. It’s also a great idea to do some reading about trends or recent news or developments in your field in general. Use your instinct and do as much as you can to be prepared. Don’t wing it! Being well-prepared will give you a better chance of impressing the interviewer, and will help keep nervousness in check. You will be more confident walking into an interview with answers ready, and confidence goes a long way.

 

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Episode 4: Job Transitioning

Host Juan Macias discusses job transitioning from micro to macro and macro to micro with special guests Samantha Quintero, MSW '10, and Levonnia Iwuoha, MSW '15. View Time: 4:39
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TRANSITIONING FROM A MICRO JOB TO A MACRO JOB:
An Interview with Samantha Quintero, MSW ‘10

Tell us about your background—your time as a student, how you have stayed involved with our school after graduation, and how your relationship with our school has helped or influenced you.

I graduated with my MSW in 2010 from what is now the Social Change and Innovation Department. As a student, I was active in the Latino Social Work Caucus and served as its Community Representative Chair. After graduation, I became a Field Instructor and served in that capacity until 2016. In the Fall of 2017, I joined the Alumni Leadership Council (ALC), a body of alumni leaders that come together to enhance the school’s visibility in a variety of arenas.

relationship with the Alumni Leadership Council has helped me stay connected with professionals at large, and it has allowed me to think more broadly and from the perspective of a variety of different alumni in all stages of their careers. Being involved with the ALC has also allowed me to acquire additional credibility.

My relationship with the school has helped me get more information about what is happening in the field, and about the things our practitioners do which inform my work in the homelessness arena.

Describe your career path and the professional transition you made from a macro position to a clinical position.

After graduation, I was hired at my second-year field placement in the MSW program. For 8 years, I was a program director at UCLA for the Environmental Worker Training Program, which is a workforce development program federally funded by the National Institute of the Environmental Health Sciences. It aims to place underserved populations in the environmental field. As program director, I identified local employers and worked with community college districts to develop training curriculum to prepare workers for the environmental arena. I oversaw project management of retrofitting projects, partnered with City of Los Angeles to recruit community members for environmental jobs and a variety of other projects. This allowed me to find my niche.

I got to a point where I started to reevaluate my career goals, and I left UCLA and started a consulting company, Community Education Training Institute, which worked with the Department of Corrections in matching recently released parolees with environmental companies. I did this for about a year and realized I wanted to get my license. Around the same time, in March 2016, I volunteered for a service project at the Martin Luther King Recuperative Center in Los Angeles as part of the USC Day of SCervice. The Center is a facility where individuals can recover and regain general stability after medical illness.

That day, I attended a motivational workshop in which homeless clients recovering from illnesses shared their stories. It was there that I realized that there are many areas in which I can work to get my licensure hours. I was networking with Brenda Weiwel, the Director of the Homelessness Initiative at USC, and I told her that I would love to work with this population. I gave her my résumé, and she forwarded it to the program manager. Eventually, I was hired!

Did you need further training or qualifications?

I did not need additional training for the transition I made, but it is always a good idea to attend professional development opportunities like workshops and conferences to learn new trends and stay up to date with best practices.

How can job transitioning be good for a person’s career?

It broadens your awareness of other areas of social work, and it can expose you to true interdisciplinary collaboration and help you develop new professional relationships. It can also allow you to grow and get your license. Your overall marketability can be enhanced by the additional versatility, and often you are able to advance financially because you are now connected to a whole network of individuals. For me, it has allowed me to use both my clinical and macro skills, and I like seeing the immediate impact in the work I do now as a micro social worker.

When do you think is the right time for someone to make a job transition?

You have to first determine what your overall professional goals are. If you feel like you are willing to do something different and put in the time to learn all about a new arena, then making the transition can be right for you. After working in a role for a long time, it can be a challenge to then become the new person on a new team, and it may be difficult to learn a new job. You should make sure to pick a time when you will feel well-supported during the change.

How do you sell yourself if you lack the experience for the job you want to transition to?

Highlight your strengths! Everyone has a niche and something unique to offer any employer. Highlight your willingness to learn and be flexible. The MSW background provides you with so much versatility, and you already have the skills to work with a variety of populations. Your past macro experience does prepare you for working with individuals. Finally, networking is very important because it is how you learn to enhance your resources and connect with others to ultimately land a job, It worked for me.

MOVING UP THE LADDER FROM MICRO TO MACRO:
An Interview with Levonnia Iwuoha, MSW ’15

Tell us about your professional background, how you decided to pursue your MSW.

I was a virtual Master's student and my concentration was community organization, planning and administration. I received my degree in December 2015. When I decided to get my masters, I was working full time for Los Angeles County Children Services and had been there for over ten years. I didn't feel I needed a higher degree in social work because of my work experience, plus I was going through a divorce and had two small children. I heard about the USC Virtual Academic Program, however, and called. The lady was so nice and encouraged me to apply as the class schedule was flexible. I took the first step and I am so happy that I did.

In my current position, I am a Resource Family Approval Supervisor with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in Los Angeles County.

How has your relationship and involvement with our school helped or influenced you?

I am proud to say that I am an alumna and that I graduated with honors—my GPA was a 3.89. I now volunteer on the leadership for the NASW-USC unit. I believe in giving back to my community, and if I can obtain a master 's degree with all that I had going on, anybody can! I want other single mothers at all economic levels to know that it is possible to work, take care of your children, and continue your education.

I have gained so much knowledge and I was so wrong about thinking I didn’t need a higher degree! I really needed to get my MSW because I had no idea what social work really was on the macro level. I didn’t know how policy influences so many services that are implemented in my community. I volunteer on this team and the benefit is that I meet other people who share my passion for helping others in ways I never even knew about. The learning and community of USC never ends. The opportunities are limitless and the experience is priceless.

Describe the professional transition you made from a micro position to a position of greater leadership in the macro space.

I started working for Department of Children and Family Services in Los Angele County (DCFS) in 2001 and have held a variety of positions in DCFS. For five years, I held a variety of micro positions. For example, I was a continuing services caseworker making sure children are successfully placed and get appropriate services. This might mean the child staying in the home or helping them find a “forever family.”

Then I was a dependency investigator worker interviewing families and acting as a liaison between the family and the court, and following that I became a dependency investigation supervisor, which meant that I was now responsible for 5 workers to make sure they are interviewing the families and advocating for their clients with the courts.

I volunteered to become an emergency response supervisor at a time when other supervisors were hesitant because the department was in crisis (e.g., referrals were not being filled, workers were overwhelmed). At this time, everyone wanted to get out of ER and that is when I decided to try it – and it worked! I had no prior experience in ER, but I read the policies and decided I could do this. Ultimately, I excelled in it and I became a leader – to this day, I am still recognized for helping to turn the department around.

I started where each of my workers were and helped take what motivated them and made them want to be a social worker, and then I connected that with the department goals and values. I helped each of them see their role in the big picture—the macro picture. I looked at each worker holistically. At this time, however, I had not started the MSW program and did not know social workers could work in a variety of settings.

I started considering getting my MSW after speaking with a coworker who was a USC MSW alum who told me that USC had an online program. Things were difficult because I was going through a divorce, but the online program gave me the opportunity to pursue a world-class MSW from home. It helped me realize what social work really was and the many different facets of social work. It was magical and took me to the next level of my career. It allowed me to understand policy and macro issues, and it allowed me to answer so many macro questions I had about the department I worked in.

After getting my MSW in 2103, I became a Resource Family Approval Supervisor, where I am now responsible for assessing homes to make sure we are providing adequate homes for children to be placed in.

Why would you recommend transitioning into a macro, management position?

I think it is important to consider moving into management, because as one person, you can only do so much. In a macro position, you can make more of an impact and an influence and have more outreach. You will never lose the micro piece. I still use my micro skills with my workers. The macro is made by different individuals coming together to meet the mission and values of the organization. You can also grow and leave a legacy as a supervisor.

Do you recommend obtaining further education or qualifications?

For many positions, you need to have a master’s degree. My MSW allowed me to get promotions where I worked, and it helped me understand policy. I’m more qualified for more positions now. I definitely recommend it.

When do you think is the right time for someone to make a job transition?

the right time may be when things are not calm at the organization. It may be in crisis, or it may be that new opportunities arise when an organization is making movement and changing. For me personally, changing at this time transformed my whole career.

How do you sell yourself if you lack the experience for the job you want to transition to?

It’s always great to do the research on a position. Preparation is everything. Study the employer’s policies, the employer manual, the website, and then tie that in with whatever your past experience is. Connect their values with yours. For example, you might say, “I see your values are open and honesty. I follow this every day in my life.” And connect your past work experience with the job and department values. Show your willingness to learn by demonstrating the learning and research you have done already. Show your strong work ethic.