Mireille is a published author. You can find her work in The New Social Worker magazine, and in this blog where she addresses issues related to day-to-day life, and offers social and coping skills for adults and adolescents.

September 25th, 2019

5 Steps To Become Successful At Team Work

By Mireille St. Laurent, LCSW

In our society, being a skilled group member is often seen an asset, in part because having to work as a team is almost inevitable at home, in the workplace and also in school. Developing social or organizational skills  allows us to learn how to become better communicators, colleagues, students, family members and friends. Although group work is necessary in many areas of life, it can often be experienced as a pain, especially when we don’t get to pick our team mates, or when we or they lack these organizational and/or social skills. Below are 5 steps to help you navigate your next team project in order to come out successful as opposed to frustrated. I hope you enjoy reading them, and putting them into practice as much as I did over the years. When it comes to becoming a skilled team worker, I’ve learn that it is all about taking responsibility for oneself, staying engaged, and letting go of what we can’t control.

1- Being In Touch From The Start

Although one might prefer to “keep work things at work” or “keep school assignments for school hours,” one of the biggest mistakes is to think that projects will turn out great without having to bring some of the team work home. While you don’t have to invite your team for an ice cream or a gathering at your house, you absolutely should form a text group (or an email group) from the very beginning, in order to be successful in your work. This will allow you to communicate about any setback or needed work clarification along the way. Additionally, you will have a paper trail of the conversation regarding who does what, and who doesn’t answer texts or doesn’t appear to be participating- if that is the case in your group. So go ahead! First thing first; get your team members’ phone numbers and start a text group! If uncomfortable thoughts come to mind after asking for everyone’s phone number, get passed it! What counts is being successful in your life, and that’s all that really matters.

2-Defining (Clearly) Each Individual’s Tasks Together

My advice here is do it in writing as opposed to only in talking, because talking can be just that, “talk.” And then the next thing you know, someone else (or yourself) misunderstood what their part of the work was, and the frustration begins…Use the text group to reiterate what each member’s tasks are, completion date, who to send it to that will put everything together and do a final review, etc. This way, group members will have the chance to acknowledge in writing (paper trail) or not acknowledge (if that is the case, this is on them and don’t forget; you have a paper trail of that too now!) There always will be group members who expect others to do the work for them. No need to chase them and lose precious time and energy; everything is in writing, so in the end, if things turn sour, you will have something to show your teacher or manager to ensure that they know who should take the blame/low grade and responsibility for not showing up in doing the work they were supposed to do.

3-Focusing On Your Part Of The Work

Now that you have been in communication with the other group members, and all tasks were clearly defined in writing, it is time to focus on your own part of the work. (And let go of theirs, if you are still thinking about it!) Dedicate time, efforts and ask for help. For instance, have a friend or a family member review what your wrote or did, and work on improving certain aspects that might need improvement. Render your part of the work as good as can be so that you can feel proud of your own accomplishment-regardless of your faith in the group, and no matter what thoughts you might have (“why make an efforts while I think they won’t,” or “Ah this is frustrating, I don’t think we work well as a group and we will probably won’t get a good grade/review,”etc. There is no need to worry; you are all set up for success, and you are already doing your best to ensure a fair outcome.

4-Reaching Out To Your Group

After spending righteous energy and time on your part of the project, and bringing it to completion, it is now time to reach out to the group, by sending a text asking if everyone is doing okay, and providing encouragements when needed. If a group member is reaching back for help, provide some insights if your have some, but do not offer to partake in their part of the project. Instead, suggest resources that might help them (links, experts) and let them know they can check-in with you again later if they need more help. Remember that “help” here doesn’t mean doing the work for them, but trying to come up with resources. Enabling a colleague or a fellow student by doing his/her share of the work, or even half of it will not serve them or the group. Each player has his/her part to play, experiences to live, and things to learn. In the event that you find yourself in a group with non-motivated members and fear getting negative criticism or grade, offer (always in writing through your text group) to proof-read the whole project, or assemble all of its parts together. This way, you are putting energy and time at the right places by letting others do their share, while you are working on final touches.

5-Taking Responsibility For What Is Yours

Time is up, your work is done, great job! Now you find yourself in one of these two situations. Scenario number one; your are in this ideal predicament, where each group member completed their tasks without any set back, and each of them did a good or a great job. The final project is done, but not delivered yet. Sometimes, last minute issues can be costly, such as a printer or laptop that doesn’t work, a home or car problem, sickness, etc. By showing pro-activity and staying in touch with the group, you are doing everything that is in your power to ensure the best possible outcome. Scenario number two; your are in a less than ideal situation where at least one group member did not complete his/her work, or they did, but it is very sloppy and unprofessionally done. That said, you followed the steps above, and because you paid attention to number 3, your part of the work is impeccable. Remember; managers and teachers are not referees. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are seeking a fair treatment for the part of the work that you rendered that is impeccable and deserving of a good review or grade. Always communicate everything in writing, as opposed to discussing with your manager or teacher. For instance, you could screen shot and attach conversation to an email addressed to management or your teacher, briefly explaining the situation, and why you are seeking a fair treatment for yourself. In the event that justice is not provided, again, you have a paper trail of your conversation, so that you can take it to the individual above your manager or teacher. Don’t give in; you worked hard, and while you will learn a lot fighting for what is fair, sometimes others too will benefit from learning to provide equity where it is deserved.

September 5th, 2019
From Student Intern to Hired Social Worker; Five Tips to Maximize Employment Opportunities

By Mireille St. Laurent, LCSW

During my time as a social work student, I faced many challenges. For one, being a transfer student who spoke French as a primary language and had never written anything in English was difficult, to say the least! I had moved to New Jersey during the summer of 2009, prior to the beginning of my junior year of the Bachelor’s degree in Science of Social Work. Although learning how to write in English proved to be difficult, I must say that the biggest challenge of all I had to overcome was my fears of not being hired or not getting a “decent enough job” after graduation. A “decent enough job” in my mind, meant a work position that would pay sufficiently and that I would enjoy doing.

I elaborated a plan and I was prepared to work hard as a student, but also as an intern to maximize my chances at being employed in a competitive market. As it turned out, the plan worked! Six weeks after graduating, I was hired at one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” according to Fortune Magazine. I accepted an offer for a position that was on my list of “second choices” within that agency (not bad!), while what I really wanted to do was not available just yet. But, I had a foot in the door as a social worker! I was learning a great deal and earning a decent salary with great benefits. And I was paying my school loans! Six months later, the person who supervised me during my Master’s degree internship (also the manager), offered me a clinical work position within that same agency. A year and a half later, I was able to obtain my social work clinical license in the state of New Jersey. At present time, I have nearly 3 years of experience as a full-time mental health therapist. Additionally, I provide teach-in opportunities on various therapy-related subjects, while continuing my professional writing endeavors and building of my own website and blog. Looking back, I truly believe this plan gave me direction and some peace of mind along the way, in addition to contributing to my career goal achievements so far. As I am wishing you the same success, I would like to share this plan with you.

Here are the Five Tips to Maximize Being Hired Upon Graduation:

1. Figuring Out Where To Start

One of the things I appreciate about social work is the amount of opportunities we have in terms of work fields and positions. As a student or a new social worker, it can be challenging to figure out where to start, but essentially, if we manage to narrow down a few work position options, it’s a start in the right direction. We all have “ideal work positions” we can imagine ourselves doing. Are you leaning toward working in the community? Is individual and family therapy appealing to you? Do you see yourself working in a school as a guidance counselor or a case-manager? The key here, in my opinion, is to follow your gut; although you may change your mind at some point during your career, to have a direction as a student intern can make a huge difference! Asking yourself “who do I want to work with?” seems necessary, but knowing what kind of tasks and responsibilities you desire to have on a full-time basis is fundamental.

2. Selecting Potential Agencies/Organizations To Work For

Dedicating time to look at agencies’ missions, benefits, who work for them, what employment opportunities they offer, and what their reputations are is an essential step. Does this organization share your values? Does it offer work positions you see yourself in, opportunities for advancements, transfers, and education? Are employees satisfied, and if not, what are the main complains about? Being proactive is indispensable; as is knowing what agencies are hiring near your home. If you don’t have any idea what hiring organizations could be good ones to intern for, start researching them now! By obtaining the list of possible internship locations from the field placement staff of your university, it may become easier to find out who to look up on Internet. Don’t wait until you reached the deadline to pick an internship. Figuring out what agency you would like to intern for -and possibly work for- is an important step that will allow you to make good career decisions and connections. This step is often overlooked or postponed by students as some believe they will have time to figure this out later, or when they graduate. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake! Think about it; by the time you graduate and need a job, other social workers who already have been working in the field for a few years, and who are ahead of you with their experience and connections will most likely be the ones selected for the available positions. That said, if you already have a foot in the door as an intern, you stand a chance!

3. Interning Where You Wish To Be Hired

Interning where you wish to be hired makes sense as it offers several advantages. First of all, by interning for an agency you elected to work for, you have the chance to obtain relevant information such as who may be vacating their position soon, possibilities for new positions or department openings and access to internal job postings (before they come out on the web). Secondly, already knowing the employees and management allows for decrease in stress related to job interviews, as opposed to applying to a new agency, with a new team, which includes individuals (with different personalities) you don’t know, and starting your career in an unfamiliar organization. That said, if you started an internship where you are unhappy, but are not considering leaving because of the hassle (searching for a new internship, interviewing again, possible hours lost, etc.) you may be losing precious time and opportunities…(the hassle may be worth it in the end). Besides, your unhappiness will transpire in your behavior and work ethic, no matter how hard you are trying to hide your feelings about this unsuitable internship placement… Remember; this is your decision and there is a lot to lose…or gain!

4. Conducting Yourself As If You Were an Employee

It’s done; you found out where you would like to intern and possibly work, you applied for an internship and you got it! Congratulations! Making a good impression and working on your professional connections and ethical behavior with consistency is your next step. Your internship supervisor is someone who could potentially become your manager, and the employees are possible future colleagues or work connections at best. Remaining aware of the importance of professional work ethic here is essential; the way you conduct yourself can determine if you will be part of the list of people to interview for the incoming available work positions within the agency. Your supervisor is there for you (or should be!). It is the time and place to learn, and if you show motivation by trying to figure things out by yourself first, asking questions on “how to,” and then confirming with your supervisor before making decisions, you are acting in a professional manner with good work ethics, while displaying drive and ambition. These qualities could set you apart when it’s time to select employees for opened positions.

5. Making Things Happen!

School is almost over, and it’s time to express your desire to be hired at your internship agency to your manager/supervisor. If you already did so earlier in the school year, reiterate your interest to the appropriate person. There are probably others who are interested, therefore, management must know you are still in the running. Get everything in place ready to be employable by scheduling your LSW exam, completing the paperwork and informing your supervisor/manager that you did so. Chances are you probably feel exhausted and can’t wait to be done with exams and papers (and if like me, you most likely feel anxious; thinking you may fail this terrifying licensing exam everyone is talking about!). Don’t let the fear and tiredness keep you from your goals; you are almost there! Follow-up with your supervisor by informing him/her that you passed the LSW exam, and your license is on it’s way. Inquire for available positions at your internship agency, and show interest and motivation toward various work opportunities that may be available upon graduation. Remember; having a foot in the door as an employee will maximize your chances at getting your ideal work position, once this great opportunity opens up! Stay positive, soon your dream job will be within reach!

Mireille St-Laurent, LCSW is a psychotherapist who owns two businesses including a private practice in New Jersey. Her clinical interests and field of research include: Familial Conflict Resolutions, Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders, Adolescent /Adult Depressive Disorders, and Anxiety-related Disorders.

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