With any profession it is critical to make yourself more appealing to potential employers. Even if you are satisfied with your current job, having other employers pursue you, gives you leverage, helps boost your self-esteem and can give you more credibility in your field. So, in the field of substance abuse counseling, what will make you stand out? How can you get to the point where employers are pursuing you instead of you chasing them? Here are a few tips that can help you become the addictions professional that everyone wants to hire.
1. Get Experience.
It is an age old problem. How can I get a job if I don’t have experience and how can I get experience if I can’t get a job? Well, you have to find a way to get your foot in the door, which means that you may have to take a less desirable position. It may be a job that doesn’t pay very well or you have to work nights and weekends or maybe it is a job where you spend half of your time collecting urine samples. These are the jobs that experienced counselors won’t take, because they don’t have to.
2. Get Certified (or licensed)
When an employer advertises for a position, they will often receive stacks of resumes. Employers are busy and often don’t have or want to take the time to read a hundred resumes, so they have to find a way to thin them out. If they are looking for a substance abuse counselor, the easiest way is to start with the ones that have that particular certification. In many states there is a shortage of counselors with a substance abuse credential.
3. Add-on Credentials
In addition to your regular substance abuse certification, most states have what some refer to as “add-on” credentials or more specialized credentials. These vary from state to state, but they can include specialties such as co-occurring disorders, criminal justice, adolescents, women, gambling, anger management, prevention and more. I’m not suggesting that you need so many letters behind your name that you need both sides of your business card to hold them, but having verified expertise in some of these areas can certainly make you more appealing to employers.
Add-on credentials are part of specializing, but you can do more. Get training on different tools or instruments used. I have been offered a position, because I was trained in administering the Addiction Severity Index (ASI). Maybe you specialize in working with certain cultures, the HIV population or some alternative form of therapy. This is about finding out what you are good at and what you enjoy.
This may be the most important point. I have heard people complain that it isn’t “what” you know, but “who” you know. There is some truth to this, but the simple solution is to get to know people. There are different ways of networking, and you have to find what works for you. What has worked for me is joining the local state association and getting involved in their activities. Most states will have conferences for addictions counselors and this is a great place to start to build these relationships. Most of the jobs that I have had have been as a result of a contact that I had built.
6. Guard Your Reputation
Building your reputation is also related to networking. It only takes one misstep to do serious damage to your reputation and it will take some time and consistency to build the reputation that you want. Associate and emulate the professionals in your field that you respect. Building a good reputation is really about an accumulation of a lot of little (or not so little) things. I will have a later post that will cover this in more detail.
7. Social Media
I am not the most qualified person to advise you on social networking, but I realize its importance and at least wanted to mention it. I have used LinkedIn, and have been contacted about employment as a result. You can also post your resume on some job boards. I’m sure that there are many other ways to use social media to help advance your career. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments section.
People are generally not in the addiction treatment field because of the money and sometimes counselors will feel some guilt when focusing on the business side of the profession. Making yourself more marketable certainly isn’t just about the money. It may be about having the opportunity to work in an environment where you feel more effective or more passionate. Wanting to advance our career should not imply that we care any less for the patients that we serve. You are a professional and have worked hard to become so and I feel that you have earned the right to be compensated for your value. If you can help someone turn their life around, keep them out of the legal system and help them become a contributing member of society, then you are of great value to everyone.