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 Articles and Advice

 Searching for a Career in Human Services

By Joe Stein

There probably isn’t a category of employment that covers more ground than Human Services. A professional in Human Services may work as everything from a Case Worker to an Alcohol Counselor, to a Home Health Aide. According to the National Human Services Organization, Human Services is defined as “uniquely approaching the objective of meeting human needs through an interdisciplinary knowledge base, focusing on prevention as well as remediation of problems and maintaining a commitment to improving the overall quality of life of service populations.” 
If you are new (or just need a refresher) to the world of Human Services, the following are some key points to consider when approaching your job search:
Important Core Skills: 
There are a number of key core skills that a successful person in this field will possess.       Certain skills, such as the ability to make an evaluation (often quickly), process, make the right decision, and instantly start implementing, are crucial. Planning is also important in many of these Human Service roles, as it will be essential to plan the events of the upcoming day, well in advance (especially if it is some type of activity).
Softer skills are also important in Human Services. A person must have exceptional patience, strong oral and written communication skills (especially tailored to the needs of the customer being worked with), and the ability to quickly make a connection with a person.
It is crucial that you are able to follow the direction of others, especially the professional staff that is providing guidance to you on how to handle a situation. Many human services positions are called a “paraprofessional” (childcare workers, in-home staff, and activity coordinators). By that, it is meant that they are neither clinical nor medical. You will have a tremendous responsibility in regards to handling yourself and following directions, sometimes in a non-direct supervisional situation.
Need for Flexibility:
If you are community-based, you will spend your workweek in a variety of different locations. Be prepared to not call just one physical location your “work home”. You will need to be OK entering different areas and quickly making a connection with each customer.
If you are based in a residential or group home setting, be prepared to work shifts and generally at a variety of times, including weekends and evenings. Someone has to cover those hours and if you are the new person hired, expect to work some of those non-appealing shifts.
Love the Customer:
A passion for the customer is a must in this profession. Most (if not all) of your customers will be challenged, it may be physically, mentally, or due to their personal situation. These individuals (often to no one’s fault) can be very  difficult. It is imperative that an individual who enters this field do so with a passion for helping, despite the obstacles and challenges that he or she may face in the job. It will help you immensely if you love to help people.
Although Human Service Professionals can make a solid, comfortable income, this is not a profession for those looking to “get rich quick”. If you’re entering the profession due to a love of helping those in need, it will help you overcome any concerns in this area.
After all the discussion on loving the customer, it is also important to note that maintaining your boundaries is essential. Not only from your own mental health point-of-view (this work can be draining), but also to prevent any cloudiness in judgment. Enjoy your successes and do not attempt not to dwell on any negative experiences.
Job Search FYI’s: 
The selection of employees tends to be (and needs to be) very selective. This is due to a variety of reasons, such as the impaired vulnerable state of the customer to the level of autonomy the employee enjoys. If you are a person who will not pass a background or drug check, then this is not a profession for you to be entering. If you will be traveling to sites for your job, then a valid New York State Drivers License will be necessary.
Positions in Human Services develop key core skills (see 1st bullet point) that can prove to be very marketable in a variety of different positions. What is also great about Human Services, is how geographically transferable the skills and your experience are. So, if you looking to re-enter WNY with the start of 2010, you will probably find that you can transfer what you know and have learned.
The employment prospects should be especially strong and grow for Human Service professionals in 2010. This is especially true in areas that serve the elderly (as our population ages), the mentally impaired (as deinstitutionalization continues), or the developmentally disabled (as more cross the age of 21 and out of public school programs).
While most entry-level jobs are paraprofessionals (Associate’s, Certificate, or High School Degree), your ability to advance in your career may require more formal education, such as a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in human services, counseling, social work, or rehabilitation.
Jobs in this field are so impactful to society because of their direct impact to those in need. If you are currently in Human Services…Thank You. If you are entering the field for the first time, then we wish you much success in this rewarding profession.
As always, the best of luck in your job search.