I’m a big fan of mental health professionals who empower fellow mental health professionals. So when Harleny Vasquez, a social worker career coach and influencer, agreed to let me pick her brain I knew the interview would be interesting to all of you as well. Harleny has a fascinating story, as well as some tips and tricks for the rest of us, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy as much as I did.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions. To start I would love to hear about your personal journey. I think in one of your posts you mention being 1st generation American and I’m always curious to hear stories about people switching things up in their lives. Where are you originally from and what has your journey been like so far?
I currently identify as a first generation Dominican American. I was born and raised in Manhattan. My parents immigrated from the Dominican Republic early in their 20s. I always knew that I wanted to help others. I just didn’t know in what capacity. Being a first-gen and growing up in a low-income home, raised by a single mother, there were a lot of challenges that we faced. We continued to navigate life and of course there weren’t a lot of resources available for us. We all had to figure things out like what our ideal career would look like or even how to navigate college for the first time, even navigating high school as well.
Another fascinating part of your journey that stood out to me is your transition from I assume a full-time social worker to now being a social worker career coach, a podcaster, public speaker and published author. What can you tell me about that journey? How did you start?
I started my career about 10 years ago. I was an undergrad just studying psychology. I started working with children and adolescents who had mental health diagnoses and they needed a lot of community services. I would come in as a caseworker to help them find resources in the community. And then that journey led me into working in the shelter system in New York with at-risk youth and that particular experience and exposure really opened my eyes into the world of social workers.
I pursued my Master’s Degree in Social Work while still working in the shelter system in New York, transitioning from at-risk youth to children and families which in turn led me into working in foster care. So by the time I graduated about five years ago, I was already entering the workforce with a lot of social services experience. At that time, I had a vision of being a hospital social worker. I even did my internship in graduate school at a hospital within the palliative care department.
Unfortunately, at that time, I didn’t pass the licensure required by the state even after multiple attempts. Because of that, I was not able to land a hospital social worker position. I kind of hit rock bottom because I had taken the summer off to study and hadn’t been working. Fall came and I had student loans and there really weren’t mentors or coaches available to tell me that I could pivot using my degree. I only knew about traditional social work rolls and what had been told to me through my entire social work journey.
An opportunity was presented to me to be a supervisor for a care coordination department serving children to support them in the community. I supervised social workers whether they were master level or bachelor level case workers. I was able to land my first supervisory position without ever having a supervisory title because I was able to market myself using my skills. I ended up doing that once I landed that job in October of 2018. Throughout 2019 I tried for my license again but didn’t pass. Come fall 2019 I realized I was stuck in a particular vision but could do a lot more. I had always been a natural career cheerleader, the go-to person among my colleagues and friends for resume writing and interview prep and helping people find jobs. I just naturally gravitated to talking to people about their goals, even at family parties. So I started creating content on Instagram and LinkedIn to share tips from all of the experience I had accumulated over the years.
Once 2020 hit, right before the pandemic, I started branding myself as a social work career coach. I started identifying as a first-gen and the more I started sharing content and the more I started to grow my community, people started to gravitate towards me and wanted to work with me and it kind of blew up from there. Since then I’ve been able to really build myself as an authority within the social work profession, working with schools and clients, getting engagement and having success.
At the same time I was still in my supervisory job, which also included a lot of HR duties like recruiting and hiring and termination memos and it really provided me with a lot of insight, doing that for three years.
In 2021 a director at a nonprofit reached out to me on LinkedIn, seeing me as a perfect fit for a position as a talent equity manager so I pivoted into recruitment, recruiting social workers in New York for their community schools. So because of my personal brand I basically got that job without applying and it was easy.
In 2022 another opportunity presented to me as a clinical recruiter at a mental health tech company as well due to my personal brand.
Now that you’re doing all these things at once, do you have any tips for those of us who are also wearing multiple hats on how to find balance?
People often ask that about me. In 2021 I was part of all the boards. NASW New York City Chapter, Latino Social Work Coalition and Scholarship Fund; I was doing so many things and I burned myself out. I realized I had to set boundaries and from there I’ve been very intentional with my time.
I don’t do things on weekends unless it’s an event, I’m strategic with my time, I set boundaries with clients and I say no to projects that don’t fill me up. I’m very protective of my time.
Your online presence, on your website and on social media, is full of infectious positive energy. Arguably you’ve turned the name “Harleny Vasquez” into a wonderful brand. What would say to social workers or other mental health professionals that are interested in taking that route?
I would say just start. I mean there’s room for all of us. I know other people who want to become a career coach for social workers as well and I definitely give them the pat in the back. But there’s, you know, sometimes there could be people that they may, I may not be their best match, right? Just like a therapist, you always want to explore different people, but I say really get comfortable and confident in owning your current strengths.
Ask the people around you about the things that you’re really good at and start building a community, start building authority, a personal brand, sharing your message and everything else will come.
Not to give away too many of your secrets, but if you could share one tip here for social workers who are lost on LinkedIn, what would it be?
First start with doing a career inventory of your unique skills, your mission, your “why”. Make sure your profile, even if you’re just a job seeker or an entrepreneur, really reflects your key skills and really identifies your overall message. When someone comes to your profile what do you want them to walk away with? What do you want them to understand about you? What is something that’s going to want them to keep on reading and wanting to reach out and to learn more?
There’s just so much noise on LinkedIn. First start with identifying your skills and marketing yourself effectively, getting comfortable with telling your story. After that you will find a community that aligns with your own mission and values. And then if you feel comfortable, you can definitely share content. Everyone needs to be a content creator.
Your website is one of the nicest ones I’ve seen and I absolutely love the “Fun Facts About Me” section on your website. If you were to add a “Recommended Reading” slide to that section, what books would you encourage people to check out?
Oh, I read a lot of self-help books for my business along the lines of how to make more profit or, you know, a lot of self help books around imposter syndrome, the limiting beliefs, a lot of inner childhood work.
I can’t think of one top of mind but I listen to a lot on Audible. It’s really about first identifying what works best for you and what is something that is going to hit home for you and also give you the level of awareness that you need to be able to achieve what you want to achieve.
Get in touch with Harleny
Harleny Vasquez can be found on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Check out her website: https://www.yourevolvedmind.com/