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Social Worker Career Guide

A career in social work involves helping others to thrive and live a more fulfilled, successful and satisfying life, which makes it an extremely rewarding. The employment of social workers is predicted to grow much faster than the average for all other occupations, meaning that a career as a social worker is one that offers a lot of employment and development opportunities.

There is no greater joy nor greater reward to make a fundamental difference in someone's life

Mary Rose Mcgeady

Social Worker Career Ratings

Income

Career
Growth

Personal Growth

Contribution

Influence

Job Profiles

Real-Life Social Worker Job Profiles

Below is a list of links to anonymous job profiles of REAL PEOPLE who have filled out our survey and offered to share their insights with our users about their job in the Social Worker field.
ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33997 Social Work Case Manager Female 33 $43,000 Austin, TX 01/01/2010
33992 Family Support Worker Female 30 $25,000 Tigard, OR 01/01/2010
33945 In Home Counselor Female 25 $42,400 Norwalk, CA 01/01/2010
33873 Social Work Female 35 $50,000 DETROIT, MI 01/01/2010
33866 Medical Eligibility Specialist-Mes Female 39 $25,786 Snellville, GA 01/01/2010

Overview

What a social worker actually does

A social workers primary focus is to help all kinds of people to solve and to cope with an array of different problems. They can work with adults, children and families and tend to specialize in a particular area, such as young offenders, people with disabilities, school non-attendance, homelessness, drugs and alcohol abuse or mental health conditions. The typically daily duties and responsibilities of a social worker will vary depending on their area of specialization and the organization they work for. However, social workers can expect to do the following:

  • Conduct interviews with clients, and their families, to assess and review their needs
  • Write up assessments surrounding the interview outcomes to an acceptable standard
  • Recommend the best course of action for the individual and/or their family based on interview outcome
  • Give evidence in court (of things such as child abuse, substance abuse or antisocial behaviour)
  • Support and help clients through all kinds of changes in their life and refer them to the relevant community resources
  • Follow up with clients to check to see whether their situation has improved

Why they are needed

Social workers play a key role in society as they protect children, adults, vulnerable adults, those with mental health problems and those in disadvantaged populations. Social workers play a crucial role in supporting the needs of these individuals and keeping them from harm.

Social workers make a humongous difference in peoples lives. They help keep families together, rebuild relationships, give people the best opportunities in life and help them to thrive again. Without the help of passionate social workers, many children, adults and families will struggle to lead the fulfilling lives that they deserve.

Pros and cons of a career as a social worker

Pros:

  • There are a variety of different employment opportunities as social workers can specialize in many different areas
  • It is a very rewarding career as social workers help people through their darkest of times and often get to witness positive changes in the people they work with
  • No two days are the same as social workers are constantly interacting with different people, this makes it a very interesting and exciting career
  • There are plenty of opportunities for growth into more advanced and normally better paid positions

Cons:

  • You will work with some difficult people and witness some not very pleasant things, which can make it a very emotionally draining and taxing career
  • There can be a high caseload as it is not uncommon for social work divisions to be understaffed. This means you will potentially be overworked and under rewarded
  • You may have to work irregular and/or long hours, especially when nearing decision deadlines
  • Due to the high workload, long hours, difficult clients, lack of support and exhaustion, burnout is common in social workers

Employability

Job market

According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, the overall employment of social workers is projected to grow 11% from 2018 to 2028, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Specifically, the employment of child, family and school social workers is projected to grow 11% as there will be more student enrolments and therefore social workers will be needed to prevent child abuse and strengthen family relationships.

The employment of healthcare social workers is expected to grow by 17% from 2018 to 2028. This is because the population is aging and therefore more social workers are needed to support the elderly and their families. On top of this, healthcare social workers also play a key role in supporting individuals through all kinds of medical treatment.

The largest area of employment growth in the social work field is predicted to be in the employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers. This growth, which is predicted to increase by 18%, is predicted as an increasing amount of people are beginning to understand mental health and the importance of seeking help. Also, an increasing number of drug and/or alcohol abusers are being sent to treatment programs, which are run by social workers, as opposed to being sent to jail.

Career paths

Depending on the speciality of a social worker, their career path will differ slightly. Aspiring social workers can enter the field in entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree in social work, which teaches students about diverse populations, human behaviour, social welfare policy and ethics in social work and prepares them for direct-service positions, such as caseworkers or mental health workers. However, to gain access to a wider range of roles and opportunities, it would be advisable to achieve a bachelor’s degree in either psychology or sociology before entering the social work field.

Once undergraduate degrees are achieved, you can begin to work as a social worker. However, for speciality social work positions you may need to achieve a masters degree in social work, which takes two years to complete. These masters degrees will give you the additional skills needed to prepare for your desired specialization of social work. To become a clinical social worker, you must have a masters in social work, a minimum of two years of supervised clinical experience and to pass a clinical exam that gives you state licensure.

Example Job Titles for Social Worker

Below is a list of common job titles in the Social Worker field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for a social work was $50,470 in 2019. The lowest 10% earned less than $31,790 and the highest 10% earned more than $82,540. The top paying industry was local government (excluding education and hospitals), which had an average annual salary for $55,500.

Autonomy and Flexibility

Social workers have a lot of responsibility when it comes to making decisions regarding clients. As long as social workers always work with the best interests of their clients in mind and follow the correct policies and legal guidelines, social workers are often encouraged to make their own decisions, giving them a high level of autonomy. Flexibility is perhaps not as high because, as mentioned previously, social workers may have to work long hours due to strict deadlines and understaffed social work departments.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states in the United States to be a social worker, based on average annual income and number of job opportunities available,  are:

  1. Alaska, where the annual salary is $62,1382
  2. Rhode Island, where the annual salary is $53,289
  3. California, where the annual salary is $62,048
  4. Nevada, where the annual salary is $52,026
  5. Wyoming, where the annual salary is $50,675

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Illinois, Colorado, Florida, Missouri and Alabama.

However, there are social work jobs available it most cities worldwide. This means that it should be relatively simple to find a social work job without too much of a commute. Yet, when deciding if a career in social work is right for you, it is important to consider that social workers sometimes have to travel from client to client, which can add on commute times.

Social workers may also have the opportunity to work remotely (i.e., from their own home) through distance counselling that uses videoconferencing or mobile technology to meet with the clients.

Work environment

Social workers tend to work full time. However, they may sometimes have to work evenings, weekends and holidays to see clients. They may also be on call.

The largest employers of social workers in the United States in 2018 were individual and family services (18%), closely followed by local government (14%) and state government (14%). Social workers tend to work in offices, normally in small teams, but they may also have to spend time visiting clients in different locations, or travelling to different offices.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Social Worker careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Social Worker career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Social Worker.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

  • None

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None

DiSC

  • None

Enneagram

  • None

Holland Codes (RIASEC)

  • None

Personality types

There is little to no exploration on the specific personality types that make a successful social worker. However, some advocate that INFJ types will make successful social workers. This makes sense as INFJ types, or otherwise known as ‘the counselor’, are compassionate, dedicated to helping others and have the ability to understand other’s emotions. Typically, INFJ types are highly interested in psychology and social sciences, which fits with the social work field.

Accomplishment and mastery

Social work requires a lot of skills to be learnt on the job, which provides a high sense of mastery for social workers. There is also a sense of accomplishment in social work as social workers will often witness positive outcomes from their work (e.g., improved mental health, improved family relations, child moved to safety, child thrives under new intervention).

Meaning and contribution

As social workers positively change the lives of many, there is a high sense of meaning and contribution. Without social workers, many families and individuals would not get the help and support the need to live fulfilled and satisfied lives.

Life fit

Most social workers work standard full time hours, meaning it is an easy career to fit around a busy life. However, as many social work departments are understaffed and overworked, social workers may have to work longer hours, which can mean it might not always provide a great life fit.

Who will thrive in this career?

  • Those who have a genuine interest and passion to help others and the ability to relate to peoples feelings during times of struggle
  • Those who thrive on one-to-one interactions, as social workers will spend a lot of time connecting with clients and building rapport
  • Those who are creative, as this will help social workers find solutions that aren’t immediately obvious
  • Those who are patient as you will encounter many difficult clients and will need to have the patience to help them work through their struggles
  • Those who understand cultural differences and can be respectful and aware of all backgrounds. You are more likely to thrive if you have a genuine interest in learning about other religions, cultures and backgrounds

Who will struggle in this career?

  • Those who prefer to work with numbers or data opposed to working in teams or meeting with people one-to-one in sometimes very intense settings
  • Those who struggle to work well under pressure, especially when faced with meeting strict deadlines
  • Those who are not self-aware and have no interest in learning about other cultures, religions, life experiences or backgrounds
  • Those who are only interested in earning lots of money as, although social work is not poorly paid, it is not a career to enter if you are looking to earn a six figure salary

Requirements

Skills and talents

Social workers will need the following skills and talents:

  • Active listening, as social workers will need to be engaged in all conversations with their clients to understand their struggles. Good listening skills establishes trust and respect
  • Emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, empathy and sensitivity, is essential for working with vulnerable people
  • Organization skills are essential as social workers will need to manage their caseloads efficiently and work to meet deadlines
  • Critical thinking skills are key as social workers will work with individuals with all kinds of complex problems and will therefore need to find innovative and creative ways to solve these
  • Written and verbal communication skills are also essential as social workers will have to work with clients and other social workers and will need to effectively communicate their ideas verbally and will need to keep documents for others to interpret and understand

Education

Aspiring social workers can enter the field in entry-level positions with a bachelor’s degree in social work, this teaches students about diverse populations, human behaviour, social welfare policy and ethics in social work. However, to gain access to  wider range of opportunities, it would be advisable to achieve a bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology.

Once an undergraduate degree is achieved, you can begin to work as a social worker. However, for speciality social work positions you will need a masters degree in social work, which takes two years to complete. These masters degrees will give you the additional skills needed to prepare for your desired specialization of social work.

Certifications

Most states require social workers to be licensed in order to practice. Licensing requirements vary significantly by state, and therefore those interested in becoming a social worker should visit the Association of Social Work Board to find out the licensing requirements in your state.

How to Become

Summary

The employment of social workers is predicted to grow fast than average than all other occupations over the next few years. This means that a career as a social worker is one that offers a lot of employment, and development, opportunities, as well as being incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.

Immediate action

Although not an essential requirement to get a job as a social worker, it would be advantageous to seek out some relevant work experience opportunities. Relevant work experience includes things such as working with children and families (preferably in a social care settings), working with those who have a mental illness and experience in educational settings (e.g., working in a nursery or creche).

Education and learning

Social workers need to achieve either a bachelor’s degree in social work or bachelor’s degree in psychology or sociology. To specialize in a certain area of social work, it is not uncommon for social workers to achieve a masters degree in social work as this provides additional and advanced skills.

Skill development

Attending university will teach social workers some of the skills they need. However, many skills, such as patience and active listening, are learnt on the job from interacting with all types of clients.

FAQs

Ask a Question

Have a question about Social Worker careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

ID Job Title Gender Age Earnings City & State Date
33997 Social Work Case Manager Female 33 $43,000 Austin, TX 01/01/2010
33992 Family Support Worker Female 30 $25,000 Tigard, OR 01/01/2010
33945 In Home Counselor Female 25 $42,400 Norwalk, CA 01/01/2010
33873 Social Work Female 35 $50,000 DETROIT, MI 01/01/2010
33866 Medical Eligibility Specialist-Mes Female 39 $25,786 Snellville, GA 01/01/2010

Resources