Social Worker Career Guide

social worker conducts home visit

Table of Contents

Overview

Job Responsibilities

A social worker typically has the following job responsibilities:
  • Identify those people or communities who are in need of help
  • Assess the  needs, situations, and strengths of their clients and support networks to establish their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as unemployment, divorce, or illness
  • Research about and advocate for community resources to assist and improve a client’s well-being like healthcare assistance, food stamps, and childcare
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients or patients to make sure that their situations have improved
  • Regularly update and keep case files and records
  • Formulate new and evaluate existing social programs and services to ensure that the clients’ basic needs are met
  • Conduct psychotherapy sessions

How Much Does a Social Worker Make?

Social Workers made a median salary of $49,470 in 2018. The best-paid 10 percent made $81,400 that year, while the lowest-paid 10 percent made $30,750.

median salary bell graph

Common Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree in social work
  • Master’s degree (clinical social workers)
  • 2 years of experience in a supervised clinical setting (clinical social workers)
  • State license

Similar Careers

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Marriage and Family Therapists

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Psychologists

Rehabilitation Counselors

School and Career Counselors

Social and Community Service Managers

Social and Human Service Assistants

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Common Skills

Communication

Organization

Social l Skills

Problem-solving

Time management

Emotional Skills

Interpersonal Skills

MEDIAN SALARY

$49,470 per year
$23.79 per hour

JOB OUTLOOK

11%

NUMBER OF JOBS

707,400

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming a Social Worker

Social workers are integral members of communities. They ensure that every member of society, especially those who are most in need and most vulnerable, have access to their basic necessities such as housing, healthcare, legal rights, food, and protection. They are employed in both the private and government sectors and make up about 642,000 social workers in total in the US alone.

What Does a Social Worker Do?

Social workers help out communities and individuals in need of basic resources like food, shelter, and healthcare. Below are some of their most prominent responsibilities:

  • Identify those people or communities who are in need of help
  • Assess the needs, situations, and strengths of their clients and support networks to establish their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as unemployment, divorce, or illness
  • Research about and advocate for community resources to assist and improve a client’s well-being like healthcare assistance, food stamps, and childcare
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients or patients to make sure that their situations have improved
  • Regularly update and keep case files and records
  • Formulate new and evaluate existing social programs and services to ensure that the clients’ basic needs are met
  • Conduct psychotherapy sessions

The following are examples of types of social workers and their roles and responsibilities:

Child and family social workers 

These social workers focus on children and families who are in need. They assist families in finding appropriate and affordable housing, applying for benefits, and social services. Since they focus on families and children, they handle child abuse, neglect, or endangerment cases and help arrange for adoption, foster care, or relocation to other family members who are eligible to care for child victims. The primary mission of child and family social workers is to protect children and ensure that they have a safe and healthy family life.

School social workers 

These social workers coordinate with education professionals such as teachers, principals, and administrators, as well as parents, in relation to the academic performance of targeted children with identified needs. These children are usually referred to them due to problems such as bullying, aggression, or frequent absences.

Healthcare social workers 

Health care social workers work with clients with health conditions who are in need of assistance. They help these patients understand their diagnoses and how they can cope with their condition. They also assist them in transitioning from hospitalization to living at home and provide information regarding healthcare services, support groups, and other resources that help patients manage their illness. They also provide healthcare professionals with valuable information as to how the patient is coping and the effects of the illness on their mental and emotional state. Healthcare social workers can further specialize in specific fields such as geriatrics, physical rehabilitation, hospice care, and medical care.

Mental health and substance abuse social workers

These social workers provide patients with mental illnesses and addiction the resources to cope with their condition, such as programs and services, support groups, and access to therapy. They can either work in rehabilitation centers for substance abuse, mental health facilities, or even in communities to help clients with mental health issues of substance abuse find the services they need once they are discharged from their facilities and immersed back into the community.

Signs You Should Consider Becoming a Social Worker

Social workers possess a specific set of traits that make them highly effective and just perfect for the job. If you think you have some or all of these traits, you might want to consider becoming a social worker.

You like helping others.

Helping others should come as naturally as possible to you if you want to consider a career in social work. If you feel an urge to help out whenever you come across someone in need, or you are always willing to lend assistance to anyone who might need it, you would indeed make a wonderful social worker. Feeling a certain satisfaction in helping out a fellow would make this career a fulfilling and meaningful one for you. Your job will immerse you in an environment where most or all of your clients need some form of help. You can either help them directly or assist them by referring them to professionals or resources that could alleviate their situation.

You are naturally patient.
Social workers deal with a lot of needy clients at any given workday. Some of these clients may be uncooperative, emotional, or even aggressive. You need to exhibit patience in order to do your job well. You also need a ton of patience to get you through each day of dealing with individuals and communities who will have varying needs and different personalities. Depending on your field of work, you might be dealing with children, older adults, the chronically ill, or those with substance abuse problems. These people will display different reactions when interacting with you, so you have to be patient with each of them for them to be able to get the help that they need.

You are perceptive

You know when someone needs something. You know when someone is in trouble or in pain. You are sensitive and intuitive. Social workers succeed at their jobs because they are able to identify and address a problem early on so that it does not worsen and become untreatable. This not only applies to health concerns, but also psychological, behavioral, financial, and social problems that a client might be facing currently or might face in the near future. You should be able to somewhat foresee and perceive possible problems based on the situation that your client is currently in.

You know how and when to be objective.

Dealing with a lot of people in distress can cause a lot of stress for someone who does not know how to set boundaries. You need to know how and when to be objective as a social worker if you want to be effective in your job. There is no use being emotional over the state of your clients as this may cloud your judgment and make you vulnerable to making wrong decisions at work or affecting you so much that you would not be able to function at all. Setting limits as to how much you can emotionally immerse yourself means that you can keep a level head, maintain an objective eye, see things from a practical perspective, and know-how to guide your clients to the best possible solution.

You are compassionate and empathetic.

Compassion and empathy are the foundations of this sort of career. Although you need to remain composed and rational at all times, you should have a deep desire to make life better for other people burning inside of you, and being empathetic means that you try to understand others’ situations without becoming emotionally imbalanced yourself. Having compassion means seeing the struggles and needs of others and not looking away or ignoring it. It means seeing someone else’s needs and wanting to make things better for them.

How Do You Become a Social Worker?

If you want to become a social worker but are not sure where to start, here are a few steps to help you out:

  1. Obtain a Bachelor’s degree in social work

To become a social worker, all you really need is to complete a bachelor’s degree in social work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were roughly 500 Bachelor’s degree programs on social workall of which were accredited by the Council on Social Work Educationthe national social work education association in the US. A Bachelor’s program typically takes four years to complete, and graduates can proceed to apply for entry-level administrative positions.

  1. Finish supervised fieldwork or an internship

Some supervised fieldwork or internship is usually included in programs. These programs prepare students for positions that offer direct services like mental health assistants or caseworkers. They include courses that touch on human behavior, social welfare policies, social work ethics, and population diversity. 

  1. Obtain a Master’s degree (for clinical fields)

If you would like to advance to a clinical social work position, you will be required to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW). This sort of degree typically takes two years to complete and will enable you to pick an area to specialize in by developing specialized clinical assessment and management skills. 

  1. Complete two years of supervised training or experience (for clinical fields)

As with a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree requires to immerse its students in supervised experience or an internship after completion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Council on Social Work Education accredited over 200 master’s degree programs.

  1. Obtain a license

Most states require all social workers to be licensed. This is especially true for clinical social workers. For nonclinical social workers, a BSW with some fieldwork is required before licensing. For clinical social workers, an MSW with two years of internship is required. 

Licensing requirements differ from state to state. You can check out your state’s licensure requirements at the Association of Social Work Boards.

What are the Knowledge and Skills Needed to be a Social Worker?

To become an effective social worker, you need to develop the following skills:

Effective communication

You will be conducting a lot of one-on-one sessions with individuals or face-to-face interactions with families and other professionals, such as healthcare and legal providers. Being able to communicate effectively makes your job a whole lot easier since it allows people to understand you better. When collaborating with other professionals, you should be able to convey information with consistency and precision for the good of your clients. When talking with clients, you should be able to explain in simple terms for them to understand their situation as well as their options to address it.

Active listening

A huge part of a social worker’s job is to listen to the client’s needs. You need to develop active listening in order to really understand your client’s situation. Learn to ask open-ended questions that encourage your clients to open up more to you and tell you a more in-depth and comprehensive idea of their situation. When you fully understand their challenges is the only time that you will be able to come up with lasting and effective solutions.

Interpersonal skills

You need to be a people-person to succeed at this job. You should be able to foster positive working relationships with colleagues so that you can collaborate easily and work as a team to achieve the goal of making your clients’ lives better. You should also be able to establish enough trust between you and your clients so that they feel comfortable opening up to you about the things that are troubling them.

Organizational skills

Paperwork, documentation, treatment plansthese are but a few of the things that a social worker needs to keep up with on a daily basis. You will have to handle a whole host of these because you will most likely be dealing with multiple clients who have varying cases and different planned interventions. Having strong organizational skills helps you keep yourself on top of the paperwork. It will help you work more efficiently since you will not be scrambling to keep up with your files on top of the interactions that you need to have with clients and colleagues.

Problem-solving

If you are a social worker, you need to be an effective problem solver. Your clients come to you for help whenever they have problems. They look up to you to provide them with solutions because it is likely that they cannot come up with any. Therefore, you should be innovative and smart enough to come up with something that will effectively put an end to or halt the progress of their problem. On top of that, the solutions you provide should be practical enough for your clients to be able to comfortably comply with them. For example, you should consider the distance, cost, time, and effort that your client will have to spend to avail of a service.

These are the best schools that offer programs in Social Work:

  • University of MichiganAnn Arbor – Ann Arbor, MI

  • Washington University in St. Louis – St. Louis, MO

  • Columbia University – New York, NY

  • University of CaliforniaBerkeley – Berkeley, CA

  • University of Chicago – Chicago, IL

  • University of North CarolinaChapel Hill – Chapel Hill, NC

  • University of Washington – Seattle, WA

  • University of TexasAustin – Austin, TX

  • Case Western Reserve University – Cleveland, OH

  • Boston University – Boston, MA

  • University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia, PA

  • New York University – New York, NY

  • Ohio State University – Columbus, OH

  • University of CaliforniaLos Angeles – Los Angeles, CA

  • University of WisconsinMadison – Madison, WI

  • Rutgers UniversityNew Brunswick – New Brunswick, NJ

  • Smith College – Northampton, MA

  • University of Denver – Denver, CO

  • University of MarylandBaltimore – Baltimore, MD

  • University of Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh, PA

  • University of Georgia – Athens, GA

  • University of Houston – Houston, TX

  • University of IllinoisUrbana-Champaign – Urbana, IL

  • Arizona State University – Phoenix, AZ

  • CUNYHunter College – New York, NY

  • Fordham University – New York, NY

  • Howard University – Washington, DC

  • University at BuffaloSUNY – Buffalo, NY

  • University of IllinoisChicago – Chicago, IL

  • University of Southern California – Los Angeles, CA

  • Virginia Commonwealth University – Richmond, VA

  • Florida State University – Tallahassee, FL

Get 30 days fREE All Access Pass and learn from over 1,000 online video courses

social worker with children

How to Get a Job as a Social Worker

Here are a few things you can do to find job openings for social work positions:

Look for jobs in the government

The government is consistently in need of social workers because social welfare is one of its basic responsibilities. Social workers have a fixed demand within the federal government such that according to govloop, there are 8,000 social work-related positions within the government at any given time. You can apply to websites such as USAJOBS or GovernmentJobs.

Look for jobs within private organizations.

Private rehab centers, hospitals, and hospice facilities are only a few of the institutions that also employ social workers. You can simply go to your nearby private institution and find out if they need social workers. You can also go directly to their websites and regularly check out their careers or job opportunities page in case of a job opening.

Do a general online job search.

If you want to do a broader search and you don’t really mind whether you are employed by the federal government or a private entity, you can simply go to your favorite job search websites and look for job openings for social workers. The upside in looking for jobs in such sites is that you can upload a resume that is ready for any potential employer to scan through.

Learn About Geographic and Location Pay Differentials

Wages for social workers may vary from field to field. It is understandable that clinical social workers earn more than nonclinical social workers because of their specialized job description. However, there are also discrepancies in terms of wages depending on the state that you choose to practice. Below is a table displaying pay differential for social workers across all states:

State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Hawaii$81790
Rhode Island$75710
Massachusetts$75340
Nevada$75020
Washington$73180
California$72200
South Dakota$71330
New Hampshire$70920
Idaho$70610
Alaska$70540
West Virginia$69700
Virginia$69650
Texas$69070
New Jersey$68630
Maryland$67810
Georgia$67630
New York$67120
Vermont$66180
Connecticut$65230
Indiana$65010
Florida$64810
Minnesota$64300
Pennsylvania$64260
Illinois$61640
Iowa$61460
State2018 Mean Annual Wage
Arizona$61130
Nebraska$61120
Delaware$60780
Michigan$60120
Alabama$59860
Missouri$59730
North Dakota$59510
Oklahoma$59250
New Mexico$58430
Kentucky$58050
Louisiana$57380
North Carolina$57310
Wyoming$56620
Wisconsin$55950
Kansas$55610
Mississippi$55420
Colorado$54600
Oregon$52750
Tennessee$52540
Maine$52360
Ohio$51490
Utah$50900
Arkansas$49680
South Carolina$45610
Montana$43980

Report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Make Your Resume Stand Out

Here are a few things you should remember when crafting a resume:

  1. Complete your educational background details

Social work typically requires an applicant to have accomplished at least a bachelor’s degree in social work. If you are eyeing a clinical position, you will need a master’s degree as well as a license after completing two years of internship. Make sure to complete your educational background for potential employers to fully gauge your capacity and qualification as a social worker.

  1. Include internships and supervised fieldwork

Internships and supervised fieldwork are an integral part of any social work training program. Typically, an applicant will not be allowed to take a licensure exam without supervised fieldwork or internship. Having done an internship also shows your employers that you have enough experience, even if you are applying for a first job.

  1. Include volunteer jobs and other relevant job experience

If you have had experience in volunteer work such as feeding programs, teaching programs, or peer-support activities, you can add those to your roster of experience. It shows that you have a broad exposure to activities that deal with persons and communities in need. 

  1. Highlight relevant soft skills

Communication, teamwork, adaptability, interpersonal skills, and many other soft skills are highly valued in the field of social work. Highlighting any soft skills you have shows that you have the right character that is needed for the job.

Ace Your Social Worker Interview

These are some of the most common interview questions asked to aspiring social workers:

  1. Why did you want to become a social worker?

Try to share how much you think people should value social work. You should know the importance of social work to individuals and communities. Avoid giving a generic answer, instead try to share a personal experience that led you to the field.

  1. Why did you choose this particular field of social work? 

The position you are applying for should align with your interest in the field of social work. Explain why it is that you want to work with the specific group of people that their institution caters to, like children, the elderly, immigrants, those recovering from illness or substance abuse, and so on.

  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses?

Try to answer this question as honestly as possible. If you can, you should definitely prepare for this type of question ahead of time. On top of giving them your weakness, tell them the steps you are taking to improve. And when you tell of your strengths, include the ways in which you think you can do even more.

  1. How would you handle a difficult client?

You are understandably going to face difficult clientseven aggressive ones. Your employer would want to know how you would handle such cases. Make sure that the actions you detail should display your patience and resilience in almost any situation.

  1. Can you identify telling signs of abuse?

When answering this type of question, avoid getting soft and sentimental. You should be able to objectively provide them with facts and data that support your answer. Identifying abuse in vulnerable populations is one of the most crucial responsibilities of a social worker, so it is not to be taken lightly, and you should maintain a level head through it all.

Top Online Courses for Aspiring Social Workers

Sharpen your skills in social work by taking these top online courses

Here are several online classes carefully curated by SkillSuccess to help you achieve your goals and thrive in your career as a social worker:

Customer Reviews

Cynthia Kase
Cynthia Kase
Read More
Course: Body Language Fundamentals: Improve Nonverbal Communication

"Have business meetings coming up and think this course will help me understand my audience's reactions better."
Devin Jordan
Devin Jordan
Read More
Course: Body Language Fundamentals: Improve Nonverbal Communication

"You can learn so much from this class. I really suggest it. You can notice how while getting further in the class you start using the instructions in everyday life."
Catherine
Catherine
Read More
Course: Build Healthy Relationships Using Emotional Intelligence

"This was very helpful for me."
Cynthia
Cynthia
Read More
Course: The Authority Guide To Emotional Resilience In Business

"This is a really good, simple course on the basic of emotional wellbeing. It has some solid information to remind and reinforce how to be emotionally healthy. It was a delightful program."
Sonia
Sonia
Read More
Course: Decision Making: Solve Problems With Emotional Intelligence

"5 Stars all around! Robin Hill is very inspiring and I was engaged by every video! The activities really make you become more aware of your behavior and very good for self-awareness. One of the best courses ever done and I am returning for some more."
Catherine
Catherine
Read More
Course: Decision Making: Solve Problems With Emotional Intelligence

"Management of the self and mind and emotions, it overlaps with psychology, counselling and business, good course."
Danielle
Danielle
Read More
Course: Get Things Done: How To Organize Your Life And Take Action

"I found this course by accident when looking up topics to help my productivity. I'd never heard of an Action Map before this, and was pleased to find it was actually simple to understand."
Melanie
Melanie
Read More
Course: Body Language Fundamentals: Improve Nonverbal Communication

"I bought this course thinking it looked way too short. Its really a introduction, but it gave me so much information into it all as a beginner. I feel I have new tools to use already and try out which is perfect for what I'm trying to achieve. "
Dennis Spenst
Dennis Spenst
Read More
Course: Build Healthy Relationships Using Emotional Intelligence

"Excellent presentation of material for this course. Well structured with achievable goals. Definitely worth the money paid for this course. Thank you for a job well done."
Previous
Next

Ready to move up in your career?

Advance your skills with 30 days free of All Access Pass and learn from over 1,000 online video courses