Do you enjoy helping others and making a difference in people’s lives? Then becoming a social worker might just be right up your alley!
Although an extremely challenging career path, to say the least, it’s one of the few professions out there that enable you to stand up for social injustice. It’s no wonder then why 84% of community/social service workers report high job meaning – the highest than any other roles in the US!
So, if this is beginning to sound like something you’d like to do, keep reading to find out how to go about becoming a social worker!
1. Research the Profession
Before we dive straight into guiding you how to become a social worker, let’s first look at all the basics to help you gain a clear and thorough understanding of what exactly this profession entails.
Below is an overview of job responsibilities, skills, working conditions and salary information for this exciting and rewarding career.
So, what exactly is it that social workers do for a living?
Generally speaking, social workers are responsible for providing support to vulnerable members of society.
They work with a wide range of people, including:
- Children and young people
- Homeless children or adults
- People with drug, alcohol or substance misuse problems
- Older people
- Victims of domestic violence
- Refugees and asylum seekers
- Young offenders
- People of all ages with learning or physical difficulties
- People at risk of abuse and neglect
Although workers’ duties and responsibilities will vary depending on the particular cases they work on, their day-to-day tasks will typically involve:
- Identifying people and communities in need of help
- Offering information and counselling
- Putting together support plans
- Responding to crisis situations such as child abuse or domestic violence
- Keeping records and writing reports
- Working with other professionals
- Following up with clients to ensure their situations have improved
- Attending court
Essential Skills and Qualities
In order to be successful in this profession, you’ll need to be skilled in the following key areas:
- Active listening
- Administration and organisation
- Boundary setting
- Critical and creative thinking
- Decision making
- Interpersonal skills
- Report writing
- Service orientation
- Time management
You’ll also need tact and understanding, as well as the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.
Working Hours and Conditions
Social workers typically work on a full-time basis, though part-time vacancies are also available. They generally work during office hours or on a rota, around 37 hours a week. Unsocial hours are standard practice, and you can expect to work evenings, weekends, holidays and on call, especially if working in child protection or fostering and adoption teams.
You’ll mostly be based in an office but may spend a lot of time away from the office visiting clients in their homes. You could also work in a hospital,or in a day or residential centre. Meanwhile, school social workers in the United States are often assigned to multiple schools and travel around their school district to see students.
Overseas work or travel is uncommon but not unheard of, especially if looking to work as a community worker in developing countries.
While social work can be a very rewarding career, it can also be very exhausting, demanding and emotionally draining. Burnout is common, largely due to understaffing and large workloads, but can be avoided by:
- Setting limits related to work schedules, client needs and even family commitments
- Eating, drinking and sleeping well
- Maintaining boundaries with clients, colleagues and often family and friends
- Engaging in physical activity
- Making time for yourself
- Taking time off
- Talking to others
A newly qualified social worker in the United Kingdom can expect to earn an average starting salary of £24,000 per year – with experience, this can rise to £40,000, though will largely depend on where exactly they are based.
In the US, the median annual wage is $46,890 (£33,260), though this varies across the different types of social worker, as highlighted below:
- Mental health and substance abuse social workers: $42,700 (£30,295)
- Child, family and school social workers: $43,250 (£30,680)
- Healthcare social workers: $53,760 (£38,150)
- All other social workers: $60,230 (£42,730)
Pros and Cons
It takes a very special type of person to consider a career in social work. Below is a short list of pros and cons to consider before fully committing yourself to the profession:
- It’s a great way to connect with the community
- You’ll make a difference in someone’s life
- It’s an ideal profession to pursue if you’re passionate about advocacy and social justice
- It offers variety, as there are many settings and specialities you can work in
- It offers job security, as there will always be demand for social workers
- It can be emotionally exhausting, especially when dealing with difficult circumstances
- Heavy workloads and odd hours are part of the job
- Unlike many other careers in care, social work isn’t one of the top-earning jobs
2. Get the Qualifications
Once you’ve decided that choosing a career in social work is right for you, you’ll need to complete all the necessary training required to practise this profession. Here you’ll find details about education and registration requirements.
In the UK, you’ll generally need a degree in social work at undergraduate level, approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). A postgraduate degree in social work is required if your first degree is unrelated, although if your grade is a 2:1 and above, you could apply to a fast-track route like Frontline or Step Up to Social Work.
HCPC-approved education providers include:
- Anglia Ruskin University
- Brunel University
- Edinburgh Napier University
- University of Manchester
- University of Oxford
A degree apprenticeship is currently in the works. If approved by the UK government, it is expected the programme will commence in late 2018.
In the US, aspiring social workers will generally need a bachelor’s degree in social work, although some employers hire workers with a degree in psychology, sociology or other related fields. A master’s degree is essential for clinical positions.
These degrees must be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Accredited institutions include:
- Alabama State University
- Arizona State University
- Boston University
- Miami University
- University of Illinois at Chicago
Please note that entry requirements vary from university to university, both in the UK and the US, and you are advised to carefully research these before submitting your application.
Licensing and Registration
When you qualify, you need to register with the HCPC in order to practise as a social worker in the UK.
Most states in the US require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. Clinical social workers require licensure, regardless of the state they work in – they must first complete a minimum of two years’ supervised clinical experience after obtaining their master’s degree and pass a clinical exam. The Association of Social Work Boards has more information on US state licensing requirements.
3. Land Your First Job
If you’ve completed all the necessary training and obtained the qualifications needed to pursue this exciting career, it’s time to start looking for your first job. In this section, you’ll find information about typical employers and where to look for suitable vacancies, as well as advice on submitting job applications and succeeding in interviews.
Social workers are typically employed in:
- Hospitals, clinics and hospices
- GP practices
- Private practices
- Local government agencies and departments
- Nursing homes
- Voluntary and independent agencies
- Schools, colleges and universities
- Children’s homes
- Substance abuse clinics
- Military bases and hospitals
Where to Look
You should generally start your job search on specialist recruitment websites. Below is a short list of such resources:
Browsing major job boards like Indeed and Monster (and our very own CareerAddict job board) for suitable vacancies is also a good idea, as is directly searching on employers’ official websites and on LinkedIn. And don’t shy away from traditional job search strategies like browsing newspaper classified sections, for example.
Applying for Social Work Jobs
A well-rounded and thought-out job application is essential to landing a job interview and, ultimately, gaining employment in the field.
While you’ll typically be required to fill in an application form when applying for jobs, a well-written CV will help you stand out from the competition. A social worker CV should be tailored to the particular opening, as well as highlight your abilities and emphasise your credentials and licenses.
Don’t forget to submit a cover letter along with your application – even if you’re not specifically asked for one. Not only does this show initiative but it also lets you describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze into a two-page CV.
Meanwhile, it’s also worth mentioning that a staggering 92% of companies use social media to screen candidates, so ensuring that you’re represented in a professional light online is of utmost importance. Your LinkedIn profile is a good place to start and should be as complete and up-to-date as possible.
Interviewing for Social Work Jobs
As with all jobs, it’s imperative that you take the time to prepare for the interview. This includes researching your potential employer, planning what to wear and what to bring, as well as preparing answers to common questions.
Examples of questions that may come up in an interview for a social worker position include:
- What do you hope to accomplish as a social worker?
- What types of clients do you find the most difficult to work with and why?
- What is the most difficult case you’ve ever worked on?
- What techniques do you use in crisis intervention?
Don’t forget to prepare a list of questions of your own to ask the interview panel!
4. Develop Your Career
Upon registration, the HCPC requires you to keep your training and learning up to date through continuing professional development (CPD). This ensures your eligibility to re-register with the HCPC after the initial two-year period. CPD can involve reading, attending conferences or completing courses.
During your first year in work, your employer may offer the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE), which provides you with regular supervision, a training and development plan, and time to meet your training and development needs.
In the US, you can stay current in the field through conferences, workshops, online courses and more through the NASW.
With experience, you could progress into management or research, or go on to study for a PhD. Alternatively, you could choose to become a practice educator, where you’ll be involved in training and mentoring university students.
Whether you’re taking your first steps down this exciting career path or you’ve successfully completed the journey to becoming a social worker, we want to hear from you. Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us!
Salary information and job descriptions are based on data compiled and published by the National Careers Service and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook. Currency conversions are based on rates supplied by XE.com on 15 February 2018.