So you've graduated from college with your degree in social work -- congratulations! And after all of that hard work sacrificing your social life for social work (sorry for the bad joke), it's paid off.
It's over: the hours and hours of studying, the long shifts in the field, stressing about your licensure and -- let's face it -- wondering why you ever decided a career serving others in social work was a good idea in the first place.
Well, you've just finished the easy part.
Just kidding. Sort of.
Now it's time to do the work to get the job. Social work s not just a career; it is a choice to dedicate your life to the well-being and advancement of others in your community -- but to do that you have to find the right position.
And this is where we come in. We literally created a career map for social work majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer step by step navigation in your job search, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
- What skills you'll need
- How to begin
- What jobs you can expect to find
- Some quick tips for the job search
- Options for furthering your education
- External resources
First thing's first: the skills you've got and the skills you'll need to get started.
1. Skills and Abilities for Social Work Majors
While the education gained in the classroom is without a doubt beneficial, you've chosen a degree that relies more on the type of skills you learned in the field.
Beyond personal development and simply learning how to learn, employers will want to see that you have the ability to reflect, realize, and grow based off of your client-based experience.
We've got this list of common skills for Social Work Majors, with examples from experienced resumes and general skills.
These are some of the most common skills listed on Social Worker resumes -- if you want to make a solid impression on recruiters or see what the competition is listing, here you go:
- Bio-Psychosocial Assessments
- Crisis Intervention Services
- Discharge Planning
As for how to make those work for your resume, here are some examples of how other social workers have used the most in demand skills on their resumes:
- Completed initial intakes and bio-psychosocial assessments
- Provide crisis intervention services, complete classroom observation
- Facilitate appropriate discharge planning and timely transition of training center individuals into community living homes, or skilled nursing facility
- Coordinated services to be utilized upon patient discharge, including COPS referrals for mental health services
- Certified as an expert witness for Child Abuse/Neglect cases in court
Soft Skills and Abilities
Applying these abilities to real world learning opportunities yields a more robust and balanced career, no matter your GPA and alma mater. Here are some of the common abilities and characteristics that you should focus on and talk up when you shoot for that dream job.
Communication and interpersonal skills. Being able to work with and talk to different groups of people is essential for your calling as a social workers.Clients will talk to you about challenges in their lives. To effectively help, you must be able to listen to and understand your clients' needs to foster healthy and productive relationships.
Empathy. You'll often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, you need to have compassion and empathy for your clients.
Organizational and time-management skills. You must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment -- and to develop practical and innovative solutions to your clients' problems by effectively managing your time to provide adequate service to all of your clients.
2. How to get Started on Your Career in Social Work
Social Work covers every section of the population, and with you many potential fields available you should take any and all opportunities to volunteer and shadow.
Do you want to work in a hospital? A nursing home? Did you hear about an open position with a local rehabilitation clinic? Do you want to work as a school social worker, a prison social worker, or as a hospice social worker?
Have you even decided which part of the country is the best for your employment chances?
That list can go on for a while, and it's a tough question to answer -- but here are a couple of ideas for narrowing it down.
Get licensed where you plan to practice before you graduate
Depending on where you live, you might need your license before you're allowed to begin your job as a social worker. Some states have progressive licenses, so time may be of the essence.
There are variations amongst the states, but they typically work in this structure:
- BSW -- Bachelor's social work degree
- MSW -- master's degree in social work
- Advanced Generalist -- MSW plus two years non-clinical supervised social work experience
- Clinical -- MSW plus two years direct clinical supervised social work experience
Visit the Association of Social Work Boards site to learn more about your state's social work licensure rules.
Make the most out of your practicum
Your practicum is more or less a very long, very in-depth internship -- or educationally-mandated community service. Use it to try on different roles and explore your talents -- it gives you the opportunity to engage in direct social work practice experiences with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities.
At your field placement, you will be learning what it means to be a social worker, especially if working in a multi-disciplinary environment. What roles do social workers play on treatment teams, in community meetings, in a residential setting?
Remember to identify yourself as the social work intern, not just the intern, and try to view this is an extended networking and mentor event.
Test out engagement techniques, get instructor feedback, and develop a potential work reference.
If you can't get the dream job, go per diem
Consider taking per diem or temp social work positions. You obviously need to learn from everyone you encounter -- from co-workers to clients -- but you should treat your experience like a several hundred hour long interview.
These opportunities can lead to permanent placement or, at the very least, an extension of your professional network. Your supervisors and the staff will notice your talents and perseverance -- They might ask you to come back as soon as an opportunity presents itself.
If you can't get any paid positions, go volunteer
Volunteering might not be a financially viable option for you -- but if you find an organization or field you are set on working in then use it to make contacts and learn what it takes to get an edge.
Your dedication despite the lack of pay will show these contacts you're serious, and volunteering is an appropriate addition to any social work resume.
The experience also may help you home in on what specialties and settings interest you. And with all of the field options available, the opportunity to learn what it is that you don't want to do in your career is invaluable.
3. The Different Types of Social Work Jobs
Social workers help people cope with challenges in their lives. They help with a wide range of situations, such as adopting a child or being diagnosed with a terminal illness.
You might work on an individual basis with children, people with disabilities, and people with serious illnesses and addictions. Or, you could be on the macro level helping communities, non-profit organizations, and policymakers to improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions.
Regardless, you'll advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of your clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.
With our career map, you can click the Job Titles and learn more specific information for each position (what their responsibilities are, how much they get paid, etc.)
But here, we wanted to call out some of the most common types of jobs for recent Social Work grads.
Just like you.
Mental health and substance abuse social workers
Help clients with mental illnesses or addictions. They provide information on services, such as support groups and 12-step programs, to help clients cope with their illness. Many clinical social workers function in these roles as well.
School social workers
Work with teachers, parents, and school administrators to develop plans and strategies to improve students' academic performance and social development. Students and their families are often referred to social workers to deal with problems such as aggressive behavior, bullying, or frequent absences from school.
Child and family social workers
Protect vulnerable children and help families in need of assistance. They help families find housing or services, such as childcare, or apply for benefits, such as food stamps. They intervene when children are in danger of neglect or abuse. Some help arrange adoptions, locate foster families, or work to reunite families.
Healthcare social workers
Help patients understand their diagnosis and make the necessary adjustments to their lifestyle, housing, or healthcare. For example, they may help people make the transition from the hospital back to their homes and communities.
In addition, they may provide information on services, such as home healthcare or support groups, to help patients manage their illness or disease. Social workers help doctors and other healthcare professionals understand the effects that diseases and illnesses have on patients' mental and emotional health.
More on Clinical Social Workers
Also called licensed clinical social workers, they diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders, including anxiety and depression.
They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals.
All states require clinical social workers to be licensed -- however, some states provide exemptions for clinical social workers who work in government agencies.
Becoming a licensed clinical social worker requires a master's degree in social work and a minimum of two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.
Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client's progress. They may also provide mental healthcare to help children and families cope with changes in their lives, such as divorce or other family problems.
Many clinical social workers work in private practice. In these settings, clinical social workers also perform administrative and recordkeeping tasks, such as working with insurance companies in order to receive payment for their services. Some work in a group practice with other social workers or mental health professionals.
4. Some Quick Job Tips for Social Work Majors
Many employers who hire in the summer begin interviewing in the spring. People graduate at the same time, so get started on the licensing procedures and application process to give yourself an edge.
You'll need to get licensed in whichever states you want to work in. If you haven't already, visit the Association of Social Work Boards to begin the process
Join the National Association for Social Workers
If you join the NASW in college you get a significantly discounted rate. You'll likely want to maintain this membership throughout your career -- and in the beginning the conference and networking groups you'll access as a member will help you develop your first professional network.
Use your social network
Your fellow students, LinkedIn, and school's departmental programs are always your best friend. See if they know anyone in the field or any organizations that are hiring. If you interned or did clinical follows as part of your program, even if they don't have a job for you they have the ability to point you in the right direction.
Contact social work and community service nonprofits
Find groups in your area that specialize in your desired field and volunteer -- it will help you make contacts and help fill up any time gaps on your resume.
Consider your long-term goals. You may be in a position where you have to take whatever comes available -- but if you have the option, take a job that aligns with your overall career plan.
Get a job in a hospital in some capacity if your plan is to wind up in public health, eventually completing your MSW.
All work experience will help you in some way, but the point is, you don't have to accept the first offer you get. Aim for the jobs that will provide the best stepping stones for your intended career path.
5. Advanced Education and Licensure for Social Workers
Most states have licensure or certification requirements for non-clinical social workers and all states require clinical social workers to be licensed.
A state social work license is:
- Issued to regulate the practice of social work
- Issued to protect the public
- Issued by and useful only in the jurisdiction (state) where the holder plans to practice
Although most social workers need a bachelor's degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master's degree and two years of post-master's experience in a supervised clinical setting.
A bachelor's degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master's degree program in social work.
Some positions require a master's degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes two years to complete. Master's degree programs in social work prepare students for work in their chosen specialty by developing clinical assessment and management skills.
All programs require students to complete a supervised practicum or an internship.
Although a degree in almost any major is acceptable, courses in psychology, sociology, economics, and political science are recommended. Some programs allow graduates with a bachelor's degree in social work to earn their master's degree in one year.
Some universities offer doctoral programs in social work, where students can earn a Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) or a Ph.D. Most doctoral programs in social work require students to have a master's in social work and experience in the field.
Most PhD students go on to work as postsecondary teachers or work in policy.
6. External Resources for Social Work Majors
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree or could use some help making yourself even more competitive, here are some external sites to help you with your decision:
Association of Social Work Boards
Visit here to learn about the licensing requirements for the states you'd like to work in.
National Association of Social Workers
Research additional jobs, then return here to figure out how to get the certifications and licenses.[a]
Enter "English" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to English majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
Bureau of Labor Statistics
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country. In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.