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Working as a Social Worker

I'm sure you've heard that social work is hard. That's all anyone has to say about it. But what exactly does that mean? As a social worker, your day will consist of provide counseling services, performing administrative duties, taking time to interview potential clients, and meeting with lawyers. This is where the hard part comes into play.

A big part of a social worker's role is to provide assistance to people who are facing challenges in their life. Social workers try to improve their wellbeing and make sure they are being treated fairly. It's the situations that you'll find yourself helping that are the tough parts. From family violence to homelessness, this job isn't protected against some sad stories.

In fact, many social workers say the hardest part of the job is seeing how cruel people can be toward each other, especially families. You never want to see a kid take the brunt of a fight between two adults, but it happens more than you know. That's the kind of sad reality you might find yourself in as a social worker. There needs to be more people like you in the world.

What Does a Social Worker Do

Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. One group of social workers—clinical social workers—also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.   

Duties

Social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Evaluate services provided to ensure that they are effective
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

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.

Social workers may work with children, people with disabilities, and people with serious illnesses and addictions. Their work varies based on the type of client they are working with.

Some social workers work with groups, community organizations, and policymakers to develop or improve programs, services, policies, and social conditions. This focus of work is referred to as macro social work.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

The following are examples of types of social workers:

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.

Clinical social workers—also called licensed clinical social workers—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. 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.

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.

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.

Some healthcare social workers specialize in geriatric social work, hospice and palliative care, or medical social work:

  • Geriatric social workers help senior citizens and their families. They help clients find services, such as programs that provide older adults with meals or with home healthcare. They may provide information about assisted living facilities or nursing homes, or work with older adults in those settings. They help clients and their families make plans for possible health complications or for where clients will live if they can no longer care for themselves.
  • Hospice and palliative care social workers help patients adjust to serious, chronic, or terminal illnesses. Palliative care focuses on relieving or preventing pain and other symptoms associated with serious illness. Hospice is a type of palliative care for people who are dying. Social workers in this setting provide and find services, such as support groups or grief counselors, to help patients and their families cope with the illness or disease.
  • Medical social workers in hospitals help patients and their families by linking patients with resources in the hospital and in their own community. They may work with medical staff to create discharge plans, make referrals to community agencies, facilitate support groups, or conduct followup visits with patients once they have been discharged.

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.

How To Become a Social Worker

Although most social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work, clinical social workers must have a master’s degree and 2 years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.

Education

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) is the most common requirement for entry-level positions. However, some employers may hire workers who have a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or sociology.

A BSW prepares students for direct-service positions such as caseworker or mental health assistant. These programs teach students about diverse populations, human behavior, social welfare policy, and ethics in social work. All programs require students to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship.

Some positions require a master’s degree in social work (MSW), which generally takes 2 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.

A bachelor’s degree in social work is not required in order to enter a master’s degree program in social work. 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 1 year.

In 2015, there were more than 500 bachelor’s degree programs and more than 200 master’s degree programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

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. Many doctor’s students go on to work as postsecondary teachers.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Most states have licensure or certification requirements for nonclinical social workers. Requirements vary by state.

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 2 years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. After completing their supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.

Because licensing requirements vary by state, those interested should contact their state board. For more information about regulatory licensure boards by state, contact the Association of Social Work Boards.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. To effectively help, social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients’ needs.

Empathy. Social workers often work with people who are in stressful and difficult situations. To develop strong relationships, they must have compassion and empathy for their clients.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different groups of people is essential for social workers. They need strong people skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.

Organizational skills. Social workers must help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment.

Problem-solving skills. Social workers need to develop practical and innovative solutions to their clients’ problems.

Time-management skills. Social workers often have many clients and administrative responsibilities. They must effectively manage their time to provide adequate service to all of their clients.

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Average Salary$55,161
Job Growth Rate11%

Social Worker Career Paths

Top Careers Before Social Worker

Top Careers After Social Worker

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Average Salary for a Social Worker

Social Workers in America make an average salary of $55,161 per year or $27 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $69,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $43,000 per year.
Average Salary
$55,161

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
Las Vegas, NV
Salary Range57k - 90k$72k$72,492
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range53k - 83k$67k$66,931
Urban Honolulu, HI
Salary Range54k - 76k$65k$64,616
Phoenix, AZ
Salary Range49k - 77k$62k$62,145
Seattle, WA
Salary Range52k - 70k$61k$60,719
Salt Lake City, UT
Salary Range50k - 71k$60k$59,684
$36k
$90k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Social Worker 2
Social Worker 2
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
01/30/2021
01/30/2021
$51,56001/30/2021
$51,560
Social Worker (Child & Family Services)
Social Worker (Child & Family Services)
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$31,45101/29/2021
$31,451
Social Worker for Wellness Center Coordinator
Social Worker for Wellness Center Coordinator
Moorpark Unified School District
Moorpark Unified School District
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$112,53101/29/2021
$112,531
Per Diem Social Worker (MSW)
Per Diem Social Worker (MSW)
Rove Staffing
Rove Staffing
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$83,48001/29/2021
$83,480
The Stepping Stones Group
Social Worker (SW)
Social Worker (SW)
The Stepping Stones Group
The Stepping Stones Group
01/29/2021
01/29/2021
$83,48001/29/2021
$83,480
See More Recent Salaries

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Social Worker Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Social Worker. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Social Worker Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Social Worker resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Social Worker Demographics

Gender

female

72.2 %

male

23.4 %

unknown

4.4 %

Ethnicity

White

65.8 %

Black or African American

17.4 %

Hispanic or Latino

11.3 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

66.7 %

French

7.7 %

Russian

3.5 %
See More Demographics

Social Worker Education

Majors

Degrees

Masters

60.0 %

Bachelors

30.9 %

Certificate

2.9 %

Top Colleges for Social Workers

1. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

2. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC • Public

In-State Tuition
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

3. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA • Private

In-State Tuition
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

4. California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$6,798
Enrollment
31,503

5. Boston College

Chestnut Hill, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,464
Enrollment
9,639

6. San Diego State University

San Diego, CA • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,488
Enrollment
30,018

7. Florida State University

Tallahassee, FL • Public

In-State Tuition
$5,656
Enrollment
32,072

8. Hunter College of the City University of New York

New York, NY • Public

In-State Tuition
$7,182
Enrollment
16,205

9. Case Western Reserve University

Cleveland, OH • Private

In-State Tuition
$49,042
Enrollment
5,131

10. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238
See More Education Info
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Internship
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Top Skills For a Social Worker

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 12.3% of social workers listed treatment plans on their resume, but soft skills such as emotional skills and communication skills are important as well.

Best States For a Social Worker

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a social worker. The best states for people in this position are Nevada, Alaska, Oregon, and Connecticut. Social workers make the most in Nevada with an average salary of $72,498. Whereas in Alaska and Oregon, they would average $71,913 and $68,511, respectively. While social workers would only make an average of $66,544 in Connecticut, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Nevada

Total Social Worker Jobs:
114
Highest 10% Earn:
$109,000
Location Quotient:
1.51
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Alaska

Total Social Worker Jobs:
35
Highest 10% Earn:
$94,000
Location Quotient:
1.81
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Connecticut

Total Social Worker Jobs:
172
Highest 10% Earn:
$111,000
Location Quotient:
1.28
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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How Do Social Worker Rate Their Jobs?

Zippia Official Logo

5.0

Psychological First Aid SpecialistDecember +0000

5.0

Zippia Official LogoPsychological First Aid SpecialistDecember +0000

What do you like the most about working as Social Worker?

Serving people, impacting change in communities, never boring Show More

What do you NOT like?

pay is low for what you need to do Show More

Zippia Official Logo

5.0

Best job I’ve ever had!September +0000

5.0

Zippia Official LogoBest job I’ve ever had!September +0000

What do you like the most about working as Social Worker?

I work for myself in my private practice as a Clinical Social Worker and Couples Therapist. I love the work that I do with teens and adults to help them overcome their issues in life. Show More

What do you NOT like?

It took me five years to get to a full-time caseload of clients, but my wife supported me with her full time job while my client load increased. Now I’m booked up 4 to five weeks in advance and making an excellent salary, living abroad in Switzerland. Show More

Zippia Official Logo

5.0

AmazingJune +0000

5.0

Zippia Official LogoAmazingJune +0000

What do you like the most about working as Social Worker?

Working with people, making people happy and feel cared for Show More

What do you NOT like?

Hours and very little salary Show More

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Top Social Worker Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ social workers and discovered their number of social worker opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Catholic Charities USA was the best, especially with an average salary of $49,099. The Salvation Army follows up with an average salary of $49,593, and then comes Los Angeles Department of Public Works with an average of $52,829. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as a social worker. The employers include McKesson, SSM Health, and Vanderbilt University Medical Center

1. Catholic Charities USA
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$49,099
Social Workers Hired: 
196+
2. The Salvation Army
4.3
Avg. Salary: 
$49,593
Social Workers Hired: 
182+
3. Los Angeles Department of Public Works
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$52,829
Social Workers Hired: 
169+
4. Jewish Child Care Association Of New York
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$53,694
Social Workers Hired: 
120+
5. Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$52,546
Social Workers Hired: 
108+
6. DaVita
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$62,812
Social Workers Hired: 
99+

Social Worker Videos

Updated October 2, 2020