How to start your career in social work

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Social work is both challenging and rewarding. No two days on the job are ever quite the same, and it is safe to say you are making a serious difference to many underprivileged lives. Without social care, our society is at risk of falling into deep disrepair. Therefore, it is not surprising that so many people focus on education.

career in social work

Social work is a large umbrella term covering many jobs and may require professionals to wear multiple hats. It entails more than simply looking after people. Although it may be widely regarded as a “helping” job, professionals need to be able to solve complex problems and find opportunities for oppressed and vulnerable people to thrive.

More than 600,000 people in the U.S. operate professionally as social workers. This is a role that continues to demand talent as years go by, which means studying for licensed clinical social worker programs may put interested students in a strong career position. Social care requires more than just an empathetic attitude; it’s crucial to understand the facets of the role that will help people who need outreach the most and how you can find a route into this remarkable industry.

What is a social worker, and what do they do?

As the name suggests, a social worker’s primary job is to help others in various ways and in different specialized units. A social worker is typically trained to help underprivileged people with healthcare, finances, abuse cases, education, and more.

The various roles of a social worker include working closely with individuals to determine their primary needs and areas of difficulty and finding solutions to their current issues. For example, some people in marginalized communities may not be able to afford appropriate healthcare, medicine, or access to work training.

Social workers may have to answer emergency calls from their clients, find them emergency housing, and follow up on their cases, even after they are closed, to ensure that they are healthy and in stable environments.

In some cases, social workers with advanced degrees will be in a position where they have to diagnose some psychological issues, provide people with treatment options, and entrust them to other specialized mental health workers.

It is important to note that a social worker’s duties will vary from case to case and from field to field – and that there are a large number of jobs in social work, all of which are essential. Thankfully, earning a degree in social work or care can help talented students to unlock a lot of doors.

What are some specialized social worker roles?

To find an appropriate career in social work, it is first important to understand that there are many different routes and options available to you.

You will need to decide which people you would like to work with (such as children, adults, the elderly, homeless people, or marginalized communities) and the area in which you would like to work (such as medical social work or school social work).

As a social worker, you may find that you work exclusively with veterans, children of school age, young parents, elderly people, or other groups. In many cases, you’ll be helping these people access services and tools they desperately need to stay healthy and thrive. Many people benefit from social care to the extent that they go on to build long, fulfilling careers and livelihoods. There is a good chance you’ll make an amazing difference to somebody.

However, regardless of your chosen area, all social workers need the same basic skills. When looking at the different roads into social care, it’s vital to remember that education is the key to unlocking all doors.

What skills do you need to be a social worker?

As rewarding as social work is, there is no denying that it is a very challenging field, too.

Social workers are often put under immense pressure, and much of the time, it is a thankless job. Therefore, it is a role you must be sure you will derive personal growth from – and that you are passionate about developing for years to come.

Going in with the right mindset (as well as training) will ensure the people you work with get the help they need. You’re going to come up against challenges, however, that you may not always be able to solve immediately or as cleanly as you might expect.

You are going to need patience. As much as you will want to help people and will have a tight schedule to work by, not everyone moves at the same pace. You will need to be willing to take as much time as needed with each client to ensure people get the care they need.

Sometimes, cases can be ongoing for years until they are fully resolved. However, if you perform your job carefully and your clients are willing, those years of work can be highly rewarding personally (more so than at the financial level).

You are also going to need empathy. This is a field based on caring for others. You cannot go into it unaffected by what you see, but at the same time, getting too affected by the harsher elements of this role can prove difficult for some to manage on an emotional level.

In some ways, social work can be heartbreaking, especially for empathetic people. You will see severe cases of cruelty, hatred, and people let down by circumstance. However, it is that empathy that you feel that will keep you motivated and help to carry you through the trying stages of the work. There is a balance to be struck in order to stay empathetic to your clients and resolute in the face of challenges.

You should also never be scared to show innate empathy to your clients. If they need you, it is because they are struggling in one way or another. For many people, seeking help is a real challenge, so being able to show that you do care will make it easier for them to trust you and easier for the healing process to begin.

Communication is a must. Most of your job as a social worker will involve talking to others. From meeting with your clients and their families to talking with other professionals and helpers, you will need good communication skills to truly understand your client’s needs and how you can help them

Finally, self-management and organization are essential qualities to possess. You will be faced with multiple clients, each with their own individual care plans and needs.

Your job will be to keep track of each client’s situation, progress, needs, and more. Approached with a highly emotional workload on top of tight deadlines – and the fact that livelihoods may hang in the balance – you need to keep moving for the sake of the people dependent on your insight and care.

What kind of education do you need to become a social worker?

The first thing you will need to become a social worker is a bachelor’s degree. You can study social work as your major, but you can also follow similar studies that can lead you to the same degree.

For example, many social workers have bachelor’s degrees in psychology, gerontology, sociology, and human development.

If you’re unsure about your career path, majoring in one area and minoring in another is also a great way of keeping multiple doors open.

Many social work jobs require a bachelor’s degree, but going a little further can help you in the long run. For example, if you want to become a clinical social worker, you will need a master’s degree in social work.

Through your master’s studies, you will gain a clinical social work license, which will give you access to both clinical work and multiple other options within the same field.

The further you progress in education, the more access you will have to internships, volunteer work, case studies, and more. As anyone in social work will tell you, education is a must when it comes to preparing for the technical and emotional aspects of this complex role.

How do I start my career in social work?

Once you have graduated in a specific social care discipline, your available opportunities may vary depending on your location, experience, and contacts. It is wise to undertake as much volunteer work as possible during your studies and gain as many internships as possible.

Internships and volunteer work will give you a taste of what social work is like in practice. You will naturally gain experience in communication, organization, teamwork, adaptability, and handling clients.

If you follow a master’s degree, you will need to head to an internship as an integral part of your course. You can contact your local career center or talk directly to social work organizations to find an internship. Some job sites and repositories also have internship opportunities for social workers. It may also be worth scoping out LinkedIn.

Volunteering is also a superb way of getting experience, and you do not have to focus specifically on social work. Volunteering as a camp counselor, at your school’s career center, at an elderly people’s home, or your local hospital are all great ways of learning empathy and communication that will transfer well into a role based on social work.

Some schools may require that you complete supervised fieldwork, too. In some cases, an internship will more than suffice, but this is not the case everywhere. To find the right fit, look at your local social work program or social work job sites.

While at school, you can also look into taking on more certifications that relate to the specific field in which you wish to work. For example, childhood development and school social work are valuable certifications if you would like to work with children and teenagers. Ask your school about their certifications or look online for courses.

Once you have finished school and gained the required number of supervised work hours, you will then need to obtain state licensure. Once the state board validates your application, you must take a multiple-choice examination. It is also worth checking whether any private practices you work with require additional certifications.

Ensure your resume is full of relevant experience and references and join a professional social work association. These provide workshops, lectures, networking events, and even job opportunities. Some of the most popular associations include the National Association of Social Workers, the School Social Work Association of America, the American Clinical Social Work Association, and the Clinical Social Work Association.

When you are set to apply for jobs, scout online job databases and build on connections you may already have. This is a networking job, and finding a role in social care can rely heavily on working with people you already know. Although your connections may not have any job opportunities in their area, they may know of some in the surrounding region.


Finding your footing in a career in social work can take some time. Between school, internships, workshops, and volunteering, you may feel like you are continuously working with little in the way of outcome at first, but this will prove to be time well spent.

Gaining experience is invaluable. No matter where you end up, employers will expect you to know what you’re doing, and in many cases, there is a challenging learning curve. To make it easier for yourself, your clients, and your management, having good work experience and solid social care knowledge will propel you forward faster than you might think.

When everything looks bleak, just remember that people will always need help. Social workers are the backbone of this country, and eventually – with the right education behind you – you’ll find the stepping stones you need toward the career you deserve. Make sure to invest time and effort in a professional course where you can gain skills and appreciation for what you intend to do.


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