Social Worker

Job Description

Group watching man and woman talking in group therapy session
Tom Merton/Caiaimage/Getty Images

A social worker helps people cope with challenges they are facing in their lives. Some, called clinical social workers, are therapists who diagnose and then treat individuals who have mental, behavioral and emotional disorders. Earnings, job duties, and job outlook differ based on the population a social worker serves and his or her work environment.

Quick Facts

  • In 2014 social workers earned a median annual salary of $45,500. Earnings differ by area of specialization and the industry in which they work.
  • 649,300 people worked in this profession in 2014.
  • Most jobs are full time and sometimes include work on weekends, evenings and holidays.
  • The job outlook for this occupation varies by specialty but is good overall. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that, in general, employment of social workers will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2024. Child, family, and school social workers will experience growth that is as fast as the average for all occupations while employment of healthcare and mental health social workers will grow much faster than the average.

Roles and Responsibilities

These are some typical job duties we found in online ads for social work jobs on Indeed.com:

  • "Provides mental health counseling to individuals, groups or families" (Clinical Social Workers Only)
  • "Conducts initial assessments"
  • "Communicates with teams"
  • "Provides crisis intervention as needed"
  •  "Refers consumers to appropriate treatment services as indicated"
  • "Assures maintenance of all case files and other records in strict compliance with policy, regulation and procedure"
  • "Coordinates treatment planning and maintain ongoing contact with outpatient providers for continuing care of patient"
  • "Actively participates in ongoing training as needed to meet all certification standards and credentialing policies"

Education, Training and Licensing Requirements

To become a social worker you will have to go to college. For an entry-level job, you will need at least a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW), but you may be able to get a job with a degree in psychology or sociology. Some jobs require a Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW), and if you want a career as a clinical social worker, this advanced degree is required.

All states and the District of Columbia require social workers to be either licensed, certified or registered. Requirements vary by state and apply to practice and use of professional titles. See the Social Work Career Center for a list of state licensing agencies. Find comprehensive information on social work education, training and licensing in the article "How to Become a Social Worker."

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed?

Those who want to become social workers should bring with them certain soft skills.

These personal qualities are usually acquired outside the classroom. Some of them are:

  • Service Orientation: A strong desire to help other people is essential.
  • Active Listening: You must give clients your full attention when you are meeting with them.
  • Verbal Communication: Your clients will rely on you to clearly convey information to them, their families and other service providers.
  • Interpersonal Skills: In addition to listening and speaking skills, you also need social skills.
  • Time Management and Organizational Skills: Given the large caseload common for most social workers, these skills are essential.
  • Critical Thinking: You must be able to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of different solutions when helping your clients solve problems.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

To find out what characteristics employers are looking for in job candidates, we turned to some actual job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Excellent verbal and written communications skills"
  • "Demonstrates autonomy, organization, assertiveness, and flexibility and cooperation in performing job responsibilities"
  • "Willingness to learn, excellent written and verbal communication skills, high-energy person, computer literate"
  • "Must be multi-culturally sensitive to the needs of consumers in treatment"
  • "Proven ability to intelligently manage and troubleshoot operational issues and effectively manage and prioritize projects as they arise"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Should You Become a Social Worker? Take a Quiz to Find Out

    Occupations With Similar Tasks

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2014)Minimum Required Education/Training
    Mental Health CounselorHelps people with their emotional and mental disorders$40,850Master's Degree in a Mental Health Related Discipline
    School Counselor

    Works with students, helping them succeed or overcome academic and social problems.

    $53,370Master's Degree in School Counseling
    Marriage and Family TherapistProvides therapy to individuals, couples and families$48,040Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy
    Probation OfficerMonitor people who are on probation instead of in jail $49,060Bachelor's Degree

    Sources:

    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited April 7, 2016). Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited April 7, 2016).

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