Learn About Being a Social Worker

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

What does a social worker do?

Social workers help individuals and families cope with various challenges, including trauma, debilitating injuries, addiction, disabilities and terminal illness. Some of a social worker’s responsibilities include:

  • Evaluating patients’ needs based on their current situation and limitations

  • Communicating with patients, helping to address their concerns and work toward their goals with a positive mindset

  • Collaborating with physical and occupational therapists to ensure the comfort of patients

  • Adhering to facility policies as well as government regulations

  • Building and implementing care plans for patients, providing therapeutic support as needed

Average salary

Social worker salaries can vary widely based upon factors such as an individual’s qualifications and the business’s geographical location.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $57,469 per year

  • Some salaries range from $16,000 to $125,000 per year.

Social worker requirements

Becoming a social worker involves certain training and education, as well as specific skills and professional certifications. Some of these requirements include:

Education

A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work is typically required to begin a career as a social worker, though for some positions, it may be acceptable to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Sociology or another related field.

Training

Students in social work programs learn through coursework, hands-on practice and observation of fieldwork. These students typically participate in part- or full-time internships after completing their coursework. Two years of professional experience supervised by a licensed social worker is typically required for licensure.

Certifications

Licensing requirements vary depending on the state. Some states require you to hold a social work license to provide any social work services or even carry a social worker title. Other states do not require licensure, but it is often preferred by employers. Check your state’s licensure requirements to see if your state requires it. 

The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) is in charge of administering national social work licensing exams. The ASWB administers five categories of exams for aspiring and current social workers: Associate, Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist and Clinical.

Skills

Social workers typically possess the inherent skills required to perform this role that they continuously hone to better serve their patients. Some specific skills include:

Organization

One of the asocial worker’s duties is to provide case management services, such as billing. This requires a high level of organizational skills as well as the ability to prioritize according to the urgency of clients’ needs.

Communication

Social workers use their communication skills to build relationships with patients. The responsibilities of social workers always include the ability to communicate with and actively listen to many different people and in many different ways. These professionals communicate with other care providers and patients’ responsible parties. They also document and provide written reports for insurance companies, supervisors and agency administrators.

Interpersonal skills

Communication skills, empathy and emotional intelligence combine to help social workers understand what a patient needs and why. Being able to understand and relate to others intellectually, emotionally and across cultures is necessary to provide the most helpful services. 

Critical thinking skills

Clients often seek help for complex problems in many areas of their lives. A social worker needs to be able to think quickly and creatively to effectively help patients.

Social worker work environment

Social workers work in settings that include clinics, children and family service agencies, schools, prisons, hospitals, halfway houses, community development organizations and private practices. They generally work full time with the occasional need to work evenings, weekends or holidays. Other conditions include:

  • Working in an office most of the time, with occasional local travel

  • Using computers, printers, fax machines and office telephones

  • Working with other healthcare professionals to best serve their patients

  • Working in an emotionally-draining environment regularly

  • Creating reports for patient records and insurance companies

  • Communicating with patients’ responsible parties (parents, guardians)

Social workers can pursue many different specializations, including: 

  • Children and family social work

  • Community social work

  • Mental health and substance abuse social work

  • Social work administration

  • Social work for military and veterans

How to become a social worker

Here are the most common steps to follow to become a social worker:

1. Pursue education

A Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work, Psychology, Sociology or a related field is typically required to begin a career as a social worker.

2. Gain relevant work experience

Internships provide opportunities to interact with clients, build necessary skills and explore specializations. An internship can be completed in a local nonprofit health organization, clinic or hospital setting.

3. Earn licensure

Regulations regarding licensing vary by state. Check your state’s requirements with the ASWB. 

4. Begin a job search

For finding a job, one of the first places you’ll want to check is the internet. Peruse major job boards as well as those specifically dedicated to your line of work. You could check with your local nonprofit organizations for job openings, as well.

5. Build a network

Professional networking can allow you to position yourself as a viable candidate for positions you’re interested in. By attending networking events, you’ll be able to meet fellow professionals who can recommend you for certain positions. Furthermore, expanding your social circle and nurturing relationships can lead to the opportunity to provide or receive referrals in the future.

Social worker job description example

The State Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is seeking a social services worker to serve in Child and Family Services, supporting the Medicaid program.

Daily duties include:

  • Telephone communication with clients in various socio-economic situations

  • Verifying financial and demographic information

  • Updating client and patient information accurately in our database

  • Providing a kind, empathetic experience to our clients

Requirements:

  • Customer service experience

  • Experience with examining and processing financial assistance applications or insurance claims

  • Software proficiency: database, desktop publishing/word processing, email

  • Valid driver’s license

  • Mandatory 60-day classroom training and orientation

  • Must be able to multitask while keeping the focus on the client

  • Time management skills—must be able to set and manage priorities

Related careers

Here are some related fields that a social worker might be interested in:

  • Occupational therapy assistant

  • Psychologist

  • Psychiatrist

  • Occupational therapist

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