Social Worker Careers

Job Description

Social worker and client in a home for seniors
••• BURGER/PHANIE / 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

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median annual salaries of social workers by area of specialization are as follows:

  • Child, Family, and School: $48,430
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse: $47,830
  • Healthcare: $56,810
  • All Other Areas: $47,980 

According to the BLS, the number of people working as a social worker, by specialty, is as follows:

  • Child, Family, and School: 306,370
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse: 112,040
  • Healthcare: 167,730
  • All Other Specialties: 96,000

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 BLS predicts that, in general, employment of social workers will grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2026. Child, family, and school social workers will experience growth that is as fast as the average for all occupations while employment of health care and mental health social workers will grow faster than the average.


Typical job duties for social workers include the following:

  • Providing mental health counseling to individuals, groups or families—if one is a clinical social worker
  • Conducting initial assessments
  • Communicating with other teams in a particular venue
  • Providing crisis intervention as needed
  • Referring individuals to appropriate treatment centers, as indicated
  • Ensuring that all case files, and other records, strictly comply with the stated policy, regulation, and procedure
  • Coordinating treatment planning and maintaining ongoing contact with outpatient providers for the continual care of patients
  • Actively participating in ongoing training as needed in order 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 (B.S.W.), but you may be able to get a job if you have a degree in psychology or sociology. Some jobs require a Master's Degree in Social Work (M.S.W.). If you want a career as a clinical social worker, the advanced M.S.W. degree is required.

All states and the District of Columbia require social workers to be either licensed, certified, or registered. The Social Work Career Center has a list of state licensing agencies, and How to Become a Social Worker takes a comprehensive look at education, training, and licensing including course curriculums and different schools. 

Necessary Soft Skills 

Those who want to become social workers should bring with them certain soft skills, which include the following:

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

Is This Occupation Right for You?

The Holland Code (which tests for social, investigative, and artistic capabilities) is probably something you'll want to take, along with the  MBTI Personality Types: ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP, ESFJ, ISFJ, ESFP, ISFP test.

Occupations With Similar Tasks

If you're interested in social work but none of the general or specialty areas appeal to you, you may want to look into any of the four other related professions below.​

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
Mental Health CounselorHelps people with their emotional and mental disorders$47,980Master's Degree in a Mental Health Related Discipline
School Counselor

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

$55,410Master's Degree in School Counseling
Marriage and Family TherapistProvides therapy to individuals, couples, and families$48,790  Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy
Probation OfficerMonitor people who are on probation instead of in jail $51,410 Bachelor's Degree