Is a Career in Social Work Right for You? Questions to Help You Decide
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. — Proverbs 31:8-9
The above BIble scripture is what I consider to be the overall goal of a social worker. Social Work is a very meaningful, but challenging career. Social Workers wear a lot of hats in our society, helping all types of people. If you have ever thought of entering the social work field, here are some questions to help you decide.
1. Can you truly empathize with others?
Answers.com defines the term “empathize” as: “To understand or be sensitive to another’s feelings or ideas” and “to associate or affiliate oneself closely with a person or group.” Essentially, you need the ability to feel what it is like to be in another person’s shoes. No, you don’t have to have been homeless to empathize with a homeless person or had cancer to empathize with someone who’s terminally ill, but you must be able to understand their pain and frustrations.
2. Do you sincerely want to help others and make a difference in their lives?
As a future social worker, one of your goals should be to help establish change in your client’s lives. Just like the old saying, “Give a man a fish you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.”, you must equip your clients with the tools and skills to change. If you just want to be a social worker so you can have a job and make ends meet, then social work isn’t for you.
3. Are you willing to accept low pay?
Social Workers do not do their job for the financial benefits, trust me on that one. While LMSW’s (those with master degrees) might be able to find administrative type jobs that pay well, for the most part, social work jobs are very low paying. The average entry level salary is about 30k, depending on where you live. Actually, some social work type jobs are much lower paying than that – I worked for a suicide/crisis hot line making a grand total of $7.50 an hour. So, if making a lot of money is important to you, then social work is not for you.
4. Are you a “people person”?
It’s called social work for a reason! If you are shy and don’t enjoy being around people, and interacting with others in variety of ways, then social work is definitely not the career path you want to take. There’s nothing wrong with not being a “people person”, it’s just a necessary trait for social workers.
5. Can you handle stressful situations?
While some social work jobs aren’t very stressful, most are. Social workers are often placed in difficult and challenging situations. If you want to be a social worker, you must be able to cope with stressful events. You must practice healthy stress-management techniques to help you survive in the field.
6. Are you non-judgmental?
If you’re the kind of person who sees a homeless person and says “Why don’t they just get a job? If they weren’t so lazy, they wouldn’t be homeless.” then you might want to think twice about entering the social work field. You must not judge others. It all ties together with being able to truly empathize and understand situations.
7. Can you handle being on call, long hours and (possilbly) working holidays?
Depending on what type of job you accept, you might be on call a few times a month. You might find yourself having to work overtime, and in some cases, working holidays. There are many social work jobs (CPS caseworker for one) which truthfully, isn’t appropriate for someone with young children. Many times your job will need to come before your family.
8. Can you handle rude, disrespectful, and (rarely) violent clients?’
Some social work clients aren’t the jolliest people in the world. (Think about it, if you were in their shoes, you might not be a happy camper too.) Therefore, you must be able to deal with rude, mean and sometimes obnoxious people. Obviously, you must be able to not take things personally. Although very unlikely to happen, some social workers have found themselves to be with violent clients. This is very rare however.
9. Can you keep yourself from not getting too emotionally involved in situations?
Although it might seem impossible at times, you must refrain from becoming too emotionally involved in your clients’ lives. You must have the ability to go home at the end of the day and truly separate yourself (for the most part) from your job.
10. Are you mentally fit?
In order for take care of others, they must take care of themselves. This includes being mentally healthy and practicing good mental health hygiene. This is not to say if you’ve been treated for a mental health issue in the past that you can’t be a social worker – in fact, there are many successful social workers who have been treated at one time for depression or other types of mental illness. However, you must be stable and be able to cope with the ups and downs of a social work career.
11. Can you uphold to the Social Work Code of Ethics?
All Social Workers must adhere to a Code of Ethics. You can read them here on the NASW (National Association of Social Workers) web-site.
As you will see by reading the Code of Ethics, you must follow core values: integrity, service, social justice, dignity and worth of the person, competence, and importance of human relationships. These guidelines are necessary to make social work the compassionate field it was intended for. If you cannot adapt this ethics into your lifestyle, then social work is not the job for you.
12.Are you organized?
Often social workers will have large caseloads with loads of paperwork. Organization is essential, or you will fall behind and do a disservice to your clients. You must have excellent organization skills to be an effective social worker. Of course, this can be changed, there are plenty of good books you can read to help master this quality. This is not to say that there aren’t unorganized social workers – as there are plenty of them out there – but to do a great job, you must be very organized.
13. Can you maintain confidentiality?
Social workers who break confidentiality are often fired immediately. You must be able to keep client information, stories, and more completely confidential. If that’s not something you can adhere to, then another job would be better fit for you.
14. Do you have a clear criminal record?
If you would like to work for a government agency, any type of criminal history will pretty much disqualify you completely. This is not to say that you can’t obtain any social work job, but it will be challenging. There are social service agencies that hire people who’ve made a mistake (and learned from it) but, for the most part, you must have no past arrests or convictions. If you have a felony on your record especially, you might want to seek counsel from a social work career counselor (call the college career center) before you put a lot of effort into a social work degree.
15. Do you have a sense of humor?
This isn’t a must, but it’s a great trait to have as a social worker. In order to cope with the stress and challenges of this job, an ability to see the lighter side of things is nice. Even in very serious jobs – say a CPS worker who handles sexual abuse claims – you must be able to laugh at the little things, or you might end up going crazy. Although social workers need to be serious at most times, being uptight isn’t very healthy either.
These are just a few questions to ask yourself before deciding to major in social work. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t become a social worker, but you might need to address some issues first.
There are several books that you can read to help you get a taste of the world of social work. Here are a few to try:
Days in the Lives of Social Workers: 54 Professionals Tell “Real- Life” Sotries from Social Work Practice
The Call to Social Work: Life Stories
What Social Workers Do
Social Work is an outstanding career choice. It’s not for everyone, but for those that choose it, it will be very rewarding and fulfilling.
Good Luck on Your Career Adventure!