Social Worker Job Description (Skills, Duties, Salary, Education & More)

By Jeff Gillis

Struggle; sometimes, it’s simply a part of life. But, when the going gets tougher than tough, no one is alone. Social workers – the unsung heroes of the social services landscape – are there to help.

Social workers use their vast knowledge of community resources to connect people with the assistance they need. They provide support during challenging times, working diligently to ensure their clients have an opportunity to flourish.

In the end, making a positive difference is ingrained in the social worker job description. When it comes to empowering others to overcome adversity, social workers shine.

So, what does it take to become a social worker? And, once you have the credentials, what would you actually do with your time? If you’re asking these questions (and more), you’re in luck. We’ve got the answers you seek. So, step forward, and continue your journey down the path of knowledge with us.

What Is a Social Worker?

Alright, even if you’ve heard of social workers before, there’s a good chance you’re wondering, what exactly are they? Are they therapists? Are they advocates? Something else, maybe?

Well, at their core, social workers are professionals who help members of their community. The exact nature of their duties can vary, though counseling and advocacy are often at the core. Additionally, networking and connecting people with resources is a critical part of the social worker job description.

Essentially, social workers make sure that clients have the knowledge and tools they need to navigate life’s difficulties. Usually, they assist vulnerable populations, such as victims of abuse or neglect, individuals with mental health conditions, people struggling with substance abuse, and those with behavioral, mental, emotional, or physical disabilities.

Some specialize in specific communities or age groups, while others are more general. For example, certain social workers focus on advocating for and supporting children or the elderly. Others may focus on adults with substance abuse issues.

Regardless of their niche, social workers want to help those who are struggling. That’s their primary goal, no matter what.

What Are a Social Worker’s Duties & Responsibilities?

Okay, now it’s time to dig into the day to day professional lives of social workers. While a social worker job description can vary from one role to the next, many of them have certain aspects in common. Here’s a look at some possible duties and responsibilities you may have as a social worker:

      • Assisting clients by connecting them with critical services in their communities
      • Provide counseling services to clients
      • Conduct assessments to identify client needs
      • Advocate for public policy changes or access to critical resources
      • Communicate with a client’s care teams to facilitate higher quality outcomes
      • Refer clients to treatment centers and resources
      • Educate clients on good habits
      • Comply with all regulatory bodies
      • Maintain client files
      • Develop treatment plans
      • Provide crisis intervention
      • Participate in ongoing training
      • Meet all certification or credentialing standards

It’s important to note that not all social workers are qualified to perform all functions. For example, you may have to be a clinical social worker to provide counseling, depending on the rules in your state.

What Skills Do Social Workers Need?

Social workers need a robust skill set to thrive in their roles. Usually, a combination of hard and soft skills is a necessity, ensuring you have a solid knowledge base, technical prowess, an ideal mindset, and a suitable temperament for the job.

Exactly which skills you’ll need can also vary a bit from one role to the next. However, certain skills are fundamental. Here’s a look at some of the most commonly requested social worker hard skills:

      • Intake assessments
      • Treatment plan development
      • Crisis intervention techniques
      • Business communications
      • Reporting and analysis
      • Electronic records / electronic medical records (EMR)

Okay, now that we’ve covered technical prowess, let’s move on to soft skills. Generally, soft skills are traits and characteristics you exhibit as a professional. They influence how you behave and think, ultimately impacting the quality of your work.

Think of it this way; your workplace personality is a representation of many of your soft skills. They play a significant role in how you come across, interact with others, and mesh with the culture. If you don’t have the right ones, there’s a decent chance you’ll struggle in the position.

Want to make sure you have what it takes? Excellent. Here’s an overview of the soft skills that nearly every social worker needs:

      • Active listening
      • Patience
      • Communication
      • Emotional intelligence
      • Organization
      • Critical-thinking
      • Problem-solving
      • Attention-to-detail
      • Time management
      • Teamwork
      • Agility
      • Accountability
      • Reliability
      • Leadership

What Education, Training, Certification is Required?

Social work is one of those fields where going to college is a must. Even for entry-level roles, you’ll need a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree, usually in a subject like social work, psychology, or sociology.

However, some positions require more. You might need to earn a Master’s in Social Work (MSW) to qualify for specific jobs.

Additionally, there can be licensing, registration, or certification requirements to contend with, typically outlined by your state. In most cases, you’ll have to pass an exam at the start. Then, to maintain your credentials, you’ll have to complete any continuing education requirements.

Each state can dictate its own rules. So, make sure to do some research to see what it takes to be a social worker in yours.

Social Worker Salary

Okay, we know you’re wondering, “How much do social workers make?” We aren’t going to wait any longer. When it comes to social worker salaries, the answer is a resounding, it depends.

First, it’s important to realize that several factors influence compensation. Education and experience play a role, for example. Additionally, the nature of the employer matters, as well as the person’s specialty.

Second, where you’re employed also affects how much you make. Social workers in Los Angeles will usually make more than social workers in Biloxi, Mississippi. That’s just the nature of the beast, especially for government employees who have pay schedules that might be influenced directly by a cost-of-living index.

But, if you’re just looking for a ballpark figure, the median annual salary for social workers is $50,470.

Initially, entry-level professionals may earn $31,790 a year, while seasoned social workers could bring in upward of $82,540 annually.

Source: BLS.gov

Overall, earning a solid living as a social worker is completely possible, especially once you get a few years under your belt.

JEFF'S TIP: While it’s true that social workers aren’t usually the highest paid professionals, consider this; in most cases, they don’t just get a salary, they also get a robust benefits package and job security. Demand for social workers is rising. Between 2018 and 2028, the growth rate for the field is expected to hit 11 percent. Plus, when times are tough economically, the need for social workers is greater, which can provide a sense of security during challenging times.

What You Need to Know for Your Job Interview

If being a social worker sounds like the bee’s knees, wonderful. It’s a great professional that many people find especially rewarding. So, let’s take a moment to discuss what it takes to land a social work position.

Once you have the right education, you need to convince a hiring manager to bring you on board. Easy, right? Well, it isn’t necessarily a breeze, but it is much simpler if you’re prepared.

As with every job, you can’t get the role unless you nail the interview. Your first step to making that happen? Reading every line of the social worker job description. By scouring the job ad, you’ll learn about the hiring manager’s priorities, including critical must-haves you simply have to address during the meeting.

Want more insights?

Then take a moment to review the organization’s mission and values statements (which you can usually find online). You’ll find out about the organization’s goals and culture, giving you some tidbits to weave into the conversation.

After that, spend a decent amount of time reviewing the top social work interview questions. That way, you can practice your responses, ensuring you know how to pepper in the must-haves, provide great examples of your accomplishment, and remember your quantified details when you need them most.

Finally, make sure you are ready to face off against behavioral interview questions. Learn both the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method to make sure you have the right approach. If you do, you’ll be able to morph a blasé answer into something really special, increasing the odds you’ll capture the hiring manager’s eye.

Putting It All Together

Social workers really are heroes, helping people navigate some of the most challenging times of their lives. If you find the social worker job description appealing, it might be the ideal career for you. Just use the information above to get you on your way, and you could find yourself working in the field faster than you’d think.

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About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.