No Matter Your Background, A Career In Social Work Is Possible
One common misconception about the field of social work is that those who choose to become social workers choose the profession from the get-go. There are certainly those who consider social work to be a calling, and stay in the field throughout their entire careers, but there are just as many, if not more, who get into social work after working in other fields.
The reasons that people transition into a social work career generally mirror those of any career change. Burnout, lack of fulfillment, and a desire to do something more meaningful are the most obvious reasons for career changers seeking a social work job. However, there are a large number of social workers who come from the law enforcement, education, and health care fields, usually spurred by what they perceive to be injustice in those fields. For example, a teacher who works with underprivileged children might decide to become a social worker to have a stronger voice in the fight against child neglect or hunger.
Health care and educational settings have the greatest overlap with social work, in terms of the working environment and the skills and personality traits necessary for success, a number of other transferrable skills are useful within social work. Regardless of background, anyone who wishes to become a social worker must meet the educational requirements, including earning a Master’s of Social Work and passing a licensing exam, but tapping into your existing skills can increase the likelihood of both landing a job and making a difference in the populations you serve.
The Top 5 Skills That Transfer to Social Work
Social workers must be flexible, compassionate, and understanding in order to provide excellent services to their clients. However, some other skills are important as well.
1. Communication. The ability to communicate is vital to being an effective social worker. Not only must you be able to build rapport with your clients, you need to communicate clearly with other constituencies in order to help your clients get the services they need. Written communication is also important. Documentation is a cornerstone of the practice of social work, but beyond that, when you have top-notch writing skills you open the doors to other opportunities within the field. Blogs, professional publications, and other outlets are always looking for content, and with a background in communication and social work, you are uniquely positioned to provide that.
2. Leadership. Demonstrating leadership is important in any career. Being able to effectively motivate people to work toward a common goal and being a team player makes you a valuable employee — and a better social worker. Not only do you need to motivate clients to help make positive changes in their lives, but you’ll often be called upon to work as part of a team.
3. Problem solving. Much like leadership, problem-solving abilities often top the list of managers’ wish lists for employees. Being able to not only identify problems (and potential problems) but also develop solutions to them is the very foundation of social work. If you’ve developed those skills in another arena, you’ll be able to put them to good use in a social work career.
4. Interpersonal Skills. Not only must social workers be able to communicate effectively and professionally, they must be able to develop and foster relationships — and understand how relationship dynamics influence nearly every aspect of one’s life. Those transitioning from other careers can apply the negotiation, relationship management, and persuasion skills gained in previous work to more effective social work.
5. Business Operational Skills. Not all social workers work for an agency or in a government position. Many opt to go into private practice, or operate a related agency, such as a private home health care agency. Even those who don’t open their own business are often called upon to handle certain operational tasks; for example, a department manager may need to create an annual budget or develop a marketing plan. Bringing those skills to the table from work in a previous field gives you an advantage.
These are just a few of the skills that transfer into the field of social work from other careers. While there will most likely be a learning curve when it comes to actually applying these skills, coming in prepared to use them will put you ahead of the game from day one.