After lots of consideration, reflection, careful planning, and coordinating with your support system, you have decided that making the switch to a career in social work is the right move for you. First, congratulations! Often making the decision to get out of a stressful, unhealthy, or unfulfilling job can be the most difficult part.
But what are your next steps? What should you do now?
Making a career change can seem overwhelming and presents a few challenges, but if you break it up into manageable steps it doesn’t have to be! Once deciding to pursue a career in social work, here are five steps you should take to land a job in the social work profession.
1. Decide which institution is right for you.
To call yourself a social worker, you must hold a social work degree (bachelor’s or master’s). Not only will a Master of Social Work degree legally allow you to practice, but it will also give you the experience you need to land supervisory roles and other advanced positions. When considering different institutions, look for one with specializations that are of interest to you and faculty who are performing compelling research.
Here is a checklist of things you might want to consider when choosing a Master of Social Work program:
- Does it implement a research-based curriculum?
- Does it offer an integrated learning approach?
- Are there flexible completion options, such as hybrid courses or night classes?
- Is the program supported by expert faculty?
- Do they offer strong field placement options with local institutions?
2. Complete your MSW.
Pursuing an MSW, either part-time or full-time, will provide you with the opportunity to obtain the skills necessary to advance in the field of social work. During your graduate courses, consider specific coursework and specialized certifications that will train you in the specific area in which you want to practice. For example, if you plan to work as a clinical social worker, take as many clinical classes as possible. If macro social work interests you, choose courses in advocacy and nonprofit management.
Pro-tip: While you complete your degree, consider engaging in community service or social service volunteer opportunities. Although these positions are not paid, they can offer you valuable insight into the kind of social work practice you would like to pursue and the types of populations you would like to serve.
3. Learn from field placements.
Every MSW program requires a certain number of hands-on hours from field internships. These opportunities to work in the field and assist licensed professionals will provide you with the skills, training, and knowledge needed to begin a career as an effective social worker. Treat these opportunities as you would paid employment, learn from those around you, and don’t be afraid to collaborate and network with your classmates and professional colleagues.
Field placements are arguably the most important part of your graduate degree experience because they expose you to the same hands-on work that you will engage in as a licensed professional social worker. Many graduate social work programs have a dedicated team of professionals who walk alongside students through their fieldwork experience.
Pro-tip: If you want to learn more about the Garland School of Social Work’s field placement team and the fieldwork opportunities we offer, read 4 Field Placements Available Through Baylor’s MSW Program.
4. Complete the licensure requirements.
If you want to practice and be recognized as a social worker, you will need to become licensed or registered in your jurisdiction. The specific requirements vary by state, so be sure to explore what is needed for licensed practice well before you graduate. Make a plan to complete your degree, pass examinations, finish required hours of supervised experience, become board certified, and any other requirements needed to practice. Also, social work licenses need to be maintained and kept up-to-date with continuing education. Don’t forget to check how often your license needs to be renewed and what it will take to keep it active.
5. Network and apply.
During your time in school, continually update your resume, adding internships and other field placement experiences. It is also important to maintain relationships with your professors and professional colleagues you meet. You will rely on your network to help you land a social work job, immediately out of your graduate degree program. Also, begin your job search before you graduate; don’t wait until you have your degree in hand. Scour job listings online, put out feelers to your network, inquire at local schools, nonprofits, agencies, and other advocacy organizations.
Pro-tip: Is the thought of applying for a job in a new career overwhelming? Read our article — How to Land Your Dream Job After Earning Your MSW — where we’ll walk you step-by-step through the three stages of securing the perfect job upon graduation.
Ready to make the switch?
Don’t forget to leverage your prior work experience when entering the field of social work. Spend some time crafting your resume to highlight applicable skills and experience that will showcase you as a qualified candidate. Use your career and work experience before social work to your advantage. Your career change gives you credibility others do not have and makes you a valuable asset to any social work practice.
At the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University we are ready to help you make the transition to a career in social work. With expert faculty, a supportive staff, and an extensive alumni network you will be accompanied every step of the way from the beginning of your application through your graduation and into your career. To learn more about our MSW program you can request more information or contact us today!