This post is featured on behalf of Nicole Jarvis.

Almost everyone in the millennial generation and younger says they want their work to matter. They think of themselves as altruistic, and they attest to caring about the environment and their community more than they care about themselves. Yet, when it finally comes time to choose a career, many of these same young people make moves toward law, engineering and business – fields that are better known for enviable salaries than impactful, beneficial work. It rarely takes long for altruism to morph into egoism and for workers in these fields to forget their passion for meaning and instead chase prestige and high pay.

If you don’t want to end up as another bitter, miserly professional, you might want to seek out work that will truly and forever have a positive impact on those around you – specifically, you should consider becoming a social worker. Social work might not pay much, it might be a relatively thankless career, but it inarguably has a profound significance on society as well as individual people. If important work matters to you, here’s what you should know about social work.

The Responsibilities of Social Workers

Like law and medicine, social work is a diverse field. While it is possible for a social worker to perform a number of duties, many specialize in specific fields and aspects of social work. For example, instead of helping any struggling person with any obstacle, social workers typically focus on a single type of challenge, such as:

  • Family, child or school. This category of social work focuses on the well-being of families and children, often helping parents and kids through difficulties.
  • Public health. Often installed in hospitals, social workers in this field assist patients in healthcare matters, often explaining diagnoses, treatment options and payment plans.
  • Addiction and mental health. This type of social work connect those struggling with unhealthy grounding techniques with services designed to improve quality of life.

Additionally, social workers tend to pursue one of two career paths: direct and clinical. Direct social workers identify struggling individuals or families and directly respond to clients’ needs in whatever ways necessary. Meanwhile, clinical social workers are more often focused on psychological, behavioral and emotional disorders, providing clients with counseling and treatment plans that address their needs. For the most part, clinical social workers claim better hours, workloads and salaries, but direct social workers have a greater impact on individual lives and community outcomes.

What It Takes to Be a Social Worker

Like engineering, social work is a highly targeted career. Though it is possible to come into social work with variable experience, the most direct and most common method is by obtaining a specific social work education. Ideally, you should graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in social work before you look for entry-level positions. Though it is possible to transition into social work from majors like psychology and sociology, a social work undergraduate program grants information and skill regarding current laws, regulations and issues affecting social work clients. Often, social work programs also provide opportunities for students to gain field training.

Equipped with a bachelor’s degree, you can move into “direct service” positions, usually in a public agency or social work organization, where you will take on cases and improve your community. Still, at some point you will likely want to return to school for a master’s in social work, which will provide opportunities for counseling positions, management positions and other higher-paid, more authoritative jobs in social work. You can find accredited master’s of social work programs online, which will allow you to continue serving your clients while enhancing your career prospects.

Yet, equally as important as your credentials is your attitude and personality. Social work isn’t easy, so having the right mindset and natural behaviors before you enter the field will help you make a positive contribution and remain committed to the career for years to come. Specifically, you will excel as a social worker if:

  • You have courage. Social workers sometimes venture into dangerous environments to provide adults and children with the resources they need to feel safe and secure.
  • You have empathy. Everyone is human; there is no such thing as true evil or inherent badness. When you believe this, you will be better suited to helping anyone find success.
  • You are flexible. Social work cases are never open-and-shut, and most have seemingly insurmountable obstacles. You need to be able to keep an open mind and find solutions.
  • You are organized. Like most public officials, social workers must complete mountains of paperwork, so you should have a solid organization system at the ready.

Social work might not be glamorous, but it is undeniably meaningful. Ultimately, everyone should consider a career in social work, but those destined to succeed in the field are those with care and passion for fellow people.

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