Career Change to Social Work

Social workers might work with any age group.
i Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images
Social workers might work with any age group.

Whether you’re pushing paper, teaching, cutting hair or practicing law, you know it’s the wrong career for you. You want to help people solve their problems and make a difference in their lives. You think you’d be happier working exclusively with kids or providing mental health therapy. A career change to social work might be just what you need to revitalize your work life.

Direct Service or Clinical Work

Social workers fall into one of two categories: direct service social workers or clinical social workers. Either may work with people of all ages or exclusively with one age group, such as children, adults or seniors. Direct service social workers focus on helping people solve problems or cope with problems they can’t solve. Clinic social workers diagnose, treat and manage mental, behavioral or emotional issues. Clinical social workers must be licensed in all states. States vary in licensure requirements for direct social workers.

To Be Successful

To be successful in making a career change, Dr. Marty Nemko, who has a Ph.D. in education and is a career coach in the San Francisco Bay area, writes that you must be willing to go back to school, which involves a considerable commitment of time and money. If you’re a “helper” type of person looking to make a career change, Nemko recommends social work. Social workers should also have good problem-solving skills and be able to build interpersonal relationships that are both supportive and professional. Social work can be very complex and you will need to manage a lot of information; good organizational skills are important in this work.

Transferable Skills

Good listening skills, compassion, organizational skills, people skills, problem-solving skills and time-management skills are all useful for a social worker, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You may have transferable skills from your current job, notes Kate Lorenz, in an October 2007 article on the CareerBuilder website. If you’re a hairdresser, for example, you may already be used to establishing rapport with a person and have good listening skills. These could be transferable skills for a career in social work.


Education will probably be the first consideration in your decision to change careers. Most social workers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in either social work or a related field such as psychology or sociology. A master’s degree is required to become a clinical social worker. Depending on your current educational status, you may have already acquired credits that can be applied toward your social work degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree that includes coursework in psychology, sociology, economics or political science, you might be able to go directly into a master’s program, which will decrease the time needed to start your new career.

2016 Salary Information for Social Workers

Social workers earned a median annual salary of $47,460 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, social workers earned a 25th percentile salary of $36,790, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $60,790, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 682,000 people were employed in the U.S. as social workers.

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