There are plenty of roles that involve helping people and society every day, and social work is one of the best of them. It is a career that offers you the chance to work closely with individuals and communities with the definite goal of changing lives for the better. If that sounds like something you would be interested in, then great! There are some things you must consider first, though, such as cost, time, and why you want to do it in the first place. So, if you are an aspiring social worker, here are some essential points you must first consider.
What is the Required Education?
You will not have much luck walking into a job interview for social work without any previous experience or education under your belt. Before setting your goals, you must understand the education required.
While the minimum qualifications accepted is a bachelor’s degree, many social workers also have a master’s degree. For an excellent course to boost your knowledge of psychology and social work, consider doing an online human services degree. Not only will this give you the knowledge and skills to thrive in a social work role, but it will also prepare you for further education.
The Stresses of the Job
If you think social work sounds like a tough job, then you would be correct. While there are many benefits to it, you must also understand that you will be faced with many challenges, including long workdays and difficult clients. Sometimes, you will be assigned a client whose circumstances are particularly upsetting, and these negative emotions might follow you home.
While you might be tempted to start an online human services degree to become a social worker, you must first understand that it is a role full of emotional stresses and managing them is essential.
Which Area of Social Work to Go Into
Of course, social work is not a single career – there are many specialties you can choose from. So, before deciding to become a social worker, consider these options:
- Child Welfare Worker
- School Social Worker
- Healthcare Social Worker
- Behavior Analyst
- Clinical Social Worker
- Medical Social Worker
- Child and Family Social Worker
- Substance Abuse Social Worker
If you are still unsure about what area of social work to go into, don’t worry. Doing an online human services degree will provide you with plenty of skills for social work without forcing you to choose your exact path right away. Plus, you will get a better idea of what kind of social work specialty you want to do once you are studying!
How Much You Want to Change
It is important to consider how much you are expecting to change as a social worker. While your ambitions might be high, there is no guarantee that you are going to see vast improvements to the communities and individuals you work with during the first few months of your career. A lot of the changes you will make will be small and often you might not even notice them at first.
Of course, that is not to say there will not be moments of incredible breakthroughs. There will come times where someone you have worked with has completely altered their life for the better thanks to your help, and you will be met with a great feeling of pride. You cannot expect this every day, though, so before you go into social working, remember that the changes you are making will sometimes be slow, difficult, and at times even close to invisible. It takes perseverance to keep pushing through these moments. Think of it as your online human services degree or master’s in social work – it is a slow process, but the results are more than worth it.
If You Are Prepared for the High Level of Responsibility
No matter how kind, motivated, and hardworking you are, if you are not prepared to be responsible for your actions, you will not make a good social worker. Remember – social workers deal with a lot of intense situations, and often, you will be the person vulnerable people rely on. To thrive in this role, then, you must first consider if you are comfortable with that.
Your Communication Levels
Before applying for an online human services degree and starting your path toward becoming a social worker, you must first consider how good of a communicator you are. If you have always been told that you are chatty, warm, and friendly, then the chances are you have the communication skills required to make an excellent social worker. If you are more on the shy side, however, you have work to do before you can manage this career.
Don’t worry – not automatically being the best communicator does not mean you cannot learn. If you are curious about improving your communication skills, you could:
- Join a Club
- Practice Public Speaking
- Attend a Debate Class
- Put Yourself Out There More Often
How Organized You Are in Your Daily Life
Social work requires high levels of organization skills. If you are messy, frequently late, and generally disorganized, you might suffer as a social worker. In fact, you would struggle during your online human services degree, before you have even qualified! To ensure you are right for the role, consider how organized you are in your daily life, and if it is not so much, you must work on improving that before entering a social work career.
How You Would Look After Yourself
As you have probably gathered, social work can often be stressful, which means you need excellent self-care skills to get through. Instead of figuring it out as you go, consider how you would look after yourself during the challenging times so that you do not end up too overwhelmed. This could include:
- Taking Breaks
- Reading More
- Spending Time with Loved Ones
Just as you should have boundaries between yourself and your clients, you should also have boundaries between yourself and your work. If you ever feel like social work is seeping into your home life, you must focus on looking after your wellbeing. If you are doing an online human services degree and you must work from home, try to separate your studies from your home life as much as possible.
How Well You Work with Others
Social work is an inherently social job. You will not be spending all your days working on cases behind a computer screen (although some of your time will be spent doing this); you will spend the majority of your hours interviewing clients and working alongside your co-workers. For this reason, you must be excellent with people. That does not just mean clear communication, either – it means being friendly, open to suggestions, and enjoyable to be around. Without excellent interpersonal skills, your social work career will suffer.
If You Are Willing to Go the Extra Mile
With social work, you cannot always leave your work at the door. This is especially true when you have a particularly upsetting or extreme situation to deal with. Sometimes, these situations and clients will require more than your job description, and you will have to put in more effort than usual. It is important, then, to consider how much effort you are willing to put into your career, as it will have to be a lot if you want to succeed as a social worker.
Luckily, programs like an online human services degree or master’s in social work often weed out those who are not committed enough. If you get through those, you have what it takes.
How Patient You Are
Patience is an essential trait for social workers. When you are dealing with difficult clients, you cannot lose patience, as this will come across as unprofessional. Instead, you must keep your calm and do your best to help.
Whether You Can Control Your Emotions
Like patience, you must also be able to control your emotions. As mentioned, social workers have to deal with lots of unpleasant situations. Unlike your clients, though, you do not have the privilege of showing your emotions. Instead, you must keep them inside and maintain a strong level of professionalism.
It is important to note how well you deal with this, as you do not want to enter a career only to later realize you cannot always keep your cool. So, think back on high-stress situations in your life, and consider how you dealt with them. If you struggle with this, but you are still passionate about social work, here are some strategies for keeping calm in high-stress situations:
There are a few breathing exercises you can do to calm your emotions, including the 4-7-8 method. When you feel anger or anxiety bubbling over, try this.
Taking a Walk
Sometimes, movement is all you need to calm your nerves. If a situation is becoming too much, try pacing the room or even taking a walk if you can.
Exercise outside of work helps you manage emotions – the more intense, the better.
There are plenty of self-help books out there to help you manage your emotions, so give some a try and see if they help.
What Transferable Skills You Already Have
You might be surprised to learn that you already have many skills that make an excellent social worker, especially if you have previously worked in a person-focused career. For example, those who have worked in retail will be better at managing a high-paced environment and difficult people. So, when considering your social work career options, take your current skills into account.
Your Knowledge of Social Issues
Social work is not just about working with individuals – it is also about working with communities as a whole. For this reason, you must have a wide breadth of knowledge about social issues, especially the ones that impact the community you plan on working in. The more you know about local drug problems, alcoholism, domestic violence rates, and prejudices, the better you will be at the job.
Your knowledge and passion for social issues will help you choose your social work specialty, too. For example, if you are passionate about helping drug abusers get over their addictions, you could aim for a substance abuse social work career.
If it Fits in with Your Current Life
Before you jump into the online human services degree application form, ask yourself, does social work fit into the kind of lifestyle you currently lead? Of course, if you are a young student who is choosing your career, then your lifestyle habits will naturally change over time. If you are a working adult switching your career, though, you must consider if you have the time and energy necessary for a social work career.
Some of the factors to consider include; how you spend your free time, what your family obligations are and if you live in an area where the need for social workers is high.
How Passionate You Are About Helping People
On the more challenging days, it takes pure passion to get through. Due to this, you must consider just how passionate you are about helping people before choosing this career path. Have you always wanted a career working with the vulnerable? Do you find roles with no noticeable change unsatisfying? Passion is crucial, so make sure you have a lot of it.
Why It Is the Perfect Career for You
There are many reasons people enter a career in social work – what are yours? Is it because you are great with people, or because you are interested in society and human behavior? You must put your all into a social work career to thrive, so make sure the reasons you are choosing it are the right ones.
As you can see, social work is a career that takes a lot of consideration. It is important to think of everything before you apply to an online human services degree, as it is a field that requires people who are not just talented but are also passionate about helping people. If that sounds like you, then social work will provide you with plenty of opportunities to work with individuals, families, and communities for the betterment of society as a whole.