Social workers provide children, adults and families with tools and assistance to help improve their lives. There are many types of social worker careers within various settings and industries. Learning how to find a position as a social worker can help you develop the skills and experience necessary to begin your career successfully.
In this article, we describe what social workers do, including where they typically work, list the career requirements for social workers, explain how to find social worker jobs and provide a list of tips to help you obtain a position.
20 Social Work Jobs That Pay More Than $40,000
Social work is a field with diverse job opportunities, for a social worker works to address specific needs within the community, and there are many government, nonprofit and commercial organizations that need to hire social workers to attend to those in need. While there are many entry-level positions in social work, the focus of this article will be on high opportunities for social work, many of which will require established work experience or even an advanced education within the field of social work or related studies.
What is a social worker?
A social worker is a professional who works with different groups of people, often subsets of people who have been underserved in some way or are otherwise experiencing crisis and thus in need of outside assistance. Social workers provide their clients and patients with the resources they need to find success in their everyday lives.
20 highest paid social work jobs
If you are researching avenues for career potential in social work, consider the following list, organized by ascending national average salary and with the primary duties for each of them. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link by each job title below:
1. Community organizer
National average salary: $42,061 per year
Primary duties: A community organizer is responsible for building social groups and organizations that benefit the community. They develop strategies to grow membership within the groups, nominate group leaders, schedule and lead membership meetings, establish fundraising goals and methods and train volunteers.
2. Intervention specialist
National average salary: $43,551 per year
Primary duties: An intervention specialist works with children who may need special education or have different social needs. They meet with these children to establish their specific needs, create individualized programs that are unique to the child and their experiences, refer parents to other health care providers like psychologists and observe the child’s progress in a classroom or other settings to monitor the efficacy of their approach.
3. Guidance counselor
National average salary: $52,278 per year
Primary duties: A guidance counselor helps students who may need to develop their social or educational skills at school. They meet with students, and possibly their parents and teachers, to discuss any circumstances or specific situations that are preventing the student from meeting their goals, then help them establish techniques so they can succeed. Guidance counselors may also provide career coaching and conflict resolution or help high school students decide what college they want to attend.
4. Recreation therapist
National average salary: $58,684 per year
Primary duties: A recreation therapist is responsible for developing recreational-based programs and therapies to assist their clients who may have physical, mental, emotional or social limitations. They provide their patients with different forms of therapy like dance, art, sports or community involvement programs, depending on the client’s unique needs and interests. Recreation therapists monitor their patient’s progress and continue to change their recreational activities as needed.
5. Vocational rehabilitation counselor
National average salary: $60,790 per year
Primary duties: A vocational rehabilitation counselor is responsible for providing counseling to individuals and groups who need assistance with securing or maintaining a job. They speak to clients to understand more about their career goals and lifestyle interests, seek resources that will help their clients learn more about particular industries, coach them in finding a job, conduct assessments to determine a client’s professional strengths and assist their clients with resume writing and interview preparation.
6. Family therapist
National average salary: $61,128 per year
Primary duties: A family therapist is a mental health professional who provides therapy to families and married couples. They address issues like depression, child-parent problems, anxiety and dependence. Family therapists diagnose these issues and other conditions, develop treatment plans, teach coping skills and help their clients live comfortably with each other.
7. Medical social worker
National average salary: $61,415 per year
Primary duties: A medical social worker provides resources and guidance to individuals who need social services because of a medical situation or condition. They evaluate a client’s needs, assist with discharge procedures if the client is currently at an in-patient facility, schedule follow-up care and write reports to explain a patient’s status to other health care professionals who are involved in their care.
8. Add!ction counselor
National average salary: $61,886 per year
Primary duties: An addiction counselor is responsible for working with ad!cts and aIcoholics to help them recover from their add!ction. They provide therapy, establish treatment plans that are unique to each client and may refer a client to a more intensive treatment center for ongoing care. Addiction counselors meet with individuals one-on-one or provide counseling to a group of people who are going through similar experiences.
9. Community director
National average salary: $63,849 per year
Primary duties: A community director is responsible for facilitating and building a relationship between a company and the local people and communities it serves. They may develop programs to increase communication, educate community members about benefits the company offers, form groups and schedule interest meetings.
10. Clinic coordinator
National average salary: $65,061 per year
Primary duties: A clinic coordinator oversees the administrative aspects of a social service company’s operations. They make hiring decisions, manage a budget, create programs for clients and assess the management of patient care. Clinic coordinators may assign social workers to clients and create goals and strategies for each department within the agency.
11. Program director
National average salary: $65,948 per year
Primary duties: A program director is responsible for creating and implementing outreach programs for a company. They create a budget for the program and its associated operations, develop milestones, set goals, report on progress and make sure that all staff members complete their work on time.
12. Licensed clinical social worker
National average salary: $68,707 per year
Primary duties: A licensed clinical social worker is responsible for supporting their clients in any way they need. They may complete mental health assessments, provide case management services, observe their clients’ behavior and create treatment plans depending on their client’s presenting issues.
National average salary: $70,135 per year
Primary duties: A therapist is responsible for helping their clients cope with their mental, emotional and social issues. They speak with clients about their challenges, refer some people to a psychiatrist as needed, diagnose disorders and develop treatment plans.
14. Social work supervisor
National average salary: $71,107 per year
Primary duties: A social work supervisor manages a group of social workers. They may make the final decisions on hiring social workers, provide training to new social workers and establish goals and procedures for members of their team. Social work supervisors make sure that all social workers that report to them are providing the best care possible to their patients.
15. Human resources manager
National average salary: $71,117 per year
Primary duties: A human resources manager oversees the human resources department and is responsible for interview and hiring new employees. They also assist employees with benefits, conduct training sessions focusing on employee engagement and company policies, write job descriptions and develop pay structures.
16. Employee relations manager
National average salary: $73,246 per year
Primary duties: An employee relations manager is responsible for helping resolve human resources issues that involve one or more employees. They may facilitate professional relationship training programs, serve as a mediator between conflicting employees and make sure that all practices at the company are fair to every employee.
17. Public policy analyst
National average salary: $87,216 per year
Primary duties: A public policy analyst performs work with the goal of influencing political and social policies. They research community initiatives, develop proposals, meet with community members, learn more about current policies and make recommendations for how to improve them.
18. Executive director
National average salary: $87,357 per year
Primary duties: An executive director of a nonprofit organization is responsible for developing strategies that support the organization’s mission. They consult with and report to the Board of Directors of the nonprofit, manage all employees and volunteers, maintain a budget and oversee the day-to-day operations of the nonprofit organization.
19. Development director
National average salary: $102,501 per year
Primary duties: A development director for a nonprofit creates programs and events to elicit donations to the organization and manages the relationships with donors. They train volunteers, keep the community engaged in the organization’s mission and work with the marketing department to develop materials to share the details of any fundraising campaign with potential donors and members of the public.
20. Associate professor of social work
National average salary: $109,287 per year
Primary duties: An associate professor of social work is responsible for instructing college and university students in the topic of social work. They develop curriculum, administer and grade exams, assign other coursework and may mentor students in their studies. Many associate professors engage in some research related to their chosen field. An associate professor will likely have a master’s degree and some degree of field experience and additionally acquire tenure status to truly classified as highly paid.
What do social workers do?
Social workers help people overcome challenging situations in their life. They often provide guidance for those who need additional support to people and families who need it. They can work in a wide variety of scenarios including helping people who are sick, working with homeless people and helping people work through substance abuse challenges.
Where do social workers work?
Many social workers can work in a wide variety of settings and the specific location you work depends on the type of social work you pursue. Some locations they work include:
What are career requirements for social workers?
Social workers are employees who help children, couples, adults and families overcome challenging situations. There are several career requirements for social workers, including:
To become a social worker, employers typically require candidates to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Usually, candidates earn a degree in social work or pursue a related area of study, such as public service. A bachelor’s in social work teaches students the fundamentals of social work and it qualifies them to start their careers upon graduation. While earning your degree, you may take classes in case management, behavior theory or ethics in social work. You might also complete courses in psychology and sociology.
Most social worker careers require candidates to have specific soft skills. Successful social workers are typically empathetic and have active listening and communication skills. These skills help social workers assist adults, children and families overcome challenging social or personal issues. Other skills that social workers often possess include problem-solving and analytical thinking. These skills can help them evaluate a situation and help clients solve problems effectively. To develop these skills, consider participating in workshops offered by professional organizations or enrolling in online or in-person classes.
Licensure or certification is typically a requirement to become a social worker, though this may vary depending on the state. Consider researching your state’s social work requirements to determine if you need a license to become a social worker. You may be able to earn a license from the same accredited college or university where you earn your bachelor’s degree.
Even if your state doesn’t require licensure, you can still earn one to increase your qualifications and differentiate yourself from other candidates during the hiring process. To earn a license, apply to take a social work licensure exam. After passing the exam, you receive your license. Below are some of the licenses a social worker can earn:
Licensed Social Work Associate (LSW)
Certified Advanced Practice Social worker (CAPSW)
Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW)
Certified Independent Practice Social Worker (CIPSW)
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
How to find social worker jobs
Consider following these five steps to learn how to find social worker jobs:
1. Prepare application materials
Regardless of what specialty you choose or where you apply, most social worker jobs require candidates to provide application materials such as a resume and cover letter. In your resume, you can briefly highlight your relevant skills, education and professional experience. If you’re new to the field, consider including internship or volunteer experience to show any skills you may have that apply to a social worker position.
In your cover letter, you can describe your qualifications in-depth and explain why you’d like to work at a particular company. To ensure your application materials make a professional impression, remember to revise and update all of your documents before sending them to a hiring manager.
2. Network at events
Meeting employees in your industry can help you find job opportunities. At networking events, you may have the opportunity to talk to people who are currently social workers or employees in related positions. Networking events can also help you connect with mentors in your industry and recruiters. A mentor may give you guidance, answer your questions and help you find job openings. Recruiters may ask about your qualifications, then suggest companies to which you can apply.
Consider joining a professional organization related to social work to learn about networking events in your field. For example, you can attend the organization’s seminars, webinars, conferences or workshops.
3. Find job listings
Searching for job postings can help you find available social work positions. You can do this by searching online job boards and reviewing the websites of companies to which you’re interested in applying. Since some companies may not post open positions online, you can also contact a company and ask if it’s hiring. Additionally, attending networking events may offer you the opportunity to ask employees about open jobs at the company they work for or available positions in the industry.
4. Customize your job search
Once you start searching for open positions, try to customize your job search by applying for jobs that match your qualifications and preferences. For example, if you enjoy working with families, consider applying only to social worker positions that involve families. You can also search for jobs based on the specific qualifications you have by reviewing job descriptions before applying. This can help you obtain your target position since you have the credentials that the employer is seeking.
Additionally, you can search for jobs based on other aspects that suit your needs. For example, if you’re interested in working for a small company near your home, you might consider the size and location of the company during your job search.
5. Consider entry-level jobs
If you’re a recent graduate or just entering the field, consider applying for entry-level jobs. Entry-level jobs can help you develop professional connections in the industry and improve your qualifications over time. An entry-level job can also help you gain the experience as a social worker necessary to advance your career. Some examples of entry-level jobs include:
Family services coordinator
Mental health technician
Group home manager
Home health aide
4 tips for finding social worker jobs
If you’re interested in finding a social worker job, you can use these tips to help you:
1. Use keywords
When creating your resume and cover letter, try including keywords. Keywords are words or phrases that employers often use in job postings to indicate what qualifications they’re seeking. Using these words on your resume and cover letter can help you show hiring managers that you’re the right fit for the position. For example, if the job posting uses the keywords “motivated” and “caring,” consider incorporating them into your application materials when writing about your skills. You can also add keywords to your professional summary. Below is an example professional summary:
Example: Experienced and caring social worker that’s motivated to find employment in the health care field to support patients and families manage their chronic illness or disease.
You can engage in volunteer opportunities that relate to being a social worker, then add the experience to your resume to help hiring managers recognize your relevant qualifications. For example, if you want to work with children, then you can volunteer at a school or company that specializes in social work for children. This can help you gain experience that’s directly related to your chosen field. It can also help you meet employees in your field who might be able to help you find a job.
3. Join a professional association
Try joining a professional social worker association to meet other social workers and find open jobs. These groups often host events, which can help you develop your professional network and provide you with relevant information about the industry. Through an association, you may also be able to volunteer or find open jobs. Becoming an official member of an association is also something you can add to your resume and talk about in an interview.
Consider joining a professional association that focuses on your specific field of study. For example, if you specialize in health care, you may wish to join the American Pain Society or Associated Clinicians for the Underserved. If you want to find a position in the mental health sector, you can join the American Counseling Association, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America or the National Eating Disorder Association.
4. Consider further education
Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum requirement for social workers, gaining additional education may accelerate your job search. You can take additional classes, earn a certificate or get your master’s degree in social work. Enhancing your educational qualifications can help you find a job as a social worker and may improve your career prospects. While earning a degree or participating in a class, you can also network to meet more employees, which may help you find a job in your chosen field.