Six Questions to Ask Yourself When Picking a Career as a Social Worker
Ok, so you want to become a social worker.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you will be joining a community of over 682,100 employed social workers in the U.S.
The great news is: There is still more than enough room for YOU!
There are expected to be over 109,700 new social worker jobs in the next few years.
And unemployment for social workers is very low according to the usnews.com. It stands at only 2.1%, which is well below the national unemployment rate.
But, before you zero in on this career path (or any other, for that matter), here are a few questions to ask yourself:
1. What are you passionate about?
The people who are most satisfied with their jobs are usually those who enjoy what they do. Our interests include the people, information, or things that we enjoy the most. We tend to gravitate toward them naturally and, given a choice, spend as much of our time with them as is possible. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Do you prefer working with people or numbers and data? Do abstract ideas attract you more or real-world things like animals or equipment? Or, maybe, some combination of these? What kinds of books do you have on your shelves? What sort of events do you go to for fun? Do you like spending time indoors or outdoors?
2. What are your talents, strengths, and weaknesses? (and know the differences!)
Let’s get the hard part out of the way first – your weaknesses. This is probably the most dreaded part of the question. Everyone has weaknesses, which can include:
- Being too critical of yourself
- Attempting to please everyone
- Controlled (too controlled)
- Analytical (too analytical)
Talents are the things that you’re naturally good at; often things that you have been doing well from an early age or were even born with and that do not require a lot of effort. Strengths and weaknesses have been developed through practice or lack of practice.
Examples of talents are:
- Public speaking
- Networking (person to person)
- Networking (in the virtual world)
- Critical thinking
- Out of the box thinking
- Decision making
Examples of strengths are:
- Communication skills
- Technical competency
- Strong work ethic
- Determination and persistence
- Ability to work in harmony with co-workers
- Eagerness and willingness to add to your knowledge base and skills
These are just a few examples. Rather than focusing on improving your weaknesses, you may be better suited finding a career that suits your strengths and talents.
3. Are there jobs available?
It’s important to research the labor market for careers that you’re considering. One of the best sites is the Bureau of Labor Statistics; just search for your career by name, and you will find so much data about your career. You will find information on income levels, job outlook, states with the greatest and least growth, unemployment levels, etc. While the labor market shouldn’t definitively determine your direction, it’s important to know your prospects before entering a profession. Nobody wants to go through years of school only to find out there’s no job waiting for them at the other end!
4. Are there opportunities for advancement?
Some jobs offer more upward mobility than others. This means there are opportunities to get promoted or to take on additional responsibilities (and make more money). We all know people who seem to be stuck in a rut, with their professional lives stalled by a lack of opportunity. It’s often hard in these situations to muster a lot of enthusiasm for work. If you are someone who is motivated to grow and continuously challenge yourself, you’ll want a career that allows you to do so.
5. How much money do you really need?
The website payscale.com states that most people underestimate what they need to make a comfortable living. Start by brainstorming monthly expenses. These will likely include:
- Living Expenses: Rent, utilities, cable, food, etc.
- Communication: Cellphone, Internet, etc.
- Debt: Student loans, car payments, credit card debt, etc.
- Insurance: Health, life, car, renter’s insurance, etc.
- Fun Money: Travel, eating out, shopping, etc.
- Taxes: Depending on your income and where you live, you can pay as much as 40% of your salary as state and federal taxes. So, every dollar you earn may only net you 60 cents. A rule of thumb is to use 30%, or 30 cents out of every dollar, as money you will never see.
- Emergency Savings: This should be a relatively liquid account. Most financial advisors recommend having 6-12 months of salary saved in this account. Easier said than done.
- Retirement: It’s never too early to start thinking about retirement. There’s a good chance that your future employer has some type of retirement benefit included in the initial salary offer. Will you need to contribute to additional retirement accounts? It’s delayed gratification, but an expense now!
- Additional Savings: Do you want to save for a house? Maybe a new car, or a boat? Realizing your dreams often requires saving.
6. What are you willing to do to get there?
You will be investing many years of your life and tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to achieve your goals. Are you willing to commit to making those sacrifices? It might involve leaving your family, friends, and hometown for education or work abroad. It might involve sleep deprivation and above-average levels of stress.
Depending on the occupation and how long you plan to stay in that profession, you will have to make different sacrifices. You have to decide if what you will be getting is worth what you are giving up.
The Bottom Line: Enjoy the journey, not the destination! You will get just as much, if not more, fulfillment from the hard work, personal growth, and determination it takes to get to the next level in life as you will from achieving your career goal. Just roll up your sleeves and get started today.