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How to Advance Your Career in Social Work

Written by: Jody Adams
Last updated: March 25, 2024

Helping patients improve their quality of life and making a positive impact in your community as a social worker is fulfilling, but it is not enough. You need to learn new skills and grow professionally to earn a competitive salary and maximize your contribution to the industry. Wondering how you can advance your career in social work? Read on for seven tips to grow and manage your career in social work.

1. Earn a master of social work ( MSW)

Earning a bachelor's degree in social work will help you qualify for entry jobs in the field. However, if you are looking to fill higher-level positions like a licensed clinical officer, you should consider enrolling in CSWE-accredited MSW programs. A master of social work can enable you to get promoted to leadership positions such as program administrator, community organizer, or advocate.

By enrolling in MSW programs, you could also acquire a prominent role on the national or state stage in specialized areas in the social work profession, including fields focused on children and families, schools, health care, and mental health and substance abuse.

2. Specialize

If you have been struggling to find a position or feel limited in your career options, consider specializing in a specific field of social work. Specialization does not only make you more marketable. You are also more likely to work in a particular setting or with a specific population if you specialize.

Some areas you could specialize in in the social work practice include geriatric social work, school social work, clinical social work, or child and family social work. You could even opt to specialize in a subspeciality within an area of specialization. For instance, if you specialize in child and family social work, you could pick foster care and adoption as a subspecialty. Be sure to consider your experience and interests if you are unsure of the area to specialize in social work. Alternatively, speak to a mentor or colleagues to determine whether anyone specializes in your desired area.

3. Find a mentor

Level up your career in social work by speaking to a mentor. A mentor will help you advance your career and equip you with shortcuts and secrets to help your clients better. A good mentor will help you win promotions, refine your approach to social services career, and look for unadvertised vacancies.

 Mentors can also give professional advice and guidance on how to deal with troublesome clients. They can also help you identify resources to help vulnerable clients such as children or single mothers. With that being said, be sure to choose your mentors carefully. Do not pick a mentor solely because they have served the longest in the industry. You should also consider the mentor’s career achievement, social service success, and experience.

4. Get licensed

If you are considering shifting to a clinical position as a social worker, apply for additional state licensing to mitigate legal implications. While licensing requirements vary from state to state, some standards are common in all states. These include passing a clinical exam, getting a master's of social work, and acquiring supervised experience upon graduating.

Once you complete the application process, provide documentation for work experience and education, and pay licensing fees, you should sit for an exam set by the ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards). The exams enable the board to ascertain that you have the required knowledge to take up a clinical position.

5. Acquire transferable skills

An effective way to advance your career in social work is by developing transferable skills. Transferable skills enable you to work with a variety of populations and in different settings. Some helpful transferable skills you could acquire include public speaking, conflict resolution, crisis intervention, and report writing.

Be sure to work in entry-level jobs and volunteer to gain transferable skills, especially if you are new in the social work industry. You could also shadow experienced social workers, enroll in education programs that provide field placement, or engage in internships to develop transferable skills.

6. Get more hands-on experience

The social work industry is highly competitive, and the most effective way to land lucrative positions is by acquiring additional hands-on experience. You could volunteer, take up part-time gigs, or apply for temporary jobs to obtain hands-on experience. Taking such positions will not only equip you with relevant skills and knowledge. You could also land a permanent position and build a solid professional network.


There are plenty of career progression opportunities in social work. Earn an MSW, specialize, find a mentor, get licensed, develop transferable skills, and get more hands-on experience to advance your career in social work.

Jody Adams
Jody Adams is an accomplished editor-in-chief with a deep understanding of social care and government benefits issues. With a background in journalism and a master's degree in Public Policy, Jody has spent her career shaping the narrative around social policies and their impact on society. She has worked with renowned publications, effectively bridging the gap between complex policy analysis and public understanding. Jody's editorial expertise ensures that vital information on social care and government benefits reaches a broad audience, empowering individuals to make informed decisions.
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