Social Work Career Decisions

Deciding What You Want To Do Within Social Work

You already made an important career decision when you made the move to social work. The flexibility that allows you to pursue any number of specializations within the social work profession is also one of the primary causes of career confusion for social workers. Finding your niche in the profession requires that you examine and prioritize the three elements that determine your satisfaction or dissatisfaction with any job: skills, values, and interests.


The abilities of the worker that can be used in the work setting. Workers should identify personal skills and prioritize those he/she chooses to exercise in employment and those he/she prefers to use as hobbies. For instance, a person may be a skilled clinician and a capable artist but may or may not choose to exercise those artistic skills in the workplace.


The factors that determine the quality of work life (and sometimes personal life) in one’s role, organization, or profession. Workers should prioritize these values and determine which ones must be present in the workplace, which are negotiable, and which are not necessary for the position to be satisfying. Examples of work values are salary, flexibility of hours, variety of work tasks, supportive environment, and autonomy.


The focus of the work performed by the worker in the work role. For social workers, for example, interests may include work with a particular population or social issue.

Employees, especially social workers, who do not meet their top requirements in regards to these three variables face the probability of burnout, a term used to describe anger and apathy that result from job stress and frustration. (R. L. Barker, The Social Work Dictionary. 1991.) Taking the time to reflect upon these variables may help you to locate the ideal position for you and to avoid burnout.
The exercises that follow can help you to identify and prioritize your own skills, values, and interests. There is also an exercise to identify your personal qualities. Read the directions and respond honestly. You’ll be surprised what you will learn about yourself.

You can also draw upon past work and volunteer experiences and ask yourself these important questions: Which skills did I enjoy—and not enjoy—using? Which skills did I want to use that I did not have the opportunity to exercise? What did I particularly like and dislike about the environment and how I fit into the organization? Was the mission or focus of the work in line with my own interests? If not, what topic or issue would have interested me more?

You can also study help wanted ads that hold a certain appeal for you. What is it about the ads that are attractive to you? Consider the tasks, salary, the focus of the organization, etc.

The links below lead to exercises that are worth a few hours of your time. They will help you to identify what is most important to you, and therefore you will be better able to convince an employer of your abilities, that you want the position for which you are interviewing, and that you are confident of your ability to fulfill the requirements of the job.