How to Survive Your First Year as a Qualified Social Worker

Getting your first job in social work is an exciting time. Finally, after years of studying and training, you get to earn a salary while giving back to the community. It’s not all smooth sailing, though, as you’ll soon come to realize; you’ll need to be prepared if you want to survive and thrive in your first year of social work. Here’s how to do it.

View Each Day as Education

Your education doesn’t end just because you’ve landed a job. In fact, you’ll learn more in your first year of being a social worker than you ever could in a classroom. To ensure you take in every lesson, view each day on the job as a valuable education.


While education will come in the form of experience, you should also consider looking at part time MSW programs to achieve your master’s on the side. This will, of course, require even more hard work from you, but it’ll give you the additional education you need to thrive in your role. Plus, it’ll open the door to even more career opportunities in the future – not to mention the additional networking that can be done.


Always Plan Your Weekly Schedule 

Time management is essential for your first year in social work. Luckily, you’ll have gained experience with this during your bachelor’s, part time MSW programs, and training. So, pull from what you learned from those years and plan your weekly schedule. By doing so, you ensure you reach all the goals you intended to complete (and if not, you’ll have a record of what you need to catch up on).


Utilize Your Study Notes  

If you’ve finished with your bachelor’s or part time MSW programs, make sure you keep the notes you made during those years. After all, you never know when they’ll come in handy! Even better – collect all your notes and organize them into an easy-to-read folder for future reference.


Make Plenty of Connections 

Connections are vital in most careers – especially ones where you want to advance. To ensure you build a good rapport with your co-workers and open yourself up to potential career opportunities, make as many connections as possible as soon as you start the job.

Part time MSW programs also offer the opportunity to network more. It’ll mean you won’t just make connections in your current place of work, but you’ll also make them at a university, expanding your horizons even more.


Read, Read, Read

While you won’t be given a set reading list as you had at university, you should still make time for reading. Read about everything to do with social work – societal issues, mental health in the US, and building happier and healthier communities. Some excellent books that any social worker should consider reading include:


  • Stir it Up: Lessons in Community Organizing and Advocacy by Rinku Sen
  • Real World Clinical Social Work: Find Your Voice and Find Your Way by Dr. Dana Bodenheimer
  • Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
  • Children and Adolescents in Trauma: Creative Therapeutic Approaches by Chris Nicholson
  • Days in the Lives of Professionals by Linda May Grobman
  • Saving Normal by Allen Frances


When it comes to reading, try and make the material as diverse as possible. Your goal is to expand your knowledge as much as possible, encompassing all the societal issues you will have to deal with.


Focus on the People and Communities You’re Helping

It is easy to get caught up trying to impress in your early days as a social worker, but this can have a negative effect. To not only impress but to ensure you’re making a true difference, make your main focus the people and communities you’re helping. That means, when you walk into work each day, do so with the goal of actively improving people’s lives. This motivation will see you through even the toughest of days!


Pursue a Further Online Degree 

Pursuing further education when you’re trying to get through your first year as a social worker might seem like a lot of effort, but it can actually help you focus on your goals. Not only will part time MSW programs ensure you can advance in your career, but they’ll also provide you with additional knowledge that’ll benefit your current role. Have a look around for online part time MSW programs for a master’s you can fit around your work.


Don’t Take on Too Many Cases

Many newbie social workers want to dive into their work and take on a bunch of cases. While this enthusiasm is to be admired, you will quickly feel overwhelmed with the amount of work you have. To ensure you don’t burn out too quickly, let your supervisor know you’d prefer to lower your case count.


Don’t worry about making a bad impression, as your supervisor will likely be impressed with your honesty. After all, they would much rather you come forward and admit you’re struggling rather than suffer in silence and mess up some of the work! Remember – you can always take on more cases further down the road; when you’re just starting, it’s OK to take it slow.


Notice the Improvements Your Actions Make 

Motivation is the key to success. Unless you’re genuinely passionate about helping individuals and the community, you won’t make it through your first year as a supervisor. Of course, even the most caring and enthusiastic social workers have their off-days, and on days like this, you should think about all the improvements your actions make. Not only will it help you feel good about your work, but it’ll also push you to make even more improvements.


Don’t Forget about Your Well Being

In the midst of changing communities and helping individuals, you must also look after your own well-being. After all, you’ll find it difficult to help people if you’re running on four hours’ sleep or an empty stomach. To make sure you enter work each day ready for action, you should:


Prioritize Sleep 

No one runs on 100% without a decent night of sleep. If you struggle to get enough shut-eye, consider herbal remedies or making your bedroom sleep-friendly.


Practice Meditation

Meditation is the perfect way to clear your mind of thoughts and reset your brain – brilliant for those who work with struggling individuals.


Never Skip Your Lunch Break

No matter how much work you have ahead of you, you must take the time to eat lunch. It’s not just the energy from the food you need – a short time away from work will help you focus when you go back to it.


See Your Friends 

While a lot of your time will be taken up by social work and resting, you must put effort into seeing your friends, too. A good social life will help you feel happy and positive, which in turn will ensure your work performance is high. If you’ve spent too long studying for part time MSW programs or putting in overtime, give a friend a call and plan to hang out.


Bond with Your Supervisor 

Your supervisor isn’t just there to oversee what you do – they’re there to help when you’re struggling. So, to make sure you make the most of them and receive the best advice possible, put effort into bonding with them. Not only will it make the job itself more enjoyable, but it’ll mean you have someone at work you can fully rely upon. In your first few years, that’s exactly what you need!


Find Your Confidence 

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”— Helen Keller

While you might be surrounded by social workers who have far more experience than you do, it’s important to have confidence in your abilities and your decisions. After all, you’ve studied hard to get where you are! By being confident, you won’t only impress your supervisors, but you’ll also instill confidence in the patients you work with. If what’s stopping you from feeling confident is a lack of knowledge in a particular area, consider pursuing additional training or part time MSW programs.


Help Out Social Work Students 

You might find that social work students come to your place of work for their field placement. If this happens, make an effort to help them out and offer advice. While they might only be a couple of years behind you, this passing on of information will help you feel more confident while increasing your experience. Plus, it feels good to help people, especially future social workers!


Accept That You’ll Make Mistakes 

Expecting to glide your way through your first year as a social worker without making any mistakes will only create disappointment. Rather than beating yourself up because you made an error, view it as a lesson so that you don’t make the same mistake twice. Don’t worry – your supervisor and co-workers have been where you are now, and they’ll have likely made the same sort of mistakes as newbie social workers.


Pursue Additional Training 

While part time MSW programs will provide you with great knowledge and an improved resume, that’s not the only form of education you have on offer. Often, your place of work will provide options for training, and you should pursue as many as possible without overloading your day. By doing this, you’ll quickly get to grips with being a social worker, and you’ll end your first year with great amounts of experience. It might even help you land a more advanced social work role!


Separate Home and Work

You will quickly learn just how important it is to not take your work home with you. It’s not always easy, though, especially when you’re dealing with such sensitive situations – getting your brain to switch off can feel almost impossible.


To ensure your home life stays relaxing and enjoyable, make it your mission to leave work thoughts behind as soon as you exit the building. It also helps to create a comfortable home environment, socialize with non-social worker friends, and pursue other hobbies outside of your job.


Stay on the Lookout for Other Opportunities 

While it’s important to focus on your current social work job, you should also keep an ear out for new opportunities. As excited as you might be to start your career journey, the chances are, you won’t stay in this role forever, and there might be an even better opportunity waiting for you sooner than you think.


Keep Asking Questions 

As you’ve probably figured out by now, your first year as a qualified social worker is just as much of an education as your studying years were. Even if you’re pursuing part time MSW programs on the side, the lessons you learn from actively working as a social worker are incomparable. To ensure you soak up as much information as possible, keep on asking questions, even if you’re almost sure of the answer.


Learn More About the Community

As a social worker, your main goal is to improve the lives of your community. In order to thrive at this, you should know as much about the community as possible. What you learn will vary greatly depending on where you work – small towns tend to have different issues to big cities. For example, in big cities, there may be more poverty due to the large population. In smaller, more rural towns, you might find more issues with unemployment.


Remind Yourself of Why You’re a Social Worker 

Your first year as a qualified social worker will test you. You’ll likely have to put in overtime, work with difficult individuals, and learn from multiple mistakes. Rather than letting this overwhelm you on the hard days, you should remind yourself of why you’re a social worker in the first place. By doing this, you’ll find the motivation required to not only survive your first year but also to make a real impact on struggling individuals and the community as a whole. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about?