5 Career Planning Steps for Success in Social Work

April 2024 by Tradewind Australia

Tradewind 5 Career Planning Steps For Success In Social Work Featured

If you’ve ever wished that you could take your Social Work career to the next level or are taking the first few steps on your professional path, developing a career management plan could help you succeed in this constantly changing market.  

Career planning is about setting goals for each stage of your career to help you make logical and purposeful moves. Rather than something you do once and then set aside, career planning should be a continuous process in which you identify opportunities in your current position to hone your skills, grow your network and build your knowledge of your vocation – ultimately propelling your career forward.

Here are five steps you can take right now to develop a career plan that will guide you on your Social Work journey.

1. Inventory Your Social Work Career

As you begin developing your career plan, take time to create an inventory of your career, including your education, skills and the relevant roles you have held in the past.

Whether you have solid experience under your belt or are just starting out, a key aspect of your career inventory is your achievements. These could be anything outstanding study results and positive outcomes from cases you’ve been involved in, to promotions, awards, special recognition and even publications in social work journals. Keeping a record of these achievements will be helpful when working toward your next goal. You should also consider any volunteering you did while studying, which can demonstrate your genuine passion for the industry.

During this process, reflect on what you liked and disliked about your past jobs, as well as what you want and need from your career in the future and the organisations you would like to work with. Make a list of these things so that you have clarity around what you’re aiming for when considering new opportunities, and have honest conversations with yourself about what will (and will not) work for you and your career. Don’t forget that in certain sectors it’s important to remain compassionately detached, so you should avoid working in areas where you can’t meet that requirement.

2. Set Career Goals and Keep Them Current

Having formed a full picture of your experience to date, it’s time to look ahead to your next step. Establishing clear goals will help you stay motivated, make more purposeful decisions and reach your full potential as a Social Worker. What are your short-term career goals for the coming 12 months, as well as long-term goals for the next five to 10 years? Write them down or put them on a vision board, share them with someone you trust to keep yourself accountable and review them regularly to make sure they’re still relevant.

You’re probably aware of the SMART technique for goal-setting (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound) – use this as a guide to help you focus your efforts and utilise your time productively. Remember that since Social Work is a human-centred profession, goals don’t have to be just about figures and job titles. In addition to concrete, measurable targets, creating subjective goals related to the difference you make or the way you connect with people can also be very beneficial for improving your practice overall.

3. Review Your Transferable Skills

With your short- and long-term goals in mind, research the expertise you might need for future roles and determine what skills you have already that could be useful in getting there – this will aid you in creating a plan to reach your aspirations. These transferable skills define the unique value you can bring to a role and are gained through various avenues, such as past jobs, internships, volunteering and involvement in professional organisations.

Key transferable skills include leadership (advocacy, decision-making, the ability to guide others), communication skills (clinical documentation, case presentations, speaking to a range of people), and relationship building (empathy, active listening, emotional intelligence). Make a list of your abilities and look for ways to hone or build upon them.

4. Explore Further Education and Training

In addition to meeting the requirements for Continuing Professional Development (CPD), finding opportunities to broaden your skills, knowledge and expertise is also an important part of career planning. Take advantage of workshops, courses and other training that will help you develop the qualities required for professional practice and further your career.

To reap maximum benefits, the type of learning you pursue should be based on what your career goals are, as well as who you want to work with. It’s also a good idea to consider who else will be participating in training and whether there will be opportunities to network and connect with leaders in the field, as well as potential employers.

5. Leverage Support Networks

Finally, to get the best from your career, you will need to develop support networks with like-minded professionals through advocacy groups, LinkedIn communities and alumni networks.

Professional organisations such as the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) provide support and advice, industry news and other services such as conferences and seminars, along with the chance to meet and connect with your peers. They can also provide professional resources and mentorship to help you forge your career path.

Another valuable source of support can be found in a specialist Social Work recruitment agency – their deep understanding of the Social Work market, wide networks and long-standing relationships in the industry will provide the tools and insights you need to achieve your goals.

For more career planning tips for Social Workers or help with finding a new Social Work job opportunity, speak to the team at Tradewind today – we are well versed in the Melbourne and Brisbane industries and can help you take the next step in your career.