When working to become a Social Worker, you are constantly told and hear about how little income we make and how much of a struggle it can be to live off of the salary. And a study done in 2019 by The George Washington University Health Workforce Initiative shows that only about 27% of MSWs were satisfied with their salary! Hearing these statements can cause new social workers to accept low paid positions because they think it is normal or okay. (And for the sake of sanity, we will not go into how this a predominately female profession and the gender-based pay inequity that comes into play in this post.) Do not let this stereotype of our profession influence your standards when in the job market! You may not have become Social Workers for the money, but you DESERVE to be paid your worth!
So, when offered a position, you might want to negotiate for a higher salary. Remember, salary is not something you should mention or speak about until you are offered the position! But what salary should you ask for? What is a reasonable ask? There are several different factors to think about when setting a baseline salary that you are looking for and should ask/negotiate for when applying to jobs. These include your living expenses, degree & job qualifications, and the organization you’ve applied for!
Your Living Expenses
Make sure you know what salary you need to meet all of your living expenses! Many social workers end up not making enough to meet their own needs. So, start by creating an honest and complete monthly budget. Make sure you are including everything like rent, electric, car payments, insurance, gas, student loans, groceries, kid expenses, etc. You can use an online tool or website to generate a baseline amount you would need to be able to make these payments every month. If you are offered a position at a salary lower than what you need for your expenses, do not be afraid to be honest with the employer. You will not be able to fully help others and dedicate yourself to your work if you have to constantly worry about making rent, buying food for your family, etc.
Many in this field spend years studying and graduate with a specific social work degree, whether it be a bachelors, masters, PhD, etc. It is important to recognize the worth of that degree and the experience that comes with it. Do not let anyone tell you that years of professional internships (done as a part of your educational program) do not count as ‘professional experience’! We all know how much work we put in at those internships, and the fact that we are treated as full employees when it comes to our workload and repsonsibilites at these organizations.
Another important factor is doing your research on the position you are applying for. Look up what the average salary is for someone in that position and use that as a part of your baseline. Do the qualifications on your resume exceed what they were asking for? That is a plausible reason to ask for more. This is your time to sell your qualifications to the employer. Let them know exactly why you deserve the salary you are asking for. If you cannot explain and list your reasoning for wanting a higher salary, then do not ask!
One thing to always pay attention to is the organization you are applying to. Whether the organization is a non- or for-profit can impact the salary they offer and how much they are capable of paying you. Most organizations that provide social services run on state-funding and grants! With grants come a lot of different requirements that the organization has to follow, as well as making sure that they are using every cent appropriately. So, it is important to also be understanding of the current financial situation of the organization. You can view a nonprofits finances online on sites like GuideStar.
You should also look at other employees of the organization. If the other social workers are BSWs and you are an MSW, there is a good chance that they will not give you a higher offer. If the organization cannot offer you the salary that you like, ask about other things that they might be able to offer you! This could include benefits, vacation time, PTO, training and even supervision towards your license! Just remember to be understanding towards the employer as well; sometimes they simply cannot offer you more than what they already have.
Using these 3 factors, you need decide what salary you need to live comfortably and what you feel is acceptable. You should also think about whether you are willing to take a smaller salary with non-monetary benefits and whether salary is a deal breaker for you. Make sure your ask is reasonable; it should reflect your own worth, experience, and needs; not that of anyone else! Be prepared to ask, explain, and decline if you feel that you cannot take the salary they are offering.
As Social Workers, we advocate and stand up for all those in need. But you cannot forget to also stand up for yourself and make sure you are compensated appropriately! Do not allow yourself to get lost in the myth of an underpaid social worker.
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