“Don’t get into the field because you want to help people. Every profession helps people.”
This series of career interviews with college alumni will explore the various career paths that people take after graduation. Part of the goal is to show the wide array of options for college students who are on the fence about what they want to do, and also to get a scope on how it’s like to work in a particular field or industry.
Meet Jacob Stevens, a social worker at a welfare office who meets with clients and tackles documents and paperwork. In 2013, Jacob graduated from SDSU with a degree in Social Work.
Name: Jacob Stevens
Job Title: Social worker
Location (city, state): Las Vegas, NV
College You Graduated From: San Diego State University
Class of: 2013
Degree/Major: Bachelor of Arts in Social Work
What attracted you to the social work field?
I wish I had something inspiring to say. I didn’t go to college dreaming of being a social worker. During my second semester, I got to the point that I had to pick a major if I wanted to complete a degree in four years, and social work is what had my interest that month.
How would you compare the reality of being a social worker to the vision you had of it while in college?
I do my actual job about a third of the time. Our professors had social work professionals come and talk to us, and many said that the paperwork would be overwhelming. We nodded along like we comprehended what they were talking about. We didn’t.
On a scale of 1-10 (10=best), how would you rate your college courses in preparing you for your career?
8. SDSU has the oldest school of social work in the Cal State system. My professors were experienced, knowledgeable, and came from every specialization in the field.
What surprised you the most about being a social worker?
The massive amount of documentation necessary. I think many social work students picture themselves as counselors, intimately involved in their clients’ problems, then end up as paper pushing government bureaucrats like me.
Describe a typical day of working as a social worker at your company/organization. What do you spend most of your day doing?
I work in a welfare office. Most of my day is spent catching up on the backlog of notes, verifications, and assessments that I need to write up and enter in our tracking system. On those days that I have an assessment scheduled, a meeting with a new client to gauge their issues and develop a plan, that’s a two to three hour chunk of my day that I can’t spend working on the endless backlog of paperwork. My day is a constant struggle balancing between time spent on clients and time spent on documentation.
How many hours do you work each week? Does it vary depending on clients needs or is it constant?
We work a nine hour shift including an hour unpaid lunch. We are not allowed to get overtime. On those occasions when an interview runs long, typically when I am working intake, I have to leave early the following work day to make up the difference.
Describe your working environment. Is your company/organization/firm large/small, bureaucratic/intimate, do you spend a lot of time alone or talking to people face-to-face, etc?
My “working environment” is always on my mind. We work in an aging, out of code death trap. We don’t have fire sprinklers or fire alarms. The story I’ve heard from more seasoned coworkers is that the fire marshal tried to shut the building down, but the governor himself intervened to keep it open because the state doesn’t want to spend the money to build a new office or retrofit the old one. I interact with coworkers and all day. Sometimes, it’s even work related.
What are your favorite parts of being a social worker?
My clients are very interesting. Some people can be rather resourceful in the face of poverty. I genuinely enjoy talking to them. I wish I could do it more often.
What are your least favorite parts of being a social worker?
The endless, overwhelming stream of paperwork.
What changes can you see taking place in social work over the next few years?
Hopefully, the trend towards evidence based practice will continue. That is, implementing practices backed by research and study.
What advice can you give to college students who are thinking of pursuing a career in social work?
Don’t get into the field because you want to help people. Every profession helps people. In my experience, the old social workers that make it in this field long term are really interested in the morbid, dark side of society. If you love hearing about the various terrible things that can befall your fellow man, maybe this is the field for you.