Job description (what it means): Prepare to become one of the most hated professionals in society. If that's not bad enough, you'll be expected to work with some pretty off-the-wall clients and professionals.
Qualifications: You'll need a degree with 2(ii) honours to enter professional training, but personal qualities and commitment are more important. Diploma in Social Work (DipSW) is the essential postgraduate qualification (two years).
Way in: Get experience before you attempt to beat the competition for DipSW. Working as a care assistant in a residential home is the most popular option. Contact your local Volunteer Bureaux for details on other suitable pre-course placements.
Starting Salary: pounds 13,000-pounds 20,000. Depends on level of experience and training and how difficult the work is. Field and mental health work tends to be most highly paid.
In five years you could be earning: pounds 16,000-pounds 25,000
Perks: If you're successful you can change lives, and you won't even need to work at weekends. Building up specialist skills (counselling, family therapy) may offer opportunities to start up a private agency. Career breaks and part-time work are almost always possible.
Drawbacks: You'll never be rich. A few of the optional training courses are at your own expense. Avoiding emotional involvement can require saintly qualities. Violence against social workers is on the up.
Read: Community Care (a must); Health Service Journal; Care Weekly; Social Services Year Book; Directory of Voluntary Agencies
Figurehead: Valerie Howarth (pictured above), chief executive of Childline
Need not apply: Anyone who feels tears well up or a fist forming when insulted; anyone with criminal convictions.
Career prospects: In mental health setting: specialisation in areas such as elderly and adoption. Advancement is to senior or team leader and then head of a department. In field/mental health settings: team leader or service manager. In residential setting: transfer from the public to private sector.
Do say in interview: "I have a huge social conscience."
Don't say: "When do I get the company car?"
Compiled by Kate HilpernReuse content