Graduate Careers: Fast Track Get a foot in the door of your chosen career 2. Social Worker

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The Independent Culture
Job description (what it says): If you opt for health care, you'll be dealing with the social and personal problems of families coping with illness or hospitalisation. A field setting involves identifying and supporting clients through the provision of direct care services. Mental health means you'll be ensuring related problems can be supported and treated in the community or hospital. If you opt for a residential route you'll be managing the welfare of residents in a children's, adults' or old people's home.

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 Hilpern