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Job Search for a Macro Social Worker

By Rachel L. West
Advocacy & Community Outreach Consultant

This is an update on a series of articles, Job Search for a Macro Social Worker, which were published last year. I have combined the three articles that made up the original series as well as added additional resources. Feel free to share this information with your colleagues and/or students. As always I ask if you share this article that you do not remove my name from it.

A Recording of the Job Search for a Macro Social Worker webinar is available. Click the here to buy.


I decided to write this post after a member of people inquired on multiple LinkedIn discussion groups how a social worker can find a macro practice job. One person who was about to graduate was beginning her job hunt only to find that the vast number of advertised positions for social workers focused on direct practice.

Let’s not sugar coat this; it is not easy out there for a macro social worker.  In this day and age, the assumption (even among many in the profession) is that MSWs are only interested in and capable of being a therapist.  Obtaining an LCSW is viewed as the be all and end all.  I cannot recall how many surprised looks I’ve gotten from peers when I tell them I have no plans of taking the clinical social worker exam.  Furthermore, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is focused primarily on serving the needs of clinicians.  All the CEU classes are geared for micro/mezzo level practice and the majority of articles written for NASW News and social work journals deal with direct practice issues.

Despite current trends towards clinical work, there is so much more an MSW can do besides direct practice. You just have to think outside the box.

  • When using job boards for your search don’t enter the terms “social work” or “social
    By ÁWá (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

    By ÁWá (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0

    worker.”  Odds are if a position has the job title of “social worker” it is going to be direct practice in nature.  Try using terms like community organizer, coordinator, advocate, community educator, or prevention specialist. (There is a more detailed list of job titles below)
  • Use job boards that are not solely for social workers or mental health professionals.  Be aware that the majority of the advertisements on boards dedicated to social work will be for micro/mezzo focused jobs. (See below for a list of job boards)
  • Be prepared to justify why an MSW qualifies you for the job.  You need to be aware that many times the person reviewing your application or interviewing you will most likely not be a social worker and therefore may not be aware of the scope of a social work education.  You are going to be competing with applicants who hold a JD, MPA, or poli sci degree.  You are going to have to show that you are capable of doing more than just counseling families and individuals.
  • Network with professionals who are not social workers.  Reiterating what I said before, The NASW is geared heavily towards clinical social work.  As a result, if you are a macro practitioner you are not going to get a whole lot out of their networking events.  Do some research and find out what other networking opportunities exist in your area for professionals involved in social justice or politics. 

Search Terms & Settings 

I thought it might be helpful to give a list of search terms to aid in your search for a macro position.   If you go to your favorite job board and type “social work” or “MSW” you are only going to find posts for direct practice jobs, so it is important to not limit yourself to those search terms.  Instead, try:

  • Field Organizer (This is usually a campaign position)
  • Advocate
  • Community Educator
  • Program Coordinator/Manager/Specialist
  • Prevention Specialist
  • Legislative Aide
  • Outreach Specialist/Coordinator
  • Planning & Program Development
  • Membership Coordinator

I suggest reading Jobs and Careers In politics and Public Service.  It is a free PDF and gives some good information on the types of jobs available in the political arena.

Below is a list of some of the settings where you may find macro jobs:

  • Nonprofits that focus on social justice issues
  • Political campaigns
  • Think tanks

Job Boards 

  • Idealist.org: Idealist is a site for nonprofit job seekers.  You can register and set up email notification for jobs in your area of interest.  You can also find articles about nonprofits and charity work as well as volunteer opportunities and seminars.
  • EMILY’s List: Who is Emily?  There is no Emily, it an acronym for Early Money Is Like
    Computer Keyboard

    photo credit: phil dokas via photopin cc

    Yeast (it makes the dough rise).  The mission of this organization is to train and support progressive pro-choice women and their campaign staff.  EMILY’s List also has a job distribution list and a job bank you can submit your resume to.

  • The Hill: This is an online political news site that focuses on DC.  The website features a (free) jobs section.
  • Politico: Politico is another political news site with a job board.  You can post your resume and set up email alerts.
  • National Conference of State Legislatures:  This organization supports legislators and legislative staff in all 50 states.  Click on the resources & Directories tab then go to the jobs clearinghouse section and click on job listings.

You can also check the websites of political parties. The DCCC lists open jobs. Most websites for state and local legislatures will also have a section that lists job openings.

Another tip is to not solely rely on the internet for your job search.  Many open positions are not advertised and agencies often neglect to update the career section of their website, so do some research on local agencies and organizations.  Make a list of the ones you are interested in working for then send a letter of inquiry along with your resume.

A letter of inquiry is similar to a cover letter but instead of responding to a job ad you are inquiring as to whether or not they have open positions that fit your qualifications.

Also, consider volunteering.  This can lead to job opportunities as well as give you the chance to gain new skills.  Most organizations prefer to hire someone they know, over someone who randomly sent a resume. This is also why it is a good idea to keep in touch with supervisors from your field placements.

A Recording of the Job Search for a Macro Social Worker webinar is available. Click the here to buy.

If you are looking for more information on macro social work careers, I provide coaching for students and professionals. I am also available for speaking engagements. You can reach by phone at 1-631-615-1709 or by email at rlwestconsulting@gmail.com.

Creative Commons License
Job Search for a Macro Social Worker by Rachel L. West is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://www.politicalsocialworker.org/macro-social-work-job-search/.

Posted by Rachel L. West

In addition to being the founder of The Political Social Worker blog, I am a consultant. My consulting practice offers advocacy and community outreach solutions to nonprofits, social good organizations, and private practitioners. Additionally, I offer career coaching to macro social work students and professionals.


  1. Very helpful and insightful. I knew there was more to social work…

  2. Enlightening! Currently as an <SW. LSW practicing therapist working toward an LCSW as that 'appears' to be the only road here, I love my clients but constantly see the mezzo and macro changes that need to happen organizationally. This causes me personal chaos as I become frustrated with the lack of policies and mature management to create positive change. And you are spot on about the NASW. Thanks Rachel!!! I will keep looking for my destiny.

  3. thank you for this! I really want to become a macro social worker and it was worrisome to me that most jobs and information was geared toward lcsws! I think lcsws are so important, but macros are as well! We can work together to solve issues that rise between their direct service and management. lol, I am not even a social worker yet, but I applied to a MSW program and I hope I am accepted 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this Rachel. Everything you said is what I have been thinking about a lot lately and for my future career choices. I am on a team where everyone else has their MSW and LICSW, or working toward licensure, and they look at me like something is wrong with me when I say I have little interest in continuing on in direct practice/therapy after I complete my masters. I am one year away, and proactively starting to look at what else is out there. I have had my BSW for 10 years and have done a range of social work jobs, with the most recent being in health care, and working under an integrative health care model where we are located directly in the doctors offices and provide supportive counseling and case management. I will definitely take the suggestions you have given and start a new search pattern away from the traditional “social worker” in the search box of websites.

    Thank you,
    Forrest B

  5. Thank you so much for this information. I have been working as a “therapist” for 14 years and I am looking to make a big change. Our SW/MSW roots are in social justice and advocacy for the disenfranchised and I had forgotten why I had even gotten my MSW until taking a break from this role and volunteering in a soup kitchen. Thanks again!!

  6. Thank you so much for this! I still have a year and some change left in my community practice MSW, but I have started looking for a job I’m actually interested in doing in the social work field. Lots of great resources on here!

  7. I found this at the perfect time! I am currently in clinical practice but want to make a transition into macro practice. Do you have any tips on how I can use my clinical experience to help me attain a macro job?

    • Hi Mary Beth:

      I offer career coaching related to macro social work. It really depends on what area you want to pursue and with what population. Do you know the type of job you are looking for (community organizer, fundraising, program development, etc.)? If you aren’t sure I suggest starting a journal and writing down what your interest are, the type of work you want to do, and the work environment you want to work in. Also brainstorm what skills you have. Then do some research about the types of macro positions out there. Once you come up with a couple you can go to one of the job boards I mentioned in the post and look up job ads for those positions.

      Carefully go through them. I find it easier to print a handful out. Use a highlighter to highlight the common skills, education, and experience that is required. Compare that to the list of skills and experience you have. This will help you figure out what skills/experience you might need to acquire. Keep in mind that if you meet at least 50% of the requirements in the job posting in all likelihood you would be considered a good candidate.

      If you find that you are missing a lot of the skills/experience they are looking for you need to seek out a volunteer position that will give the opportunity to pick up those skills. Volunteering, in addition to giving you hand on experience, can also lead to a paid job.

      Best of luck.

    • Hi Mary Beth:

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming that you aren’t looking for a clinical supervisor position. My suggestion is that you do some research into the jobs that interest you and make a list of the most common skills/knowledge that are required. Then compare those to a list of your skills. This will give you a better idea about how to craft your cover letter and resume. You want to highlight the transferable skills. If you find that you are missing a lot of the required skills then you may need to work on acquiring those skills through volunteer work and continuing education.

  8. Thank you for your tips. It’s been a year since I have graduated with my MSW from Florida and I have been working in a behavioral center ever since. I would love to do more macro work but I am not sure where to begin because I find the positions you list above as a macro MSW are for those who have a lot of clinical experience or who have MSW experience for several years. For someone who is new to the social work field and more interested in the macro MSW what do you recommend?

    • Hi Natalie:

      What area interests you? Most community organizing positions are entry level. If you are interested in working on political campaigns, field organizer is a good place to start.

      It really depends on what area you want to work in and what kind of hands on experience you have. If you can give me a little more info I might be able to come up with further suggestions.

      • Hi Rachel,
        My primary area of interest is child welfare, particularly education on pre natal and post natal health care for mothers, preventative strategies on child abuse and neglect and to advocate for better foster care placement. My main focus or dream really is to be a part of improving the child welfare system on a macro level-I’m just not sure how or where to start and where I can make a decent salary without licensure, (which is something I would also like to advocate for on behalf of social workers in south Florida). I don’t have a lot of experience other than my year + as a guardian ad-litem (volunteer position) and my 2 years at internships working as a school social worker and working in an emergency shelter for children who were removed from their homes. Currently I work in a behavioral health center that treats persistently mentally ill adults. I enjoy my clients and it’s also regular working hours with no traveling, unlike child welfare agencies in most entry level jobs. I realize if I have to start entry level in child welfare I will in order to move up on the ladder, but I wanted to see if there are other options in a macro setting. I hope this gave you some ideas or feedback/suggestions to offer. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

  9. Wonderful post!

    Just came across this today as I currently sit at my desk working in a substance abuse center that seems to be more concerned with profit attainment than helping struggling addicts, and that is suffering from poor management.
    I acquired my MSW degree a year ago and I am licensed as an LGSW with no current interest in attaining my clinical license. I am so glad there are others here who share in my experiences. So many of my classmates are already working towards their ‘C’ licenses, and when I tell them I have no interest in continuing clinical work, they look at me as if I have three heads.
    This summer, I will begin an online Master of Public Administration and Policy (MPAP) degree because my goal has always been to become a policy analyst or policy maker. Even as an MSW student on the first day of a new semester when we were asked to go around and introduce ourselves as well as what we hoped to accomplish with our degrees, my responses were always macro-focused.
    Thank you for reinforcing my drive to do the work I want to do, instead of feeling restrained by the current “norm.”

  10. Great post! I’m a soon to be MSW student. Bookmarking for future use.

  11. Greetings ,
    I recently was admitted into a social work program and highly dislike clinical work and therapy. I enjoy coordinating events and wanted to know what other of areas of macro work would be good to explore. I am currently employed at a non profit agency as a volunteer and community partnership coordinator. Which is an entry level position like you stated. I don’t know exactly what issue I would like to focus on but I’m interested in international social work dealing with women. Do you have any advice for me going into macro with an emphasis in international social work and with intentions to move up in my career but not working for a non profit?

  12. Thanks for this article! I also was wondering what advice you would give Natalie regarding improving the child welfare system on a macro level?

    • Not having ever worked in child welfare it is hard for me to speak directly to this issue. I can talk a bit about the type of organizing model to employ if you’re looking to affect change from within an organization. You’re going to need to employ the Administrative Practice model of organizing as well as Policy Practice model.

      Administrative Practice model is deployed from within an organization. This model requires you to organize your co-workers and constituents to push for the change you’re looking to implement with regards to organizational policy or regulation.

      It is best done if you have been at the organization for a while and have some social capital among your co-workers. Some of the activities and tactics you would use include:

      • Assessing common needs & assets
      • Program design
      • Maintaining community relationships
      • Facilitating consensus among the organization(s) and constituents

      Because so much of child welfare in based on social welfare policy at the state and federal level you are probably also going to have to use the policy practice model of organizing. Tactics and activities include:

      • Lobbying
      • Policy analysis
      • Policy development

      You are going to need some understanding of grassroots organizing, how state and federal government works. This may involve advocating for the passage or blockage of proposed legislation. You may also propose and even write legislation that you want a member of the state legislature or members of congress to sponsor.

      Each of these models involves carrying out an assessment and coming up with an action plan.

      The Community Tool Box is a great resource for advocacy and community organizing information http://ctb.ku.edu/en .


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