What does a case manager do? Case managers ― sometimes called social workers ― help people overcome challenges and utilize government programs. For motivated, caring and determined candidates, a career in social work can be a rewarding lifelong pursuit. Social workers help people, whether by connecting adults with mental health services or assisting children in the foster care system. Essentially, the job is to serve people by helping them to solve problems in their lives.
If you're passionate about being a case manager, your cover letter will be one of the best tools to convey your motivation and drive. Begin your social service career by focusing your path and taking these steps to make yourself an attractive job candidate.
1. Explore the different paths within social work
The first step as you consider a career as a case manager is to determine which segment of the population you want to help most, whether that's veterans with PTSD, kids with mental health issues or adults with brain injuries. The breadth of need in social work is vast, so determining a focus will help you narrow down potential employers and states where the need is greatest. The already strong demand for case managers is predicted to grow at an average rate of 16 percent between 2016-2026, based on numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Growth will vary by specialization, but the most significant gains will be in:
- Healthcare social workers (particularly as the population ages) — 20 percent growth
- Mental health and substance abuse — 19 percent growth
- Child, family and school social workers — 14 percent growth
Case managers operate under a variety of titles depending on their area of focus, including:
- Child protective services social worker
- Youth services specialist
- Family protection specialist
- Family service worker
- Adoption social worker
- School social worker
- Family resource coordinator
- Foster care social worker
Another option is to become a clinical social worker, which requires additional training and licensing that allows you to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional issues.
2. Develop and evaluate your soft skills and character traits
Carla Damron, executive director of the South Carolina Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, says the type of person best suited for the case manager role has these key attributes:
- Commitment to social justice
- Excellent communication skills
- Ability to multi-task
- Stress management skills
When you're developing your resume, look for specific examples from your past ― an internship or a volunteer experience — that allow you to demonstrate these skills to a potential employer.
The Bureau of Labor and Statistics echoes Damron with more specific explanations of what you can expect from a career as a case manager:
- Tough situations. Clients talk to social workers about challenges in their lives. Many of these people are in extremely stressful and difficult situations. Social workers must be able to listen to and understand their clients' needs. To develop strong relationships, you must have patience, compassion and empathy for your clients.
- Busy schedules. Case managers help and manage multiple clients, often assisting with their paperwork or documenting their treatment. You'll need to be organized and diligent to avoid missing deadlines or important milestones.
- Relationships. Social workers need strong interpersonal skills to foster healthy and productive relationships with their clients and colleagues.
Case managers work in a variety of sectors. In a workforce survey, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) found the biggest employers to be government agencies, with a small percentage of social workers starting their own businesses:
- Local, state and federal government: 41 percent
- Private, nonprofit and charitable organizations: 34.3 percent
- Private, for-profit companies and businesses: 22.3 percent
- Self-employed: 2.5 percent
A career as a case manager can be very satisfying, especially when you see someone that you've helped go on to thrive and overcome challenges. But Damron warns that it can also be stressful.
"Social service agencies are always under financial stress," she says. "We keep being asked to do more with less, and since our clients' lives are affected, this is very challenging."
3. Earn your degrees
When you're starting out in the social work field, Damron, who headed up South Carolina's Department of Mental Health for 30 years, recommends having at least a Bachelor of Social Work degree to be a competitive candidate for entry-level positions. However, to be truly effective and prepared for the career, he recommends earning a Master of Social Work (MSW). An MSW will also enable you to earn a higher salary than those with just a bachelor's degree.
Aspiring social workers are also required to acquire "supervised hours," where they work under the tutelage of an experienced case manager. Damron emphasizes that supervision is essential for case management training. It allows inexperienced social workers to improve and learn critical skills and techniques.
"Supervision is necessary at every level because we are all trying to get better at serving our clients," she says. "Many social workers also need clinical supervision, which helps with licensure, developing practice skills and with billing for services."
4. Understand case manager requirements in your state
Each state has its own case manager requirements for practicing as a social worker. Be sure to research your state's requirements as you're preparing for your job hunt.
For instance, in South Carolina, the Board of Social Work Examiners is within the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations. The Board provides three levels of case manager education requirements: bachelor's level (LBSW), master's level (LMSW) and independent (LISW). For the bachelor's level, South Carolina requires candidates to have a baccalaureate degree from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and to pass an examination through the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). You should orient your training and build your resume toward meeting the requirements in the state where you want to work.
5. Fine-tune your application materials
Becoming a case manager is a process that can take years. Securing your entry-level social service worker job will take determination. After all your hard work to prepare for a job in the field, you'll want to send out applications that convey your passion, professionalism, education and experience. Our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Builder are designed to ensure your materials reflect your skills, credentials and enthusiasm. You may also want to check out our Case Manager Cover Letter Sample and Case Manager Resume Example for inspiration.
From here, you will have no end of opportunities to build a satisfying career in public service, all while helping people overcome their challenges and get the help they need.