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  • 28 November 2018
  • 17 min read

Interview tips for social workers

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

Interviews can be daunting - it literally feels like make or break. However, we're here to offer you advice if you've got those pre-interview nerves so you can go and smash it!

Interviews can be daunting, but don't worry - here's all you need to know when it comes to social work interviews.

If you're here, you've most likely read about how to qualify for and find a job as a social worker and how to write your CV as a social worker.

Either that, or you've trawled the web in the hope you can find some advice on interviews because you've got those pre-interview nerves.

Look no further! This post will help social workers like you to ace your interview and bag that job that you've worked so hard for.

So, keep on reading to find out how to do just that.

General interview preparation

Getting ready for interview has some commonalities right across sectors as there are a few things that everyone needs to do.

• Check your route so there aren't any surprises:

Being late for an interview screams incompetence.

There are, occasionally, exceptional and genuine circumstances where you just can't help being late but let's not waste our chances on poor route planning.

Check your route to make sure you are completely clear on how to get there and where it actually is at the address.

If you are using public transport, check their service information – are there roadworks or other delays?

What's an alternative if the bus just doesn't turn up?

Perhaps an emergency tenner for a taxi would be appropriate. If you're driving, double-check your fuel.

It's so easy to forget to check and then be forced to spend 20 minutes getting into the petrol station, filling up, paying and getting out again.

• Get your outfit ready:

Another place that easily sucks up time is getting ready in the morning.

Lay out your clothes, check for holes and loose buttons and then iron it all.

Then consider your grooming routine – do you need to wash your hair the night before?

Maybe you have a more complicated process you want to undertake like shaving your legs, tooth whitening, giving yourself a facial or applying hot oil to your hair or the like – let's get it done the night before!

Whatever you do do to your body and clothes, it should be simple, elegant and unassuming.

Your personality should be able to come through without reliance on informal or unprofessional grooming or 'wacky' clothing choices.

And even if it can't – that doesn't matter.

It's a job interview!

• Research the organisation so you can make intelligent enquiries:

There are specific things to research for a social worker job that we talk about below but general things include: how the company started, how long it's been running, what they aim to do, any public or governmental initiatives they've been included in; professional bodies associated; what they expect from staff and how they treat them.

• A list of questions for them:

Be careful here as the wrong questions give the wrong impression.

Take care not to look money-grubbing or self-centred; questions should increase your understanding of your role and their expectations.

Nice examples would be: who else would be part of my team?

How is my performance measured?

What would be your ideal employee?

What does the interviewer like about the company?

Is there much travelling involved?

Does the company use any specific software?

Have any previous employees in this role failed to perform as you'd have hoped and in what way?

What kind of training is associated of the role/expected of me?

What are the key accomplishments you'd want to see across the next year?

Or, similarly, what would a successful year look like for the organisation?

• Role play some questions:

Role play may or may not bring a groan to your lips but it helps. A dry run at feeling awkward and stupid will really help prevent it on the day – find out which answers to question you don't have done perfectly and revise, revise!

• Practice your eye contact.

Eye contact can be another thing we struggle with – I personally can't stand too much eye contact.

However, failing to be able to look someone in the eyes really doesn't make you look successful and wouldn't bode well for professional situations. During your role play, concentrate on your eye contact.

You don’t have to look at them for literally every second of your answer – especially if you're thinking rapidly – but starting and ending your answer with eye contact will look better than none.

Equally, don't make too much eye contact!

You shouldn't be staring at them for every single second of the interview. Relax, look around a little now and then (but not during questions).

• Ensure everything you prepare has a positive spin:

This is another important one to get right – you need to be able to talk about negative subjects in a positive way.

And you need to be able to talk about a hated prior employer without letting on that you don't actually have any respect for them.

Try tape-recording your role play with a friend to listen to yourself.

Are you a Moany Martin? Don't be.

• Avoid fiddling:

Another classic body language problem is fiddling. Playing with your hair, biting your nails, generally putting your hands in and around your mouth, shuffling your feet.....all dodgy to watch.

Rest your hands in your lap in one another or discreetly sit on them.

• Find out if there will be any competency tests:

There's nothing quite like having a competency test sprung on you!

Call ahead to check this won't be the case.

Doing so has the added bonus of making you look proactive and sensible too!

General information gathering

Similarly, there are some questions you need to prepare for, no matter the industry:

Details about your course

Gather a few short sentences about your degree course; the types of modules covered, placements attended and the main projects that were the most interesting.

You should also include anything of substance that supports your application for the role.

Why you're interested in this job

Again, a few pithy and simple sentences that corral why you want this job and no other.

Things that relate here may be personal experiences, placements, projects undertaken or work experience.

Summarise yourself and your past few jobs

They will undoubtedly ask you about yourself and you do not want to be umm-ing and ahh-ing here.

Start with your last job plus one or two more – a short description of both plus what you liked about them would be good.

Then, add a little about your interests and why you love them as well. Keep it short and confident.

Career goals

You should be able to say just why you're aiming your career path in this direction.

Where do you hope to end up and with which cohort of service users?

Are you looking forward to more training in the area or contact with service users?

Do you enjoy the potential for project management, one-on-one work or something else?

Your availability

Social work can be rather anti-social in terms of hours – if you can't work outside the 9-5, now is the time to say!

Make a list of your knowledge, skills, abilities and experience

As with the data-gathering exercises before, it is equally as – if not more – important that you can trot out your skills, abilities, knowledge and experiences.

Hesitating here – however well-meant or innocuous – doesn't sound good. Good workers are clear about such things.

Knowledge refers to your range of understanding and marshalling of facts in the area – what do you actually know?

Hint: If you could confidently teach it to someone, then you really know it.

Skills – In this sense, it relates to your 'hard skills' – what can you actually do?

Abilities – The demonstrative ability to use knowledge and skills – when have you done these things and how well can you do them?

Experience – self-explanatory; previous situations that relate to and support your application.

For all, try using the STAR method to outline them.

It's said to be an excellent process for clarity: Situation, Task, Action, Results.

Get those categories answered for each point you have and you'll be laughing!

Prepare past experiences that relate to job skills

This ties into the point above.

After you've STAR’d your knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences, cross-reference them with the job criteria.

How many can you demonstrate concrete prior experience or ability in?

Your weaknesses

This is one of the least-liked questions because it's either hard to answer or too easy to answer and you fear that either answer will damage your chances!

If your problem is the former, try answering this question: “How would your greatest enemy describe you?”.

Whether it's the former or latter, find a positive way to spin it – crucially, you must state how you've learnt from previous examples of your behaviour and what you've done to combat it.

Be up-to-date with current events and have your own thoughtful opinion

As a professional, you should have tangible ideas about the industry. If you don't regularly keep up with the general or industry news, get started during your job search.

Think of the topics and issues you studied during your course and apply that way of thinking through subjects to consider recent, important events.

Then condense your thoughts into a few spiffy sentences.

Particular social worker interview preparation

The above section covers general job interviews but in applying for a social worker job, you need to have done further research – both on the company and on your thoughts, feelings and assertions surrounding the sector.

Check OFSTED reports or similar for the place

Who inspects the service?

How often do they inspect and what do they think about it?

Finding this out could save a lot of grief further down the line – if you want to help improve a service then the findings won't be as important; if you really want to focus on providing excellent care, you may want to see if that's something the company can work with you on.

What are your major successes?

Arguably, this is a general piece of preparation to do but we'll outline the types of info most wanted for social work.

You should have several short scenarios for problem-solving, taking initiative, responsibility, how you cope with crisis and decision-making without all the information.

Marshall a description of the situation, talk about your response and how it all played out.

What are your major disappointments?

As above, but for disappointments. When did you drop the ball? What happened, what was the outcome and most importantly of all, what did you learn and how did you change your practice?

A specific area you may be asked about here is that of bad communication – how do you cope with it or when did you provide it?

What personality traits do your successes and disappointments show?

Hopefully, these stories will showcase the behaviours they asked for in the person specification.

For the negative situations, be extremely clear on how you have developed past this situation to demonstrate how it won't happen again!

What traits does a good social worker hold?

This kind of question is a way of finding out how much you understand about the post and a bit about what you expect of yourself.

Find out what you think the answer is and write a good summary of it.

Your toughest case

This will be problematic if you've just graduated and hopefully, they wouldn't ask it.

If they do, talk about something that happened in a placement that demonstrates your tenacity and competency.

If you haven't, however, use the STAR analysis to create a narrative from your previous experiences.

Scenarios – step by step expectations

Sometimes, you'll be asked to take a case study and run the interviewer through the way you'd handle it, step-by-step.

Some people find this kind of information handling difficult – if you can, practice with scenarios found online.

What would you do if a client turned up for a meeting high or psychotic?

In your line of work, this is a very real possibility and there are kind and unkind ways of handling it.

If you're not sure about your own stance on such issues, have a look online or flick back through things from your course.

What do you do about counter transference?

Social workers are just as capable of emotional transference onto their clients as clients are onto them and as professionals, you must know what you're going to do about it!

You should have some ideas about what you fall foul of with regards to counter transference – whether it's positive or negative.

What systems do you have in place to deal with it?

Theoretical orientations

Hopefully, even if you are a fresh-faced graduate, you will have some idea of your theoretical sympathies.

Maybe you like the cognitive approach, a solution-focused one or prefer family systems as a methodology.

Decide which and work out why you think this will go well with the role. Specify why the employer's cohort interests you.

The interviewer will likely be curious about exactly why you want to work in the specific field the role involves.

Have a think beforehand and pinpoint why.

Who do you find most difficult to work with and how do you tackle this?

No-one expects you to be a perfect social-working robot and they understand that you will sometimes be battling with personal dislikes of service users.

However, they will expect you – as a professional – to know what you will do about combating underlying biases.

If you have a prior experience in this, fantastic – use it and talk about how you developed past it.

And you probably do....think back to unpleasant co-workers if you don't have one relating to clients.

Coping with ethical conflicts in a scenario – personal, legal and regulatory issues

You absolutely will encounter ethical conflicts during your work – they tend to pop up throughout life, let alone at work!

As someone that is working with others to develop their lives, how you handle these conflicts is exceptionally important.

Make sure you have some basic understandings of the types of legal and regulatory issues they will touch on, as well as personal limitations or angles.

Features of common systems and techniques used.

It is possible the interviewer will want to check your understanding of systems and techniques they like to use in their service provision.

This may relate to things like assessments, the cycle of disadvantage, empowerment or advocacy – make sure you can summarise the pertinent features of each.

What would you change about the system?

A great way of understanding someone's attitude towards an area is to ask them about what they think needs changing – what don't you like about the social worker system?

Why don't you like it?

Do you know how you'd like to see it change?

How you manage your work/life balance

Social worker jobs are notorious for their stressful natures – what you do is very hard work and it's important to acknowledge that and put some systems into place to deal with it.

Drinking is a classic one but not something the interviewers will find appropriate.

So how else do you make sure you won't burn out in a few years? How do you recapture the essence of you after a 10-hour day or 60-hour week?

Interviewing well

Once you've prepared everything you need, let's make sure you deliver it as well as you can so that your positive traits shine through!

The first three are simple things – make sure you're 5 or 10 minutes early so you can visit the toilet if you want and settle in; turn your phone off and make sure you're still looking nice and neat.

In interview, there are two things that will make you really appealing.

Firstly, show passion. You do this job because you love it and you find it fulfilling. Tell them about it (but don't gabble)!

Secondly, make them like you by finding things to be interested in about them and by liking them too.

Check out their LinkedIn profile or find out if they've guestblogged anywhere – what are they interested in?

Do you have anything in common? Lastly, the age-old – positive body language.

Lean forward slightly, make good eye contact, don't fiddle and don't gesticulate too wildly.

And smile!

About the author

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

I'm fascinated by the career choices we all make. It speaks about who we are. People choose to become a nurse or work in medicine or care for one of two reasons. One: simply, they always wanted to be a nurse or social worker or doctor. Two: even more simply, they want a job which helps people. In our blogs I want to explore these career choices: the ones that put other people first.

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  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

About the author

  • Matt Farrah
    Co-Founder, Niche Jobs

I'm fascinated by the career choices we all make. It speaks about who we are. People choose to become a nurse or work in medicine or care for one of two reasons. One: simply, they always wanted to be a nurse or social worker or doctor. Two: even more simply, they want a job which helps people. In our blogs I want to explore these career choices: the ones that put other people first.