Interview Tips and Questions for Student Social Workers
So, you’ve qualified in social work and made your CV. All you need to do now is go and sit the interview. But how to stand out from the crowd?
Not only do you need to convince the interviewer that you are the person for the job, but you also need to make a connection so they feel comfortable in your presence and want to take you on. Nobody wants to work with someone they can’t respect or get along with.
As with many things, first impressions are critical. You only get one chance to make a first impression.
Don’t worry about being nervous; everyone is for interviews. In fact, if you don’t show a little bit of nervousness and humility you may even come across as arrogant. But you obviously don’t want to fall to pieces.
Here are some tips to help you get the right balance and land that dream social work position:
Study the vacancy carefully, underline the key words and think about why you have everything they are looking for. Research the local authority and try to find out about their organisational culture. Have a good look at their website and, if you can, talk to members of staff. See if they have any interesting achievements on social media, and stress that you’re keen to be part of these.
Think carefully about your skills and experience, and how they are relevant to the position. Consider what difficult questions they may ask about your past work history.
You should have a 60 second “sound bite” ready, which details exactly why you are perfect for the job. Don’t go overboard too much: they need time to ask you the relevant questions too.
2. Sell Yourself:
Why are YOU their dream candidate? Think about your strengths (and weaknesses): You’re almost guaranteed to get this question. Obviously, if you have studied the vacancy carefully then you’ll know why YOU are the perfect candidate for this job. What strengths do you have to prove this? Think of some examples to back up your claims, ideally from your professional life.
Weaknesses can be a tricky one, but try and turn them into strengths. For example, you could say that you have problems remembering the names of many different clients. But then you could say that you’ve finely honed your organisational skills to have all the information at your fingertips. A weakness becomes a strength.
Think of some good examples from your professional life (or personal life if you’re just starting out) of times you overcame problems, and the results you achieved. These will help you convincingly answer questions. Some favourite themes in social work could be:
How you manage conflict and difficult clients
Mistakes you have made
How you work under pressure
How you network and cooperate with other professionals and work in a team
Have a list of great questions to ask which show you have carefully researched the position and are genuinely interested. You could ask about the person you are replacing and why they left, the caseload expected of you, what is the best thing about the organisation, and what a typical day would involve.
Remember that this is your opportunity to find out if you really want to work in the organisation. If they seem somewhat negative or won’t give you the opportunity to ask questions, this can be a red flag.
3. Know Your Stuff:
Read up on relevant legislation that could be referred to in the interview.
Adult's Social Work - consider The Care Act 2014, Mental Health Act (1983), Mental Capacity Act (2005) - and also consider current governmental policy.
4. Apply What You Learned At University To Your Answers.
We know you haven't had a qualified post - but consider the cases you worked on when you were a Student Social Work on placement. There may be some good cases you can reflect on. Keep it simple - don't use a really complex example as there may be elements in the case the interview panel would disagree with.
Can you add in theory you learned at the university to show how it has influenced what you did?
Did you use Anti-Discriminatory Practice?
How did you assess Risk?
How did you address potential Safeguarding Concerns?
Use of Social Work theory and how you applied it.
5. Practice Your Answers:
Practice likely questions you will be asked. This could include:
Why did you become a social worker?
How do you manage a high caseload?
How do you manage difficult clients?
How do you manage your case recording?
What do you know about Social Work in our Local Authority/ Organisation?
Can you give an example of multi-agency working?
Give an example of something that made you proud in your career
Can you describe any obvious signs of abuse?
Which pieces of legislation are relevant to this post?
What can you bring to this role?
What would you say are you strengths/ weaknesses?
What steps would you take to look after yourself in this type of work?
What do you like to do outside of work to relax?
Practice your 60-second statement and prepared answers in front of a mirror or with a friend. The more concise you can be, the better. Employers are looking for good communication skills.
6. Make Notes:
Make notes on what they say. This shows you are organised and interested. Remember that an interview goes two ways. You are also interviewing them. Trust your instincts. This mind-set will also help with your nerves.
And finally … never criticise former employers or co-workers. This means you will do the same again. Never mention politics, religion, or opinions that have nothing to do with the position.
It is always worthwhile sending a handwritten note to your interviewer afterwards, thanking them for the opportunity and hoping to see them again soon. If you don’t get the position, you may consider asking them why that is. You may be able to improve your performance for the next time.
There are always several applicants for any one position and they can’t all get the job. Don’t despair if it takes a while to find work.
Believe in yourself, be realistic and objective about any improvements you could make on your CV and during the interview. The good news is that people who are interviewing you were in the same position as you once. They'll understand if you are nervous.
Now, go and nail that interview. Good luck!