You decided to become a social worker because you want to make a difference. While passion and motivation are important qualities, you still need to convince a potential employer that you are the right candidate for the job. Here are six questions you’re likely to face in a social work interview, and the best way to answer them.
1. What do you think makes a good social worker?
This is your chance to show the interviewer what kind of social worker you are. Don’t just answer by using standard phrases like ‘non-judgemental’ and ‘empathetic’ – instead, take the opportunity to convey what those qualities mean to you in practice.
Kelly Rowlinson, a qualified social worker with more than 20 years’ experience, says: ‘Think about times when you’ve gone the extra mile for a client. Tell the interviewer about the challenges you faced, how you overcame them, and the positive outcomes you achieved.
‘The best social workers give both time and commitment. They talk to the person to understand how they view their situation, and act as their advocate by researching and securing the most appropriate support and services for them.’
Can’t think of a good example? Tell them about a social worker who has inspired you. What do you admire about them? What have you learnt from the way they handled a challenging situation? How have you followed their example and emulated their values in practice?
2. Why are you interested in working for this local authority?
Here a potential employer is checking that you’ve done your homework. Make sure you know the demographic of the area and the types of cases you are likely to encounter.
‘Is the demographic socially and economically diverse, young families, or mainly older people? What political party represents the area? How does the local authority budget money, and what challenges does it face?’ asks Kelly.
‘Look up any CQC reports, read the social care information on the local authority’s website, and follow key directors of service or senior managers on social media and the press.
‘Find out how teams are divided and the set-up of departments. Are there close links with the hospital team, for example? Are you likely to be doing short-term, crisis management work, or dealing with complex, long-term cases?
‘Having a good overview of the local authority will give you an idea of what the job involves – and whether you’re likely to be a good fit.’
3. What is your approach to the often changing priorities in social care?
Priorities frequently change in social work, and the interviewer wants to feel that you’re aware of the need to prioritise to key deadlines and can manage a busy workload and within a budget.
‘Talk about a time when you had to respond to a change in priorities,’ advises Tom Hawkins, Director at Hays Social Care.
‘If you needed to deal with a crisis situation, explain what steps you took to manage your existing workload. For example, how you ensured that the other clients on your list were safe before re-scheduling with them, and how you communicated with your managers and peers. Your answer should demonstrate that you’re organised and flexible.’
4. Describe one of your more complex cases. What was your role in this case?
When giving examples, make sure they are succinct. Aim to get your message across in two or three minutes without waffling. Set a timer and practise at home until you are confident.
‘Start by outlining the situation and challenges of the case, then detail the tasks and actions you took, before describing the resulting outcomes,’ advises Tom.
‘The employer wants to see that you have a good understanding of issues relating to the case and that you’re aware of the desired outcomes, as well as being up to date with relevant legislation. For example, if you’re dealing with a complex child protection case, you would talk about the Children and Families Act 2014. If your client lacks capacity, you need to be briefed on the Medical Capacity Act 2005.’
5. How do you approach case recording?
This question is designed to see if you take an evidence-based approach to your work.
Kelly says: ‘A good answer will show an awareness of the importance of accurate note taking and demonstrate that you understand the legal requirements of successful case recording.
‘Your records should clearly identify the source of information, whether it is fact or opinion, and how you have critically analysed the information to support your decisions. This should include conflicts and dilemmas and how they will be managed and reviewed. You should ensure that entries do not compromise any information that may be used in legal proceedings.
‘Most local authorities have a case recording policy and practice in place. It’s worth reading through the one in your current role before the interview – and is something you should be familiar with anyway.’
6. What strategies do you use to handle difficult situations?
Social workers face a variety of challenging situations, and the ability to stay calm and think on your feet is an essential skill.
Kelly says: ‘The only way to deal with conflict is to address it. If a client is angry or upset, you should reflect that by listening and being supportive. At the same time you need to set boundaries and be firm.
‘I would answer the question by describing a situation when you’ve used active listening skills and de-escalation techniques – and explain how you feel that affected the outcome.
‘Like anyone else, social workers are learning all the time. It’s fine to talk about a time when you felt overwhelmed, but be sure to describe what new techniques you have learnt and how you now put these into practice. At the same time, be willing to highlight any additional training needs you may have.’