The first step towards starting your career in social work is attending an interview - discover the questions you could be asked and how to impress with your answers
Once you've sent off applications for social work jobs, you can start thinking ahead to the interview process. Employers will be looking for candidates who can demonstrate emotional resilience, adaptability in challenging situations and a commitment to helping others.
Communicating these traits through your answers during the interview is therefore crucial to making a great first impression. Find out how to prepare for the interview and the type of questions you could be asked.
Social work interviews
The majority of social work interviews are carried out by a panel. This may seem daunting, but meeting more than one interviewer means you'll have multiple chances to impress, which could work to your advantage.
The interview is likely to include tests in a range of formats, including practical and written tests, in-tray exercises and traditional questions and answers.
Learn more about how to prepare for an interview.
Social work interview questions
At the interview you'll be asked a number of common interview questions that are easy enough to prepare for. Questions specific to social work may include:
- How would you prioritise your caseload?
This is a practical question, where interviewers will be looking for you to show evidence of your soft skills. Highlight your excellent organisation and time management skills - not only for prioritising urgent cases, but also for allocating time to completing paperwork and other admin tasks, showing your all-round understanding of the nature of the job.
'Have a good understanding of what a social worker does in their working day, as well as the people and communities you'll be working alongside in the role, before the interview,' Maureen Smojkis, lecturer in mental health at the University of Birmingham, advises. 'This will help you to be realistic with the answer you give to this question.'
- What do you know about working for our local authority?
- Which pieces of legislation do you think are important to this role?
- What is currently happening in social work policy and how could this affect your work?
You'll be asked these questions as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the field as a whole. Research the organisation you're applying to and read up on relevant legislation, policy frameworks and current affairs - sites such as Community Care and Social Care Institute for Excellence can help you to keep up to date.
- How do you separate your work and personal life?
- What do you hope to accomplish as a social worker?
These questions are more personal, and should encourage you to discuss your life outside of the job and your career ambitions. Social work is an emotionally challenging field, so interviewers are looking for your ability to 'switch off' outside of work hours. Discussing what you'd like to accomplish in your career will demonstrate the self-motivation and resilience you need to succeed as a social worker.
You'll also be asked a range of competency-based questions, which will require you to draw on your past experiences to explain how you'd approach certain situations.
Competency-based questions you could be asked include:
- Describe a situation in which you handled stress successfully.
- Give examples of when you've had to deal with conflict or confrontation in a work capacity.
- Describe a time when you've managed a team.
- Give an example of a time when you've had to think on your feet and the outcome of this.
- Give an example of a complex case you've worked on. What actions did you take?
As well as what you did in these situations, being able to evaluate your decision making - explaining your reasoning for the actions you took and identifying areas for improvement in your judgement where necessary - demonstrates to your employers that you're willing to learn, improve and develop.
Top interview tips
- Rehearse. It's likely you'll be asked about aspects of your CV and cover letter, so make sure you're familiar with everything you've included, it's relevant to the job you're applying for and you're able to discuss your achievements, skills and qualifications in detail and with ease. A good way to prepare is to match your skills and experience to what's included in the job specification - by doing this you won't be stuck for answers.
- A substantial range of previous work experience is crucial. Not only will this give you first-hand experience to draw on when answering competency-based questions, but you'll be able to get a feel for what a career in social care is like and whether it's something you'd like to pursue. Due to the sensitive nature of the role, it may be difficult to find experience through work placements or volunteering - any experience of working with children, adults or vulnerable people will serve as an advantage.
- Use resources available to you to prepare. If you know anyone employed in the social care sector, now's the time to ask them for advice. Maureen recommends the British Association of Social Work (BASW) and visiting university social work department websites for further guidance. To learn more about what's involved in the profession, see the social worker job profile.
- As with any interview, make sure you're dressed smartly, arrive on time and have brought the required documentation with you, which will be specified prior to the interview. These are all contributing factors to the first impression you give.