You'll face fierce competition when applying for a job as a social worker, despite the demand for qualified graduates. To give yourself the best chance of success, discover the types of social work interview questions you might be asked and how to impress with your answers
Along with the usual interview preparation (thoroughly reading the job description/person specification, researching the company and practicing with family or friends) aspiring social workers should brush up on the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) and the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF), which support your professional development.
To impress the interview panel, as well as relevant qualifications and experience, you'll also need to demonstrate emotional resilience, self-awareness, adaptability in challenging situations, leadership ability, empathy and a commitment to helping others. Successfully communicating these skills and experiences through your answers during the interview process is crucial to securing a role.
Why have you chosen social work as a career?
Employers ask this question to learn about your motivation. To impress you'll need to respond with something more than 'because I like helping people'. While a passion to improve the lives of vulnerable groups is important, you need to be able to demonstrate, perhaps with a personal story, why you choose social work.
Explain why you think social work is crucial to society and how you believe you can make a positive difference.
If you've completed any work experience or volunteering activities that proved that social work was the career for you, use examples from these experiences to strengthen your answer.
Similar questions include:
- Why have you chosen this specific field of social work?
- What do you hope to achieve as a social worker?
Which pieces of legislation do you think are important to this role?
Recruiters ask this question to gauge your understanding of the legal obligations of a social worker.
Before your interview it's important to review relevant legislation and policy, as it's highly likely that you'll be asked at least one question about it. It's also essential that you're up-to-date with current research and debates, as well as the wider happenings of the social work sector. Visiting sites such as Community Care and Social Care Institute for Excellence can help you to keep up to date.
Children' social workers will need to talk about the Children and Families Act 2014 and adult social workers need to show an understanding the Care Act 2014.
You may also be asked:
- What is currently happening in social work policy and how could this affect your work?
What do you know about our local authority?
Now is the time to show off what you know about the local demographic and to demonstrate the extent of your research into the organisation you're interviewing for.
During your interview preparation gather statistics on your local authority and its social work departments, read recent Ofsted reports, gather recent news stories or press coverage and check the local authority's website.
- What do you know about the population we serve?
How would you prioritise your caseload?
The interviewer wants to know if you can manage your time effectively. This is an opportunity for you to show evidence of your soft skills. Highlight your excellent organisational ability - 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.
Use practical examples to back up your response. For example, you could talk about a real case you were involved in during your training and the strategies you put in place to manage competing priorities. Alternatively, you could use an example from your work or voluntary experience or demonstrate how you juggled heavy workloads and met multiple deadlines at university.
Would you be prepared to make home visits?
Getting out in the community and visiting clients at home is an essential part of a social worker's job. Seeing how and where a client lives and how they interact in their own environment forms a key part of your assessment, so you need to be confident in carrying out these duties.
Obviously the interviewer is looking for an affirmative response to this question, but they are also looking for evidence that you understand and are prepared for the risks that come with this particular aspect of the job.
Use a relevant example from your training or experience to support your answer. Have you had to deal with a difficult client or an emotionally challenging situation on a home visit?
How do you separate your work and personal life?
Social workers shoulder a lot of responsibility and bear the brunt of emotional situations on an almost daily basis. It's easy to take the stress and the worry home with you but this can lead to physical and mental burnout.
In asking this question employers are assessing your ability to recharge your batteries and 'switch off' outside of work hours. They may also be using this question to figure out if you'd be prepared to work overtime.
Give the interviewer a brief idea of your home situation and provide an example of how you've balanced your work and home life successfully in the past - this could have been during your studies or with a full-time job. Tell them that you're prepared to give the role 100%, but that you have strategies in place for when you feel overwhelmed.
If you have a hobby outside of work that helps you separate from your working life you could mention this too.
Describe a situation in which you handled a difficult or aggressive client.
Competency-based questions are common in all interviews and require you to draw on your past experiences to explain how you'd approach certain situations.
Social workers deal with a range of issues from abuse and substance misuse to mental health crises and homelessness. Unsurprisingly the tempers and emotions of clients often run high and as a social worker you need to deal with these instances in a safe and calm way.
Employers ask this question to see how you deal with challenges on the front line.
Other competency-based questions you could be asked in social work interview include:
- Give an example of a complex case you've worked on. What actions did you take?
- Tell us about a time when you've contributed to effective team working.
- Give an example of a time when you've had to think on your feet and the outcome of this.
- Tell us about something that you would have done differently in a previous case and why.
- Describe a time when you have disagreed with a colleague or supervisor over a care plan? How was this issue resolved?
These questions require you to use relevant examples to structure your answer. Recruiters want to hear about the situation you were in, the task or test you faced, the action you took and the result of this.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ask relevant questions of your own. You could ask how your performance will be measured, if there is any support available for professional development or what the organisation would like you to achieve in your first six months. Find out more about the questions to ask at an interview.
Read more interview tips.
Find out more
- Search graduate jobs in social care.
- Learn more about how to prepare for an interview.
- Discover how to become a social worker.