How to Ace Your First Social Work Job Interview
I put together this simple guide on how to ace your social work interview and social work interview questions with aspiring and Newly Qualified Social Workers (NQSW) in mind, however; I believe experienced social workers will also find it useful.
How often have you heard of someone not succeeding at a job interview? Have you thought of reasons this person may not have been offered the job role?
Looking back at when I applied for my first social work role, I was daunted by the interview process.
This is because I was intimidated by experienced social workers due to my lack of skills and experience. To think practicing social workers would interview me made me feel uneasy.
But as I was determined to ace this job interview, I gathered courage and prepared, leaving no stone unturned.
This guide is to share some simple hacks to help you outshine other job applicants and wow employers.
What is a Social Work Job Interview?
What You Have Done So Far
Brilliant, you have done a great job so far! You wrote a remarkable Curriculum Vitae (CV) and completed your application to a high standard. You have also written a cover letter that impressed the employer.
Your CV showcased your skills and experience to the employer, and they have invited you for an interview.
But…. you also know how nerve-wracking this interview can be.
You also start thinking of some possible social work interview questions.
How Do You Ace Your Job Interview?
Now what? This position means a lot to you. The ideal outcome for you is to be called back for a second interview or get a job offer.
You desperately want to ace this job, right? This means you should ‘stand out from the crowd’ and be the candidate the panel or interviewer will remember.
What to Expect During a Social Work Job Interview
The job interview is where you would showcase the sought-after skills the interview panel wants in an ideal candidate. What’s more?
- You want to show you are the best fit for the job.
- You want to evidence having the skills and expertise for this job role.
- You want to prepare for the interview as this is vital.
I am usually nervous when going for an interview (I bet you are too!).
However, I have found that reconstructing the interview helps me build confidence and allows me to stay calm during the interview.
Before reconstructing the interview, I make a document called ‘how to prepare for an interview checklist’ and I will be sharing this personal checklist with you.
Let’s dive in, now shall we?
Tip 1: Do Your Research on the Organisation
Researching means systematically investigating the organisation to discover facts, and any other information relevant to the role you are having an interview for.
Researching about a company is often the first thing people do when offered a job interview, yet there are still a handful of people who will leave this important aspect until the night before and sometimes a few minutes before the interview! (can you relate? Well, I can ……)
In future interviews, please try not to do a last-minute research. Preparing early allows you to clarify some information you may be unclear about.
Before the start of an interview, most employers will present a snapshot of what the company is about.
However, I would recommend you go the extra mile and do some extra research about the organisation yourself.
Your potential employer will appreciate your interest in what they stand for. Besides, this will help you prepare for potential questions that you may be asked.
Preparation is key here, and you can practice those answers before you attend the interview.
In conclusion, to shine in your interview, do your research and reconstruct the interview using anticipated questions and answers before you walk in the door for your interview.
Tip 2: Understand the KSS and PCF
Familiarise yourself with the Knowledge and Skills Statement (KSS) and the Professional Capability Framework (PCF).
According to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), the KSS provides the basis for accrediting practice supervisors in child and family or adult social work.
The PCF is a framework which provides a way of thinking about the skills, knowledge and values social workers use in their practice (beds.ac.uk).
It sets capability statements of what is to be expected for all stages of a social worker’s career, from entry into training to the most advanced level of a social work practitioner.
If you are a Newly Qualified Social Worker, you are likely to be enrolled on the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) programme.
This programme provides you with the opportunity to develop a personal development plan.
You will be assessed against the KSS and PCF during your ASYE. You will also receive a reduced caseload and regular supervision to help identify areas of development and the support you need to achieve them.
Tip 3: Use Your Connections
I find that speaking to a previous or a current employee does help with gathering information that can give you an advantage over other participants.
You may know a friend – who knows a friend and who is a current or past employee.
A short telephone conversation about their experience during their job interview could give you a confidence boost.
Also, it can save you time from ploughing through a wealth of information online.
Tip 4: Reconstruct Interview | Anticipate Questions and Answers
Reconstruct the interview by rehearsing your answers to the possible questions you might be asked in the interview.
You can practice with the help of a family member, friend, or even a mirror.
Doing so will help with your nerves, boost your confidence, and even improve the timing of your responses.
Remember, clean and concise answers are great, don’t sound too rehearsed and the less long-winded you are, the better.
Tip 5: Practice a Good Answer to ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Interview Question
Avoid talking about your personal life; the interviewer is interested in your qualifications, experiences and most importantly, if you’re a good fit for the job.
Stick to your professional work story. Make it engaging and compelling.
Tip 6: What Is the STAR Interview Response Method?
When asked about a behavioural type situation, my favourite structure to use when doing a questions and answers practice is the STAR Interview Structure.
STAR is an acronym for four key concepts. This interview response method is a structured way of answering interview questions.
It is used for behavioural interview questions to understand how a person has behaved and handled certain situations.
The interviewer uses this to analyse the skills and qualities you will be bringing to the job role.
How Does the STAR Interview Response Method Work?
You can provide a comprehensive answer following the STAR key concepts.
Sample question: Tell us about a time when you have helped find a solution to a problem at work.
The concepts in the acronym are:
- Situation: Describe the context or background within which you performed a job or faced a challenge at work.
Answer the following; where? when?
For example, “A few years ago, I was working as part of a team in a residential care home. One morning, in a staff meeting, the manager informed us that we had been receiving negative reviews for the service we had been providing residents. She wanted to find out what staff members were doing wrong and find out ways to improve the service. The manager planned to create a project team tasked with carrying out primary research and come up with actionable steps to help improve the experience of residents”.
- Task: Next, describe your responsibility. The challenge and expectations.
Answer the following: what needed to be done? why?
The manager wanted us to carry out an evaluation, to gain insight into the existing way of working in the residential home. It was to enable reflection and help to identify future change.
I had been working for the company for 2 years. I was looking for an opportunity to showcase my skills in leadership, research, report writing and group work.
I was the first to volunteer. The team manager was quick to make me the project leader of a 5-member team tasked with carrying out an evaluation.
- Action: You then describe how you completed the task or endeavoured to meet the challenge. Elaborate on the specific action. What did you do? How?
Focus on what you did, rather than what your team, boss, or co-worker did. (Tip: Instead of saying, ‘we’ say ‘I’.
Over 14 days, the team and I analysed the reports received from residents. We also open-ended questions in a face-to-face interview and spoke to residents and staff.
The interview was held in a meeting room in an office environment.
The interview was carried out using a face-to-face approach to allow participants to share their views openly.
A tape recorder was used to record the interview, and the information was then transcribed. I then led brainstorming sessions to address issues raised.
- Result: Finally, explain the outcomes or results generated by the action taken. It may help to emphasise what you accomplished, or what you learned.
The outcome of the evaluation was that the residents were able to informally share their concerns.
They raised concerns about poor food quality and a lack of social interaction.
My suggestion was for the residents to be given a food menu a week in advance so they can make a choice.
Also, a social calendar allowed for weekly social activities to be planned.
So, you have done your homework and ready to ace that job interview!
What must you remember?
Tip 7: Create a Good First Impression
So how do you create a good first impression? When you meet someone for the first time, a mental image is formed.
Try to ensure this image is positive. The way you answer, deliver the responses, and how you present yourself is vital.
The interviewer will be reading your body language.
It does take two seconds for someone to evaluate you when you first meet. Forbes magazine highlights that you only get one shot to make a first impression, and less than 30 seconds to impress someone!
Aim to get off to a good start by turning up on time, dressing smart, staying professional, being organised with your paperwork and using verbal and nonverbal communication appropriately.
When using nonverbal communication, smile and nod when required, make eye contact with the interviewer for a few seconds at a time, don’t laugh out too loud, you can take notes as you are briefed, be polite, don’t raise your voice too high and keep a level tone to your speech.
Focus on leaving a positive, lasting impression.
Tip 8: Ability to Effectively Communicate
Your ability to communicate effectively is essential in your role as a social worker. I have found that your ability to evidence this skill during an interview is crucial.
The Panel wants to identify whether you can communicate your thoughts, emotions, stories and experiences to them.
You should be able to describe and articulate how you are a good fit for the job, and what you can do to support people within the community.
When recreating the job interview, listen to how you speak and pay attention to the way you sound.
That way, you can identify your communication abilities and improve upon this before the interview.
Tip 9: Be Cautious of Your Energy Levels
Are you portraying a personality that is positive, personable, friendly or nervous, scared?
Your demeanour at the interview is vital. Show that you are listening to the interviewer. Ask yourself, “how do I come across in an interview?”
Assess whether you feel comfortable or not. If you feel comfortable, you probably are in your element and you’re also coming across well at the interview.
Be who you are and be mindful not to appear overconfident as you may come across as rude.
Tip 10: Are You a Fit for the Company and Culture?
Determine how well of a match you are for the team, the department and the company you are applying for.
Research on what the company is looking for. Ask yourself whether you have the personality and the skills the company is after.
This can be found in the job specification. Also, research on what the company values are.
You can find this on their LinkedIn profiles, company website, and get a sense of the people this company wants to employ. That way you have an image of how you want to portray yourself.
Tip 11: Reflect on Your Skills and Experience
Be aware of your skills, experiences, knowledge, strengths and weaknesses.
This job may not be related to the job you have done in the past, especially if you’re a Newly Qualified Social Worker.
Remind yourself of your work experience and how it relates to the job you are applying for. Demonstrate your transferable skills.
Gather enough confidence and look into your past to see what you have done that is even remotely related to this job.
The more you can connect your experience and skills, the more likely the Interviewer can identify your capabilities for the job.
Connect the dots, figure out what your value is, and then demonstrate it at the interview.
Use my favourite skills match table below:
Skills from previous job
Skills current job requires
Tip 12: Review the Job Description, Your Résumé/CV, and Cover Letter
Review and think about any areas that look questionable on your CV and cover letter. This is because you can get questioned about this, which can cost you the job.
According to Turner (2004), most employers will ask questions from reading your application documents. Also,
Keen et al., (2016) highlights the need to keep a copy of your application form. They recommend that you study it before attending the interview.
In addition, it can be a reference when completing other applications in the future.
You most likely already submitted your resume when you applied for the job, but don’t assume the interviewer will have a copy at the interview.
Show up with fresh copies of your resume and cover letter.
Tip 13: Show You Genuinely Want This Job
There is nothing worse than candidates that show up to job interviews, and it’s clear they have no intention of putting the effort into getting the job.
If you have turned up for an interview, then it means you want the job.
Demonstrate your enthusiasm not in an Over the Top (OTT) manner, but in a subtle way. Don’t turn them off by not showing interest or playing hard to get.
Tip 14: Show a Willingness to Learn
Show that you are ready to acquire new knowledge and develop.
You may not have the answers to all the questions asked during the interview.
So, this is a great opportunity for you to express a desire to learn more.
Explain that you wish to be more qualified.
Highlight your dedication to growth and a dedication to lifelong learning.
In social work practice, one thing that often seems to change are the systems used.
When this happens, you have to quickly adapt.
Show that you are tech-focused and have hands on experience with new technology.
This shows employers that you are willing and able to learn about the required technology.
Tip 15: Decide on Your Future Career Path
During the interview, you will outshine other candidates if you are able to evidence that you have future career plans.
A candidate who shows they are not only after a job to earn money but as a career opportunity will always appeal to an employer.
That’s why I recommend you take a moment and think about where you’d like to be in one, two or even five years, from now in that job role.
Tip 16: Ask Great Questions
In many formal interviews, you will be asked if you have questions.
You should have a few questions to ask at the end of the interview.
Interviewers expect you to ask questions, so be prepared. Even if they have successfully answered all your questions by the end of the interview, still ask them something relevant.
Example of questions you could ask:
- “Why are you recruiting for this role?”
- “What does a typical day look like for someone in this role?”
- “What are the working hours?”
- “What is a typical caseload for this role?”
- “What support programmes do you have for employees?”
- “What are your rules around hot-desking and home working?”
Tip 17: What Not to Bring to an Interview
- Details of other job interviews you have been offered
- Excessive jewellery
- Unclean clothes
- Chewing gum
- Untidy hair
- Excessive make up
- Overgrown beard and moustache
Tip 18: What to Bring to an Interview
- Several copies of your CV and cover letter
- Work examples
Download Your Free Checklist Right Now
Applying for My First Role as a Newly Qualified Social Worker
After my social work degree, I decided to build my career in adult social work. Lecturers encouraged us to apply for jobs after our final placement. At the time, there were a lot of assignments to complete and it felt like an added pressure however, I now appreciate this encouragement.
It was a struggle to complete application forms, preparing for interviews and completing assignments.
I saw a job advert for adult social workers 70 miles away from my home. I decided to apply as this opportunity was rare. I was willing to relocate if offered the job role.
In the job description, there was the opportunity to contact the team manager for an informal discussion which I took. I would recommend that you take on such chances when available.
During the phone call, we discussed my experience, the team structure and workload. She reassured me I had lots of transferable skills and being a newly qualified social worker would not put me at a disadvantage.
I also discovered that I should be preparing for a panel interview, which made me visualise myself in a room with experienced social workers.
I completed the application form, updated my CV and had someone to proofread my documents.
Proofreading is essential to fix minor spelling and punctuation mistakes, typos, formatting issues and inconsistencies.
Sending off poorly edited application would signal warning signs about your ability to perform the job role effectively.
For instance, as a social worker, you will write a lot of assessments and reports. These assessments and reports will go out to people you support, and sometimes reports will be presented in court.
Proofread your work to produce high-quality documents. Also, it will help you examine how your ideas connect.
To prepare for the interview, I did some research on the organisation and familiarised myself with their website. I thought of possible social work interview questions.
I also spoke to two people with some experience interviewing for this same organisation.
This helped me prepare potential questions and answers and practised using role-play. Also, I read through my application, CV and cover letter several times before the interview.
Questions asked during the interview were behavioural and competency-based. I used the STAR method to give simple, impressive and comprehensive answers.
A lot of questions asked were based on my application. I was pleased with the outcome of my interview.
I also used both verbal and non-verbal body language appropriately. I smiled where relevant, nodded to show I was following the process, and made some notes during the interview.
When I was asked whether I have specific questions for the Panel.
I asked questions about access to parking, supervision, and how their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) was structured.
I was offered one post a few minutes after I arrived home and started the job 6 months later.
Adult Social Work Sample Interview Questions | Free Download
To summarise, going for a job interview can be overwhelming, especially when you are a Newly Qualified Social Worker.
I do not doubt that the tips highlighted above will help you ace the job you are interviewing for. Show a sense of commitment, interest and experience in the post you are applying for.
Finally, highlight your strengths and the attributes you can bring to the post.
Wishing you all the best in your interview.
Checklist for Preparing for a Social Work Job Interview
- Do your research on the organisation
- Understand the KSS and PCF
- Use your connections
- Reconstruct interview | anticipate questions and answers
- Practice a good answer to ‘tell me about yourself’ interview question
- Practice the STAR interview response method
- Create a good first impression
- Ability to communicate
- Be cautious of your energy levels
- Are you a fit for the company and culture?
- Reflect on your skills and experience
- Review the job description, your résumé/CV, and cover letter.
- Show a willingness to learn
- Show you genuinely want this job
- Decide on your future career path
- Ask great questions.
- What not to bring to an interview
- What to bring to an interview
So there you have it. The best tips for a successful social work interview, in my opinion. Don’t waste another moment failing a job interview with no guidance.
I hope this article has been helpful. Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments section below.
Keen, S., Galphin, D., & Brown, K. (2016). Newly-Qualified Social Workers A Practice Guide to the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment – Post-Qualifying Social Work Practice (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.
Turner, T. S. (2004). Behavioural Interviewing Guide: A Practical, Structured Approach for Conducting Effective Selection Interviews. Victoria: Trafford Publishing
British Association of Social Workers (BASW). Available at https://www.basw.co.uk/
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