Interviews for graduate social work roles are often carried out by a panel. It may seem daunting, but this format is often quicker than a series of meetings. It's fairer too: if a solitary interviewer misunderstands one of your answers, for example, they can be overruled by others.
For some roles, you may be asked to complete some practical tests such as an in-tray exercise or drafting a briefing. You may be invited to meet service users: they may serve on the interview panel or you may just have an informal chat. Either way, the aim is for your recruiters to see how you interact with your potential clients.
You should know about the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) and the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS). These underpin your professional development as a social worker. Make these your reference guides to the skills and qualities you're expected to demonstrate at this early stage in your career: make a note of situations when you've shown these skills and be ready to talk about them.
The majority of interview questions won't come as a surprise to you if you've studied the job description and person specification carefully and researched the organisation. Think about how you can demonstrate the skills needed, and practise your responses so you feel confident. Your university careers service may also offer mock interviews if you need extra practice.
Make a good first impression
There are just four things that you need to concentrate on when it comes to first impressions: your appearance, your eyes, your mouth and your hands. Be sure to dress appropriately for the interview – even if you've been told it'll be informal. Unless instructed otherwise, you should aim to be as smart and professional as possible. Try on your interview outfit to make sure it's comfortable, and, if you'll have a walk to the interview location, check that you can cover the distance in the shoes you're planning to wear.
In the interview, use regular eye contact to engage the interviewers. If it's a panel interview, look at everyone in the room and smile – it’s more than likely they will smile back.
Your handshake is also an integral part of any interview. Offer a wet, limp hand and this is how you will be remembered – practise with a friend to get it right.
Also, make sure that you plan your journey beforehand and think about doing a test run so that you feel confident of the route.
Finally, it helps to remember that although the recruiter’s main aim is to find the best person for the job, they'll also be looking for someone who will fit into the organisation well. An interview is a two-way process: it helps the recruiter to get to know you, but it's also your chance to get to know them and learn if the position you're applying for is the one for you.
Tips for interviews for social worker jobs
- Research the employer and the position to find out more about the nature of the job and the work environment. Remind yourself why you want to work for this employer.
- Revise your knowledge of legislation, current developments in practice and career frameworks.
- Identify ‘problem areas’ that you might encounter in the interview and consider how to answer questions about any difficult issues such as time out from your course or health problems.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Find out as much as you can about the interview format and if there are any other elements to the selection process, such as presentations.
- Keep up to date with current affairs. Be ready to talk about changes in social work and think about how they might affect you.
- Review your application form, in case you're asked to discuss any of the answers you provided in more detail.
- Make some lists of situations in which you've demonstrated the skills in the job description and the relevant sections of the Professional Capabilities Framework.
- Go in ready to project a positive attitude.
Prepare answers for typical interview questions in advance
You could be asked the following types of questions:
Hypothetical questions. These feature scenarios that are likely to be situations that you could come across on the job. For example, you could be asked, ‘What would you do if you felt threatened during a home visit?’
Questions about yourself, the employer and the job. These questions are often a way for the employer to find out more about your motivation; for example:
- Why did you choose to study social work?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- Why should we employ you?
Competency questions. These questions relate to the competencies needed for the job. You could be asked to give examples of the following:
- a time when you had to work with others to solve a problem
- a time when you refused to compromise
- a time when you had to make a difficult decision.
Try to use examples from your practice, placement or academic work, and outline the issues involved, the pressures you faced and how you solved problems. Explore any case dilemmas and debates, and make explicit any anti-discriminatory issues and dilemmas. Describe how you acted and any outcomes.
It's likely that you will be asked questions relating to dealing with stress, contributing to a team and making good use of supervision.
Questions you could ask at interview
It’s also a good idea to prepare some questions to ask. Here are some possibilities:
- Ask about the team you would be joining. What are the staffing levels? Is there any sickness in the team? What challenges is it currently facing? Is the manager permanent?
- Ask about progression and training. Would you have a mentor? Is there room for progression?
- Ask your interviewers about their work for the organisation. How did they progress to their current roles? Why did they join, and what is it that keeps them there?