Job done: interviews for graduate roles in social work
Interviews for graduate social work roles are often carried out by a panel. This may seem daunting but this format is often easier and sometimes fairer than a one-to-one interview. If a solitary interviewer doesn’t take a shine to you, for example, they can be over-ruled by others.
For some roles you may be also be asked to complete some practical tests such as an in-tray exercise or drafting a briefing. These are designed to test how people interact, lead and respond to each other and so might involve working with other candidates to conduct a meeting or debate together. Recruiters are also increasingly involving service users in the interview process, either at an initial meet and greet stage or within the interview panel itself. You could also be asked to give a presentation.
The majority of interview questions should not come as a surprise if you have done your research well. Interviews will usually be structured around selection criteria to ensure objectivity. Make sure that you can demonstrate how your skills and experiences fit each one and find out from the employer what the format of the interview will be, whether single or panel.
Make a good first impression
First impressions are important. There are just four things that you need concentrate on: your appearance, your eyes, your mouth and your hands. Be sure to dress appropriately for the interview – don’t be fooled by the word ‘informal’. Unless instructed otherwise, you should aim to be as smart and professional as possible. Use eye contact to engage the interviewers without staring. Smile at the interviewers and it’s more than likely that they will smile back. The handshake is also an integral part of any interview. Offer a wet, limp hand and this is how you will be remembered. Practise on a friend to get it right and make sure that you plan your journey beforehand. You don’t want to waste all those hours of preparation by finding that you’ve missed the train!
Finally, it helps to remember that although the recruiter’s main aim is to find the best person for the job, they will also be looking for someone who will fit into the organisation well. Remember that an interview is a two-way process allowing the recruiter to get to know you, but also allowing you to get to know them and learn if the position you are applying for is the one for you. Prepare well, be yourself and keep your fingers crossed.
Research 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 and current developments in practice, especially where relevant to the job you are applying for.
- 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, health problems and so on.
- 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. Know about any changes in social work and be aware of relevant news stories.
- Review your application form, in case you are asked to discuss any of the answers you provided in more detail.
- Make a list of five or six examples of occasions when you have demonstrated best practice.
- 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:
Hypothical questions. The scenarios you are given 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 is 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?