The seven social work skills you can bring to Frontline

Frontline has collaborated with social work experts to identify the key skills that graduates need when becoming a social worker. Discover what these are and how you can showcase them during your application to the Frontline programme.

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Motivation | Self-awareness | Resilience | Effective communication | Empathy and relationship-building | Analysis and adaptability | Leadership

The Frontline programme is a two-year, salaried social work training programme that offers a unique opportunity to work directly with children and families, helping them make positive changes in their lives. The qualities highlighted in this article are those Frontline wants to see in graduates during the recruitment process for the Frontline programme – which includes an application form, online test, video interview and assessment centre.

Don’t be daunted, though: these seven skills may be in your skills set already – and this article will show you how to hone and demonstrate them.

Social work skill one: motivation

Knowing exactly why you want to work in children’s social work is key. In a role that gives you responsibility over children’s welfare and well-being, you must genuinely care about the people you work with – and be invested enough in your job to put in the effort needed to improve lives.

How to improve motivation

Do online research. You could start by reading targetjobs’ article on the role of a social worker before getting more specific. What responsibilities are listed on current children’s social work vacancies? Which kind of social work employer would suit you and why? Consider how your interests, personal values, preferred working environment and skills suit the specific social work career you’re pursuing.

How to showcase motivation to Frontline

Make sure your research includes Frontline (its website and social media pages) and tailor your motivations to social work and the charity: ‘The number one mistake candidates make is not being specific enough,’ explains Jude, one of Frontline’s attraction managers. ‘You might want to work with children or help people in need, but why in the role of a social worker and why on the Frontline programme?’

Social work skill two: self-awareness

Understanding yourself enables you to consider how your approach might be viewed from the perspective of others and adapt accordingly, which is important when working with disadvantaged children and families. Self-awareness will also help you to progress in social work: if you know your strengths and potential weaknesses, you can make the most of the former and work on the latter.

How to improve self-awareness

Actively seek feedback. Whether it’s from colleagues, friends, parents or tutors, asking another person specific questions (eg about how you carry out a certain role) will help you to understand how you’re perceived by others. Choose someone who you trust will give you a considered and balanced view.

How to showcase self-awareness to Frontline

When answering a question about yourself at interview, be honest about your strengths and potential weaknesses, and discuss ways in which you will try to manage/overcome the latter when on the Frontline programme. It might sound obvious but don’t mention a quality that’s clearly integral to social work as a weakness: ‘I’m not very good at working with people’ won’t go down well!

Social work skill three: resilience

Social work is challenging: the more you care about those you work with, the more you will feel the pressure to get it right. So, the ability to keep working despite this pressure is important.

But remember: on the Frontline programme, you will be supported while you build resilience – by a practice tutor throughout the two years of the training programme, as well as by your line manager (an experienced social worker), the other participants in your unit and local authority guidance. After this, Frontline’s growing Fellowship of over 2,000 social workers will provide ongoing support and motivation.

How to improve resilience

Identify the strategies that work for you when things feel tough. These could include talking problems through with someone else, taking half an hour to think over a cup of tea or doing breathing exercises. Listing these could help you to remind yourself whenever you feel you need them.

How to showcase resilience to Frontline

Being able to reflect on yourself, and your coping mechanisms when things are tough, will be useful at the assessment centre. Reflecting on your performance so far can be beneficial too – it shows self-awareness (discussed above). However, knowing when to move your attention to the next challenge demonstrates resilience. This is particularly important during the assessment centre: you might reflect on a previous activity during a break but once you've started a new exercise that should be your focus.

Remembering that Frontline offers you several chances to display each competency, and that it is looking for potential rather than the ‘perfect’ social work candidate, could help you to stay positive too.

Social work skill four: effective communication

Social workers adapt their written and verbal communication to suit many situations and people – including children, colleagues, foster carers, prospective adopters and parents.

How to improve communication

Practise adapting your communication style. Could you change your approach to suit various customers in a part-time job? Or think about how best to communicate new ideas to children in your family? Asking for feedback from the other person will help you to gauge how effective this is.

How to showcase effective communication to Frontline

During the recruitment process, you will need to adapt your communication style. Being open and professional during interviews will work well, for instance. One element of the assessment centre is a conversation with a care-experienced person ( click here for the other elements ). This is a more conversational activity than the interview so it will need you to adapt how you communicate to build rapport with the young person quickly.

Social work skill five: empathy and relationship-building skills

Building strong and empathetic relationships will allow you to gain the trust of those you work with, which is required if you are to support them effectively.

How to improve empathy and relationship-building skills

Practise seeing things from other perspectives. When someone expresses a strong opinion, whether directly to you, on social media, in a news article or somewhere else, think about the emotions behind it. You don’t have to disregard the opinion or your point of view, but really considering why someone feels so strongly about something can help you to develop empathy. Imagine speaking with that person – how would you demonstrate your empathy to them?

How to showcase empathy and relationship-building skills to Frontline

You should stay mindful of the feelings of everyone you meet on the day. For example, view other applicants at the assessment centre as equals rather than competitors. Try to put them at ease and include everyone in the conversation in the group activity.

Social work skill six: analysis and adaptability

Anton, a graduate social worker on the Frontline programme, says: ‘I’ve been writing a parenting assessment – a really complex, dissertation-length document, involving a lot of research and analysis.’ To make considered judgments, social workers must think through situations carefully and analytically. They also adapt their considerations as new developments arise.

How to improve analysis and adaptability

You will probably have built these skills at university. ‘I’m really grateful that I get to keep up the academic skills I developed at uni,’ states Anton. However, try using them more in ‘real world’ challenges. For instance, you might write lists for and against different approaches to a problem your friend has, adapt these when considering the perspectives of all parties involved, and help your friend to decide the best approach.

How to showcase analysis and adaptability to Frontline

Take time to think through responses to questions in the written activity or approaches to challenges at the assessment centre. Be willing to adapt your judgement if new information arises, too. Adaptability can include considering the thoughts of others, so do this when appropriate – such as during group work at the assessment centre.

Social work skill seven: leadership

Leadership in social work involves influencing, guiding and empowering others, as well as making decisions that are in their best interests. ‘Our role is to lead all of those involved in supporting the child and family, offering advice but also interpreting information, so there’s a lot of leadership involved in social work,’ explains Anton.

How to improve leadership skills

Take responsibility for supporting or guiding others. This doesn’t have to be a formal ‘title’ – you could simply decide that you have expertise and guidance to offer (eg in a student society or job) and take responsibility for doing so. If you work in a pub, for instance, you could teach other members of staff the basics of publicising the business using social media.

How to showcase leadership skills to Frontline

During one assessment centre activity you will role play with an actor. Think about how you can best achieve the objectives of the task. Frontline wants to see how you can lead the conversation and understand the situation, but also effectively persuade and empower the actor.

Focus on what you can already do

The Frontline programme will teach you how to apply your skills to social work; during the application process Frontline looks for how you have developed and used these skills in any context. ‘Prepare some examples of times when you have demonstrated our competencies – this could be at university, while volunteering or in a part-time job,’ advises Jude. ‘If you’ve ever spotted a risk that’s easy to miss, taken the lead in a challenging situation or pushed on when things got tough, you may already have the skills needed to make a difference to disadvantaged children and families. All of our competencies relate to skills people often have and don’t realise that they do!’

Think you might have the skills needed to be a social worker? Visit the Frontline website to find out more and apply for the Frontline programme.

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