Career Clinic

Q: I am just about to graduate as a qualified social worker and would like to work in an older people’s team. What advice would you give a newly qualified social worker about to start job-seeking and going to interviews?

A: Take some comfort that there is no shortage of vacancies for a good social worker, newly qualified or otherwise. You can, however, reduce some of the anxiety by thoroughly preparing yourself for any interviews. One of the plus points about working for a local authority is that you get a lot of help in the preparation. You should get a job pack and, tedious though it may seem, plough through it with a pen and paper to hand.

The job description and the person specification are the two key documents. The specification in particular may tell you what they are going to be looking for at the interview phase, and you can begin to make a list of examples as evidence that you have the personal qualities and experience to match each of the criteria.

Don’t worry that you are newly qualified and possibly relatively inexperienced in social work. Many of the criteria relate to you as a person, such as your ability to manage your time, how you relate to colleagues, what your coping strategies are when working under pressure, your willingness to promote equality and diversity, and so on. Have some confidence in your training but, if you haven’t got the ideal example from your course, start to think about the life skills you have developed in your previous employment or in life in general so you have something to talk about even if the questions seem rather obtuse!

Sometimes candidates let themselves down by not thinking about the obvious, and can be floored by a question like “why have you chosen to go into social work?” or “why an older people’s team?”.

The small tree trunk that went into the job pack will probably contain lots of documents about the team, the community, relevant policies and procedures, mission statements and a variety of other information which may or may not be useful. Think about the questions you may be asked while you’ve got some space to mull over a possible answer and try to incorporate some of the information you have gleaned. If you are level pegging with another candidate, but can show that you are interested enough in the position to have done your homework, you will win hands down.

I always make my final question to a prospective employee: “Have I asked you the right questions?” – in other words, is there anything else you think is relevant that you haven’t been able to weave into your answers? If the interview panel doesn’t give you this opportunity, tell them the answers anyway.

Alison Sanger is a social care HR consultant

A: If you want to stand out in an interview, go into it prepared to demonstrate an awareness of recent developments in the field such as the recent split between children’s and adult services and whether this might result in closer working between adult social care teams and health professionals.

It may also be good to have an answer ready about how you would handle the potential dilemma of weighing up the needs of a service user against the need to work within tight budgets and strict eligibility criteria. This will reflect a realism in your thinking – something every employer is looking for in today’s world where efficiency savings rule.

Name and address withheld

16 august question

Q: Every time I need do something for my parents, who are in their eighties and live two hours’ drive away, I am forced to take annual leave. All my colleagues seem to come and go as they please to look after their children without it affecting their holiday entitlement. I really don’t feel I am being treated equally.

We will answer this question in the 16 August issue of Community Care. We want to publish your advice: please send it to by Wednesday 9 August.

Do you have your own career dilemma? Send your comments or questions for consideration by our HR expert and your peers to

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