How to thoroughly prepare for a social work interview

Social work recruitment specialist Jonathan Coxon offers tips on how to secure that dream job.

Picture credit: Garo/Phanie/Rex Features

Do your research

The more you know about your prospective new employer and the role you are interviewing for, the better. Ask for a job description and person specification so you can understand the job duties and the skills you will be expected to have.

Compare your experience critically against the job description. Consider your strengths and how best to emphasise them in relation to the role, but also your weaknesses and how you can combat any reservations the interviewer may have. Think of specific examples of occasions when you have performed the duties or used the skills that are listed.

As a bare minimum, look at the organisation’s website to find out more about them. You should also do some additional research, e.g. by looking at their latest Ofsted inspection or other relevant reports. Where are they succeeding? What challenges are they facing?

It’s crucial that you are up to date with any changes in legislation relevant new directives. If this is a role you haven’t worked in previously, use your connections and friends or online forums like CareSpace to discuss the role and help you understand it better.

Clarify details

It’s important to find out the interview’s format and set up. Will you be speaking to an individual or a panel? Will it be formal or informal? Will there be any written sections or set exercises to complete? Any guidance that the organisation can give will help you to prepare more effectively. Avoid bombarding them with endless questions, but don’t feel embarrassed about clarifying details and asking what they can disclose.

Once you know where the interview will be held, research your transport options, parking, and how long it will take you to get there on the day.

Questions to expect

As well as questions about your particular team or service user group, you may be asked generic questions about social work; an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and show your personal style. 

Classic examples include: “What do you think makes an effective social worker?” or “What is the importance of supervision?”. Topics such as equality and diversity arise regularly. Look up some other examples on forums or blogs from the sector and take some time to consider how you would answer them. Many of your peers will have asked online about what questions might come up in an interview, and shared their experiences afterwards; these discussions can be a great source of shared knowledge.

Questions to ask

However, the interviewer shouldn’t be the only person asking questions; there are several advantages to asking your own. They can help you gain crucial information about the role, the team, and the way the organisation is run. This will allow you firstly to decide whether the job appeals to you, and secondly to tailor your responses to fit the employer’s requirements more closely.

If the only questions you have are “what’s the salary?” and “how many holidays will I get?” you aren’t going to impress the interviewer, and you aren’t doing enough to help yourself. Intelligent questions are also a great way to illustrate your knowledge and impress the interviewer – ask questions about the work itself, the training that’s available and career development. You could also ask about specifics, such as the team’s computer system, for example, the challenges the team is currently facing, or about their thresholds and assessment timeframes.

As you prepare, write down some key questions to take with you. This shows you are organised and inquisitive, with a genuine interest in the role, as well as helping ensure you get the answers you want.

Jonathan Coxon is managing director of social work recruitment consultancy Liquid Personnel.

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