Job interview tips for social work students

How to prepare and what to expect for your first job interview as a social worker

Photo: Jacob Lund/Fotolia

When preparing for your first social work interview after finishing your studies, what do you need to know and how do you best present yourself? What are employers looking for and how can you show that you are confident, knowledgeable and eager to begin and progress in your social work career?

This guide aims to help you with addressing those key areas.

1. Know the KSS and PCF

Social work employers are encouraged to use the professional capabilities framework (PCF) and the post-qualifying standards or knowledge and skills statements (KSS)for child and families practitioners and social workers with adults, to frame their recruitment, workforce development and career progression pathways.

Understanding the standards and expectations set out by both the KSS and PCF will ensure you are well prepared.

2. Study the job description

Job descriptions (JD) and person specifications (PS) will describe the qualities, skills and knowledge required to do the job you are applying for. Ensure you have read these and can say with confidence how you meet these requirements. Make notes and take them to the interview, this is the language the employer is looking for. Often employers mark questions based on the criteria set out in the JD and PS.

If you are unsure about legislation or statutory guidance research this and ensure you are familiar, this may come up in the interview. While the JD and PS shouldn’t set out your whole approach to interview, it is a useful guide to structure your thinking about what the employer wants, and what skills and experience you have to match that need.

3. Know yourself and the organisation well

Employers need social workers who can critically reflect and learn from their experiences. Research the organisation and the demographics of the local area and also find out more about the people who will be interviewing you. You may be asked to describe your strengths and your areas for development, know what they are and explore them. You should be prepared to offer solutions to some personal knowledge gaps where required, or how previously your education shone a light on these and helped you work through them. Use the ‘I’ language and do not over-use ‘we’ to demonstrate your achievements.

How to use it:

The Social Graces set out by Alison Roper and John Burnham are useful when thinking about who you are as practitioner. The Graces set out different aspects of identity and self. Considering what is important to you helps you to think about what internal biases you may have and how you got them.

Around practice development and where you want your career to go, think about what opportunities you may explore, such as: shadowing colleagues in the team or service, reading research and articles in social work journals, seeking opportunities to carry out pieces of work to develop your strengths, attending national or regional conferences hosted by sector specialists.

Avoid generic answers on improving development like ‘by attending the ASYE programme’ or ‘by attending training’; state the type of training required and what you hope to gain from it.

Showing you are committed and will go the extra mile, and being assertive and proactive are what employers want to hear and see.

4. Identify your skills and have examples ready to use

Skills may be transferable, so don’t think if you have not worked in a specific team that this rules you out of applying. Assessment and critical reflection skills are transferable and can be honed and further developed once in the role. Building relationships or time management are invaluable to the role of a social worker in any team and examples should be easily found in the work you have already carried out.

How to use it:

You may be asked to provide examples of when you have managed your time effectively, or what you do to manage your time, to ensure you meet deadlines.

Examples you could use include using your diary effectively, blocking out admin time and protecting this time, seeking managers’ advice about what to prioritise, making the best use of your time by planning visits and working remotely or from different work bases to cut down travel. This will show you have creatively thought out solutions.

Bring in out-of-social-work experiences from your training. Did you work during your studies or do you have a family? How have you managed these and qualifying as a social worker?

Time will always be a challenge for social workers but showing you can think outside of the box is important, as is showing an awareness of when to communicate with managers when you feel overwhelmed.

You also may be asked to describe a piece of work you are most proud of, how you have prioritised the needs of the service user and overcome barriers to practice or upheld the rights of the service user despite the challenges experienced in the community. You should focus on the interventions and methods used, the issues faced and the outcomes for the service user.

5. Show a willingness to reflect and learn

This is vital to your development as a social worker. Be prepared to explore examples of when you have appraised your own work and been able to develop as a result. Describing how you have reflected on an approach used is important. In social work we have many approaches, theories, methods and interventions. Rationalising why you have chosen a particular method and then reflecting on this evidences you are flexible in your approach and do not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach.

How to use it:

You may want to describe training you have attended that has informed your practice and explore how this improved the outcomes for a service user. You may wish to share an example of a supervision that you used effectively to test out several hypotheses or to better inform an assessment or planning for a service user, resulting in a more effective plan or outcome.

6. Practice, practice, practice.

Interviews are nerve racking, so take advantage of any opportunities available to practice them. Use student group supervisions, workshops offered on placement or by your higher education institution or arrange for a group of you to come together following reading this article to practice. Overcoming first-time nerves is much easier if you are in this together. Try to imagine yourself already in the role and what you would do to make a difference.

Want more from Community Care’s Careers Zone? See all of our tips on the dedicated careers page. Download our social work CV template and advice page here.

This article is part of Community Care’s Careers Zone, a part of the site giving social workers and social care professionals advice and guidance about the next steps in their social work career. Like many other Careers Zone articles, this one was produced in collaboration with practising social workers and managers, and in association with the Local Government Association’s workforce and policy team. See all of our tips on the dedicated careers page. Download our social work CV template and advice page here.

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