What you should know about your next social work employer

Key things to prepare ahead of applying and interviewing at a new social work employer

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This guide will support social work practitioners to specifically understand what they should know about an employer before attending an interview. You can also use this information to decide if a potential employer is right for you.

1. When preparing for your interview research the organisation.

Employers would be impressed by an applicant who demonstrates an understanding of how the organisation approaches practice. What is the specific model or theory behind the practice? For example, Signs of Safety or a restorative approach, to name but a few, may be taken to shape practice, or it may be a combination of approaches.

How to use it: Speak to peers, read press releases on the council’s website or news stories about its service to get as much information as you can about the current working context. If you manage to gain an understanding of the model or approach to practice, think about whether you have experience of this model. If you do not, think about how your own experience may complement this.

For example, if an organisation uses a systemic family therapy approach and, after completing research, you understand that there is a focus on understanding relationships and how patterns of behaviour between individuals can become stuck, you could apply this to theory you have learnt during your social work degree, or consider how other roles have enabled you to work in this way.

The role of social media for organisations is growing. Some organisations are actively using Twitter; this in some cases can support you to understand the vision of the organisation. Researching social media can help you develop a better understanding of the employer and support with preparing for your interview and your thinking when considering if this organisation is right for you.

2. Offer some understanding of the context of the work in that organisation.

Social work is different from employer to employer and dependent on the context, such as demand, profile of the population and the impact of budget cuts.

What works in one area may not work in another and the method of practice of both the organisation and the practitioner needs to fit what is needed by the children, families or adults in that area.

It is important to understand the challenges for that organisation. Is this a large organisation with many different districts or areas? Is this an area where there are high levels of substance misuse and/or exploitation and why might this be the case? This level of curiosity and reflection about the nature of social work in the specific area or organisation you are interested in will show preparation and critical thinking.

How to use it: A Google search will tell you a lot about the demographic of a local area. Inspection reports from Ofsted or the Care Quality Commission are often valuable in giving information about need and demand. If you cannot find specific information about the department itself, having information about the area where you will be potentially working shows commitment and initiative.

In children’s social care, Ofsted reports may or may not give you a flavour for the circumstances within an organisation. Similarly, NHS Digital’s adult social care analytical hub can give local insights into demand. From completing research, you may learn more about the unique challenges of the organisation you are applying to join and be better able to articulate how your experience would fit in with the organisation during an interview.

Understanding the cultural background of an area and the implications this would have for your practice would be appealing to an employer. Talk about your experiences with different communities, while maintaining an appreciation and respect of difference. For example, when we consider parenting; there is not one ‘right’ way to parent. There is a depth and range of approaches to parenting; parenting can be informed by culture, identity, geography, tradition and society to name a few. Different communities may therefore have different approaches to parenting. Showing a willingness and curiosity to explore difference is a strength.

3. Be clear in how you complement the needs and identity of the potential employer:

The employer will want to know why you want to work for their organisation. Sharing that you were attracted by the pay, benefits and potential flexible working offers may be honest but also may not show the commitment the employer is looking for. Providing and evidencing a range of reasons as to why you want to join the organisation would be much more effective. It would also allow you to demonstrate to the employer what it is about you that might meet their needs.

How to use it:

If you know this to be a pressured organisation, and you thrive under this pressure, think about how you can put this across to an employer.

Taking the example of social work in rural areas, think about how you will put across your understanding of social work of this nature. Working in social work in big counties would lend itself to understanding that there may be a lot of travel and time out of the office. How does your approach to practice suit this? What about your experience makes you a good hire for the employer looking to deal with these challenges?

Demonstrating this level of thinking shows self-awareness and reflection, which a good employer would recognise as a strength.

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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