This guide will support social work practitioners to understand the key points to consider when preparing for a social work job interview. Social work is about people, communication and relationships; it is important that employers understand your character and personality.
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, child and family practice supervisors, social workers with adults and practice supervisors in adult social care 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 essential and desirable 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. Research the organisation you are applying to, taking into account the local demographics and issues relating to social care. Take note of who will be interviewing you.
An employer is curious to learn about your values and that you can demonstrate a critical understanding of the factors that form your practice. 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.
4. Reflective and reflexive
One interesting distinction employers may wish for you to make is the difference between reflection and reflexivity.
How to use it: For example, if you are asked about a time you were working with a family and adapted your approach:
Reflection would involve ‘I realised that I could have completed better direct work with the child’. Reflexivity would be different: ‘I noticed I was too focused on the parents during one of my visits, I realised I was little unsure about how to engage the child so I adapted and got down on the level of the child. I took some time to observe the child to think about how best to engage with them’.
Think about what role supervision could take in your practice. Also, prepare examples of your CPD and areas in which you would like to develop.
How to use it: If, for example, you were to suggest supervision is a good space for direction, your point may be appreciated but it would be limited. Think about how supervision could enrich and develop your practice.
For example, you could say: ‘I am keen to use supervision as an opportunity to test out hypotheses I may have about my work with families. I am looking forward to my supervisor acting as a critical friend to help me think about what I think and why I am thinking it.’
An employer would be interested in your capacity to build relationships and how you do this.
Questions to consider: How do you offer respectful challenge to service users? How do you balance the support and protection elements of your role? How, for example, have you built relationships with people who are different to you? It is important that you offer specific approaches that you may be trained in. This may be active learning skills, Rogerian counselling or motivational interviewing for example.
If you do not have formal training in a specific approach this does not mean you do not have the skills.
How to use it: Either relating back to training you have had or not, aim to provide examples of how you have built relationships. It is important these relate to where you have used core communication skills, ideally to have supported someone and for you to get across that you understand what constitutes good practice.
The employer would be interested in the context, the skills you showed and the outcome. You will not be asked to provide ‘hard’ evidence such as case notes or audit reports.
7. Time management
Outside of direct practice, employers will be interested in how you can manage your time and maintain a high level of organisation, as well as your grasp of common IT systems and learning tools.
How to use it: Hearing that an applicant is organised and can meet deadlines is not enough; offer clear, tangible examples. Include what methods you use to manage time.
For example, you could say: ‘I am a morning person, I tend to login and do a lot of paperwork before I make it to the office. Following visits, I tend to text the headlines of visits and key notes from the visit to myself on my work phone. This allows me to write up visits in a timely manner and I find this is a quicker process. I have a spreadsheet to co-ordinate all my case work.’ Be honest and specific.
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.