Social Work Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

by Emma Rowlands

Social Work

Social work positions have never been so sought after, with a massive 650,000 Americans currently holding a social work degree. And it's predicted to grow even more in popularity over the next decade.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, recruitment within the field of social care is expected to increase by 25% by 2020. This will be due to a widening demand for health and social care services across the country.

When applying for a social work position, whether it be in children’s services, drug rehabilitation or one of the many other specialties, it's important to be prepared for the thorough and challenging interview process. The following questions are commonly asked during a one-on-one interview, and the answers should be mastered to reflect your professional competency and knowledge.

Why Did You Choose This Particular Field of Social Work Over the Others?

There are a broad range of social work environments you can work in, from education settings to correctional facilities. So why did you choose this one?

This question gives you an opportunity to demonstrate two things – firstly that you understand the many areas of social work and what their functions are, and secondly that you are devoted and passionate about this particular field over the others. If you have been on work placements (perhaps while you were training), discuss what you enjoyed or found challenging about those areas. Perhaps you'd like to share a personal experience, such as a time when a social worker has helped you in your private life. This will add another dynamic to your answer.

How Do You Implement Safeguarding When Working in the Community?

It's been reported that most safeguarding issues occur in the first five years of a social worker’s employment. According to a study published by the Philanthropy News Digest, the gradual increase in caseloads and expanding role of the social worker, combined with a general shortage of resources, is creating great difficulty for professionals across the field. Safeguarding clients is of upmost importance, but given the limitations of the job and lack of funding in certain areas, it is often difficult to make the right call when working in the community. A recognition of this in relation to keeping your clients (and yourself) safe, along with a proactive approach to minimizing risk, is a good way to begin answering this question. Of course, don't forget to re-familiarize yourself with the latest Safeguarding policy information and think about how this relates to the current climate.

How Do You Manage Pressure?

It's no secret that social work can have elements of pressure and stress tied into the job. Your potential employer would like to know what coping strategies you have developed to manage this, so that you can a) safeguard yourself and your clients, b) keep up with the job at hand to a professional standard and c) maintain good health and minimize absences. A report published by the National Association of Social Workers identified a number of stresses in the workplace. These included having more responsibilities than can be juggled, being expected to work long hours and struggling with limited resources. To answer this question, think of ways that you might reduce the pressure in a realistic way, such as maximizing the referral process, working in a multidisciplinary way and scheduling paperwork strictly to meet deadlines.

Which Achievements Are You Particularly Proud of?

The best way to discuss achievements is to avoid vagueness and instead illustrate in detail a measurable positive outcome. For example, instead of saying “I'm particularly proud of the good work I did integrating a disabled client into the community” you can say “When I met my client he spent 24 hours per day at home, had no friends and was depressed. After six months of engaging with our services, he was going for two walks a day, visiting a local community group and had made some friends who now visit him regularly. On re-assessment, his mood was much improved.” This level of detail allows the interviewer to understand what process you followed and comprehend your success in a more memorable way.

Role Play Exercise

There is a strong possibility that during your interview you'll be asked to take part in a role play exercise. This could be with a group of other candidates, or with one of the interview panel. Sometimes they may bring in service users who have volunteered to take part in the recruitment day. The role play could involve showing your conflict management skills, assessment style or listening skills. There could also be a written exercise alongside this, such as typing up case notes or a risk management plan. This is an opportunity to show you have the skills that are required for the job.

Being a social worker is a rewarding and stimulating job which is growing in both popularity and demand. That is why it's important to answer social work interview questions thoughtfully, honestly and in a way that is reflective of your values and commitment.

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