There are many steps you should take to excel at a job interview, but for aspiring social workers, recommendations to act professionally in your initial communications, dress appropriately and arrive early barely scratch the surface. Your degree is necessary for meeting qualification requirements, but you need more than an education if you want to get the job. It’s largely your research skills, ability to draw insights from your internship experience and preparation of effective answers that will help you succeed in an interview.
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Know the Organization and Its Purpose
To those outside the field, it might appear that social worker jobs are all pretty much the same. As someone who has studied the field and acquired firsthand experience working in it through internships and fieldwork, you know that’s just not true. Social workers hold different job titles, handle different responsibilities, help different populations of clients and work for different types of employers. Before you go on a job interview, you need to be knowledgeable about your prospective employer, the type of work it does and the clients it serves.
You might not think of research as being a major part of life in the field of social work, but as they handle cases, social workers often exercise their skills in finding and organizing information. You investigate community resources that could potentially help clients, consult with community members and professionals, gather documents and data, interview clients and compile all of this information into case files and reports. When planning for a job interview, social workers need to use these same skills to thoroughly research the hiring organization as well as develop an in-depth understanding of how their skills, passions and experience could fit the role.
Many workers, and especially new college graduates, cast a wide net searching for an early-career job. After you are contacted for a job interview, take the time to learn about the organization. Is it public or private? If public, would you be working as part of a local, state or federal government? When a hospital contacts you for a role as a healthcare social work, find out if it is a for-profit or non-profit organization. Although fulfilling social work roles exist in all kinds of industries and employers, these important questions can help you understand what the work environment and culture might be like and what salary expectations are reasonable for the position.
Some social work roles are more plentiful. Child, family and school social workers comprise nearly half of social worker jobs, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. Jobs in mental health and substance abuse make up 18 percent of jobs.
Practice Answering the Questions that Matter Most
Your research will come in handy when you begin rehearsing your responses to interview questions that are important for social workers. Whatever industry the hiring organization is part of, you are likely to be asked the decisive question of why you want to work with the population that organization serves.
Even if you earned your Bachelor of Social Work degree specifically to work with this population, if you don’t prepare an insightful and succinct response, you run the risk of performing poorly on this interview question. It’s far too easy to make a common blunder such as rambling on about a tangential topic or alternatively, giving such a vague answer that it will fail to make a meaningful impression on your interviewer. If the position you’re interviewing for isn’t exactly your dream social work job but rather a stepping stone to gain experience, you might have an even more difficult time coming up with a strong answer to this question on the spot.
What other questions are important for social workers to practice? Some employers might pose questions that test your knowledge of the field, such as asking you to name signs of abuse, list the types of strategies you might use for different types of interventions or explain how familiar you are with community resources and social programs that are relevant to the position. However, many questions revolve instead around the experiences you have gained in the field and how you would handle realistic scenarios that you might encounter in this position. As a result, it’s best to spend some time thinking and verbalizing your social work experience so far as well as how you might handle challenging work situations.
Think particularly about times when your efforts didn’t go smoothly. If there has been a client that you had difficulty working with, think about what characteristics or behaviors made things so challenging and especially about what you learned from the experience. Consider what steps you might take if a strategy that you put into place fell through or if a client disagreed with your plan. Although these experiences may not have been 100 percent positive, in an interview, you always want to focus on the positives that resulted from them, including the lessons you have learned.
It’s especially important to draw from your field experience when asked about your strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you elaborate on how your greatest strength has helped you in the field of social work and how you are working to overcome weaknesses.