Social Work

Interviewing for Jobs in Social Work? Know How to Answer These 12 Common Questions.

Interviewing for Jobs in Social Work? Know How to Answer These 12 Common Questions.
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Nedda Gilbert February 21, 2019

Prepare a script—and follow it! (Kind of.)

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If you’ve learned anything about how to get through social work school, it should be that research and preparedness are key—and as you prepare to interview for social work jobs, this tenet holds true. After thoroughly researching the position for which you’re applying, and the setting in which you will work, tailor your interview responses to present yourself as the best possible candidate.

Here’s how to ace your social work job interview:

Understand the company. The interviewer should feel as though you care enough to have learned about the organization in which you may work. Your research should demonstrate that you are proactive, a go-getter, eager to make the right impression, hardworking, thorough, determined, and professional.

As part of that research, you should get the inside scoop on the organization’s culture. Demonstrating that you understand the company’s culture will go a long way towards helping you communicate that you are a fit for the job.

In your research, go to the organization’s website as well as review-based sites like Glassdoor in to see what past and current employees have to say about the company. Try to learn what the organization values in its workers—as well as its mission, the population it serves, and what it is actually like to work there.

Know the role. Before heading into your interview, try to fully understand what’s involved with the job. What does the role entail? What skills are required? Examine your background and skillset and highlight key details that make you a fit for the job. If you worked in an entirely different position (or industry), this is your chance to craft a compelling story and sell your interviewer on the ways your skillset is transferable to this new setting.

Follow a script (kind of). Many employers rely on tried-and-true questions in interviews—like the dreaded “tell me about yourself” question. With a little preparation, you’ll nail this popular but uncreative opener.

Prepare an elevator pitch about yourself that summarizes your background, credentials, skills, and career goals. Going in with a script will ensure that you don’t ramble, and will also guarantee that you get your key points across to the interviewers. Compose your pitch, and practice your delivery. Speak slowly and confidently, and avoid sounding like you’re providing a canned response. And, to that point: remember that it’s okay to go off script when appropriate—don’t follow it too closely, or you may risk coming off as robotic.

Prepare stories and examples. In any interview, you’ll be asked a variety of questions about your interests, work history, and personal philosophy. The best way to support your responses is through stories drawn from experience. Showcase the steps you took to get where you are now. As a social worker, understanding the process of getting to a solution, and the action you took to get there, is critical.

Anticipate problems or concerns. If there’s a gap in your resume, or you are currently unemployed, be prepared to address this in a positive and open manner. Depending on the situation, you may want to work with a friend or colleague to craft smart answers to questions you are likely to be asked.

Here are a few general topics you should be prepared to explain:

  • What are your skills, strengths, and weaknesses?
  • What’s a challenge you overcame, and how did you do it?
  • When have you failed, or made a mistake, and what did you learn?
  • What’s accomplishment you are proud of?
  • What does teamwork mean to you?
  • What impact have you had on a client or an organization?
  • How do you manage stress?

Your interviewer may also ask common questions about your social work experiences, including:

  • Why did you become a social worker?
  • What type of client and/or population do you prefer working with?
  • Have you ever experienced or had an ethical dilemma on the job or with a client? If so, how did you resolve it?
  • What is the most difficult case you ever had? How did you manage your feelings? How did you manage the case?
  • How do you manage work/life balance?

Always say “thank you.” There’s is no better (or more important) way to remind the interviewer that you want the job than to send them a note after your interview has concluded. A well-crafted thank-you letter provides an opportunity to reiterate the ways in which you are right for this company and position.

Personalize your thank-you note with references to your interview discussion, to remind the recipient of the connection you made. Forgetting to send this letter is like leaving the period off of a beautifully composed sentence. Every sentence should end with a period. And every interview should end with a thank you letter.

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About the Author

Ms. Nedda Gilbert is a seasoned clinical social worker, author, and educational consultant with 25 years of experience helping college-bound and graduate students find their ideal schools. She is a prolific author, including The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and Essays that Made a Difference. Ms. Gilbert has been a guest writer for Forbes and a sought-after keynote speaker on college admissions. Previously, she played a crucial role at the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company and was Chairman of the Board of Graduate Philadelphia. Ms. Gilbert holds degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University and is a certified interdisciplinary collaborative family law professional in New Jersey.

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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