Tips for Acing Your Next Social Work Interview
After years of hard work focused on field placements, process recordings, and group projects, you’ve earned your Master of Social Work (MSW) and are ready to enter the field as a professional. The next step, finding the right job, is crucial because it may shape your social work career for the next several years. While searching and interviewing for jobs can be stressful, remind yourself that social workers are in high demand and with some fine-tuning and practice you will be well on your way to turning those job interviews into job offers. To help you in your job search, we have compiled the following tips to help you gain confidence and enter interviews feeling prepared.
Before the Interview
You’ve heard the phrase, “Do your research” before going into an interview, but what does that mean when interviewing for a social work position? To prepare, you will need to gather basic information such as the organization’s mission, services provided, and the job requirements. Also, understand the strengths and challenges of the client population whom the agency services, recent trends in providing service, and evidence-based practices used to support clients. Create a list of resources available for the target group. This type of preparation shows employers that you are ready to hit the ground running.
For those with experience, prepare examples of how you assessed a problem (either for a client or within an organization), the steps required to resolve it, and the outcome.
If you do not have a lot of experience serving the population, identify which therapeutic frameworks you plan to use and why. Be prepared to describe how you might structure a particular session or create a service plan.
During the Interview
Remember, in some ways, the interview starts before you enter the agency. Prospective employers will be assessing your email communications and phone conversations, so think of every contact as a professional interaction. Bring your best self forward. Before the interview process, in the waiting room for example, be polite and be aware of your body language. For example, if you are in the reception area with clients and you appear uncomfortable or impatient, staff might wonder how you’ll react when working with clients. Be conscious of professional boundaries.
Once in the interview, carefully listen to questions and do your best to answer them directly. Show your attentiveness through your body language and let your personality shine through. In your answers, remember to express your dedication to the organization’s mission; demonstrate your understanding of the clients they service; convey your ability to help achieve effective outcomes; and show that you are a team player.
In addition to common interview questions, there are some social work related questions your interviewers might ask that you’ll want to prepare for:
Why are you interested in working for our organization or with this population?
This question is often asked at the beginning of interviews. Use it as an opportunity to awaken the interviewers with your energy, passion, drive, and desire to better understand and empower the populations you are serving. Incorporate relevant information from your research or share a professional experience that helped you identify with this particular field.
What social work theories or therapeutic modalities would you apply when working with this target group?
Often asked of new social workers, this question helps interviewers see how you would approach the work. Cite a case study or an experience from your field placement that shows the relevance of the theory. A benefit of being a recent MSW graduate is that you have plenty of theories and evidence-based practices fresh in your memory bank.
How would you address the following situation … ?
The interviewers may relay a typical challenge that social workers within the agency face. It might be difficult to determine the right steps, and the employer does not expect you to have the exact answer. Instead, they want to see your critical thinking skills and approach to solving problems. Revert to the basic tenants of your social work education: assessing client needs, empowering them, and capitalizing on their resources.
Do you have any questions?
This can be one of the most important questions asked during an interview. Asking the right questions during an interview shows that you’ve done your research on the organization ahead of time and that you are an inquisitive thinker. You also want to ensure that you have all the information you need to make an educated decision about whether or not to accept the position if it is offered to you. An important question to ask if you are a recent graduate and are hoping to become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) is if the appropriate supervision will be provided to meet licensure requirements. Other questions that you should consider asking your interviewers are:
- What qualities are you looking for in the social worker to fill this role?
- What is the work environment like in the agency?
- What is the size of this position’s caseload?
- What is the source of the program’s funding? Is there a secondary source in the case that the primary funding body no longer supports the program?
- What sort of continuing education and professional development opportunities exist at this agency?
- Who will be providing supervision, and is she/he licensed? If not, will the agency make arrangements for licensed supervision or consultation. Without this, you cannot qualify for licensure in any state.
After the Interview
Once you’ve aced your interview, it is important that you follow up with your interviewers. A thoughtful thank-you note or email is always appreciated. Use your note to thank your interviewers for their time and ask any follow-up questions you may have. You can also take this opportunity to ask when you might hear from them regarding their hiring decision. Remember, this could be your last opportunity to express your interest in the position and serving the target population, so make it count.
Even though you’ve earned your MSW, a lot of learning will happen within the first few years of working within the community you choose to serve. Use the interview as an opportunity to determine whether the position and the agency will help you achieve your goals.
The more you practice for interviews, the easier they will become. The Simmons Career Education Center provides useful information and resources to help you in your search. No matter what job you choose, remember that you’ll be helping those who need it most and making a difference in your community with a rewarding career in social work.