On a mission to become a social worker? Got a job interview on Monday? Eek.
While you can never really know what to expect from a job interview, the least you can do is brace yourself for the most common questions you might be asked.
If you’re struggling to find the answers or you don’t really know how to put them into words, have no fear! We’ve listed the top 10 social work interview questions and answers so you can truly prepare yourself and have your responses ready ahead of the big day.
1. ‘What made you go into social work?’
Employers want to hear more than just ‘I have a desire to help others’. Most importantly, refrain from saying it’s because you graduated in this field.
Instead, reveal your commitment to the job and how much you believe social work is essential to society. Perhaps bring up a personal story and explain what led you to choose this profession.
Sample answer: ‘I want to make a difference in the lives of maltreated children. I see and hear about the challenges they face every day in abusive/unhealthy households, and I want to be the one to improve this situation. Being a child protection social worker can help me help them find the right direction in life. I thrive to not only help but also empower, motivate and advocate for this target group.’
2. ‘Why have you chosen this specific field of social work?’
Social work is a vast field. There are those who prefer to work with children, others with substance abusers or clients with mental health problems. Whatever your preference is, make it clear in the interview and explain why you’re interested in this particular field.
Aim to use a compassionate tone and, if relevant, try to speak from personal experience.
Sample answer: ‘I believe that my place is with alcoholics. I grew up dealing with a family member fighting against alcohol abuse, and now that I am old enough, I believe it is the right time for me to make a change in these people’s lives. Seeing it first-hand has taught me how these fighters think and what they need, and I want to be the one to give them just that.’
3. ‘Can you tell us your strengths and weaknesses as a social worker?’
This question comes up in almost every interview, irrespective of the role you’re applying for. If you’re unsure of the answer, ask a friend, family member or previous colleague to help you out.
You want to leave the best possible impression on your interviewer, even if it does mean highlighting your weaknesses. As long as you mention that you strive to overcome them, you’ll be on the right track.
Sample answer: ‘I believe I have great communication skills. In fact, I’ve been told I’m quite a people-person. I can remain calm in conflict situations and find the right solutions in times of crisis, and I find that I am extremely responsible. I would say that my weakness is perhaps being too honest, although this is a trait I am working to improve.’
4. ‘How do you balance your work and personal life?’
Balancing between work and your personal life as a social worker can be tough. It’s difficult to not bring the case home or get that phone call from a client during your Sunday roast.
The goal of this difficult question (which will most certainly arise) is to see if you can handle work interfering with your personal life, or perhaps to detect whether you’ll be willing to do some overtime.
Sample answer: ‘I’m a rather organised person, and I’m able to separate between work and home. I have a [partner/family member/friend] to take care of any necessities at home, so if my job demands that I do overtime or work on the weekends, that’s fine. I’m willing to give this job 100% because it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.’
5. ‘Would you be prepared to make home visits?’
Visiting clients in their homes is a critical part of a social worker’s role. This can sometimes be a risky or emotionally challenging situation, and the interviewer will want to see if you’re prepared for it.
Answering this question with a ‘yes’ is obviously the right way to go, but make sure to also express confidence.
Sample answer: ‘I am absolutely ready and mentally prepared for home visits. I’m aware that these situations can be challenging, but I have enough experience/confidence to do it. In the case of an uncomfortable circumstance, I know to remain calm and seek help if need be. Either way, home visits are the best way to get to know a client outside of the office.’
6. ‘In your experience, what kind of clients are the most difficult to work with?’
This is where your interviewer will try to identify your stress levels and how well you can deal with difficult clients, whether they are adults or children.
A basic interview tip, in this case, is to avoid answering this question with negativity. Put the positive in dealing with a difficult client and, most importantly, avoid blaming them for their hostility.
Sample answer: ‘I certainly find it hard working with uncooperative, angry clients, although I never give up in motivating them. In a difficult situation, I always focus on the good, and I put myself in the client’s shoes. I understand that the angriest clients are those who have no hope or who feel betrayed on a constant basis. When faced with an uncooperative or angry client, I try to approach them in various ways to see and learn what method works best.’
7. ‘Can you tell us any vivid signs of abuse?’
Your answer to this question will amplify your strengths and capabilities as a social worker. Knowing and being able to identify the signs of abuse in any target group, whether it be children, teenagers or the elderly will prove to the interviewer that you have sufficient knowledge or experience in this sector.
When answering this typical social work question, avoid sounding compassionate. You need to provide quick, factual and serious answers.
Sample answer: ‘Mood changes are a tell-tale sign that something isn’t right. Depression, social withdrawal, sensitivity or acts of violence are clear symptoms of possible abuse. Most evident are the physical changes in the client such as unexplained bruises, cuts or scars. Minuscule signs such as broken toys or glasses could also signal abuse.’
8. ‘How do you plan on building a relationship with the client?’
Being a social worker is all about winning the trust of your client. During your interview, you’ll have to express how you plan on doing this. Whether you’re faced with a drug addict, orphan or disgruntled teenager, you must tell your interviewer how important it is for you to get close to the client.
Sample answer: ‘I want the client to feel that they can open up to me and see me as a friend rather than just their social worker. By spending quality time with them, laughing, crying with them and expressing empathy, they should feel more relaxed with me. I meet them at the same wavelength, I in no way patronise them, and I might even dress like them and speak the way they do so they feel some sort of connection to me.’
9. ‘How would you handle a difficult/aggressive client?’
Being a social worker involves dealing with client mood swings. Worst case scenario, the client becomes aggressive and uncontrollable.
You will be asked this question in order to test your patience and conflict-resolving skills. Highlight that you are able to manage angry clients by being empathetic, that you have the ability to stay calm and that you can set boundaries in such situations.
Sample answer: ’During challenging situations like this, it’s very important that you stay calm and collected. You must avoid retaliating, shouting or taking things personally. By showing empathy, listening and staying composed, you will have better control over the situation, and you’ll show the client that you’re not against them but very much with them.’
10. ‘Why should we hire you for this position?’
This one should come as no surprise as it’s one of the most common job interview questions asked. This is your chance to shine and really prove your experience and skills in social working.
You don’t want to respond with anything too cliché, but you should indeed highlight why you’ll be better than the next candidate.
Sample answer: ‘I am self-driven and eager to make a change in the lives of my target group. I’m ready to take on any case and meet new clients who need support and, most importantly, I’m constantly up for a challenge. With my great interpersonal skills, responsibility, vast experience and determination to succeed, I believe I can certainly be this positive change and provide a light for those who are in need.
As long as you come across as sincere, passionate and confident about social work, you’ll have ticked several boxes during the interview process.
We hope that these questions and answers have best prepared you for your social work interview. Once your interview is over, make sure to come back and let us know what other questions you were asked in the comments section below!