Taking time to properly prepare will help you to give the best account of yourself during the interview:
Research the Employer
Always research the council or organisation you’re interviewing for. Have they had any recent press coverage? Are they running any new initiatives or transformation projects in social services? Take time to look at their website, and look at their most up-to-date Ofsted inspection or other relevant reports. Ensure you take note of anything that may impact the position you’re interviewing for.
It’s obvious to interviewers when a candidate has done their research, and having this information to hand gives you opportunities to impress.
Sharpen your Social Work Knowledge
Make sure you are up-to-date on recent news and developments in social work before the interview. Research any new or upcoming legislation that might affect your role – for example, the forthcoming Children and Social Work Bill. Being able to understand and discuss these topical issues will show you are knowledgeable, and will help you tailor answers to the interviewer’s questions.
Analyse your Strengths and Weaknesses
Your interviewer will likely ask plenty of questions about you and your abilities. Recognising your strengths and weaknesses means you can better anticipate and prepare for their questions. Take time to compare your CV to the job description and person specification and consider the skills and abilities you can showcase. Also, think about the weaknesses or areas of development your interviewer might ask about. If the job advert is very brief, ask for a full job description beforehand.
It’s important to have examples and evidence of when you have demonstrated your strengths, so take time to think about real cases or situations which you can describe to your interviewer. Similarly, be critical and think of strategies to address your weaknesses. For example, if you think your interviewer might ask about a lack of post-qualified experience, point out your voluntary and placement work.
Anticipate Likely Questions
The questions asked in the interview will likely include general questions on social work as well as specific questions relating to your team or service user group. For example, they may ask you about what the importance of supervision is, or what you think makes an effective child protection social worker .
Questions like these will give the interviewer a better idea of your ability, your approach to the work, and whether this approach matches up with the organisation’s own. By anticipating these potential themes and questions in advance, you can give a stronger answer if they are brought up in the interview.
There's no need to over-prepare or script your answers to all the individual questions that might come up. Instead, you should be prepared to discuss these topics in depth.
Expect Competency-Based Questions
Competency-based questions are popular in social work interviews. A competency-based question requires you to describe a situation from experience, showing how you acted, the reasons why and the outcomes. They are designed to demonstrate your skills and abilities in real-life situations. For example, the interviewer may ask you to describe a time when you had to build a relationship with a difficult service user.
To prepare for this, remember the STAR technique. Describe the Situation you were in (S), the Task you needed to complete (T), the Action you took (A), and what the Result was for you and others (R).
Prepare your own Questions
The interviewer shouldn’t be the only person asking questions. Preparing your own questions can help you gain crucial information about the role, the team, and the way the organisation is run. This will allow you to decide whether the job appeals to you, and to tailor your responses to fit the interviewer’s requirements more closely.
Intelligent questions will also impress the interviewer and demonstrate your insight into the role. You could ask about the team’s work – what computer system they use, what their thresholds and assessment timeframes are, and the challenges they’re currently facing. You could also enquire about what CPD and support opportunities would be available if you took the post. Make sure these questions are intelligent, and not just about your salary or holiday allowance.
You may even wish to write down these questions on a notepad in advance and take it into the room with you. Not only will this be a useful guide, it will also show that you value the role enough to visibly prepare for the interview.
You’ve done your research and prepared thoroughly, now it’s time for the interview itself:
You'll want to make a good first impression, and how you look is a big part of that. Not all social work departments have a strict dress code, but even if the organisation you’re interviewing with allows casual clothing, it’s best to avoid this for your interview. If in doubt, try to dress slightly smarter than you normally would at work.
Be on Time
Your interview is your chance to make a first impression – if you can’t make it there on time, why should the employer expect you to turn up on time once you’ve got the job? You should aim to arrive at the interview slightly before your allocated time, as this shows you are punctual and prepared. Always remember, it’s better to be 15 minutes early than five minutes late.
The interview begins when you enter the building. You might meet a receptionist when you arrive, or have a casual conversation with the interviewer on your way to the interview room. What you say and how you act in these situations too.
Turn off your Mobile Phone
Always turn your phone off before an interview. You should be focused on the task in hand – giving the best account of yourself possible. Your mobile going off may distract from this, and your interviewer will not appreciate it interrupting the interview.
How you act in the room is a big part of the interview. Think about your body language – behaviours like crossing your arms, slumping and fidgeting in your seat may distract from what you’re saying. Adopting positive, open body language, such as sitting up straight and making eye contact, will project confidence and enthusiasm to your interviewer.
Get a Feel for the Work Culture
Seeing the office on the way to the interview room should help you get a feel for the work culture, and you can ask your interviewers questions based on what you see. For example, you could ask whether you’re seeing the office at a busy time, or whether they use a hot-desking system.
The best way to explore this is asking your own questions, such as what they think is the most important quality for someone joining the team, or what the best thing about working for their organisation is. Knowing more about the team and its work culture may inform your decision on whether this is the right post for you.
Relax and Speak Clearly
Interview nerves are perfectly natural and nothing to worry about. However you will be able to give a better account of yourself if you can relax, consider your answers and communicate them clearly. Take a second to think about the interviewer’s questions before responding. They want you to succeed, and will not mind you composing your thoughts if it leads to your best possible answer.
If you find yourself speaking too quickly, slow down. If you lose your train of thought or feel you have wandered off-topic, compose yourself and start again if necessary. Speaking clearly will help you put your point across more effectively.
Listen to the Interviewer
A common mistake to make in an interview is to answer the question you have prepared for rather than the question which is being asked. Instead, listen carefully to your interviewer so you can answer it properly. If you don’t understand or didn’t quite hear the question, don’t worry about asking them to repeat it, rephrase it or explain something further.
Another advantage of listening carefully to your interviewer is that you will pick up clues and valuable information about the organisation and the role. This will be useful to inform your answers, and may also give you ideas for your own questions.