Secret social worker: the interview process

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This week I had someone walk out of an interview for a job in our service, in the middle of question three. That’s never happened in all the – what feels like – millions of people I’ve interviewed. No one has ever stood up and said “Nope! I can’t do this” and walked away. The shame of it was they were doing really well up until that point.

I’ve had people cry as soon as an interview has started. I had someone point at me and say “There’s no point sitting there thinking you’re better than everyone else,” which was after saying they would share their cigarettes with young people to get them to like them. And I’ve had people spend the whole interview saying how nervous they are and very little else.

Interviews are difficult but those examples are the exceptions that break the endless monotony that is the social work interview. When you walk into a social work interview know that we have been sat there asking the same handful of questions all day, sometimes for a few days. We’re bored, each one has bled into one another and we’d very much like to hear something else.

Most social workers we interview are straight out of university and answers to questions tend to be very similar. So here are some social work interview tips:

1. We do care about punctuality but if your sat nav has taken you to the wrong office or some disaster has made you late, it isn’t the end of the world. You will not be marked down for that, so take a minute, pull yourself together and blow us away.

2. Do your prep and not just generic prep – look into the organisation. What was the last inspection like? What information is available online for the people we work with? This will tell you the focus and direction of the organisation.

3. Listen to the question and don’t over-complicate it. If you don’t know the process or legislation we’re talking about, what does common sense tell you you should do?

4. Don’t just recite legislation and theory and leave it there – tell us what that means to a child or whichever group of people you are applying to work with. Bring every answer back to that. We hear people quoting things blindly all day. We want to know how you are going to use that to make a difference.

5. Don’t be afraid to be idealistic. If you want to change the world, tell us.

6. When we ask if you have any questions don’t ask about training or your first assessed and supported year in employment. Everyone asks that. It won’t make a difference to how you’re marked – we’ve just been listening to that all day. I did have someone ask me once: “On the basis of this interview is there any reason you wouldn’t hire me?” Very brave move, I don’t know if it would land well with everyone. Maybe think about what you want to achieve as a social worker and ask a question about that.

Interviewing for any job is hard and it’s really difficult to tell from an interview who is going to be great at their job. Some of the best social workers I know fall apart in interviews and some social workers who have really struggled in practice interview amazingly. I spoke to the person who walked out the next day. They said they overthought the question, became really anxious and just couldn’t sit there any longer. I hope they apply again. There was potential there. One bad interview isn’t a reflection of your work.

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