Are you an MSW looking for a social work job?
Whether you are just graduating from social work school or you are looking for a different job, one of the keys to success is having good interview skills. If you are invited to interview for a social work position, it means your resume has helped you get your foot in the door and you are only a few steps away from landing the job!
Now they want to meet you in person. How you perform in your interview is critical. Anyone can look good on paper, so the interview is intended to see how you are in real life. I know from my experience as an interviewer that people can look amazing on their resume, but when they come to interview they come across as real duds.
I believe the main reason for this is because the candidates haven’t prepared. Interviewing well is not something that comes naturally to most people. It is a lot like public speaking – and in a small sense, it is public speaking except in the case of the interview you are actually trying to convince your audience (the interviewers) to take a chance and hire you. So there is more on the line than giving a speech, yet many people don’t put nearly the effort they should into prepping for it.
At the Therapist Development Center, we believe that preparing for your interview is more than half the battle – it’s the whole battle! That is why we created this overview of the 20 most commonly asked social work interview questions and our TDC tips for success.
We recommend you review this a couple times, share it with a friend, and do practice interviews with each other. Practice away!
Common Social Work Interview Questions
1) What led you to apply for this job?
TDC Tips: Be able to discuss specifics of the job description that you found interesting; identify specific reasons why your specific skill set fits the job description; and always express a passion about the job and the agency, for example: “I’ve always been interested in working with homeless vets. I feel really strongly that after bravely serving our country, vets deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I am excited about working for an agency that is doing such important work.”
2) What interests you about working for our agency?
TDC Tips: Identify how your interests match up with the agency’s mission; be able to show that you have done your homework in terms of researching the agency and understanding its programs and emphases; Specifically mention that you have reviewed the website and learned x, y, z, that really impressed you about the work they are doing. If you have any colleagues that have told you information about the agency, you can say “I heard from my colleague Sara Jones, that this is a really great agency and it is well respected in the community.”
3) What interests you about working with the XYZ population?
TDC Tips: If the agency serves the homeless, discuss why you are interested in working with the homeless population; if you’re applying for a job in a clinic for cancer patients, be able to discuss what interests you about working with cancer patients (you get the idea).You should be able to demonstrate WHY you want to work with this group, your understanding of the issues that the group might face, etc. If it is a population you haven’t worked with before, you should be honest about that and try to show links between other clinical work you have done that is related to that.
4) What training and experience do you have that would make you a good fit for this position or for this agency?
TDC Tips: This is the point in the interview where you would go over your resume with the interviewer. Even if you don’t have experience working with the specific population, be able to make a link between the experience you have and what the position calls for or what you understand the agency culture to be.
5) Have you read the job description? Do you have any questions?
TDC Tips: You should have at least one question (preferably a couple) that reflect your understanding of the job description – it helps show the interviewer that you’ve done your homework and understand what they are looking for, but it also helps you gather more information for yourself. So, if the position requires home visiting, you could ask a question about how the agency trains and supports staff in preparing for potential crises in the community setting.
More Specific, Tougher Questions:
6) Tell me about a case you worked on where you felt you were particularly effective.
TDC Tips: You should be able to give a brief overview of the case: who the client was, the presenting problem, your approach, any struggles along the way, and the outcome. Highlight specific things that you did that were helpful and how you and the client defined “success.” It is important to acknowledge what you learned from the case. It is also better to share that you initially struggled then found your way with a case then making it sound like it was easy from the get-go. People who work in the field know that every case has its challenges. It isn’t realistic to make it sound like it was easy for you.
7) Tell me about the toughest case you ever worked on.
TDC Tips: Again, be able to give an overview of the case and then be able to describe what made it so tough – a complex diagnosis, environmental challenges, etc., and discuss what you did to try and work through the challenges. It’s okay to talk about a case that wasn’t particularly successful – but what lessons did you learn from the challenges? Don’t get bogged down in blaming others (like your supervisor, the agency, etc.). The interviewer is looking for your ability to reflect on a difficult experience, your understanding that not every case is a shining success story, and that you’ve experienced professional growth as a result of the challenges.
8) Here’s a case example: now walk me through the assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation process.
TDC Tips: Discuss particulars of the assessment: any structured instruments you would want to use, or specific areas of focus. What are the possible treatment goals and objectives for this client? What interventions would you use and why? How would you know if it was working? What would progress look like for this client? Interviewers want to know that you can see the whole (the overall conceptualization) and the parts (a particular risk factor, the need for a referral, etc.).
9) What types of clients are difficult for you to work with? What are your thoughts on why that might be?
TDC Tips: We all have certain clients who push our buttons, and it’s okay to identify this here. Interviewers want to know that you have reflected on your strengths and understand yourself and your capabilities. If it’s genuine, you can link the “why” to a relative strength that you have: like if it’s very difficult for you to work with overstressed, preoccupied parents, link this to your passion and commitment to helping children and wanting them to get the attention and support that they need to grow and develop.
10) How and when do you use supervision? What type of supervision do you prefer?
TDC Tips: If possible, use specific examples to demonstrate your use of supervision and be able to identify whether or not you like a lot of oversight/feedback or are more comfortable being independent.
11) What is it about supervisors, clients and co-workers that can frustrate you? How do you handle your frustrations?
TDC Tips: Avoid bad-mouthing anyone. This is NOT an opportunity to bash whatever agency you worked at last, or one of your internships, or a client population that you’d prefer to avoid, but rather a chance to discuss how you handle conflict in the workplace – and you should demonstrate that you CAN handle conflict in professional relationships and work through it in a healthy way. If someone does something frustrating, how do you handle it? Are you professional and direct in your approach? If a client frustrates you, do you use consultation and/or supervision to work through your frustration? Again, if it’s possible to link your particular buttons (the WHAT of the question) to a strength in a genuine way, do it – if you are frustrated by supervisors or coworkers who are disorganized because you like to maintain a sense of order in your work, talk about this and then how you would or have handled it.
12) What is your work style? What do you do to seek balance in your life?
TDC Tips: Talk about your preferences – do you work best in a collaborative environment or are you more independent? You could mention environmental or social factors that enhance your productivity or performance (like an open working environment, lots of contact with colleagues, professional development activities, etc.). And then discuss how you approach self-care; identify ways in which you manage your stress or actively work to prevent burnout. Show the interviewer a bit of who you are, while maintaining good boundaries – this is an opportunity to demonstrate that you have good boundaries, both in your professional life AND in the interview itself (oversharing is NOT recommended and would hint at poor judgment).
13) What do you do when you are faced with an ethical conflict? Have you experienced this in your work? What can you tell me about how you handled this?
TDC Tips: If you can recall a specific example, that’s ideal – give an overview of the dilemma, what you struggled with and what you felt your choices were in terms of action. Then discuss how you handled the situation and the outcome, if appropriate; if you haven’t had this experience, talk about your preferred approach and how you imagine this would go.
Career-Oriented Social Work Interview Questions:
14) What are your career goals?
TDC Tips: Interviewers want to know that you’re thinking long term and not just until your next paycheck. If your career goals don’t line up with the agency’s mission or if you’re interested in specializing in a population that you won’t be working with, you’ll want to go for a genuine, but less specific answer. If you are taking a clinical position, and you aren’t already licensed, you should talk about your goal of becoming licensed. You can even mention that you have researched good social work exam preparation programs to help you pass. That shows that you are motivated. Most agencies require you to be licensed in order to supervise, so if you want to move up you are going to need your license.
15) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
TDC Tips: Again, you’ll want to demonstrate that you’ve thought about where you’re going and how you see yourself progressing as a professional – Do you hope to be licensed? To be working in private practice in addition to doing agency work? To be supervising others? To be in an administrative position? People like to be flattered. One thing you can do with this type of question is saying something like, “I know I want to work in some way with this population. I really like clinical work, but once I get more experience I anticipate that I will want additional challenges like supervising and managing others. What is your role here at the agency?” Let the person answer. Find something in what they do that interests you. Then say, “Yeah, in 5 years I hope to be on the pathway to doing work like you are doing. I think our field needs good people at the top, overseeing everything.”
16) At this point, what is your level of interest in the job?
TDC Tips: You should be able to articulate and demonstrate a genuine interest in the specifics of the job – not just the idea of getting a paycheck or logging hours, but interest that reflects your understanding of the position, agency, and community served.
17) What is your availability?
TDC Tips: Be honest, but also consider the potential benefits of being flexible. Don’t refuse to work evenings if that’s a condition of employment, but if you have childcare responsibilities at home, let them know that you wouldn’t be able to work every evening.
18) What questions can I answer for you?
TDC Tips: You should always have questions ready at this point in the interview – interviewers want to know that you’ve thought and considered the position, and this is reflected in your curiosity. Some possible questions include: How would you describe the work culture of this agency? What is the typical career track of social workers here? What type of supervision will I receive, and how often? Where does the agency get its funding from? What kinds of professional development activities do employees here engage in?
Social Work Interview Questions of a more specific nature, dependent on the position:
19) What is your theoretical orientation?
TDC Tips: Even if you practice “eclectically” you should be able to discuss the theories or modalities that you draw your approach from – how do you view clients, their problems, and potential solutions? If you know that the agency uses a particular theoretical model, you don’t have to pledge allegiance, but you should demonstrate an understanding of how this model might fit in with your established approach. Hopefully, you have done your research on the agency and if there is any indication of their orientation you should read up on it and be able to talk about it.
20) What are the risk assessment/signs of abuse and/or neglect?
TDC Tips: First be aware of the population and the culture of the clients you’ll be working with and how this might impact your assessment of risk signs. You’ll want to be able to identify specific risk factors and/or signs that you would look for in interactions with clients. This may also be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge of state and local regulations regarding reporting and your comfort in your role as a mandated reporter.
Do you have other professional development questions related to the field of social work? Contact us and we will try to figure out the answer for you.
I like how you talked about how you should show interest in the specifics of the job and not just the idea of getting a paycheck. When it comes to doing social work, I like seeing people that enjoy doing their work for the people they do the work for. Thank you for your tips on social work and interviews.
I like that you said that you can find some questions online about the 20 most commonly asked questions about social working. My cousin told me that he was going to get ready to take his social work exam. I'm going to share with him this information so that he can prepare himself for it.