Social Worker Interview Questions
A social worker is responsible for assessing a client’s life problems and helping alleviate them. These can include problems with substance abuse, domestic abuse, neglect, mental health issues, and emotional issues.
Social workers typically work for state and federal agencies, rendering assistance to a specific area, but they can also work in schools, hospitals, and private firms. Clinical social workers have more specialized training to address mental health issues and provide diagnosis and therapy both to individuals as well as groups such as families.
A social worker's responsibilities include:
- Assessing the patient’s medical and mental state
- Facilitating conflict resolution between family members
- Investigating cases of neglect and abuse
- Referring patients to community resources
- Providing group and individual counseling
- Keeping track of patient progress
A social worker's skills include:
- The ability to communicate with patients in distress
- Conflict resolution skills to resolve difficult situations
- The ability to lead groups in discussions
- Active listening and social perceptiveness skills
- The ability to perform complex problem solving
To qualify as a social worker of any kind, an applicant must possess a bachelor's degree in psychology or social work. Previous experience in social work is also required, either through previous employment or academic internships. Clinical social workers require separate training in medical disciplines such as psychology.
Salaries for social workers range between $60K and $82K with the median being $71K.
Factors impacting the salary you receive as a social worker include:
- Degrees (associate's, bachelor's, master's)
- Size and Type of the Organization
- Reporting Structure (seniority of the anager or supervisor you report to)
- Level of Performance - exceeding expectations, etc.
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Social Worker Interview Questions
Question: Why have you chosen to apply to this organization, and how does it fit with your professional experience?
Explanation: This is a general question the interviewer will use to begin the conversation, learn more about your background, and collect information they can use throughout the interview. The assumption is that you’ve researched the organization before applying to this job and accepting the interview. You should be able to provide the interviewer with your impression of and some details about the organization and how this role matches your experience and skill set.
Answer: “When looking for my next role, I researched many social service agencies in this region. I chose to apply to this agency because of the important work it does, its target client population, the leadership of the organization, and the stability of its funding sources. I believe this is an ideal next step to my career, and I am looking forward to becoming a member of the team.”
Question: What do you believe is the most critical aspect of managing a client’s emotions?
Explanation: Social workers typically engage with clients who are facing challenging situations. Most clients are likely to be emotional and may exhibit signs of being high strung, nervous, afraid, or some other strong emotion. Your ability to address and deal with these is critical to this job.
Answer: “Almost every client I work with expresses strong emotions, either positive or negative. This is due to their stress due to the challenges they are facing and the situations they are in. I’ve found the best way to address this is to first acknowledge their emotions and how this is natural due to the situation they are facing. I then suggest that by getting their emotions in check, we can turn our attention to the real issues and find solutions to their problems. I sometimes reinforce this by relating stories of previous clients who were facing similar challenges but overcame them and are now succeeding.”
Question: What steps would you take if a client disagreed with your clinical approach or treatment plan?
Explanation: This is an operational question. Operational questions seek to understand how you go about doing your job. The best way to answer an operational question is directly and briefly. The interviewer will ask a follow-up question if they want to explore the topic in more detail. As a social worker, you should anticipate that most of the questions you are asked during an interview will be operational questions.
Answer: “In my experience, most clients agree with my clinical approach and the treatment plans I recommend. However, on occasion, a client will challenge me. This usually occurs if they have a great deal of experience working with counselors or just have a combative nature. When confronted with this, I listen to the suggestions and then explain how we can incorporate some of their ideas into the plan. I also explain how some of their ideas may not be compatible with our desired outcome for the counseling. This usually resolves the situation.”
Question: Tell me about your experience working with the population we serve.
Explanation: Individual social agencies usually deal with a specific target population. Additionally, since you mentioned one of the reasons you chose to apply to this agency was because of their target population, you should be able to describe why you enjoy working with this group and what skills or experience you bring to the situation. This is an example of a follow-up question since the interviewer is using information you provided in your very first answer.
Answer: “I have a great deal of experience dealing with the target population your agency serves. During college, I interned with an agency similar to yours and learned a lot of skills related to this population. Based on that, I finished my studies by focusing on this specific group, learning more about the causes of their challenges and specific ways to address them. Combined, my education, experience, and skill set is perfect for the type of people to whom you provide services.”
Question: How do you feel about the paperwork associated with being a social worker?
Explanation: Paperwork and administrative duties are a part of just about any job. By asking this question, the interviewer is seeking to understand how you feel about this and your willingness to complete the paperwork on time and accurately. The one thing you do not want to do is complain about the paperwork or talk about how it distracts you from the main duties you should be performing. This is an example of trying to stay positive throughout the interview, even if the topic is negative.
Answer: “I learned early in my career that social work requires quite a bit of paperwork. This is due to the nature of the job, the clients we work with, and the sources of funding for the agency. I reserve specific times during the day to address the paperwork requirements and make sure the forms and reports are filled out completely and accurately and submitted on time. I found ways to automate this process using templates and other online tools. By reducing the time needed to complete the required paperwork, I can focus on the clients and the services I provide them.”
Question: What is your strategy for locating resources in a community in which you are new and have no relationships?
Explanation: This is another operational question. This question seeks to understand how you go about developing relationships and locating resources not provided directly by the agency. Your experience, either interning or working as a social worker, should have taught you different ways to accomplish this.
Answer: “A critical part of a social worker’s job is the ability to collaborate with organizations, individuals, and resources outside of the agency to provide the services our clients need. My strategy for doing this is to research the local area to understand the resources available and what organizations are providing them. I then execute a strategy for introducing myself to these organizations and networking with individuals within them. Developing these relationships is critical and usually results in my having access to any resource I need to help my clients.”
Question: How do you go about networking with these other agencies and social work professionals to help you provide services to your clients?
Explanation: This is a follow up to the previous question. As mentioned earlier, any time you provide an answer to a question, you should anticipate a follow up from the interviewer. Follow-up questions indicate the interviewer has a specific interest in this topic. This is a signal for you to provide a more in-depth answer since the topic is important to them.
Answer: “I have found the best way to network with other agencies and professionals in my industry is face to face. I actively seek them out, schedule meetings with them to introduce myself, and then keep in touch via phone calls and emails. I also go to industry events, shows, and meetings at which other professionals are in attendance. The key to networking is to be consistent and do it regularly.”
Question: What are the characteristics of your ideal supervisor, and how do you prefer to interact with your supervisors?
Explanation: This is a tricky question to answer. Being too specific may offend the interviewer, who might also be the hiring manager and your future supervisor. Any time you’re asked a question which requires you to characterize an individual in the organization, you should be very general and focus on the positive characteristics that individual may exhibit.
Answer: “If I had to characterize my ideal supervisor, it would be somebody who first made a good hire. This would enable them to trust the individual they placed into the position to do their job. I prefer to work for somebody who would provide me with a good initial briefing and any training I needed, make the resources I needed to do my job available to me, and would be available to support me when needed. They would then step back and allow me to do my job. The three words I would use to characterize this person would be confident, trusting, and supportive.”
Question: What is the biggest accomplishment you are most proud of in your experience as a social worker?
Explanation: While this is a general question, it provides the interviewer with a wealth of information. By highlighting your most significant accomplishment, you’re indicating what you’re good at, the type of work you like to do, and any awards or recognition you may have received. What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question is whether your accomplishments and the characteristics mentioned align with the role for which they are interviewing you.
Answer: “Without a doubt, the accomplishment I am most proud of during my career as a social worker is helping a homeless family get off the street and back to the lifestyle they enjoyed before things went south on them. I first focused on finding them shelter which enabled them to have a safe place to live, get the children enrolled in school, and allowed the mother and father to find work. I then assisted the parents in locating jobs and childcare services. Over time, the family not only succeeded, but the mom went on to get a master’s degree, which enabled her to get a better job. Within three years of encountering this homeless family, they owned their own home and were succeeding.”
Question: What steps would you take if a client walked into a counseling session and appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
Explanation: Unfortunately, many clients who require intervention by social workers also have substance abuse problems. While addressing this may not be the primary responsibility of the social worker, they still need to deal with the situation and its impact on the services they are providing to the client. Your answer should reflect what immediate action you would take, as well as any follow up you would do to assist the client in dealing with their substance abuse issues.
Answer: “Unfortunately, many of the clients I work with also have some substance abuse problems. This doesn’t typically manifest itself during one of our counseling sessions, but it will occasionally happen. The first thing I do is acknowledge the client is under the influence of something and continuing the session would not be productive for them. I then make some gentle inquiries as to what assistance they have sought to address this problem. I offer to refer them to another organization or agency that can help them with this issue. If they are interested, I follow up with a referral. If not, I terminate the session and make it clear that we cannot work together if they show up in this condition.”
Additional Social Worker Interview Questions
What would you consider to be the most difficult case you’ve worked on? Describe the experience.
What ethical dilemmas can you see yourself having to deal with in this line of work?
What, if any, background in psychology do you have?
What type of situations do you find the most difficult to mediate?
What type of patients do you find the most difficult to counsel?
What is your approach to crisis management?
When investigating cases of potential abuse, what signs do you look for?
What was it that drew you to pursue a career in social work?
How do you begin to develop trust with a new patient?
How comfortable are you making visits to patients’ homes?
A word of warning when using question lists.
Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.
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