Top 30 Social Work Interview Questions (Example Answers Included)

By Mike Simpson

Social workers are unsung heroes. When people are struggling, social workers spring into action. They deftly cut through red tape using the power of their knowledge, and they forge connections between people in need and supportive services that can help them thrive. It’s all about making a difference, the kind of difference that lets people live better lives.

Source: BLS.gov

For many, that alone makes pursuing social work as a career appealing. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities. Demand for social workers is rising, with the anticipated growth rate between 2018 and 2028 coming in at an astounding 11 percent. That’s about 81,000 more openings, each one looking for a superhero in a cardigan sweater.

But, even with skyrocketing demand and the right mindset, you still have to show the hiring manager that you’re the ideal person for the job. How do you pull that off? By nailing your social work interview questions, of course. Simple, right? Well, yes and no.

Navigating an interview can be tricky. Luckily, we have your back. Let’s take a look at what you need to do to tackle social work interview questions.

How to Answer Social Work Interview Questions

Okay, we know that social work interview questions (and the answers!) is what you came for, and we promise those are coming. The trick is, you can’t make the most of those examples if you don’t get a grip on your technique first. That way, you can take those samples and see why they work; you won’t just have to take our word for it.

Alright, now that you’re on board, let’s talk interview strategy. With just a couple of tried-and-true approaches, you can be ready for almost anything, so let’s start there.

First, the name of the game is research. By digging deep into your social worker job description, you learn important tidbits about what an ideal candidate looks like, at least as far as the hiring manager is concerned.

You’ll find a clear outline of critical skills and traits that the hiring manager considers priorities. By speaking to those, you are focusing on what’s relevant to the interviewer.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. You also want to take a trip to the organization’s website. Once there, read the mission and values statements.

Why?

Because they let you learn more about the organization’s goals and priorities. Not only are these clues about its culture, but it also gives you some additional details to weave into your interview.

MIKE'S TIP: Mission and values statements are a reflection of an organization’s attitude and goals. They often serve as guiding tenets for its behavior and decision-making processes, as well as influence employee expectations. So, consider using a few of the same words and phrases you see there, especially those that relate to your traits. That way, you’ll showcase yourself as a right-fit candidate.

Once your research is done, it’s time to look at how you can build meaningful interview answers. If a question is straightforward, that’s typically a breeze. For example, if they ask if you have a specific skill, you’ll say “yes” or “no.” Then, back up a “yes” with an example and pivot a “no” by discussing your willingness to learn and efforts you’re taking to improve in that area. Done!

The tricky social work interview questions are the behavioral ones. These don’t technically have right or wrong answers; at least, not in the traditional sense. Instead, you have to navigate a scenario or discuss examples from your past. That isn’t always easy.

Luckily, you can simplify the process. Combine the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method, two approaches we’ve discussed in-depth before. If you do, you can a highly targeted and compelling response, making it easier to stand out from other candidates and really catch the hiring manager’s eye.

Top 3 Social Work Interview Questions

When you go in for a social work interview, the exact questions you’ll face depends a bit on the role. Not all organizations have the same focus or serve the same communities, which can lead to differences.

However, certain topics are fairly common when you’re interviewing for a social work position. With that in mind, here are the top three social work interview questions:

1. As a social worker, what do you hope to achieve?

In many ways, social workers are inherently optimists. It’s normal to hope that your efforts will create a brighter tomorrow for your clients. After all, if you didn’t think you could make a difference, you probably wouldn’t have chosen the profession.

Hiring managers ask questions like this one for several reasons. First, it’s a way to gauge your mentality. Second, it gives them insights into your motivations. Tidbits like that are vital when interviewers need to make sound hiring decisions. By having a strong answer, you could stand out from the back.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“While many people hope to change the world personally, my goal is a little different. Instead of focusing on widescale change, I aim to significantly improve the lives of the individuals and families I serve. Helping people find support and a direction allows me to be a powerful force for good on a small scale. But, when I achieve my goal, that effort continues forward. Those people may positively impact the lives of others as they move through the world, allowing even small gestures to ripple out. Ultimately, I want to enhance the lives of individuals and families, though I am optimistic that those efforts yield benefits far beyond what I could ever anticipate.”

2. If a client has an outburst in response to your recommendation, how do you handle it?

As a social worker, you’re going to have to say things that – to put it mildly – upsets a client. When a client’s emotions spike, they can lash out, at times in unpredictable, aggressive, or even violent ways.

Social workers have to be prepared for this inevitability. It’s not a matter of if; it is genuinely a matter of when. Hiring managers want to know that you have a plan for this kind of situation. If you do, they know you are more likely to act appropriately, even under stress.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“If a client has an outburst, my first step is to remain calm. If I get emotionally riled up, it could make a difficult situation worse, so I focus on staying metered and professional. Next, I use active listening techniques, allowing them to vent their frustrations while I gain clarity about their perspective. I’ll summarize what they are telling me and, if needed, ask probing questions to ensure I fully understand their view. Then, I’ll reiterate that my goal is help and that I am committed to working through this together, as a team. Additionally, I will strive to come from a place of empathy and compassion.

If a client becomes aggressive, hostile, or violent, I’ll reiterate any rules the organization has in place, reminding the client of the need for respectful communication. If the situation continues to escalate regardless of my best efforts, then I will follow organizational safety procedures to ensure the security of everyone, including myself, the client, and those around us, such as by informing security personnel or law enforcement in accordance with policy.”

3. If a client could benefit from community resources, but you aren’t overly familiar with their neighborhood, how would you go about locating the right options and paving the way for access?

Part of a social worker’s job is to connect clients to resources that can help them thrive. But, if you aren’t familiar with a person’s neighborhood, this can be a little tricky. Many organizations serve specific areas only. If your client isn’t in their zone, they can’t offer their support.

Hiring managers want to know that you can track down resources when the need arises. Plus, they are trying to determine if you can function as an advocate, making connections that ensure the client gains access.

EXAMPLE ANSWER:

“If I needed to find community resources in a region that I don’t know well, my first step would involve research. Along with conducting searches on my own, I would connect with my network, tapping into their cumulative knowledge to identify organizations that could potentially benefit the individual or family I’m assisting.

Once I’ve located an organization, I would reach out directly. This gives me an opportunity to learn more about their offerings and the communities they serve. I could ensure that my client would be eligible in advance and, if possible, initiate any processes to get the ball rolling. With this approach, I can expedite their access to critical assistance, allowing us to move forward with greater efficiency.”

27 More Social Work Interview Questions

Here are 27 more social work interview questions candidates may face when trying to land a position:

      1. Why did you choose social work as a career?
      2. Do you have any experience with special needs children?
      3. Tell me about your most difficult case. What about it was so challenging?
      4. Describe a time when you and your supervisor didn’t agree about a treatment plan. What did you do?
      5. How do you feel about interacting with people with substance abuse issues?
      6. What motivated you to pursue a career focused on our target population?
      7. Do you prefer to work as part of a team or independently?
      8. Why do you want to work here?
      9. Tell me about your most humbling experience on the job.
      10. Can you tell me about a time when one of your initial impressions about a case was incorrect?
      11. What kind of supervision do you prefer and why?
      12. Which type of client do you find most challenging to work with, and why?
      13. Have you ever experienced an ethical conflict while on the job? If so, how did you handle it?
      14. Which past accomplishment are you proudest of, and why?
      15. If a client arrived for a session obviously under the influence of alcohol or drugs, how would you handle the situation?
      16. Which crisis intervention techniques do you think are most effective? Why?
      17. How do you feel about the welfare system as it is today?
      18. What social work trend has you most intrigued, and why?
      19. Explain the value of self-care and describe the steps you take to ensure your mental well-being.
      20. After leaving school, what about the social work field startled you the most?
      21. If a client presented with suicide ideations, what actions would you take, and why?
      22. Which of your traits do you feel helps you the most as a social worker?
      23. Where do you think you need to improve the most to become a better social worker?
      24. Describe your process for creating a case plan.
      25. Are you able to be on-call/work nights and weekends as needed?
      26. Would you describe yourself as a leader or a follower? Why?
      27. Tell me about a time when you had to shift priorities quickly.

5 Good Questions to Ask at the End of a Social Work Interview

As your interview draws to a close, you’ll usually have a chance to ask a few questions. If you don’t have any at the ready, here are a few you can keep in your back pocket:

      1. What is the biggest challenge the organization faces?
      2. Can you describe a typical day for a social worker here?
      3. What sets your top social workers apart from the rest?
      4. If you could give a new social worker a tip that could help them succeed here, what would it be and why?
      5. How would you describe the organization’s culture?

Putting It All Together

Ultimately, all of the tips above can help you nail your social work interview questions. Review the examples and prepare your own responses in advance. That way, you can proceed with confidence, ensuring you showcase yourself as the superhero you really are.

As always, good luck!

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About The Author

Mike Simpson

Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com. His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.