5 Dos and Don’ts to Shine through Your Social Work Interview

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I want to help you shine through your social work interview.  Lately I’ve had to participate in a lot of interviewing.  By lately, it seems close to four weeks.  In the world of hiring, that’s an eternity- to me at least.

Resumes are dolled up so the reader infers more fruitful experiences.  Worse yet, as a hiring manager, there may be a specific degree you’re looking for and must interview someone whose resume looks like their cat walked across the keyboard as they hit submit.

So, this may be more of a venting post, but I think you’ll find it useful too.  Here are 5 dos and don’ts for you to shine through your social work interview, so you can make a great impression!

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How to Shine through your Social Work Interview

Shine through your Social Work Interview
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Do– Know what job you’re applying for!  It seems the days of preparing for interviews are long gone.  It is so refreshing to hear someone understand the basics of what they applied for.  I can agree that some job descriptions are written so vague that rigid duties may be difficult to ascertain.

However, any job description will identify basic tasks- clerical work, supporting treatment planning, advocacy, etc.

Take your background and see how it aligns with those tasks.  If you don’t have a specific work experience, enlist a personal one.  At minimum, show you’ve read the job description!

Interviews are about presence and making a connection.  Knowing the basics is fundamental.

Do– Research the agency you applied to.  Social work is an incredibly broad and dynamic field.  Do not come into the interview asking about something that’s been in the news for some time.

The least you can do is google the agency.  If you even spend 10 minutes researching, you will be leaps and bounds ahead of other applicants.

When I don’t have to explain what we do, the population we serve, and the fact that we are one of the few agencies in the nation that have a particular facility, it gives me insight into your character and how you problem solve!

To shine through your social work interview, that connection and presence will be noticed if you do your homework.

Social Work Interviews and Resumes!

As a hiring supervisor for a Community Mental Health, it’s evident that those who think they know how to write a resume really do not! It wasn’t too long ago that I really struggled knowing what to put into a cover letter and resume.

Do– Dress appropriate! Now, I wouldn’t expect someone to come into the interview wearing a full suit (not saying that’s inappropriate), but most interviewers have dress standards.  This isn’t necessarily posted anywhere, but common sense goes a long way.

Your clothing tells us how serious you are about the job.  Believe it or not, I have had people come into interviews wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  You do not need to be in designer clothes.  In fact, you can snag a suit jacket from Goodwill for a few bucks.

When you stand up from the lobby, the interviewer is immediately making an impression of you.  Throwing on a collared shirt and dress slacks is not that difficult of a task and can give you a leg up or at least a good first impression.

Do– Tell me about yourself.  Your resume tells me you likely can do the job.  I’m interviewing you to see if you fit with the team.

There is no need to give a dissertation on your life story and how you went away to school to escape your alcoholic father.  When an interviewer asks to hear who you are, they want to see your personality.  They want to make a connection with you and feel your presence- do you have integrity?  do we have anything in common? Do you make condescending inferences about clients?

Please talk about your family, hobbies, interests, and goofy stories while being moderately conservative.  In social work, there are now standards of competency (thank you CSWE).

That means that you having a license insinuates that I can get you up to speed on what you need to know; I can’t teach you how to integrate well into the team.

Do– Speak about the highlights of your resume.  I may be in the minority here, but when I review applications, I make a pile to interview and a pile to not; my schedule can be extremely busy, so I tend to give a quick glance again just before the scheduled interview.

When you can walk me through your resume and give me the highlights, it helps me piece together your experiences and their fit with the agency.  It is you that’s creating the narrative aligning the agency research you’ve done and the experiences you have.

When you combine these into an easy walk through, it allows me to hear your presence and critically think about your experiences.

This strategy really helps me focus on you and not just me reading  your resume with you sitting in front of me!

How NOT to Shine through your Social Work Interview

Don’t– Tell me that your resume speaks for itself.  It doesn’t.  This statement makes you seem arrogant and likely unable to easily integrate into a team.  If your objective is to make a bad impression, then mission accomplished.

While in an interview, come across as a real person.  Being genuine is incredibly refreshing.  I have invited people back for second interviews on the sole basis that they are genuine.

That is a rarity and surefire way to shine through your social work interview.

I will also say that I have hired applicants over another because they were genuine.

In social work you will be put in ethically ambiguous situations, as a hiring manager, I need to know that you have a moral compass and self control.  Being genuine in an interview is a lens into that.

Don’t– Be consumed with fear!  Interviews can be very intimidating.  Showing that you are nervous is not a deal breaker.  In fact, to me, subtle nervousness indicates you care!

However, if your nervousness is so debilitating that you cannot answer questions beyond a few word, it is time to practice.  Try answering questions while looking in the mirror; it sounds funny but it really works.

Come up with a few phrases that are eloquent and speak to your nature.  Those recited phrases may not come out all in one piece, but will still help you out.  You will be able to put together groups of resonating words on the fly, which adds to your connection and presence.  It also can make you appear more charismatic than what you may be.

Ultimately, the interviewer will interpret you as confident, unrehearsed and that you have meaningful things to say.

Don’t– Breach confidentiality in an interview!  Holy bananas this should be obvious.  You will not shine through your social work interview breaking federal law!

If you tell me enough to google and find who you’re talking about, that is a breach!  Use generalities when you are asked about specific situations.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron.

What you should do is change names, identifying events, and rather provide a gist of what occurred and the lesson you learned from the story.  This helps you answer the question adequately and retain any confidential information.

As an interviewer, we don’t need to know the latest news headline was your client even though you didn’t use his name.  Not only will this not get you hired, you may get black listed at that agency.

“Don’t breach confidentiality in an interview!  Holy bananas this should be obvious.  If you tell me enough to google and find who you’re talking about, that is a breach! ”

Don’t– Arrive more than ten minutes early.  If you show up super early, that doesn’t make you look any better.

In fact, it may actually work against you.  As an interviewer, I am notified when you arrive.  There are many other things I have going on and your arrival is one more thing that’s increasing my stress.

If that doesn’t make sense, think about your to-do list; now imagine someone adding to the list as you’re working on it.  They may be tasks you know about, but it is still frustrating and distracting nonetheless.

As an applicant, you want to promote positive feelings!  To really shine through your social work interview, you need to understand the basics of human behavior and emotion.  It sometimes isn’t so much what you need to do, but what you shouldn’t do in an interview!

Don’t– Assume that a family member or friend can supersede poor interviewing.

If you name drop during an interview, it is likely that we will follow up with that person.  Don’t expect that it will get you in.  In my experience, all of interviewing comes back to the team.  Do you fit or do you not?

“ If you name drop during an interview, it is likely that we will follow up with that person.  Don’t expect that it will get you in. ”

You may think that the person whose name you stated is a great employee; as an interviewer and supervisor, I may have an entirely different idea.

It is better to say that you know people in the agency, and they seem to enjoy their jobs.  That creates a safe distance between you and someone whose performance really is questionable unless you’ve managed them.  If the interviewer is interested, let them ask who.

If that happens, use a conservative statement “John and I have basketball league together”.  Maybe John also was the best man in your wedding, but the interviewer doesn’t need to know that.  The idea is to get a foot in the door.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive list.  Resume building and interviewing are very niche skills, but there are simple things you can do to improve your odds.  Always consider how an objective critic may see you.  That is why your connection and presence are so important to shine through your social work interview.  Let the supervisor know that you can integrate into the team without issue.

If you are interested in optimizing your resume and cover letters, sign up for our newsletter!  We will provide you a special coupon code for a significant discount!.  Want more?  I can help you troubleshoot some of your questions.  Let me hear what you think.  Comment your thoughts below!


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Hi! I'm Ben

I’m a licensed clinical social worker and addictions counselor who has also dealt with significant mental health struggles over the years. Here, I share the best mental wellness support and resources to help you live your best life.


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