My journey into the field of social work has not always been easy. Growing up, I faced so much noise from the Latinx community especially among my family members, who often told me that we must hustle and grind to thrive in America. This mindset was pushed onto me because my family always strived to take advantage of the opportunities that were consistently being presented to us.
But here’s the thing, I always knew that I wanted to make an impact and serve families within the community. Through this determination, I decided to pursue a degree in social work. By getting both a bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) and a Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW), I was able to plan for and accomplish my long-term goals in the practice areas that I wanted to focus on.
In this article, I highlight my own story joining the field to give recent social work graduates more context into what options you have. After detailing the best interview tactics to land a job in social work, I outline the different entry-level positions that recent BSW graduates should consider.
My Social Work Story
When I first started working within the social work profession, I worked with youth who had different mental health diagnoses that needed treatment. My caseload covered youth from different ages and backgrounds, and I would provide at home and community-based support services and interventions to help the youth enhance their quality of life in New York City.
My first role upon receiving my bachelor’s degree was working at a youth shelter as a resident advisor, where the team on the unit were either social workers themselves or came with a background of psychology. From there, I then started to practice in different areas of social work, working with individuals of all ages in foster care, shelter systems, palliative care, and in hospital settings. I held various roles that ranged from resident advisor, case manager, sociotherapist, substance abuse counselor and social work supervisor.
I then utilized all of the interdisciplinary skills to pivot into recruiting and entrepreneurship. Today, I have started my own business being a social work career coach, which prompts me to support other social workers as they seek jobs. I also work with my social worker clients to help them build their confidence, overcome those feelings of impostor syndrome, and find clarity on their ideal social work role. Through this process, I’m able to teach them the skillset needed to learn how to market themselves and network effectively using social media platforms like LinkedIn.
How I Train Clients to Thrive in the Interview Process
In thinking back to those experiences as I entered the job market and experienced the interview process for the first time, it was very nerve-wracking. I remember how it felt, to freeze during the interview process, without knowing how to answer questions effectively. My overwhelming feelings of impostor syndrome took a huge toll on me, and I was questioning my every move.
After you’ve successfully scheduled an interview, it’s important to remind yourself as the job seeker that the employer has reviewed your qualifications via your resume. They’ve picked you out because they want to know more! Additionally, they likely understand your current skill set based on the application materials you submitted.
The unfortunate truth here is that many social work programs don’t teach you how to market yourself. But I want you to know that, by following this step-by-step process, you will be able to position yourself as an asset during the interview process as a new social work graduate.
Succeeding in Your Social Work Interview
Before beginning your interview, it’s necessary to take into consideration of any triggers that you may have going into the interview process. For example, in the past I have worked with clients who relied heavily on validation during the interview process. In other words, every time they answered a question, they seeked instant gratification through nonverbal or verbal cues. In not receiving the gratification that they were looking for, they started to second guess their response in that moment, which increased their anxiety level.
Here’s a secret as a current recruiter and previous social work supervisor: I understand that your first social work interview can make you feel nervous. But there’s a difference among candidates that interview with confidence and have that level of awareness of their current strengths and areas of improvement. From the employer’s perspective, the key component of an interview is to assesses if the candidate will be able to do the job effectively.
Another disclaimer: There is also such a thing as being too honest during the interview process. At times, being too honest can present red flags for the hiring manager. For example, if you communicate in your interview that you get too emotional when working with clients, and the focus of the role you are applying to is to provide guidance and support to families in foster care, right away the hiring manager will lean toward disqualifying. You don’t want to leave the interview with the hiring manager thinking that you won’t be able to do your job effectively if hired.
Something I like to push my clients to do is to envision their roles reversed with the person conducting the interview. If they communicated things that you identified as red flags about their ability to do their work, would you hire them?
Nervousness and anxiety are very real barriers in the interviewing process. But the importance of confidence stems from your ability to recognize that you are qualified to do the role you’re interviewing for. This is where preparation is going to prove vital. In doing your research for whatever organization or role you’re seeking, you have the opportunity to identify your unique strengths, some areas you can improve, and key examples of the ways you plan to enhance those skills. Through preparation, you can ensure your answers highlight core competencies of the role to tie it back to the organizations overall mission.
Pay attention to how you express yourself during each question and pay attention to your body language. Your tone of voice will matter too. If the interview is in person or over Zoom, make sure you able to make direct eye contact or look into the camera. These forms of connection will matter for to the hiring manager.
The S.T.A.R. Method
As for a specific strategy, expect to be asked about how you handle conflict. It’s critical here that you remain direct and focused in your response. When you’re asked questions that have to do with how you respond to conflict or other problems, you can utilize the STAR method. Zoomed out, these kinds of queries can be viewed as behavioral questions, which are interview questions that start with phrases like “tell me about a time you…”, or “tell me about a scenario where you had to…”
“S.T.A.R.” method stands for “Situation. Task. Action. Result.”
- Situation… Firstly, you’ll describe your role, the role of your client, and the challenge you faced in supporting them.
- Task… What was your objective or goal? What was the result you need to achieve, or the problem you needed to solve? The clearer you are about your task, the more effective you’ll be in communicating the resolution.
- Action…What specific action steps did you choose for your goal and why? Be clear here about your thought process.
- Result… What was the outcome? How did your solution play out and what did you learn from the experience that you’ve continued to use? If the solution worked out well, explain how this strategy has helped your practice. If the result wasn’t ideal, then communicate what you would change if you faced the problem again.
Preparing for the Most Commonly Asked Interview Questions
In addition to the STAR method, be sure to become tremendously familiar with your resume and the job description before an interview. There is no such thing as overpreparing. Confidence sells.
Below are 9 commonly asked interview questions:
- Why did you apply for this position?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- Tell me a little about yourself?
- Describe your “dream job”
- Why do you want to leave your current job?
- What is your leadership style?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a decision. What did you do?
- Tell me how your current supervisor would describe you?
Leveraging Work Experience to Help Your Social Work Job Hunt
A critical way to bolster your application materials is to take on as much social work experience before applying. Volunteering is a great way to prove your dedication to professional development, regardless of whatever stage you are within your social work career. Volunteering can also increase your opportunities to be able to pursue a full-time, permanent role within the organization.
Below are 3 ways to find a social work volunteer opportunity in your area:
1). Create a target list of companies in your area that work with an ideal population of interest.
2). Utilize the following key websites to find any current social work volunteer opportunities.
-Habitat For Humanity
3). Network on LinkedIn with social workers and hiring managers in your ideal target companies to build rapport. Through this level of networking, you can see if there are any current volunteer or entry-level opportunities in their organization.
Researching the Right Role for You
If you have obtained your bachelor’s degree in Social Work (BSW) or going to be graduating soon, some of the roles that you can obtain with a BSW degree are entry level roles within the field of social work. Due to the pandemic, the need for social workers is growing. Below are some of the 10 commonly entry-level roles that social workers with a BSW degree can obtain:
- Caseworker: As practitioners who work with individuals of all ages and backgrounds, caseworkers provide guidance through specific services in the community. Caseworkers help individuals through crisis situations and serve as an advocate by providing them with resources to enhance their quality of life.
- Family Service Worker: These kinds of social workers help families in the community navigate difficult times and overcome tragedy. They are a part of an overall support team and work closely with case managers on site and other community-based providers.
- Habilitation Specialist: Habilitation Specialists work within mental health or healthcare facilities. They work with individuals to help clients enhance their social skills to be able to live independently.
- Child Welfare Specialist: Working with children specifically to ensure their wellbeing and safety, child welfare specialists conduct home visits in the community to ensure children have safe living conditions. These practitioners work closely with community-based providers to ensure the child’s needs are met. They can also assess for potential adoptive or foster family’s placement to determine whether their home is suitable for children.
- Residential Case Manager: These kinds of case managers oversee day-to-day activities of residents in a shelter, group home, or other residential environments. They work closely with residents to help them achieve their goals and provide resources within the community as needed.
- Mental Health Technician: Mental Health Technicians work closely with patients who receive treatment in both inpatient and outpatient facilities. They provide guidance and support during their time of need, lead group activities, and keep track of patient behaviors to ensure their safety.
- Behavioral Health Professional: These social workers support patients who are at risk to others and engage in dangerous behaviors. They make assessments to help correct abnormal behaviors in their patients. Additionally, behavioral health professionals provide outreach to other providers in the community if needed.
- Health Educator: As teachers, health educators guide groups and communities on how to enhance their wellbeing and prioritize their health. They can work in schools, hospitals, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
- Research Assistant: Research Assistants coordinate with doctoral students and other formal researchers to complete projects about a particular research subject. They can conduct surveys and client interviews to learn about certain populations to compile information and data.
- Social Services Assistant: As support providers for individuals facing challenges in the community, social services assistants provide guidance, resources, and referrals to enhance the quality of life for their clients. They work with other community-based providers to help the individual navigate different services within the community.
Even though it’s an excellent idea to make plans for your immediate future, it’s also necessary to consider your long-term personal and career objectives. Even though a BSW can give you a foot in the door for social work as a field, an MSW will open more career opportunities. Through the advanced training you’ll receive in an MSW, you’ll be able to convince hiring managers across the board that you are capable of making forward-thinking leadership decisions that benefit the lives of individuals, families, and/or communities. Learn more about which BSW and MSW programs can help you launch your career path in social work in the right direction.
Harleny Vasquez is a Licensed Social Worker and a Latina woman of color. She is the founder of her business yourEVOLVEDmind, where she is a social work career coach helping both aspiring and established social workers at every stage of their career. She’s a speaker, workshop facilitator, and host of the Social Work Insider Podcast. Check out her website below to learn more: https://yourevolvedmind.mykajabi.com/