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Social Worker Interview Questions

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Whether you are preparing to interview a candidate or applying for a job, review our list of top Social Worker interview questions and answers.

  1. What kinds of clients do you find most difficult to work with and why? See answer
  2. Why did you go into social work? See answer
  3. What strategies do you use for crisis intervention? See answer
  4. What type of supervision do you prefer? See answer
  5. Tell me about a time when a client disagreed with your approach or treatment plan. See answer
  6. What is the most important aspect about managing clients’ feelings? See answer
  7. What would you do if a client acted aggressively or negatively toward a suggestion you made? See answer
  8. What are the key signs of abuse?
  9. Tell me about an accomplishment you’ve achieved in your fieldwork.
  10. What’s your process for handling high-pressure situations?
  11. What’s the most difficult case you’ve worked on.
  12. What would you do if you had to quickly find resources for a client in a community that you were unfamiliar with?
  13. If a client walked in for a session with you, but they were clearly under the influence of drugs, what would you do?
  14. Are you willing to meet with your clients in their own home?
  15. Do you have experience working with special needs children?
  16. Tell me about an instance where one of your initial assumptions about a particular case was wrong. How’d you handle the situation?
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8 Social Worker Interview Questions and Answers


What kinds of clients do you find most difficult to work with and why?


Being a social worker is stressful, and many social workers burn out quickly. Asking the above question lets you get an idea of how candidates handle stress and how compatible they might be with your organization. Look for:

  • Some positivity in the answer
  • No disparaging/blaming others or being overly negative
  • Accepting some responsibility in the situation

  “I find that the most difficult clients are those who have given up. That is, they’ve been failed by others and the system so many times that it feels like I can never reach them. They’re a good reminder to myself that I need to remain curious and to approach issues from multiple angles because all clients deserve my best.”


Why did you go into social work?


People go into social work for different reasons, and asking about their motivations lets candidates talk about themselves and reveal background information that they might not be able to otherwise. Look for:

  • Going beyond a generic “desire to help others”
  • Specifics versus generalities
  • A commitment to social work

  “My grandfather died of cancer when I was 10, and the hospice nurses and social workers paved the way for him to die at home and on his own terms. That experience opened my eyes to how I could help others advocate for themselves.”


What strategies do you use for crisis intervention?


Conflict is inevitable in any field of social work, and this question allows you to check that candidates’ conflict-resolution skills fit what your organization is looking for. You can also use it to check if the candidate is prioritizing skills listed in your job ad (for example, listening with empathy). Look for:

  • Strategies that align with what your organization wants
  • Context they were practiced in
  • Lack of blaming others

  “When I worked at a women’s shelter, many of the residents would get upset when a routine changed. I started being more proactive by explaining up front and clearly what the plan for the day would be. When a crisis occurred, I used restatement, clarification and ‘I’ statements to ensure everyone was on the same page.”


What type of supervision do you prefer?


Questions such as this one get to cultural fit. For example, if your agency needs social workers who take instruction well, then someone who prefers to work alone independently and to be given a lot of leeway might not be the best fit. Look for:

  • Candidate compatibility
  • Ability to acknowledge weaknesses
  • Reasoning behind preference

  “I’ve been a social worker for 20 years, so it’s critical that my supervisors trust my judgment. I need to know they have my back. However, I do realize that even the most-seasoned professionals make mistakes or can do things better, so I seek out feedback when I’m conflicted. I always enjoy going to workshops and continuing-education seminars.”


What are the signs of abuse?


This question assesses candidates’ competence for the job, and one of the most important things they should know has to do with recognizing the signs of abuse in whatever population you work with, be it at-risk youths, children in public schools, the elderly or another segment. Look for:

  • Ability to answer quickly
  • Specifics
  • Factual answers (not answers like, “These poor, pitiful people…”)

  “The top signs of physical abuse among the elderly in nursing homes tend to be unexplained scars, bruises or broken bones. Broken eyeglasses, drug overdoses and mood changes are other common signs.”


Tell me about a time when a client disagreed with your approach or treatment plan.


This discussion point lets you measure how well candidates collaborate, communicate and think creatively. It is also another opportunity to ensure that candidates fit your organization’s missions and values. Look for:

  • Flexibility instead of rigidity
  • Orientation toward teamwork
  • Ability to recognize flaws in self

  “I had a hospice patient who was in tremendous pain yet he simply would not go on pain medications because he saw them as a sign of weakness. He became belligerent when nurses tried to force the medications on him, and I realized that I needed to be more flexible. My insistence that he take the medications meant that he was no longer in control of his life and his choices, and that was wrong.”


What is the most important aspect about managing clients’ feelings?


A big duty of social workers is to keep situations as conflict-free as possible so that there can be resolution. Thus, they must often manage clients’ feelings, and that can be no easy task. Look for:

  • Empathy
  • Mention of firm boundaries
  • Ability to remain calm

  “The most critical thing is to remain calm and to not take things personally. Only then can I listen and empathize effectively. It’s also important to maintain firm boundaries so that the expectation for respectful communication is clear and maintained.”


What would you do if a client acted aggressively or negatively toward a suggestion you made?


Social workers are expected to react logically and rationally to high-pressure, emergency situations. One that commonly occurs is when a client has a negative reaction toward a piece of advice the social worker recommended, which can sometimes result in aggression. Their answer should be positive, professional and mature as they explain their process for handling difficult clients without making disrespectful comments toward the client. The candidate's answer should emphasize:

  • Strategy for handling difficult or aggressive clients
  • Ability to stay calm in high-pressure situations
  • Decision-making skills

"My first reaction to clients who act negatively or aggressively toward me during a session is to remain calm. I'll use my listening skills to let them tell me why they're upset, confused or angry. I'll then summarize their thoughts and ask any clarifying questions to show them that I'm working to gain clarity on the situation. Afterward, I'll explain my goal of trying to work together with them to come to a solution that benefits all parties. If the situation escalates and they remain hostile or aggressive, I'll implement the organization's safety protocol to ensure everyone nearby remains protected."

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