It seems that interview season is under way for social work places at universities. I know a couple of people who have interviews coming up and have asked me for advice, so this is a basic summation of what I’ve come up with and I’d certainly welcome other ideas and thoughts below.
Without being too specific about what different universities might be asking for, I think it’s as good to have an article or something you’ve read prepared, even if you aren’t specifically asked to prepare something.
Have a browse through the Guardian Society pages and/or Community Care and take a look at some of the discussions taking place. Relevance and recentness is the key but combined with a thoughtful approach so it isn’t just about picking up the story that hits the press on any given day – but rather one that might be lingering in the background that shows some deeper thought and research might have taken place.
It might even be worthwhile thinking about a novel or a film that doesn’t specifically reference social work and placing it in context. I did that in my interview and I although that was a long time ago, I think it really did help with the interview (and I was told as much when I was actually a student!). For the record, the book I talked about was The Color of Water – which I’d heartily recommend. I think it is a beautiful book in any context.
As regards basic contexts, I’d expect to be asked about general policy directions rather than specifics.
I know some universities ask for them to be referenced but you’d probably know in advance – having a glance over wouldn’t do you any harm though in all cases.
A friend of mine who works in Fostering Services suggested that I emphasise (for the interviewees) that they make themselves aware of the Five Outcomes in relation to Every Child Matters as a key tenet of policy direction. I wouldn’t expect a great and in-depth knowledge of policies but that’s fairly straightforward. Also a brief and cursory understanding of the issues facing social work as pertaining to children and families – the increase in care applications maybe indicating a wider fear of reprisals and ‘getting things wrong’ post the ‘Baby Peter’ tragedy and perhaps the context of the awful case of Khyra Ishaq more pertinently. The dangers of risk aversion all round and how that can lead to a more authoritarian position. The importance of thoroughness and tenacity/confidence, strong management and strong practitioners able to challenge poor management practices remains vital for a good quality service to be provided.
It would be worth glancing through the Task Force summary and putting into context as a social work student and what different directions the profession might be taking. I’d emphasise hope for the future as a potential student and dismiss some of my cynicism.
Regarding adult services, where I feel a lot stronger – I think the debate about paying for care is a great topical discussion to be had. Generally, there is the movement towards Personalisation and Individual Budgets – choice is all good – and it certainly is on paper!
There are changes afoot throughout adult social care and there is a need to embrace different ways of working and perhaps perceive personalisation through the lens of a roll-out of strengths-based work and allowing user choice over services.
In relation to Mental Health, the New Horizons document is clearly the way forward and it might be worth having a precursory look. That’s a lot of background reading!
Think about your own personal experiences, professionally and personally and tie in to situations where you might have felt or been subjected to discrimination or oppression (read up on the differences between anti-discrimination and anti-oppression!). Think about situations where you might have challenged discrimination or oppressive practice. Examples are always good.
Think about the qualities essential for a good social work practitioner. This is a good starter to consider, I think.
Don’t be shy. Even if you are shy, don’t be for a group interview! Written tests are often about the ability to communicate as much as anything. As are group interviews – but in a different way. It’s important to have your point heard but also respect others’ space to speak.
I’m sure that universities differ massively in what the ask and in the format but that’s a very basic guide that I have no doubt I’ll adapt and adjust as I think of more things!
A massive resource though is the CareSpace forum via Community Care where lots of potential and current students discuss their interviews and current issues in social care. Just beware of the usual forum culprits of cynicism and negativity.
It isn’t all bad ‘out there’ despite what some people might have you believe!
I’m sure I’ve left a lot of things out so feel free to add.. this was more or less off the top of my head on a befuddled Friday after a hectic week!