University Interviews


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.

It’s useful to have a look at the Code of Practice issued by the GSCC and the BASW ones as well.

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!

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11 thoughts on “University Interviews

  1. Excellent post!

    In my interview they asked me about prejudices, times I’ve felt powerful, times I’ve felt weak and general value based judgements. We had a series of questions to think about before we went in. Clearly I passed… 😉

    For my “who do you feel prejudiced against” I went with a very weak “people who choose to remain ignorant about important issues”… I heard some candidates said “chinese people” !! Seriously guys, wrong course.

    I think the main thing is to just relax ! I’ve heard competition for places is at an all-time high but honestly if you’re good then you’ll get in.

  2. Wow, I really don’t remember my interview being that complicated. I certainly didn’t prepare anything, and I don’t remember them asking anything that threw me, and I was offered a place on the spot. I must have just been lucky I suppose.

    ‘ I heard some candidates said “chinese people”’ And there went their chance of an offer………..

  3. Great post! I wish that all social work programs in the U.S. used interviews as part of their application process. It seems like you get a much more complete opportunity to assess the student’s intellectual and moral compatibility with the profession that way.

  4. excellent post 🙂 i have my first interview for social work next week and this was a great help.
    Thank you for going out of your way to do this, will let you know if i get in…. fingers crossed 😉

  5. Thanks all for the feedback! I think it depends a lot on which Uni as to how they manage their interviews. I’ve heard about some with written tests, group interviews and individual interviews – and some with no interviews!
    I (and bear in mind this was 10 years ago!) had a written test and individual interview. Some ask for preparation about specific articles in advance, others don’t give any guidelines but I think it never hurts to have a few ideas.

    As for asking questions – placements is a good one. About what kind of placements they have and any guarantees for statutory placements..

  6. In my experience they’ll merrily lie to your face about the availability of statutory placements. 😉 A few people who were told they’d have no problem getting one for their /final/ placement are still waiting to be placed, 5 weeks after the rest of us have started.

    The reality is going to be that if they cannot find placements for 30 students then how are they going to find them for the increased intake that is expected?

    I’ve found in placement that employers and assessors alike don’t want the hassle of dealing with students. It’s sad.

  7. Thank you very much for taking the time to provide this information! I have had 1 interview so far, and was unsuccessful I feel I didn’t prepare myself thoroughly for what was expected of me. However, I now have some background reading resources so thank you very much! I’ve also been reading “What is Social Work” by Nigel Horner and found this very helpful if any one is interested. I have 2 more interviews so hopefully now I am more prepared things will go to plan.

  8. Excellent write up, I read it yesterday when researching about test questions for MA social works and found it. I have taken a lot of notes from this write up which I believe would be of help.
    I would appreciate if you have an idea of the kind of questions London Met asks for their tests, I heard its very hard but I have been told to read the BASW “Code of Ethics”. I have the test next week and putting in my best to read (ofcourse coupled with work).

    • Between you and I, Vanessa, it’s over 10 years since I had my interview at London Met and the person that interviewed me has left. They like people to have some experience in social care so put your experience, whatever it is, in the context of the Code of Ethics.

      Good luck!

  9. Good blog and posts.

    Think about your experience, and be prepared to use this in answers. Have a think beforehand, its surprising how much of ordinary life experiences can be relevant if you are short in “actual” work.

    Remember that most academics, for all the drivel about being “in touch”, have little or no experience of recent “hands on” at frontline level. Don’t try to be too technical!

    Make it clear that you appreciate the difference between theory and practice, and “in an ideal world” and reality – which focusses on priorities, and what works.

    Talk about change, take the long view – eg the move from warehousing in children’s homes and compulsory emigration (only ended in the 1960’s) to fostering; free care for all elderly who need it to pay for your own (and now possibly back again).

    Book to read – “Golly in the Cupboard” by Phil Frampton

  10. Oh, and I forgot – ask them questions – as above, ask about placements, ask about lecturers experience, ask them what makes their course different/better

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