It’s That Time of Year… Interview Strategies For School Social Workers
As an interviewer, it can be difficult to get a real gauge of who the person is in front of you. An interview performance can be as questionable as an online dating profile. The exterior criteria can seemingly be a fit but the reality, post-interview, can be shockingly different. As an interviewee, you’re doing your very best to ‘play the game’ to get the job. “The game” is the lightning-fast process to get to know a professional in a process that nearly reflects a speed dating event. Most of us don’t want to engage in this sort of charade but there doesn’t seem to be much choice in changing the structure of how schools interview. And so, we’re left trying to figure out how to be better interviewers while maintaining our most authentic self.
“An interview performance can be as questionable as an online dating profile.””
After being on interview boards for several years, I’d like to offer some help. My help comes in the form of opinion, and so please take whatever I say with a proverbial grain of salt. My approach to interviewing is acknowledging the faults in the process and yet trying to give an honest answer as to who I am. For too long, my approach was to shape shift into what I thought an interviewer wanted to hear; which resulted in getting hired in places that were not fitting for me. This is just one way to think about interviewing, and so from that outlook I offer the following.
Preparation is Everything
1. Prepare for an interview by reviewing how students receive services in that state. Every state has a different spin on how students receive services. For example, in the state of Illinois, the MTSS framework encompasses both academic and behavior tiered interventions. In the state of Hawaii, MTSS only encompasses academics supports and tiered interventions. From state to state the acronyms change, level/types of supports, interpretations of 504s, social work roles, and the list goes on.
How does a student who has not been previously identified receive support? Find out about this system. The IEP process is a little more straightforward forward but you want to understand how the 504 and Problem Solving Framework (MTSS, RTI) interact. In some states, 504s operate as a way to engage therapeutic systems when MTSS/RTI doesn’t encompass behavioral supports.
Further, find out how your prospective district systematizes services. And if possible, glean any information from resources or contacts you have about the specific school your interviewing. For example, you may have come from a school experience where there was an abundance of services/resources and you’re walking into a context that’s not been supported in that capacity (and vice versa). Without context, it is difficult to formulate answers that speak to the needs of that school.
2. Email Social Workers in the district. This is going to get me in trouble but the reality is that in-district social workers will have information that you need (that’s not posted on the district website). It’s perfectly reasonable to help out a prospective social worker by providing public information on the district’s framework for MTSS/RTI. It’s also reasonable to provide them with information on their district’s tiered supports if they’re fortunate to work in a district that has outlined that structure.
3. Let them know your ‘why’. Not every school social worker is an extrovert or even needs to be, however, it is important that the people about to bring you onto their team know about the passion you have for the profession. There may be people reading that and asking “what does that have to do with the skills of a social worker?” and that’s a valid question. Regardless if we think it’s a fair ask, it is a common ask in interviews. Teams want to know who they are about to welcome into the school. In my experience, interviewees who effectively express their “why” tend to fare a bit better.
4. Ask Questions! As inconsequential as it may appear, this is huge! Interviews can go quite well and then end with a lack of reciprocation. Interviewers see a question asking as a candidate maximizing the opportunities of the interview by showing what they know through question-asking. Teams who like how you’ve answered the designed questions also want to see how you’ve considered their setting. Further, question-asking is time to gather information about the team dynamics or feelings about school social workers. Like these questions:
What kind of characteristics for a school social worker are important to your team?
This question shows interest in the position and elicits information about the school team’s view of school social workers. The question may give you insight into the team’s understanding of the role of a social worker and help you develop your answers for interview number two. Here’s another:
If I were to end up with this job, what is an area that you would like to see improved in the domain of school social work?
Another question elicits some very helpful information about the current standing of the position and potentially gives information about the history of the position. It’s also important to track who is answering these questions, too. I pay close attention to the language of teachers, sped coordinators, admin or specialists. The source is as important as the content in these situations.
The interviewing process is a taxing journey filled with waiting, anxiousness, and sometimes joy. It can also be heartbreaking and soul-crushing. With that being said, I think it’s a healthy reminder to say that the interview process is not a final judgment; it can be many things but not that. A team, district, or admin just might not be the fit and that’s okay. The sum of your skills and experience can not be determined within thirty minutes with a room full of strangers.
“The sum of your skills and experience can not be determined within thirty minutes with a room full of strangers.”
We’re simply imperfect products pitching ourselves to rooms that have varying abilities to appreciate our narratives and potential. School Social Workers are so much more than the interview process can calculate, and that premise provides both disappointment and ease. We can feel disappointment in a process that doesn’t allow a team to really know our skills or personality. We lament the interviews that misrepresent us or don’t take the time to appreciate our work. The feelings that manifest from a “rejection” must be acknowledged, validated, and worked through.
In working through those feelings, remember that the interview process is so surface leveled, that not even the people asking the questions are sure they’ve made the right choice. Find solace in that many school social workers have faced these unfair circumstances. Lastly, may you find invaluable lessons through this process that teach you empathy and understanding for the day you’re on the other side of the table.