HSCN Newsletter:
Subscribe to our quarterly newsletter and stay on top of the latest news in Human Services.
More information...
Enter Email Address:
Do you see the need for Human Service workers increasing or decreasing?
Not sure
Like us on Facebook

Home > Career Center > Interviewing Skills

The job interview is where first impressions are formed and where the interviewer and candidate cross-examine each other by discussing the education, skills and other pertinent information of the candidate for the position and the appropriateness of the agency to the candidate. Preparing to interview takes time, do not count on your ability to "wing it".

Before the interview, take some quality time to reflect on your experiences, education, volunteer work, etc. so it is fresh in your mind and you can successfully articulate to the employer your history. Your communication skills are very important!

Usually, 3 main things are looked for in a Human Service interview (combined with the resume). They include:

  • Can do: Does the person have experience, qualifications to be able to do the job?
  • Will do: Have they done this before? In similar situation/environment? Assesses potential-"they have performed in past- they will perform for us in the future".
  • Fit: will this person be a part of our team? How will they 'fit' into the department? This looks to interpersonal skills, how the person accomplishes tasks, management style.

Two common interview techniques used in Human Service interviews are role-plays and case presentations. Case situations are often presented and candidates are asked to explain the course of action they would take and how they would handle the client(s). You might be asked to give your assessment and/or treatment plan.

Practice role-playing interview questions. Rehearse in a mirror or with family and friends. Some examples of frequently asked questions in the Human Service field include:

  • Describe a time when you saw a problem as a potential opportunity-What did you do?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What are your outside interest? Professional interest?
  • What specific skills do you have that relate to the job?
  • What personal experiences have you had that would help you in this job?
  • What is your philosophy of life?
  • What kind of person are you?
  • How well organized are you?
  • Why are you interested in this position?
  • What can you bring to this agency?
  • What hours are you willing to work?
  • How would you coordinate and evaluate this program?
  • What are your goals for the first year?
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • For what reasons do you believe you could handle this position?
  • What does this job have to offer you and you offer it?
  • Why would you want to work in our agency?
  • What do you want out of your job?
  • How do you see yourself in this position?
  • What is your work experience? (Related and unrelated)
  • Tell me about specific individuals you have worked for.
  • Tell me about your specific experiences.
  • What types of volunteer experience have you had?
  • Tell me about your education.
  • How would your experience/background contribute to your success?
  • What is your grade point average?
  • Which courses were particularly helpful to you?
  • Describe your fieldwork experience.
  • How long are you planning to stay in (area of job)?
  • What would you like to be doing five years from now?
  • What are our career objectives? Future plans? Personal goals?
  • Why did you choose our city? Are you willing to move here?
  • Why are you interested in the Human Services field?
  • What kind of experience have you had with different populations? (I.e. women, youth, terminally ill, etc.)
  • What are your attitudes towards supervision (doing it, do you need it? Will you refuse it? How do you react to it?)
  • Why do you want to work with the elderly? Mentally retarded, etc.
  • What is you knowledge of disabilities?
  • What types of clients have you worked with?
  • What is your background and philosophy of social work? Counseling? Etc.
  • What are your counseling strengths and weaknesses?
  • What was the most difficult/interesting case you had?
  • What is your particular area of interest?
  • What techniques do you use in crisis intervention work?
  • What techniques do you use most and why?
  • What do you like about working with children?
  • What attracts you to this type of work?
  • What types of things go into a psychosocial assessment?
  • What supervisory experience have you had?
  • Do you like doing research?
  • How do you describe your professional boundaries?
  • What do you think makes a successful team environment?
  • Give a specific example when you had an idea how to improve an aspect of a program? How did you get your ideas across?
  • How do you keep track of your projects and meet deadlines?
  • Tell me about a time you had to make a quick decision. What was the outcome?
  • What personal qualities do you think are necessary for this position? Which qualities do you possess?

In addition to the interview questions you are asked, there are some other important things to remember prior and during the interview.

Be on time, arrive at least 10 minutes early so you can catch your breath and gather your thoughts before beginning.

In the First 10 Seconds of an Interview
What you do and say during the first 10 seconds of an interview may determine whether you are hired. Some prime examples of initial interview behavior that could result in a candidate's rejection:

  • A weak or half-hearted handshake.
  • Failure to maintain eye contact, indicating a lack of self-confidence.
  • Slouching in the chair or looking either uninterested or intimidated.
  • Lack of enthusiasm or responsiveness.
  • Poor grooming or inappropriate dress.
  • Smoking.
  • A hostile or abrasive attitude.
  • Boastfulness, egotism, or being overly aggressive.
  • Acting as if the candidate is doing the interviewer a favor by being there.
  • Treating the receptionist in a cavalier, or condescending manner.

Be honest; do not try to talk about areas you do not know about, the employer will see right through it.

Toward the end of the interview the employer will usually ask if you have any questions. You should be prepared to ask on or two questions; if you do not, he/she may think you are ill-prepared or not interested in the company. Use this opportunity to ask questions that subtly demonstrate your knowledge of the agency, and to underscore your interest in seeking a long-term career position with them. At the same time, you should not allow your questions to become an interrogation. Two or three thoughtful questions are usually sufficient.

What questions should you ask? Here are some examples:

  • What is the next position or positions that this job typically leads to?
  • What is your average staff to client ratio?
  • Assuming I was hired and performed well as a (the position you are applying for) for a number of years, what possible opportunities might this lead to?
  • What type of funding sources do you use in the organization? (smart non-profit agencies utilize a good balance between government and private funding sources)
  • What skills are considered most useful for success in the job I am applying for?
  • "I would really like to work for your firm. I think it's a great company and I am confident I could do this job well. What is the next step of the selection process"
  • More that a question, this is a powerful statement that will quickly set you apart from other job hunters. However, you should only make this statement if you need two weeks to think it over, you will lose your credibility. Even so, it is reasonable to ask for 24 to 48 hours to "digest the details."

Be sure to save your questions about salary, benefits, and still be free to negotiate-or to decline the position-at that point.

Make sure to get a business card and send a written Thank you note immediately. A polite restatement of your interest, qualifications for the job and appreciation for the time spent is always in order, and seldom done by applicants. Showing good manners is always appreciated and keeps your name in mind in a favorable way. Send a thank you to everyone you meet with, not just the recruiter. Follow-up on what they said the next step would be.

If you do not receive a follow-up call or mail correspondence it is appropriate to personally follow-up with the recruiter after some time has elapsed. During your follow-up correspondence, you state the following:

  • You are sincerely interested in the job.
  • You can understand that they are probably dealing with a lot of issues.
  • Is the position still open? Are they still looking at candidates?
  • If they are still interested in your candidacy but are not in a position to make a decision (could be awaiting funding, or investors)? How should you proceed? Do they have an idea of when they will be deciding?
  • You do not want to be an irritant calling repeatedly to check the status; what would they suggest? Will you be called if an offer is to be made?

Another view would be if they advertise for a position and have no idea as to how & when to fill, do you want to work for such a disorganized company? This may be the tip of the iceberg; it may be their management style for the time being. Or a indication of their financing. See how they handle this-remember you are also interviewing them.