Social Work Interviewing Skills

Social workers interview clients seeking assistance.
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A good social worker can help somebody get back on their feet again after a serious life challenge. Social workers operate by meeting with clients seeking assistance, talking with them and working with them to locate and secure additional assistance. During their conversations, social workers will need to interview clients to ascertain what services the person in question might need.

Compassion and Support

Being compassionate and supportive is perhaps the most important “skill” you can possess when conducting an interview in the field of social work. Chances are, the person whom you will be interviewing is seeking out your help because of some life challenges. Thomas O’Hare, author of “Essentials of Social Work Practice,” states that a good social worker will make eye contact and express concern over the well-being of her interviewee. O’Hare suggests making supportive statements, such as “I know that must be difficult” and “I’m confident you will get through this” while conducting your interview.

Active Listening

Social workers who practice active listening will repeat back the words and ideas of their interviewees. This is intended to ensure that the interviewer is not only listening to the interviewee’s words, but is also processing and understanding them. Barry Cournoyer, author of “The Social Work Skills Workbook,” also suggests that active listening means taking notes, making eye contact and using appropriate nonverbal cues to indicate you are paying attention. These include nodding your head, frowning or smiling, and affirming sounds such as “mm-hmm.”

Charitable Interpretation

Because the clients you will be interviewing are likely experiencing some life struggles, and you are tasked with helping them, O’Hare and Cournoyer also recommend engaging in charitable interpretations of your interviewee’s words. Essentially, this means expressing empathy, or trying to see things from your interviewee’s point of view first, before trying to offer any corrective measures. For example, if the interviewee describes a situation in which they were clearly in the wrong, a good interviewer should first try to understand why the interviewee thinks they were in the right, before offering a suggestion on how to correct the offending behavior. By doing this, O’Hare and Cournoyer believe social workers can demonstrate that they’re always on the client’s side, even if that means asking the client to change his ways.

Firmness and Consistency

O’Hare also emphasizes the importance of maintaining a firm and consistent tone and style during your interviews with clients seeking social work advice. This is because clients often return for follow-up interviews, and occasionally some clients try to take advantage of assistance programs through which a social worker may be employed. Firmness while interviewing involves not allowing the interviewee to put words in your mouth, or the mouths of others. Consistency requires you to maintain a steady demeanor and tone during the interview, and across different interviews.

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