Social workers protect children and vulnerable adults from harm and abuse, and give them the support they need to get through the challenges they face.
The role itself varies massively depending on the area of specialism, but in general social workers play a pivotal role in society; helping the most vulnerable people to escape cycles of abuse and neglect.
As a result, social workers must be empathetic, tenacious, kind, caring and strong. They also need to be effective communicators, good at solving problems and able to be flexible when things don't go according to plan.
Many would argue that social work is more of a vocation than a job, but that doesn't mean it's not important to test for certain skills, characteristics, qualities and aptitudes.
This article will help you put together a rigorous and thorough testing matrix to ensure you're hiring the best person or people possible for the role.
What should a social worker be able to do?
Primarily, social workers are there to protect vulnerable children and adults from harm.
Social workers will need to be able to step into difficult situations to counsel, support and mediate. This could mean speaking to family members, attending group counselling sessions, conducting interviews, consulting with other significant figures and serving as a reliable liaison point for multiple people.
There is a large amount of administrative work too. Social workers have to prepare case files, develop and review plans, arrange for any necessary tests or evaluations, fill out legal and medical documents, gather supplementary information needed for essential reports, and even conduct research.
Knowledge of how the legal and medical systems work is beneficial as social workers will spend a great deal of time working alongside professionals in these areas to ensure the people they're caring for have access to the treatment and security they need.
The emotional challenges of the role cannot be underestimated. Social workers will regularly be placed in immensely challenging situations such as moving children away from their immediate family, attending counselling sessions and making recommendations on where a child or adult should live.
Ultimately, those that are successful at the job are driven by a desire to help people who have been let down.
Skills to look for in a social worker
Social workers need a wide and varied range of skills to cope with the demands of the role, but these are perhaps some of the most essential to look for:
Microsoft Office suite competency: a large part of the role is administrative so it's essential that prospective social workers can demonstrate their competence with the Office suite. Whether that's sending emails, putting PowerPoint presentations together, keeping things up to date in Excel, or writing and formatting reports in Word.
Active listening: active listening is about more than just hearing what someone says, it's about making people feel seen and heard through your mannerisms and responses. This means listening without interruption, knowing when to ask questions and what to say, judging the appropriate time to share (or not share) advice, and ensuring your undivided attention is on the person you're listening to.
Critical thinking: critical thinking is about using logic and sound judgement to identify the strengths and weaknesses of various ideas and approaches to complicated issues.
Social perceptiveness: this can be an inherent understanding of how and why people act the way they do, an ability to 'read the room', and exercising effective judgement in what to say and when. All of these social skills help make a great social worker.
Problem-solving: every day, social workers are met with new and challenging problems, so being able to think quickly, adapt and make strong judgement calls is essential.
Useful abilities for a social worker
Abilities are more inherent than technical skills, and often can't be taught or learnt through traditional education methods. Abilities are often the thing that separate average social workers from amazing social workers.
Whether by testing or through interview questions, we recommend trying to look for the following abilities in candidates:
Sensitivity: being sensitive to other people's needs and feelings is essential when you're working in a role that involves liaising with multiple different people, including children and/or vulnerable adults.
Strong communication skills: social workers often act as the middleman between medical and legal professionals, children and vulnerable adults, family members and other involved parties. They need to be able to communicate effectively with everyone.
Speech recognition and clarity: being able to understand other people's speech, while also ensuring your own is clear, concise and pitched at the right level is important if you want to be a successful social worker.
Problem perceptiveness: this isn't necessarily about solving problems, just being aware when something is amiss so things can be flagged or reported if necessary.
Flexibility: no two days are the same when you're a social worker, so it's essential candidates are comfortable being flexible and adapting to all the various challenges and situations you may be faced with.
Which soft skills tests could I use to hire a social worker?
Testing for soft skills can help you find a more well-rounded social worker. We'd think about including some or all of the following tests in your recruitment process:
Communication skills: communication skills are essential in social work. Most of the role involves working with other people and preparing reports, so it's important that any social worker you hire can prove themselves to be a strong writer and verbal communicator.
Interpersonal skills: whether it's communicating with children or vulnerable adults, liaising with legal and medical professionals or mediating a family, a social worker needs to be able to speak to people in all different professions and from all walks of life to effectively do their job.
Decision-making skills: this test looks at critical and logical thinking skills to determine how good someone is at making decisions, especially under pressure. The conflicting demands of social work mean that this is a really valuable soft skill to have tested for before hiring.
Which technical or aptitude tests could I use to hire a social worker?
It's also important to utilise technical or aptitude tests when looking to hire a social worker. These tests will help you build a clearer picture of candidates' strengths and weaknesses:
Microsoft Office: ensuring candidates are comfortable with all the Office programs, including Word, Excel and Outlook, this test can give you peace of mind that prospective hires will be comfortable managing the administrative side of the role.
Logical thinking: this test is a great way of assessing how good someone will be at solving problems, particularly under tight time pressure. This is important in the fast-paced and always-changing world of social work.
Verbal reasoning: verbal reasoning tests are a great way to assess someone's written communication skills, as well as their ability to pick important information out of a passage and differentiate fact from inference.
Our recommended test battery for a social worker
Utilising the right combination of tests can help improve the strength of your hires.
Social workers need to demonstrate a host of different technical abilities and soft skills, but we'd recommend this battery of tests when recruiting:
Verbal reasoning: strong verbal reasoning is required to be a social worker which a verbal reasoning test can help assess.
Logical thinking: logical thinkers are by nature problem solvers, and this test puts candidates under pressure to see just how good they are at coming up with solutions to complex challenges. It can be a really good indicator of whether someone has the right mindset to be a social worker.
Microsoft Office: the practical demands of the role mean that candidates will need to be able to email, schedule meetings, prepare reports and format presentations. This test will ensure you're comfortable with their skills in this department before hiring.
Communication skills: finding candidates with strong communication skills during pre-employment stages can be effective using a communications skill test.
Decision-making skills: social workers must be strong decision makers. The decision making skills test can help you identify candidates who can make good decisions under pressure.