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Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care: What You Need to Know

Introduction

Some adults are vulnerable and need additional care and support to help them live safely and as independently as possible and to ensure they have a good quality of life, which is where adult social care comes in. Many people receive adult social care. According to the King’s Fund, 818,000 received long-term social care, and 224,000 accessed short-term care in 2020/21.

In 2020/21, an estimated 1.54 million people worked in adult social care, and there were 105,000 advertised vacancies on an average day (Skills for Care). The reason for this is that adult social care has an essential role. Not only does it maintain and promote vulnerable adult’s health and well-being by helping them with a wide range of activities, but it can also benefit society. It can help people to stay in their homes, thus reducing the numbers in residential care and hospitals and helps vulnerable adults to participate and contribute and be part of the communities in which they live.

This blog post aims to provide valuable insights and guidance to those interested in pursuing a career in adult social care. It will cover more about the role and the range of jobs in the sector. It will also advise on various factors to consider before applying and how to navigate the application process and interviews.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Understanding Adult Social Care

Adult social care is long-term or short-term care given to vulnerable adults (over 18 years old) who may have physical or mental illnesses, learning difficulties or disabilities. It can also include supporting those with chronic medical conditions, frailty, injuries and those at the end of their lives. It is usually provided by local authorities after a social care needs assessment.

Some adults may require help with everyday tasks, such as washing, getting dressed, eating, cleaning, going to the toilet and shopping. Others may need support to participate in the community or to do the activities they once enjoyed. Adult social care provides them with the personalised support they need. There are also reablement services, e.g. home adaptations and aids to promote independence.

Vulnerable adults can receive adult social care in their own homes, known as home care or domiciliary care. They can also receive residential care, i.e. care and support in nursing homes and care homes, and attend day centres.

Adult social care is significant in supporting vulnerable adults as it:

  • Helps them to live as independently as possible while keeping them healthy and safe.
  • Provides them with the essential support that they need.
  • Enables them to engage in activities, get out and about and socialise, which can prevent social isolation and loneliness
  • Can provide support to their families and caregivers who may need help.
  • Enhances their health and well-being, meaning they become more confident and fulfilled, thus improving their quality of life.

There are numerous roles in adult social care. Some examples of those at the entry-level include:

  • Care worker – helps vulnerable people with everyday activities. They may also monitor their weight and check they are taking medications.
  • Social care personal assistant – are usually employed by the person needing support and helps them with everyday practical tasks, social activities and personal care. They will help individuals in their own homes and out in the community.
  • Support worker – offers various types of support for vulnerable people, and there are different specialist roles within this group, e.g. mental health, autism, therapeutic, community, healthcare, family, etc.
  • Shared lives carer – supports adults with long-term conditions, e.g. dementia, learning disabilities, mental health, etc. They can live with vulnerable adults or spend a day with them and will provide person-centred care and support to help them live as independently as possible.
  • Activities worker – helps vulnerable people to participate in various activities and organises events, entertainment and days out that meet the needs of those requiring support. They can work in people’s homes, day centres or care homes.

There are also support roles in adult social care, e.g. administrator, assistive technology, cook, employment advisor and welfare rights officer. It may be worth looking at these initially to start working in adult social care and train on the job for a more hands-on care and support role once you are in the sector.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Qualifications and Training Requirements

The qualifications and training requirements you will need will depend on the type of adult social care role you are looking for. There may be some roles where you will not need specific qualifications. However, what is fundamental is the ability to demonstrate that you have the right personal qualities, values, attitudes and behaviours to work with vulnerable people requiring care and support.

You will need to work, volunteer or get a placement in social care to gain some practical experience before you can undertake most social care qualifications, e.g. Level 2 or 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care, Level 2 Diploma in Care, Level 3 Diploma in Adult Care or T level in Health. However, in the meantime, it is important to demonstrate to employers and recruiters that you have essential skills, such as communication and employability, so having some GCSEs, including Maths, English and ICT, can be useful.

It may also be worth considering entry-level qualifications and courses to see if the sector is for you and increase your chances of getting an interview and a position. It will help demonstrate your understanding of the sector and a passion for working with vulnerable adults. Some examples include:

  • Level 1 Certificate in Health and Social Care.
  • Level 1, 2 or 3 Preparing to Work in Adult Social Care.
  • CPD care courses, e.g. dementia, learning disability, mental capacity, safeguarding, diabetes, autism, end-of-life care, etc.
  • Other courses, e.g. first aid, health and safety, infection control and food safety.

The entry requirements will depend on each qualification and course provider. Most qualifications will require some GCSEs. Always check before applying.

It may also be worth considering the apprenticeship route, which combines on-the-job practical training with study. Prospects have further information on available apprenticeships here.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Types of Roles in Adult Social Care

As stated, there are many roles in adult social care where you can help different vulnerable adults in various settings, e.g. care homes, day centres, service user’s homes, shared homes, etc. You may also wish to specialise in a specific area, such as physical disabilities, dementia, autism, end-of-life, etc. Here is further information on some of the main roles in adult social care.

Care worker

Care workers are also known as care assistants and can work in client’s homes or adult care homes. Their role is to help vulnerable people with everyday activities and support them to live as independently and comfortably as possible.

Their responsibilities will depend on the role and needs of the individuals they care for and support. Some examples of the duties include (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Getting to know service users’ interests.
  • Preparing, cooking and serving food (and drinks).
  • Helping service users to wash, dress, eat, drink, go to the toilet and take medication (depending on their needs).
  • Carrying out or helping with various tasks, e.g. shopping, laundry, cleaning or studying.
  • Monitor service users’ health and conditions, e.g. weight, temperature, blood pressure and medications.
  • Providing emotional and practical support to service users and their families.
  • Working with other health and social care professionals.

Some of the skills they will need are communication, patience, problem-solving, teamwork and interpersonal. They must also be sensitive, understanding, confidential, compassionate, empathetic and emotionally resilient.

Being a care worker is extremely rewarding. However, the role is not without its challenges. The work is fast-paced, and care workers can face multiple demands, especially when caring for more than one service user and travelling in the community. It can be mentally and emotionally demanding, as they will be looking after individuals with complex needs. They may also need to help individuals go to the toilet and wash them, which can be uncomfortable for some.

Support worker

Care workers and support workers are often interchangeable, but there are differences between the two roles. Support workers help vulnerable people live more independently, teach them skills and provide individualised support to empower them to take control of their lives. A care worker tends to do more things for vulnerable adults as they cannot do them themselves. However, some support workers may also carry out care.

A support worker’s responsibilities will depend on their specialisms, but some of their duties may include:

  • Providing emotional support to service users and their families.
  • Helping with personal care, household tasks and various activities.
  • Teaching service users life skills, e.g. travelling, paying bills, shopping, using computers, etc.
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to ensure they provide the best possible care and support.
  • Encouraging service users to engage in activities, interests and hobbies and develop new skills.
  • Supporting service users to socialise and connect with other people.
  • Supporting service users with any healthcare needs, e.g. administering medication, booking and attending appointments, travelling to hospital, etc.

Like the care worker role, support workers will require the same skill set and face similar challenges when working closely with vulnerable adults. They may also have additional ones when working with individuals with mental health issues, acquired brain injuries and dementia.

Social worker

Social workers provide support to vulnerable adults and their families, protect them from abuse and harm and help them to live as independently as possible. They also assist them with finding solutions to their problems and support them through difficult times.

Some examples of the responsibilities that social workers have include:

  • Visiting service users and their families in various locations, e.g. their homes, care homes, hostels, prisons and hospitals.
  • Assessing service user’s needs and creating support plans.
  • Organising individualised support.
  • Assisting service users to develop and maintain the skills to live independently.
  • Protecting service users and taking the necessary actions to achieve this.
  • Keeping detailed records, attending meetings and writing reports.
  • Working closely with healthcare professionals and other agencies and making referrals.
  • Discussing cases with supervisors.

Some useful skills include social knowledge, counselling, communication, patience, problem-solving, active listening, multitasking, teamwork and interpersonal. They must also be sensitive, understanding, confidential, non-judgmental, flexible, compassionate, empathetic and emotionally resilient.

Social workers can face many challenges. One of the biggest is that it is often under-resourced, and their workloads are very high. They will usually have multiple caseloads, and it can be hard to juggle different demands. There is also the risk of unwanted media attention if someone is seriously harmed. It is a mentally and emotionally demanding role.

Occupational therapist

This role involves helping those with various difficulties because of physical or mental illnesses and disabilities, long-term conditions, ageing, accidents and trauma.

An occupational therapist has many responsibilities, including:

  • Teaching service users the skills they need to live independently.
  • Advising service users on different ways to approach tasks.
  • Helping service users to manage their physical disabilities and adapt to life after accidents, trauma and surgery.
  • Assisting service users to engage in the activities they enjoy, e.g. those with mental health problems.
  • Supporting families and caregivers.
  • Suggesting and providing adaptations, equipment, assistive technology and tools to help service users live as independently as possible.
  • Making notes and records.

Some useful skills include psychology knowledge, counselling, communication, active listening, non-judgemental, patience, problem-solving, initiative, teamwork and interpersonal. They must also be sensitive, understanding, confidential, non-judgmental, flexible, compassionate, empathetic and emotionally resilient.

Occupational therapists, like the other adult social care roles, can face mental and emotional demands. Their role can also be physically demanding and require a certain level of physical fitness and strength.

There are many more adult social care roles and far too many to cover here. For further information on available roles, see:

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Skills and Qualities Needed

The adult social care sector is not for everyone, as each role requires specific skills and personal qualities. According to Skills for Care, you must have “core skills”, also known as life, functional or transferable skills. These include:

  • Number skills – some tasks may require recording numbers and simple calculations. Therefore, you will need some number (numeracy) skills. For example, you may need to measure and record the service user’s weight or fluid intake.
  • English skills – having the ability to read, write, listen and speak in English is essential. For example, you may need to write care plans and report incidents.
  • Digital skills – many tasks are on computers and online these days, so you will need to record data digitally and find information online. For example, your training may consist of e-learning packages, and you may need to teach service users basic computer skills.
  • Employability skills – to provide the best possible care, you will need skills such as problem-solving and teamwork. For example, you will likely need to prioritise multiple caseloads and adapt to changing demands.

Some further skills/personal qualities to help you get a position in adult social care and also to succeed in the role are:

  • A passion for working with vulnerable adults – it goes without saying that you must have a genuine passion for helping vulnerable adults and making a positive difference in their lives. An example would be showing your enthusiasm and motivation for the role, learning more about the sector and gaining relevant experience, e.g. volunteering.
  • Compassion – is central to providing person-centred care. Compassion is so fundamental in health and social care that it is one of the six Cs of care, which defines it as “How care is given through relationships based on empathy, respect and dignity. It can also be described as intelligent kindness and is central to how people perceive their care” (NHS Professionals). An example would be showing kindness to service users and their families. Even the small things matter, like making a cup of tea.
  • Empathy – you must have empathy to help and support vulnerable people. You must understand service users’ feelings, see things from their position and listen to them actively and with compassion. An example would be taking the time to listen to service users and taking their concerns seriously.
  • Communication and interpersonal skills – you must be able to effectively communicate and build relationships and trust with a range of people, such as service users, families, caregivers, colleagues and other health and social care professionals. An example would be being clear and concise, learning to actively listen and working as a team to provide the best possible care.
  • Patience – being patient and calm with vulnerable adults can often be tricky, especially in stressful situations. However, it is a trait you must have to succeed in adult social care. An example would be not getting frustrated, angry or intolerant in challenging situations and being calm instead of reactive.

You will also need the right values, behaviours and attitudes to work with vulnerable people. Skills for Care has further information here.

Depending on the role you are considering, they may require you to have additional skills. Therefore, it is worth looking at the job profiles for the roles you are interested in to see what else they want skills-wise.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Career Progression and Development

There are numerous roles in adult social care and at various levels. Therefore, there is plenty of scope for career growth and advancement. Here are some examples of roles at higher levels to consider (Skills for Care):

Level 3

  • Senior care worker
  • Enhanced care worker
  • Rehabilitation worker
  • Advocacy worker.
  • Housing support worker
  • Complementary therapist

Level 4

  • Team leader/supervisor
  • Counsellor
  • Care coordinator

Level 5

  • Management
  • Registered manager
  • Commissioner
  • Owner
  • Shared lives coordinator
  • Nursing associate

Level 6

  • Social worker
  • Occupational therapist
  • Registered nurse
  • Specialist coordinator

Depending on the route you choose to take initially, you could:

  • Move into a new role on the same level, e.g. from a care worker to a support worker.
  • Do the same role but move to a new setting, e.g. from a care home to community work. You could also specialise in specific groups of vulnerable adults, e.g. those with mental health issues, dementia or frailty.
  • Move up to a more senior position, i.e. a care worker may become a senior or an enhanced care worker, a care coordinator and even a manager.

If you want to move to a senior role or specialise in a specific area, you may like to consider at least a Level 3 Diploma in Health and Social Care. You could also undertake courses on specific topics, e.g. autism, dementia and mental health.

You may like to consider completing a Level 4 Certificate in Principles of Leadership and Management for Adult Social Care if your goal is to progress to a management or leadership position.

If you decide to branch out into specific adult social care roles at a higher level, such as an occupational therapist or social worker, you may need to go on to do a degree. Level 6 degree apprenticeships are available in these areas but take a few years to complete.

Further information on career progression is on Skills for Care here.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Working Conditions and Challenges

Working in adult social care is no easy feat. Depending on the role and the service user’s needs, some jobs can involve long shifts, i.e. up to 12 hours a day. There is also usually a requirement to work unsociable hours on different shifts, including evenings, nights, weekends and bank holidays.

Some roles will require adult social care workers to be on their feet for most of the day, and it may also require some heavy lifting, e.g. moving and lifting people, so you must have a certain fitness level. If you work in the community, you may also be required to drive to numerous jobs in the day and complete them within a certain timeframe.

The role can be mentally and emotionally demanding, especially when dealing with individuals with complex needs and seeing them struggle to cope with what is going on in their lives. Some service users may be challenging to deal with and try to resist care. There is also a likelihood of seeing dying and deceased service users, which can be upsetting.

Working in adult social care can expose workers to various hazards, such as lone working, work-related violence and stress, manual handling, hazardous substances, slips, trips and falls, sharps injuries, scalds and burns, etc. Nights and early morning shifts can affect sleep patterns, increasing the risks.

The workloads are certainly a challenge in most adult social care roles, and many have multiple caseloads and demands. Those working in the sector are at risk of stress and even burnout, which can affect their mental and physical health and well-being in the long term. A study found that those in health and social care work longer hours, and two-thirds are at risk of burnout and feel overwhelmed (Ulster University). Also, in 2022, over 500,000 working days were lost in Councils in England because of social care staff experiencing stress and mental ill health (Community Care).

It is vital to undertake self-care and coping strategies to reduce the risks of stress and burnout, such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy work-life balance and having interests and hobbies outside of work.
  • Looking after your physical, mental and emotional well-being, e.g.:
  • Try relaxation techniques and activities, e.g. mindfulness, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, etc.
  • Practice self-care, e.g. eating healthily, exercising, drinking plenty of water, getting enough sleep, limiting alcohol, etc. Even a nice pampering can help.
  • Learn to say no to get a decent work-life balance.
  • Have regular breaks from work and time off.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Ensuring you have your breaks when at work and do not skip them.
  • Having realistic expectations on what you can accomplish and being aware of your own limitations when facing multiple demands. Self-reflection can help to look at improving ways of working to overcome time constraints.
  • Providing service users with the tools to look after their own well-being (where possible) rather than trying to take responsibility for them.
  • Not being afraid to ask for help and support from family, friends and colleagues.
  • Speaking to a manager if workloads are too much, ask for help and seek additional support, e.g. from employee assistance programmes, therapists, etc.
Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Job Search and Application Process

So, after researching, you have decided that a career in adult social care is for you. Now, it is time to start looking for jobs. There are numerous job sites where you can find opportunities, and some examples include (not endorsed, just suggestions):

To make the most of your job search, consider the role you are most suited to and if you are the right person for that job, i.e. do you have the right skills, values and personal qualities? Also, if you have a criminal record, confirm whether you are eligible before applying, as you will need to undergo a check when working with vulnerable people.

It is not just looking on job websites that can help you look for adult social care roles. There are other ways to find jobs, such as:

  • Social media– reaching out to those already working in adult social care on social media or forums can help you gain insights into the profession and get advice on where to look for new opportunities and support when applying for roles.
  • Volunteering– giving your time in a relevant volunteer role, i.e. helping vulnerable people, can demonstrate your passion for working in this sector and enable you to develop new skills and experience. It may also be a way to hear about job vacancies.
  • Networking– meeting new people through events, such as conferences, workshops, seminars, and community-ran, can help you meet people in the sector and find out about any upcoming jobs.
  • Joining a Union and/or a professional body, e.g. the Care Workers Union (CWU), the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), Social Work England, etc. – demonstrates an interest in adult social care and issues within the sector. There are events, specific networks, meetings and campaigns where you could meet and talk with adult social care workers.

If you see or find out about a role that you would like to apply for, check whether they will accept CVs or whether you will need to complete an application form. If you already have a CV, you can use the information to help you complete your application and tailor it to the role. When completing your application, consider your qualifications, skills, personal qualities and experience and how they relate to the job description.

If you need to send a CV and cover letter, try to stand out and show employers and recruiters that you are the best fit for the job. To increase the chances of getting an interview, your CV should be:

  • Clear and concise.
  • Well-formatted, neat and well-laid out.
  • Specific to the position and the organisation.
  • Free from errors; use a grammar/spell checker to be sure.
  • Ideally, no more than two pages in length.
  • Legible; it is best to use headings and fonts that are readable and not fancy.

In the cover letter, introduce yourself and tell employers/recruiters why they should consider your application. It must be compelling, easy to read, concise and between three to five paragraphs. It should be quality over quantity.

There is so much advice and guidance on CV and cover letter preparation online, and it can be daunting to know where to start. Here are some tips to stand out from other applicants:

  • Do plenty of research into the organisation and use this information when tailoring a CV and cover letter to demonstrate eagerness for the role.
  • A functional (skills-based) CV may be better if you lack experience in the sector, as it focuses on transferable skills rather than work history.
  • Peruse the job description carefully, as this will help hone in on the skills, qualities, values and experience they are looking for.
  • Use the personal statement at the top of the CV to really shine and catch employers’ and recruiters’ eyes. It should be clear, concise, and impactful and provide information on what you can bring to the role.
  • Address the cover letter to the organisation instead of using a generic one; it is more personal.
  • Make it clear why you want to work at this specific organisation and in adult social care.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of adult social care, including any issues within the sector in the CV and cover letter.

Further information on job hunting and applications is on Socialcare.co.uk.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Navigating Interviews and Assessments

Fantastic! Your application was successful, and you have an interview invite for an adult social care position. While you will be understandably nervous, you can become more confident by properly preparing for your interview and any assessments.

When preparing for interviews, it is a good idea to:

  • Read the job description again carefully, identify where to focus your skills and experience and ensure that you understand the responsibilities of the role.
  • Do some further research on the organisation for which you are applying to understand their values and how you would fit within the culture of the company.
  • Understand the values, behaviours and attitudes you need to work in adult social care and think about how you will demonstrate these during the interview. Have you cared for anyone, including loved ones? Have you gone above and beyond to help people? Some interviews are value-based to gauge whether you align with the organisation.
  • Identify some of the common interview questions and identify some practice answers and examples of past experiences. Even doing a mock interview with a family member or friend can help. Some examples of interview questions and answers are on:

The interview format will depend on the organisation and the role you are applying for, but they should give you information on this and where to go in the interview invitation. On the day:

  • Make sure you know where to go and plan your journey
  • Dress smartly and ensure you have everything with you that they requested.
  • Set off early to arrive on time and a bit earlier if possible.
  • Relax, be polite and follow the interviewer’s lead to make a good impression.

To remain focused and answer questions effectively in the interview, you can use the STAR method, for example:

  • Situation – a brief explanation of a specific situation (who, what, where and when) you had to deal with.
  • Task – what task you had to do, your role and responsibilities and any challenges you faced.
  • Action – what actions you took to solve a problem or achieve a goal, and why? During this step, highlight any relevant skills, e.g. teamwork and communication.
  • Result – what happened, the results of the actions taken and what you learned. Where possible, try to quantify answers, i.e. provide costs or figures.

When answering interview questions, it is essential to demonstrate a passion for the adult social care sector and helping people. You will also need to show you understand safeguarding, confidentiality and why person-centred care is essential in this sector. Also, prepare some of your own questions to ask in the interview to show an eagerness for the role.

During the interview, it is also best to pause after the question and think about the answer rather than answering immediately. It can help you give clear and concise answers with the information interviewers want rather than rambling and not answering the question.

You may need to undergo assessments, tests or exercises as part of the interview process, but it will depend on the role and organisation. The interview invitation should inform you if this is the case. Prospects have some good tips on how to prepare for assessments here.

Preparing for a Career in Adult Social Care What You Need to Know

Conclusion

Adult social care work is a challenging but rewarding role. You will get to care for and support vulnerable adults and empower them to take control of their own lives and live as independently as possible. You will also be helping to make a positive contribution to society.

There are numerous adult social care jobs to choose from and many areas in which to specialise. The important thing is to pick a role which suits you as an individual and your skills, experience and personal qualities. One thing is for certain, you will need to be passionate about helping people and demonstrate compassion and empathy.

Try to look at other ways to find jobs rather than focusing on traditional job searching methods, such as browsing adverts. While it can help you find out what roles are available, it may increase your chances of success if you volunteer, network and speak to people already in the roles. Sometimes, it is a case of “It’s Not What You Know. It’s Who You Know“. It may help you get your foot through the door.

Once you have landed an interview, prepare thoroughly, practice the questions you may be asked and think of relevant examples. On the day, be confident and demonstrate your enthusiasm for a career in adult social care. Good luck!

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