Whether you’re an experienced counselor or fresh out of grad school, interviewing for school counseling positions is nerve-wracking! Here are lots of practical tips to help you feel confident as you embark on the process:
Go in Prepared
- Do a little cyber sleuthing on the school. Read the counseling page/entry on the website. Try to find the school improvement plan to see their goals. Scroll through the school’s FB page a bit. Think about how you and your strengths and personality can plug in.
- Plan out some questions in advance. Some might get answered during the interview, and some might pop up during, but you definitely want to be prepared with some ahead of time. Some I like to ask: What is the school counselor’s role in discipline here? What non-counseling duties does the school counselor have? How do the teachers feel about the role of the counselor? What does MTSS look like for social, emotional, and behavioral concerns?
- Check out the district’s website. Be ready to talk about any new initiatives you see, or about things they value. Individual schools may or may have the same foci but you want to be prepared to answer questions related to what you see (restorative practices, disproportionality in suspensions, if they’re an IB school, etc.)
Create a Portfolio
Speaking of being prepared, make sure you have an updated portfolio. Will admin ask for one? Maybe, but probably not. Is it still an important way to show of your strengths and professionalism? Yup! There’s some things about previous work you’ve done and the way you conceptualize a counseling program that are hard to convey in an interview. For example, the interview might focus on your communication style and fit with the school while your portfolio can show of your use of data and specific expertise.
You can also send a portfolio digitally so they have a chance to look over before the interview, or after it if they didn’t have time during (sometimes they’re so speedy!).
I created a totally editable set of templates and frameworks that can give you a great stress-free start to this.
Here are some sections I recommend including (and some of these might break down into multiple sections):
- A section showcasing your tier 1 work (sample lesson plan, curriculum map, activities you’ve provided teachers, etc.)
- A section showcasing tier 2 work (small group data, behavior interventions, etc.)
- How you serve stakeholders (teacher trainings, parent workshops, community partnerships, etc.)
- Schoolwide programming
- How you have contributed to school culture and climate
*Bonus benefit of the portfolio: It also serves you well in evaluations!
Nail the Questions
ASCA has a set of sample interview questions that HR/admin/whoever can use when interviewing for school counseling positions. It is worth looking at! If your interviewer is a fellow counselor, or the director of counseling for a district, those might be the questions they use. However, in my experience, they are not regularly used by principals. Often times, principals don’t even know what ASCA is, let alone what a “comprehensive school counseling program is”. In those cases, the questions they ask are based largely off of 1) their prior experiences (good and bad) with school counselors, 2) what they personally need in a school counselor, and 3) questions they would ask teacher applicants. With that in mind, I want to share other questions you might want to prepare for.
Tell about a time…
The “tell about a time…” questions are my least favorite! I immediately blank on all previous life experience. I’ve been asked a lot about times I’ve handled conflict, times I’ve failed at work, and times I’ve had to manage a lot at once. Here are some others I gathered from other counselors:
- Tell about a time you didn’t get along with a co-worker.
- Tell about a time you needed to give feedback to a co-worker.
- Tell about a time you collaborated with others/worked as a member of a team.
- Tell about a time you creatively solved a problem.
- Tell about a difficult case you managed and what interventions you used.
- Tell about how you manage your time/prioritize – some will even list multiple things (fight on playground, scheduled lesson, crying student) and ask you to prioritize.
- Tell about a time you needed to de-escalate someone. (Megan W. Pittsburgh, PA)
- Tell about a time you were a leader in your building/organization/classroom. (Sarah M., Houston, TX)
- Tell about a time you had an ethical dilemma at work/tell about a time you had to use your ethical code at work. (Sarah M., Houston, TX)
- Tell about a time you made a mistake with a student. What would you have done differently? (Larissa R.)
- Tell about a time you advocated for a student. (Emily Weber)
- Tell about a time you ran a meeting or a workshop. (Emily Weber)
- Tell about a time when things went poorly with a parent and how you have grown and developed from your response that time.
- Tell about a time when things went really well with a parent.
What would you do if…
Another common set of interview questions fall into the category of hypothetical scenarios. I’ve been asked about frustrated parents, teachers having trouble getting on board, and handling conflict between teachers. Here are some others I gathered from other counselors:
- What would you do if you disagreed with what I (principal) said?/What would you do if you disagreed with something that was happening in the building?
- What would you do if you found out a student was cutting?
- What would you do if a student was having suicidal ideation?
- What would you do if a student wants to switch classes?
- What would you do if a parent called angry about a teacher?
- What would you do if a child was having a meltdown in the classroom? (Megan W. Pittsburgh, PA)
- What would you do if a student told you they were pregnant?
- What would you do if a student told you they were questioning their gender identity? Or sexual orientation?
- What would you do if you learned about a possible student crisis on a Friday afternoon? (Emily Weber)
Other Questions You Might Get
- How do you use data to guide your work?
- How do you engage students?
- How do you help prepare students for post-secondary career and/or college?
- How do you build relationships (with students, faculty, and caregivers)?
- How will your program improve racial and ethnic equality? How will social justice be part of what you do?
- What do you think are the three most important characteristics of a school counselor?
- What experience do you have with test coordination? Megan W. Pittsburgh, PA
- What experience do you have with Section 504?
- How have you impacted _______? (attendance, bullying, etc.)
- How will you work to close an achievement gap? (Larissa R.)
- What makes you a great fit for our school?
- What do you view as the counselor’s role in discipline? (Emily Weber)
Note: I’ve never had a principal ask me about anything about my actual counseling. I’ve never been asked to share about what theories I use, or to share a case study, or even talk about my educational philosophies. That’s not to say that you won’t get asked about those – you might. But in my experience, when it’s an administrator or teachers asking the questions, the focus is much more on practical concepts.
Stand Tall Like a Superhero
I once watched a TedTalk on the importance our own body language has on ourselves. Amy Cuddy explained that if we “pose” confidently for a few minutes before doing something, it can actually impact our own confidence and how we act! I’ve personally tried doing a superhero pose for a couple minutes before interviews, delivering trainings, etc. It could just be the placebo effect but… I think it works!
- It’s okay to be honest and authentic about lack of experience. Tie it in with a spirit of growing and learning and how you’ll actively seek out information you need to be amazing.
- Remember that a huge part of the decision of who to hire isn’t about your training or experience and is about your personality and overall how you present yourself. Especially in some elementary schools, faculties consider themselves close knit families and “fit” is prioritized. Be yourself!
- This should go without saying but I’ve still gotta make sure I include this: arrive early, be respectful to any front office folk you engage with, dress professionally (doesn’t have to be a suit but it shouldn’t be jeans or flip flops), and write a thank you note or email after.
If You Didn’t Get It
Look, sometimes employers already know who they want to hire before you even walk in the door. This is common knowledge in other fields but the truth is that it 100% happens in education, too. While it’s absolutely important to do a brief analysis of “what could I do differently next time”, don’t agonize over it.
Sometimes it’s not meant to be.
If they don’t want you, maybe you shouldn’t want them.
Maybe you being hired or not had absolutely nothing to do with you
It’s also okay if you need to grieve the loss of a potential position. I interviewed for a job once that I really, really wanted. And I felt like I nailed the interview. Correspondence with administration after was wonderful. An then a month later they finally told me I didn’t get it. I was devastated, partly because I really wanted the job and partly because they really dragged out the process. In hindsight, I think they were waiting for board approval to extend the offer to someone else and I was second choice, so I had to wait for board approval and then someone else’s offer and acceptance before I could get rejected. It was super tough and I had to let myself mourn it.