Let me start with the good news: you won’t face a tough competition in your interview for a school counselor job (the position is sometimes called also “educational counselor” or “student counselor”). In many cases, you may actually be the only applicant for the position, or one of two or three applicants. Nevertheless, you still have to convince the hiring committee of your skills, and your readiness for the job. How can you do that?
You will have to demonstrate strong listening skills, understanding for the problems the students face, and for the emotions they experience, as well as knowledge of various situations that happen in a job of a school counselor, and a right way of addressing each situation.
The bad news is that you will have to deal with a variety of questions, ranging from simple personal questions to difficult behavioral and technical (job-specific) questions.
Last but not least, the school representatives must see an ally in you, someone who would advocate for the students, but not at all costs. Let’s have a look at the list of questions now.
Why do you want to become a school counselor?
Try to speak about the future, not about the past–what you want to do, what value you want to bring to the school and to the students as a school counselor, the positive difference you hope to make on your position. Of course, you can mention your education and skills, but the key is to focus on the future, and the positive difference you want to make in this job.
I believe to have good understanding of the problems children face nowadays, their world and how they perceive things that happen to them at school. In my experience, I can be a good advisor to them, counselor, and also someone they trust. This I learned in my short teaching career, and I really believe that combined with my education, I have all it takes to become a great counselor.
What do you want to accomplish on this position?
Again, focus on the goals from the perspective of the school, and the students. Tell the hiring committee how you want to improve the position of the students, their access to opportunities, the relationships between them and the teachers, how you want to help decreasing the dropout rate, etc.
Great employees (in any employment) do not go to work just because they have to earn money to survive. They try to accomplish something, to bring value. And that’s exactly the impression you should make when answering this question.
I want to try to make a positive difference in life of students. I want to help build relationships of trust at school, I want to show them that we at school do our best to help them succeed in life. Hopefully I can assist in improving the relationships of students, teachers, and school administrators, and help this school to become even a better place for everyone.
Why counseling, and not teaching?
You can say that you believe your strengths and skills will be more useful in a position of a counselor, or give any other reason (personal, educational) why you went for counseling instead of teaching.
Generally speaking, counselors do not earn more than teachers (at many school they actually earn less), while their education is more difficult. The question makes sense, and your goal is to convince us that you know what you are doing.
I am motivated by personal experience. When I was young, I had a hard time at school. My parents divorced, and I did not have the best relationship with my classmates. I felt lonely and isolated, my results were poor and I was on the edge of dropping out. But we had a wonderful counselor. She showed me the value in me; she listened carefully to my problems, and led me out of my crisis. Without her I wouldn’t sit here in front of you today, since I’d not even finish the high school. This life changing experience motivated me to purse a career of a counselor, and I hope to also change life of children to better. I have never though about teaching career. I always wanted to become a counselor.
Why do you want to work as a counselor at our school? Why not some other institution?
This is your chance to show them that you care, that you did your homework. Do they face particular challenges at their school? Are you eager to address these challenges? Do the values they advocate resonate with your values? Or do you simply know the area and people well, and it feel natural for you to try to get a job with them, instead of working for some random educational institution you have no connection to? One way or another, they should get an impression that they are your first choice.
I know a few teachers and parents here. I have heard great things about this school, about innovative teaching methods you apply, and great atmosphere in the staff room. You seem to be a well organized place, people cooperate together here, and I will be very happy and grateful to belong to your team, since I believe in such an environment it is easier for a counselor to achieve their goals with the students.
What is it that you like about working with (grade level) students?
Refer to personal reasons and experience, in order to explain your choice. You can talk about your friends/children/classmates with special needs and how you always felt for them. Or you can say that you feel very natural with children of certain age, e.g. from six to ten years, and that you believe your skills and attitudes suit them perfectly, and can bring the most value to them.
I decided for high school education, because I feel I can offer the biggest value here. We have good understanding for each other; I naturally get along well with this age group. Maybe it’s because of the hobbies I have, maybe because I still feel very young, or because I also experienced some problems as a high school student, and I needed counseling. One way or another, this is my choice.
How would you gain the trust of the students?
In me experience, integrity and one-on-one meetings foster trust. Students should be sure that what happens in your office stays in your office, and you won’t talk to their parents about any sensitive issues (or at least not before you informed them about your plans to contact the parents).
To ensure them that you’d always advocate for their rights (and to actively do so in your job) is also a way of wining their trust.
I’d be very transparent with them, in everything I do. If I planned to consult their parents, I’d tell them. If I did like something about their behavior (or didn’t like), I’d tell them, of course with right words. I want them to see that I really care, that I advocate for them as a group, but also for each individual. I believe that action beats words. When they see that I really try my best to help them, both academically and emotionally, they will trust me (at least most of them will).
How do you handle criticism?
School counselors are often subject to criticism, from both students and teachers. Tell the hiring committee that you are ready to face constructive criticism, as you believe it helps you to become better in what you do. You can also emphasize that you do not take criticism personally, and it won’t affect your relationship with the colleagues.
I try to do my job well, and I care about the results. Logically it sometimes hurts when someone criticizes my work—though they may be right. But I am aware that counselors are often criticized, and I count with criticism. I will try to understand each negative comment, and learn from it.
What goals would you set for yourself in this job?
First of all, you should have some goals, since each responsible employee have goals. And you should not rely on the administrators to set the goals for you, for two reasons:
- They do not understand your work as well as you do (it’s not their specialization)
- The motivation to attain a goal is always stronger when we set it (it’s called inner vs. external motivation).
In terms of particular goals, however, you can either try to address challenges they face at school, one by one (such as lowering the drop-our rate, eliminating chicane, improving results of students, helping outsiders to integrate into collective in the classroom, etc), or you can simply say that your goal is to do your best for every student, within the scope of your job and position.
According to the research I’ve done about your school and students (please correct me if I’m wrong), your drop out rate is 20% higher than the average in this school district. I believe that as a school counselor I can help to address this issue, and to get us to the district average (or do even better). This will be the goal I’d set for the first three years. I have also read about instances of severe chicane at your school, and I do believe to have a capacity to help addressing this also this sensitive issue.
How important is the paperwork for you?
We live in bureaucratic times--sad but true. Tell them that you understand the importance of paperwork, and will approach it responsibly. At the same time, though, you may say that the actual work and talks with the students are your main focus, and you don’t want to get lost in paperwork.
Well, the real value of our job is not in paper work. It is in listening to students, trying to understand them, trying to advocate for them, and help them on their career journey. I always try to keep this on my mind, since it is easy to get lost in paperwork.
At the same time, however, I understand there are some rules and we are obliged to do a lot of paperwork. Honestly, it is not my favorite part of the job, but it is an obligation, and therefore I do not mind taking care of it.
How will you evaluate your school counseling program?
Skilled school administrators know that in school counseling, effort counts more than the results we achieve. Counselor is just one person in a life of each student, and the most they can hope for is having a positive impact on them, and helping them to deal with the issues they face. Whether this actually happens or not, however, is outside our control.
Parents, peers, teachers, media, role models—all of them play their part, and have an impact on the social, academic, psychological and even physical well-being of the student. Bearing this in mind, it is hard to evaluate a school counseling program (at least in my opinion).
Nevertheless, you should say that you will set some goals, ideally tangible goals, and you will monitor your progress in achieving them. You can also say that you will ask students for regular feedback on your work (anonymously), and use it for evaluating your program, and for setting new goals.
To be honest, I think that I am not the person to evaluate my program. The school leaders, teachers, and especially students should evaluate my work, and tell whether I am actually helping them. I plan to conduct regular anonymous survey (online) with the students I work with, and ask them for their feedback, and what I could do better in my counseling program.
In my opinion this is the only true way of evaluating and improving the school counseling program over time.
How would you work with irate/angry/stupid/passive parent?
Try to show us that you have a clear system of work, that you are ready for each and every situation that can happen in your job of a school counselor. On the other hand, you should be aware of your limits. If a parent is not interested in their child’s education, and does not react to your prompts, there’s not much you can do apart from continuing working with the child, regardless of the attitude of their parent.
I am actually happy to hear a parent complaining about something, because first and foremost—it means that they care, and wish for the best education for their children. I’d listen to what they have to say, try to explain my point of view, and hopefully we can come to a conclusion that’s best for their child. In my experience, many parents are passive. Then it is a question of understanding how much they care about their children, and whether they want to get involved in their education. If they do, my doors are always open, and I will regularly encourage them to participate.
What would you do if a student shared with you their suicide plans?
Each job has some limits. Being pregnant is one thing, being suicidal another. You should demonstrate that you understand the difference. Say that you’d involve psychologist and even other experts immediately. Contacting parents is also advisable in this case (unless you know that involving parents would make the situation worse, which is very unlikely however).
While young people often “play” with the word suicide, and use it while trying to gain advantage (of teachers, of their boyfriends/girlfriends, etc) we can never (or almost never) know whether they aren’t serious this time. At school, we are not in a position to take their words lightly. Suggest calling the parents or taking the child to mental health counselor (if appointed at school) immediately. You should not leave the student alone until they parents arrive…
I’d either call their parents (guardian), or ask the students to call them. If we had mental health counselor appointed at school, I’d immediately call them and ask them to come to the office, or I’d accompany the child to their office. This is a serious situation and I believe that other people are better prepared to handle it than I am. We should never leave the student alone with their demons and fears, and there are definitely protocols we have to follow in such cases.
One student wanted to drop out of school. What would you do?
The key is to show understanding for their emotions, and situation. Tell the hiring committee that at first you would only listen, trying to understand their reasons. Then you would try to convince them of an importance of the education in their life, and help them to reconsider their decision…
First of all, I’d ask them why they wanted to drop out. I would listen carefully, make notes, and try to understand their point of view. I’d not start arguing with them, and I’d try to show understanding for their situation, and for how they feel about school and life.
Next I would try to outline a simple plan, showing them, step by step, how they could get out of the situation, and continue their studies. This plan is different in each case, since each student (and their reasons for wanting to drop out) is different.
Other questions you may face in your school counselor job interview
- If there was a conflict between a student and a teacher (or one of the school administrators), on which side would you stand?
- Tell us about a time when you explained something difficult to someone. How did you get your message over?
- How would you approach individual student planning?
- Tell us about a time when you struggled with motivation in work. How did you overcome the crisis?
- How do you imagine a typical day in work as a counselor?
- What is the role of the student counselor in relation to teachers, parents, administrators and other counselors?
- How would you work with children from orphanage?
- Do you plan to become a school psychologist later in your career?
- What did you like the most on your studies?
- Describe a goal you achieved in your education counseling (teaching) practice, and who helped you with achieving the goal.
- Is there anything else we did not cover that you would like us to know about you as we consider you as a candidate for the position of a school counselor?
Conclusion, brilliant answers to all questions you may face in your interview
At the end of the day, you should demonstrate an honest interest for the problems the students deal with, for their life, for the challenges the teachers and the administrators face at school.Remember it when preparing for the interview questions.
And if you are not sure how to answer the questions (you are not alone), have a look at an eBook I wrote for you, the School Counselor Interview Guide. It includes multiple brilliant answers to each of the twenty five questions you may realistically face in this interview, plus winning interview strategies–things you simply need to know to make the right impression on the interviewing panel.
You will find several great interview answers directly on the eBook page, so it makes sense to check it out even if you do not plan to purchase anything. Thank you, and good luck in your interview!
Glen Hughins, InterviewPenguin.com Expert Writer
* You can also download a full list of questions in a simple one-page long .PDF document, and practice your interview answers anytime later:
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