Hiring season for the next school year will soon be upon us! If you’re looking for your first counseling job or making a move from your current position, I’m sure you’ve already done your research about the job search, resume and cover letter writing, references, and interviewing in general. Follow all this advice! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out ASCA’s job search and interview tips and School Counselor Blog’s interview tips. Let me also give you an interviewer’s inside view.
Finding a School Counseling Job
Because the school counselor holds a central, often unique role in the school and school district, I am often asked to be on hiring committees for teaching, administration, and school counseling positions. Being a member of these committees takes a huge amount of time. Thanks to School Spring and similar job search engines, schools are inundated with applications from people all over the country. And yes, we do have to read almost all of them. Do yourself a favor and make sure that your readers are happy and interested! Then, when you get an interview, make the interviewers understand how you can: (1) quickly integrate into the school community; (2) assess and address the needs of kids, staff, and the school community (and then evaluate how well your plan is working); and (3) ensure that the school counseling program is strong and functional.
Here are some additional tips:
1. Do a test of SchoolSpring or whatever job search engine you are using. Make sure that all your materials come through in their entirety. Of course, you will already have checked that all sections are completed, well written, and typo-free. Of course.
2. For heaven’s sake, make it clear that you know about and are interested in this particular job! This means redoing your cover letter — for each job. At the very least, change the greeting. Preferably, write about something that intrigues you about the school/district to which you are applying.
3. If you live far away, make a compelling argument about why you want to move/are already planning to move and how you will be available for interviews and potential relocation. Readers may assume that you’re just widely casting a net and don’t care about this particular job. See #2 above.
4. There is a possibility that there will not be a school counselor on the hiring committee, particularly in smaller schools and districts. Even if there is, he/she may be from a different grade level, and there will likely be more administrators and teachers than counselors. Make sure that you do not rely solely on counseling lingo (“client-centered,” “ASCA,” etc.) because the administrators and teachers on the committee may not be as familiar with it as you might expect.
5. When writing about your counseling experience, start with classroom teaching, then groups, then individuals, then other activities (committees, curriculum development, advocacy, etc.) Referencing the collection and use of data and Response to Intervention is important.
6. Schools are about educating. Help the committee understand how you will teach as well as counsel students. And how those two things are related. Some applicants will focus almost solely on their counseling skills and will fail to address teaching, classroom management, behavior support, school climate, collaboration, etc. Set yourself apart from this kind of applicant! They are the ones that go in the NO pile. If you are applying in a state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards, make sure that you are able to speak knowledgeably about how school counseling lessons and units can address the Common Core. To learn more about this, see School Counselors, Meet the Common Core!
7. A reference letter from a classroom teacher will go a long way for you in the credibility department. Teachers are the ones who get to see close up the results of your work with kids. They may also have seen you teaching in their classrooms. Ditto for letters from an administrator. A letter from your practicum/ internship supervising school counselor is key. This person has probably had the best view of your work, growth, and potential.
8. References from professors are all well and good, but the reality is that what school personnel have to say is likely to be weighted more heavily. This is because they are the ones who have seen your day-in-day-out work in a school setting. Also, administrators like to hear an administrator’s perspective, teachers like to hear from teachers, etc. This does not necessarily mean you should omit letters from a professor, but if possible the balance should fall on the side of school personnel. You also need to consider which letters best highlight your skills when choosing which to submit. In addition, think carefully before submitting a reference letter that is poorly written. I have seen embarrassingly awful, English-butchering examples from administrators and teachers. Sorry to say, if they can’t write well, they don’t have much credibility, and probably aren’t doing you much credit. (If there are just a few typos, you can probably ask them to correct.)
9. Don’t be afraid to ask several people to write letters for you so that you can pick and choose which to submit based on the job for which you are applying — just be sure that they know your work well enough to speak highly of you. Ask them if they would like to have a written reminder of some of the things you have done in their classrooms and/or with students they know. You can also ask them if they will focus on a particular issue or situation. I am asked to write a LOT of references. Some years ago, a student teacher who had interned in a second grade class asked me specifically to mention how she had handled a situation in which a student had reported abuse to her, how she had supported a particular student, and how she managed behavior in the classroom. It was such a relief to have a framework on which to base my letter. I probably would have covered her classroom management and rapport with kids, but I’m not sure I would have thought to include her role in the disclosure in my letter. Since then I always ask people requesting references to provide me with something similar. It makes my life easier and helps them get a package of reference letters that broadly describes their experience and skills.
10. Writing a good reference takes a lot of time. Make sure to thank the writer with a well thought out thank-you note. The interviewers won’t know you did this, but it’s just good karma.
11. Before you interview, find out what kind of counseling model exists at the school. What are the expectations about teaching in classrooms, facilitating groups, individual counseling, and other responsibilities. At the interview, check with the interviewers to make sure you understand the model and ask (tactfully) if that is the model that they wish to continue with. Show the interviewers how you can meet the needs of the school, honor what is already in place, and, after learning more and assessing what is in place, how you might hope to build upon the current model.
12. If there is something you did not have the chance to do (but wanted to) in your practicum/ internship, let the interviewers know how you are prepared to do it in the future. This is especially important if they ask about something in particular, but impressive if you offer it up beforehand.
13. Think carefully about the questions YOU ask. Among my favorites: “If you had a magic wand what, if any, changes would you make to the school counseling program? Why?” and “What about this counseling program/school are you most proud of?”
14. Good luck! Now go get that job!