Sunday, March 15, 2015

Job Tips For the High School Counselor

Sunday, March 15, 2015
The race is on to find a school counseling job. This is the time of year that I get dozens of inquiries from teachers who want to move over into the counseling field, from students who are graduating in the spring, and from counselors in other schools who want to know if I am aware of any job openings. With all the requests for information and job tips, I decided to write a post for those in the market for the BEST JOB IN THE WORLD!!!

My Journey into School Counseling

Before becoming a school counselor, I was a high school history teacher.  In fact when I interviewed for my first teaching job, I think I had the quickest interview in the world. The reason for such a quick interview was because I knew the high school principal really well (hint: he was my principal when I was a student). In reality, I truly never had an official interview nor did I have to write a resume or conduct the traditional job search.  However, after nine years in the classroom, I decided to leave my position for the world of school counseling. What I thought would be an easy transition was not so simple!!

My search for a school counseling position was a four year process.  After failing to find a job in my school or neighboring schools, I decided to widen my search. I combed school websites, I talked to my professors, I talked to any school counselor I could find, and I even visited schools leaving my resume'.  I could find nothing!! It was time to back up and rethink my plan to find a school counseling job.

Feeling discouraged, my dear grandmother decided to give me a piece of advice. She told me that if I wanted to get a counseling job that first I had to get my foot in the door. Now, being a twenty something year old Gen Xer, I did not want to hear that I would have to work my way into the position. However, at this point, what other alternative did I have!? So, my journey continued...

I got my foot in the door!
My next step was to fill out as many applications as possible no matter what level, what school, or what area.  I really wanted a high school counseling position, but I knew that I was probably not going to get that coveted position.  Finally, I received two calls (yes)!!  One call was from a high school in the suburbs and the other from a rural elementary school.  Ahead of my interviews, I sent my resume to the principals, bought a brand new business suit, and researched the school districts. The interviews came and went with me waiting for a call.  I found myself hoping that the high school principal would call and tell me that he had a job waiting for me; however, a letter arrived in the mail from that principal thanking me for my interview (you know what that means). Was this going to be another dead end?  Then, several weeks later, the principal from the elementary school called and offered me a job, but there was one catch.  The position would be a part time elementary school counselor and part time middle school in-school suspension coordinator...say what????  So, I decided, based on my grandmother's advice to take the position at the elementary school to get some much needed experience.  The following year I was able to interview again with the high school and I got the job!

Thinking about my own job hunting experience, I decided to ask to former interns and co-workers about their job search to see if there are similarities in our situations.

Former Intern #1 (Job search- 4 years and counting)

One of my former interns told me that finding a counseling position has not been easy. Although she does not have a counseling position at this time, she is now working in the school that she wants to be a school counselor.  When I asked her what helped her get into the school that she wants to work, she told me that  forming relationships with school staff by volunteering and accepting a non-counseling position helped her get closer to her goal of becoming a school counselor.

Former Intern #2 (Job search - 2 years)

Her advice to me is to get your foot in the door by accepting any available position.  Before becoming an elementary counselor, she worked as a clerical assistant.

Co-worker #1  (Job search - 6 years)

One of my co-workers informed me that she had been searching for a job in school counseling without any luck.  Not able to get a school counseling position, she decided to become certified to teach Spanish until she could ascertain a position.  I am glad to report that she just got offered a school counseling position in a middle school!!

Co-worker #2  (Job search - 3 years)

My co-worker is currently a special education teacher who has been great about helping  in the counseling office as much as possible. Her theory, and a good one, is that we will be familiar with her work which she believes will help her become a frontrunner if we have an open position in our department.

Co-worker #3 and current counselor in our school (Job search - 2 years)

He gave me a good tip when he told me that having the ability to coach a sport is a big plus when applying for any job in education.

Present intern (Currently in graduate school)

My present intern and I spoke about her impending job search.  I asked her what advice she has been given by her professors when looking for a job.  Here is what she told me:

1.  Visit job fairs and share your resume'.
2.  Create a portfolio of lesson plans and be prepared to teach one at the interview (I looked at her strangely about teaching a lesson).
3.  Be prepared for the interview.

In addition to speaking to co-workers and interns, I also included some great tips from some of the hottest school counseling blogs on the web.  Here are some of their suggestions when looking for a school counseling position. 

Danielle Schultz, author of the School Counseling Blog, has a great post from 2010 about finding a school counseling job for graduate students:

1.  Make connections!!!
2.  Always have a business card on hand.  Danielle uses Vistaprint which I love as well!  They have a great price when ordering large numbers of business cards.  I order all my department's business cards from here each year.
3.  Do your homework and learn about the district and school you want to work in.  Danielle suggests going to National Center for Education Statistics for that information.
4.  Ask questions in your interview. Here are some sample questions:
  • "What is the major role/responsibilities of the school counselor?"
  • "What do you believe is the most important skill that a school counselor should possess?"
  • "What is the greatest need facing your school?"
5. Advocate for yourself-Danielle believes you can do this when the interviewer asks you if there is anything you would like to add at this time. 
6. Send a thank you note after every interview!!

Rebecca Lallier, author of School Counseling By Heart, gives school counseling job seekers 13 tips when looking for a position.  Some of the ones that I thought were really helpful include:

1.  Make a compelling argument of why you want to move if the position is far away from your present location.
2.  If you are interviewed by a committee or an administrator, don't rely on using ASCA centered lingo as they may be unfamiliar with ASCA!
3. If you are applying in a state that has adopted Common Core, make sure you are knowledgeable about Common Core and how counselors can address them through lessons and classroom visits.  See Rebecca's article regarding the Schools Counselors Meet the Common Core.  Also, here is a video from Dr. Russ Sabella explaining Common Core.
4. When submitting references, get a reference from a classroom teacher, administrator, or colleague who has seen you teach in the classroom.
5.  Before interviewing, find out what counseling model is present in that school. If no model exists or it is a model they wish to change, show the school personnel how you can contribute to their program.
6.  Show the interviewer that you are a life long learner and always looking to bring new skills to the table.

Heather Thomas, author of The Helpful Counselor, wrote a blog post on landing a counseling position.  Some of her tips include:

1.  Be open to alternative placements when interviewing for a position.
2.  Volunteer!
3.  Make your resume stand out from others.
4.  Be prepared for your interview by making enough copies for everyone of your resume'/portfolio.
5.  Dress professionally!!

Andrea Burston, author of JYJ Counselor Blog, gave some great information on her blog for graduate students.  Some great tips include:

1.  Updating your resume'.
2.  Networking with other counselors at your state's school counselor conference and on sources like ASCA Scene

Dr. Russ Sabella has a great school counseling newsletter and he has a post with possible interview questions for school counselors.  Need some practice?  Take a look and see if you can formulate an answer to these questions.

Interview Questions for School Counselors

Here are some interview questions for administrators by ASCA.

ASCA School Counseling Interview Questions

Tracy Jackson, author of the Extraordinary School Counselor, wrote a great blog about interviews that she has a part of that have gone horribly wrong.  It is a good idea to read this post to make sure you don't make these same mistakes.  Some that stand out are...

1.  Don't say that you don't know how to use technology.  Talk about what technology you can use!
Don't have a bad interview!
2.  Be familiar with the term closing the gap and give an example of an activity.
3.  RTI-if you don't know what these three letters mean then you need to learn about them!

Portfolios

As I was conducting my research for this blog, I ran across some pretty good  examples of portfolios from current school counselors that I thought I would share. 

What is a portfolio?
Be aware of what is included in a professional portfolio.

Examples of Portfolios:

Elizabeth Cranford
Tracy L. Jackson, Ph.D
Stephanie Long
Richard D. Pavia
Jeffrey Ream

Need Resume Assistance?

Tracy Jackson offers resume tips for school counseling graduates who are looking for a job.  Check out her post!!