School Counselor Interviews - Overcome Your AnxietyReady or not - here they come!
The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.
Into the unknown…
Spring and summer mean hiring in the world of education. I recall, not too long ago, completing my graduate education in December and wading into the terrifying waters of applying for my first school counseling job. There is not much else like applying for a job (especially your first one). In a few short months my wife and I will be having our first child and even that barely surpasses the anxiety of applying (and the even more anxiety prone interview process) for a career position.
I have several previous posts where I speak on the art (and oh it is an art) of interviewing. Being able to be on the other side of the table has been very eye opening for me and helped me hone my interview approach. Please check those posts out and let me know what you think.
This post, however, will focus on demystifying the interview process. From the pre-interview to the post-interview stage — what kind of time, conversation and effort goes into finding the perfect candidate.
An interview is initiated with 1 of 2 things (and often both):
1. An application.
2. A connection.
Job-interviewing is just a skill. Like any skill, some people have more of a predisposition for it than others.
Procedure and Process
Let it be known that every school and every district has the possibility to be very different in their interview process. Larger districts will tend to be more “corporate” in their approach – while smaller districts will leave more of the process up to the site. Depending on location and position – you may be “competing” against 3 or 10 other school counselor candidates who are interviewing for the same position. The same people will likely sit on the interview panel throughout the process and equitable procedure will guide the panel to ask the same questions to all candidates.
Human resources usually provides a few forms that your panel will be taking notes and ranking candidates on different attributes of your interview (this will be important later). These rankings include items like communication, attire, attitude and more specific notes/rankings on the individual questions the person is asked. If you see the panel writing after you say something, don’t freak out. I usually write when I hear very positive or possibly negative things I need to remember for later in the decision making process.
After going through the interview process – the panel will review these rankings and, in many cases, give each candidate an overall progressive ranking. In my district – we get to the end of a VERY long day and each panel member has rated each person interviewed. Those rankings are all added to a matrix and the numbers added together to give us an average rating. The bottom candidates are almost always eliminated right away. Interview panels will also typically ask if there is anyone who applied that someone could simply not work with (and why). Discussion follows as needed.
The final set of candidates are ranked in order of preference. Unless no candidate is a good fit – the HR or admin will begin reference checks on the top candidates and, if they check out, make an offer to the top candidate. If that person declines – the person leading the process could move to the second candidate. In some districts or states – they can only offer to their top candidate and then have to re-start the process over again.
Now that we have a little info on common practices (again – lots of schools do it different ways), we can begin to think about how to address our anxiety going into your interview.
The Good News
You are already in the interview process! 95% of other applicants did not make it this far and that makes you special. There is something that these people want to see more of. Let that give you confidence!
Questions, writing like mad, and silence.
This is the section where you will make it or break it – showtime – the time of action. Most people have their anxiety steadily increase as they approach “show time”, but once in the interview – people typically are able to relax (a little). People are still super nervous during the interview, but I liken it to riding a scary roller coaster. Standing in line, you hear the screams, the roar of the cars and psych yourself up (or out) to go through with the plan. However, once you are on the roller coaster people generally relax and enjoy the ride.
While almost everyone is nervous in the interview process – know that it does effect how you present to your panel. Some nervousness is okay – but if you are freezing, look completely non-confident, and are quite/shy – it can poorly impact how you come across. Easier said than done…I know.
Questions are something that are all but promised in your interview. In my opinion – the number one way to make this area a less anxious one is to pre-answer some of the more common questions:
- Tell us about yourself (qualifications, work history, passions, etc).
- What is you approach to school counseling?
- How would you handle <enter a tough circumstance>
- Why should we hire you for this position.
There tons of possible questions, but knowing your game plan is an essential part of developing your answers. I like to practice questions in the mirror and with friends. Another technique that is helpful is to record your answers on video. That gives you the visual and audio impact of what the interviewer might see. Check for negative body language, unnatural pauses, stammers, or other common hang ups. You will get the feel of what you can work on by watching your interview.
Another major way to set yourself apart is to do your research before your interview. Know the school’s data, read their goals, plans, read their school profile, check state data that may be available. This information can provide vital clues to what the school may be focused on (grad rates, bullying prevention, RTI, special friends, etc). It is always very impressive on an interview panel to see our own data used in an example.
Writing like mad
Something I have always noticed and it seems like many interviewees notice is when their panel all of a sudden looks away and begins madly writing on their papers. This can be disheartening, but it usually means one of two things. Someone heard something they like or someone heard something they may be concerned about. For me – 8 out of 10 times when I jot things down, it is something I want to remember that is positive. So remember that. If you see this happen – check the body language of the panel. Are the nodding as they are writing? If so and if you get the feeling they like what they hear – hit it again in a different fashion later. If you get the feeling that they were concerned with something you said – try to avoid that.
Silence is an awkward but powerful thing throughout life. In an interview – I have found that silence typically means that there is something yet to be said. The panel is giving the interviewee time to add some missing details they may be waiting for. Pay attention to those pauses as it is a clue you may need to expand your answer. Think back to the question they asked – did you answer all the parts? Did you leave something out? Don’t forget – you can always ask them to repeat the question if you feel you need a little more time to think or have another take at it.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.
Truth is that it typically comes down to little things for the top candidates.
Don’t let it get to you!
Making the call.
For you – the interviewee – after you leave, the process halts until you get that lucky call one day. However, that is not the end of the interview. Typically after all the candidates have been interviewed – a review process takes place to determine the best candidate to offer the job. This process can be pretty quick to taking several days for high profile positions or if there is significant disagreement. I will give an example of the process we have used, but as before – other school districts will likely use a different, but similar process.
Usually the process kicks off with conversation. Depending on the group – it could be very structured, each person getting to provide feedback, comments, thoughts, and concerns – or it could be a little more informal (like ours typically are) and we discuss each candidate and people are able to pipe in as needed. Common topics of conversation are the outlier issues, either the very strong or very weak candidates. Most people go back to their notes after the long day interviewing to recall quotes or feelings they got as the candidates were talking. Typically no jobs are offered during the discussion phase. However, there may be cuts made. In some interviews – before we jumped to the next phase, we ask if there were any candidates that someone wanted to eliminate and had discussion around that. If there were multiple people who veto, that candidate doesn’t go on to the next phase.
No not THAT Matrix. This is a typical next phase in the process. As people were rating each candidate, they were also doing what is called progressive rating which makes you re-rank people after each candidate interviews. For example, the first person to interview is automatically ever person’s #1 choice. After the second – each person must decide who is #1 and who is #2. After the 3rd, who is #1, #2, and #3 and so on until each person is ranked.
The matrix is a way to find common interests and gather a group consensus on candidates. We create a grid (or matrix) and add candidate names in the rows and each column has the progressive ratings for everyone in the interview panel next to the respective candidate. Those numbers are added up for each interviewee and it provides a decent idea of the favorite candidates.
At that point – the field must be narrowed and usually the top 2 or 3 are further discussed and the remainder denied.
The Final Word.
Deliberation continues for the top two or three. Sometimes the group will determine who to initially offer the position to, but choose to go to pick #2 if that person declines. Other times – the process must start over. Another thing that can sometimes cause problems is we may have a great interviewee who presents as all together, but references are usually only checked after the interview. If the references come back not as stellar, the person in charge may make a call to go with pick two if references check out.
Hang in there!
If anything – you have read this and discovered that the hiring process is a convoluted one. Tons of traps, pitfalls and barriers to overcome. However – the market for school counselors (and teachers) is rebounding. When I was looking for work out of graduate school – I likely submitted well over 100 applications, had a number of interviews (from Rhode Island to Thailand and Tahoe) and finally landed what has turned out to be a dream job. Had I given up, not been selective with my applications (I was not just blanketing them out there) or didn’t approach each interview like THE interview – I would not be here today.
By positioning yourself well, doing everything you can to prepare, and for God’s sake – dressing like a professional for the interview – YOU can get a job. You future students need you – make that interview panel know that!! Good luck.