finding a school counseling job - school counseling graduates

10 Tips for Landing a School Counseling Job

Getting hired as a school counselor can be difficult in today’s job market. However, difficult does not mean impossible! Read below for 10 tips to help you land a school counseling job.

There are a lot of really good suggestions for school counselors who are looking for a job on some of the school counseling blogs in the blog o’sphere.

If you haven’t already checked them out, I strongly advise you to not only check out the post but print a copy of the post and put it in a binder or folder for future reference. <-Bookmark them at the very least; you will want to reference them again (trust me).

Here is a round-up of some of my favorites:

Finding a School Counseling Job by Rebecca Lallier at School Counseling by Heart

School Counseling Job Market Linky Party by Marrisa Rex at Elementary School Counseling

School Counseling Interview Tips by Danielle Shultz at the School Counseling Bog

(I feel like I’ve missed a few so make sure to let me know what’s missing and I’ll update the list 🙂 )

The wealth of knowledge that can be found on these blogs is invaluable!

Here are a few more tips I would give my best friend if she were trying to get hired as a school counselor:

1: EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE

Look for ways to gain as much experience as possible. Every time you are able to work with children/teens you are gaining experience. Working in a variety of settings will give you a pool of experiences to draw upon during your interview.

2. Be Open to Alternative Placements

I know degrees and licenses vary by state, but in Michigan, school counselors have a Master in Counseling and are able to work in a number of alternative settings. You may not have envisioned working with children in foster care, but I can tell you from experience, “It looks AMAZING on a resume!”

I’ve worked with at-risk children and their families in a lot of different situations and grant-funded programs in inner-city Flint and Detroit. Some of the programs were only a few weeks long and some programs were only a few weekends…but they all added up to experience.

3. Volunteer

While volunteering is that fastest way to gain experience (which is number one on my list), it is also the best way to outshine the competition.

A lot of people are driven in what they do, but it says a lot when someone is so passionate about what they do that they will give up their own time and resources to pitch in for a cause that is bigger than them. After all, that is what educators do every day.

Schools are going to want to hire someone that is willing to jump on in, join the team, and pitch in where they can. Volunteering is a great way to showcase those traits.

4. Collect Evidence/Data Along the Way

Believe it or not, data can be your friend!

Did you help organize resources or help plan activities for the children at that weekend camp? How many kids were there? What were their age ranges? Planning, organizing, and implementing lessons are skills hiring panels want to hear about.

Make sure to note any behavioral management skills you have utilized!

5. Network EVERYWHERE

I befriended a CEO and a Director of Children’s Services when I was a waitress at Applebees. These contacts led to two job interviews and two mentor-type relationships that helped mold my career.

6. BE READY – ALWAYS!

There I was minding my own business…participating in an elementary counseling meeting during my internship when all of a sudden three principals from a local school district walk into our meeting.

They were there touring the building (Young-5’s & K only). While they visited with us, I realized that I recognized one of the principals. She went to my church! Before they left they mentioned that their school counselor was leaving for sunny California…better believe I had my business card ready that Sunday. 🙂

7. Go the Extra Distance

Make yourself stand out from the rest of the pack by adding a bit of polish to your portfolio and resume. I know a lot of you are pretty confident in your resume and cover letter writing skills, but having an extra pair of eyes is vital.

It’s sad when a resume is rejected because of a small spelling or grammar mistake. Take the extra step and have your resume looked over by another school counselor.

8. Plan Ahead

Call ahead to see how many people will be on your interview panel. Make enough portfolios for everyone to have their own. While I can’t guarantee that they will be read, the gesture will show that you plan ahead, are prepared, and meet the needs of everyone.

9. Make Your Portfolio Manageable

If you are freaking out about making 8-10 copies of your portfolio, you probably have too much in your portfolio. Condense your portfolio so you are highlighting your best work. You can always include a note how additional lessons available upon request.

10. Relax

This bit of advice is easier said than done. I was a ball of nerves on my way to my interview. I decided to use some advice a friend gave me. He said that he pretended his most recent job interview was practice for the next one. He said he was so relaxed that he had his best interview (and got the job)!

What do you think will help best with nerves? Thinking: “I gotta get this job. I gotta get this job.” or “This is great experience for the next one.”

Make sure you practice self-care (eating, sleeping, limiting caffeine) and take a big breath and exhale. You’ll be GREAT!

What are your thoughts? Concerns? Anyone with an interview coming up?

Comments 12

  1. This might seem obvious to some, but it wasn’t for me…dress up! I had been working as a school counselor in a charter school for several years and felt like I knew what “school dress up” was. But when I decided to really go for a position in much larger schools and districts, I got much better responses when I went shopping and wore cute but professional dresses that I probably would never actually wear during a work day as a school counselor!

    I whole-heartedly second bringing in a portfolio, and enough copies for everyone on the panel. Have a specific page in the portfolio you’re ready to tell an anecdote about and color code the pages so you can tell the panel where to turn.

    1. Great points! I tend to wear clothes that a bit more causal since I never know when I might need to get down on the floor with one of my students. However, school counselors need to appear “put together” to project a sense of authority…I also think new clothes can put a little pep in our step. 🙂

      Color coding the portfolio is a great idea too! I used labeled tabs so my interview panel could quickly flip to the area when I referenced it during my responses to their questions.
      ~Heather

  2. I’ve been building my portfolio. Most of my internship was with one on one counseling and I used several resources for those activities. How do you suggest building counseling and guidance lessons that are original?

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Jenny!

      Below are a few ideas to keep in mind when writing lesson plans:

      1. Use an already established format as an outline for your formatting.
      2. Create lessons based on your experience. This will give you the most natural/realistic lessons possible.
      3. Base your lesson off of an identified need & include that in your portfolio
      4. Connect desired student outcomes to your state’s standards/benchmarks & ASCA’s behaviors & mindsets.
      5. Be sure to include an assessment that is tied into the desired outcome.

      Best of luck!
      ~Heather

  3. How do you suggest building a manageable portfolio for interviews. What should I include? I’ve been hunting a job for 3 years and can use all the advice possible. Lol.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hello Dana,

      You are definitely going to want to include things that you have created (lessons, handouts, programs, etc.). I would suggest including materials that cover social, emotional, behavioral, and career development. Pictures of you in action is also a great way to stand out.

      Best wishes,
      Heather

  4. Something that helped me when I was interviewing for jobs, was to jot down the interview questions right after I got home or found a place to sit and debrief after the interview. Keep a separate file for elementary school counselor interview questions, middle school, and high school. Research and ask other educators their input on these questions then practice them verbally before your next interview.

    1. Post
      Author
  5. Hi Heather,
    I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in a field that I’m not sure about anymore. I’ve thought about getting into educational counseling and becoming a guidance counselor in higher education mainly because I believe that it suits my personality and meets my needs. However, I’m afraid of not finding a job if I pursue this. And sadly, I feel that it’s more about who you know in the schools to get the job than your qualifications (as confirmed by a family member pursuing this degree and discouraging Reddit posts of graduates who can’t find jobs in school counseling). I’m one of the first to graduate in my family and don’t come from a family of teachers, principles, and superintendents, etc. So, my chances of breaking into this career are probably slim having no connections already. Job security is important to me and I know that I might have trouble finding a job, but I also don’t want to wonder what could’ve been if I didn’t pursue educational counseling. My questions to you are: 1) What kind of volunteer experiences exactly should I get? Most colleges hire peer mentors who are students and I’m not in school anymore. 2) Would specializing in as many areas as you can increase the chances of getting a job in educational counseling? 3) Are social work majors just as qualified to get jobs in educational counseling? I usually see job posts seeking counseling, social work, and psychology majors only. 4) Most employers want experience but how am I supposed to get it if I’m not hired? I’ve been trying to get an entry level job in the school setting and anything related to education. I’m finding it to be very frustrating. I’ve been searching for anything that I can do starting from the ground up especially for someone like me who has a degree that isn’t related to any form of counseling at all.

    1. Hi Ann!

      I have little helpful advice for you – other then I am in the exact same boat! I just graduated with a Bachelors in Business Admin and now I want to get my Masters in Counseling! I haven’t checked out reddit but you are scaring me a little by mentioning it – lol. I worry I’m going to waste my money on a degree that can’t get me a job. And you literally read my mind – what if I don’t do it and work jobs I hate the rest of my life?

      In my county in Kentucky, you have to had 3 yrs teaching experience to get a job as a counselor, so I would have to try to get a job at the surrounding counties! It’s all very complicated. I’m applying for jobs at pre-schools right now just to get some more experience, but I just don’t know. Also – when you/we/I graduate in 2ish years, who knows what the market will be like! I’m hoping Heather & you can give me words of wisdom or reassurance.

      Best of luck!
      Rachel

      1. Post
        Author

        Hello Rachel!

        Are you looking at a counseling or a school counseling program? My program was actually a counseling program that offered the school counseling endorsement as part of my electives. This gave me more options that pursuing a degree in school counseling alone.

        Is your heart in counseling? I know others who pursued a career in counseling after being in corporate America, but you are going to want to really dig into the mental health side of things if you pursue the school counseling track.

        Check out job opportunities on indeed.com (they also have an app). That will help you determine the job opportunities in your area.

    2. Post
      Author

      Hello Ann!

      Thank you for commenting and sharing your journey. The road to becoming a school counselor is often filled with career twists and turns and even years of working in a non-school counseling position to gain experience in a related field.

      Before I dive into specifics, I want to clarify that school counseling and education counseling can be VERY different. Education counseling tends to happen at the post-secondary level and covers a lot of career exploration. School counselors cover academic achievement, mental heal, social skills, and career planning.

      The job market is tough. Think of it this way…on average, my district has 1 classroom teacher for every 28 students but only 1 counselor for every 1,125 students. That’s a ratio of 40:1.

      The reason why it seems like everyone is connected is that it takes a connection to cut through the noise to get noticed and get the call back to interview. Counselor and teacher interviews are conducted by a panel of people and involve 2-3 interviews. Given the high stakes in education, it’s very unlikely that someone is going to land a school counseling job because they’re related to someone in the district. You wouldn’t want to work at a district that opperates like that anyway.

      If you are looking for a career that is easy to land a job – school counseling isn’t it. Currently, a masters degree in social work is far more marketable since they are able to bill Medicaid…but then again, you can’t be a school counselor with a masters degree in social work.

      If you want it. Go for it. You need to complete a school counseling graduate program in order to be a school counselor. It might take several years to land a job, but at least you will be pursuing what you really want to do.

      Many universities have a mentor program for alumni. Check in with your university’s alumni department and see if they have any available opportunities.

      Best wishes!
      Heather

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