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Mastering the Job Search

By School Counselors Across the U.S. | April 2020

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Is a new school a fit for you?

By Geoff Heckman

When looking for a school counseling job, we often go the extra mile to put our best foot forward and outshine other candidates. But finding the environment that’s right for you means more than proving yourself in an interview. There’s another side to the story: making sure the school is the perfect fit for you.

Several years ago, I began seeking a new job but wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to leave my current school. I decided to take my time with the process and ask some questions in my interviews that I wished I had when I was looking for my first school counselor job. I realized that while the school was interviewing me, I also needed to interview the school. Whether you’re looking for a school with an underdeveloped school counseling program you can turn around or one that already has a strong program, you’ll want to make sure the school is supportive of school counseling. Here are some things to look for:
  • Review both the school and district school counseling websites. Do they use language consistent with the ASCA National Model or your state model? Do the student and parent resources reflect a comprehensive program or does the program focus on non-school-counseling activities?
  • Read the job description. Some descriptions for school counselor positions are littered with inappropriate school counseling responsibilities. Does the description reflect a role consistent with your school counselor training?
  • Do a web search to see if the school counseling program has a presence in the community. Has it made a notable difference with stakeholders?
  • In the interview, ask whoever oversees school counselors about their knowledge of comprehensive school counseling programs. Ask specifically about any inappropriate activities or responsibilities (such as IEP or 504 coordination, testing coordinator, subbing for teachers, lunch or bus duties beyond fair-share responsibilities, etc.)
  • Note when language is used in interview follow-up questions that is consistent with responses you gave regarding a school counseling program and the ASCA National Model or your state model. Taking these steps eliminated some positions I felt weren’t truly supportive of school counseling, but it is possible that I removed myself as a candidate as well. Some potential employers may be intimidated when you ask them pointed questions about an antiquated school counseling program or inappropriate job descriptions. However, I didn’t feel I lost out when I left feeling little support for a comprehensive school counseling program or its school counselors.
While interviewing for my current position, I was given a copy of the Missouri school counseling model and asked if I would be able to do it. I took that as a strong indicator that this school was supportive of school counselors and their program. And I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

Geoff Heckman is a school counselor and department head at Platte County High School in Platte City, Mo., and a 2018 School Counselor of the Year finalist. He can be reached at 

What’s one job search tip you found most helpful?

Network, network, and did I say network? You have to get out there and let people know who you are and get to know the school counselors in your district of interest. Be open to any level of school counseling and be willing to take the job even if it might not be your first choice. You have to get your foot in the door.
Yvette Childs, Kenwood Middle School, Clarksville, Tenn.

Don’t feel bad if you feel you were super-qualified for a position and didn’t get it. It might be that they were looking for a certain personality type to add to their team, and it’s no reflection of your abilities.
Tiffany Herrera, Stansbury High School, Stansbury Park, Utah

Always remember that you are searching for the right fit as much as the school is; do not be afraid to ask questions.
Sweety Patel, Renaissance Institute, Jersey City, N.J.

Customizing my cover letter based on researching the school’s website and mission statement.
Shayne Thompson, El Dorado Springs High School, El Dorado Springs, Mo.

Know your “why” for going into the position, and be yourself.
Nicole Keane, Glen Meadows Middle School, Vernon, N.J.

Check for any licensed educator job fairs. These tend to happen in bigger cities, but these events attract districts across your state to find recruits. Go prepared with resume in hand, dress professionally, and be ready to interview on the spot.
Mayra Garcia, North Medford High School, Medford, Ore.

Look for job postings that say “school counselor” and not “guidance counselor.” I also suggest that when reading job posting descriptions to make sure that there is language using the ASCA National Model or similar.
Matt Tolliver, Skyview Elementary and West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.Va.

Focus on what makes you unique. What skills do you have that no one else might have? At one of my interviews, I made a top 10 list of reasons why I was the best candidate for the job. I also made a website with my resume, experience and training I had attended. I would email the link to prospective schools.
Marcee Buxton, Holt Elementary School, Clearfield, Utah

When interviewing someone for a school counselor position, what’s most important?

Outside-the-box thinking, new ideas and evidence that the ASCA National Model guides their decision-making.
Lyn Bush, Valley Springs Middle School, Asheville, N.C.

Team mentality – their flexibility and willingness to jump in when they see a need arise.
Lou Ann Barker, Wilroads Elementary School, Dodge City, Kan.

Our team really values self-starters. We are looking for someone with a vision for a comprehensive school counseling program who has innovative and creative ideas.
Claire Folkins, Kings Junior High School, Shoreline, Wash.

Someone who can connect, relate to students and families and understands/appreciates diversity.
Lisa Boyette, Pamlico County High School, Bayboro, N.C.

We look for someone who genuinely likes students and lights up when they talk about them. We also want someone who is organized, knows the ASCA National Model and asks good questions.
Colleen Stabolepszy, Fruita 8/9 School, Fruita, Colo.

I want someone to be honest. If you don’t know something just be upfront. You can always learn things. Kids need genuine, and so do we.
Kaylen Taylor, Hereford Junior High, Hereford, Texas

Ability to work with inconsistent or unpredictable daily schedules.
Jocelyn Casalou, Hazel Park High School, Hazel Park, Mich.

I have told students graduating from school counseling programs that I would avoid hiring someone who isn’t a member of ASCA and their local state organization because it speaks volumes about their attitude toward professional growth and improvement.
Cynthia Lancaster, McCourt Middle School, Cumberland, R.I.

I look for knowledge of ASCA, student-focused philosophy and use of data.
Dana Strabavy, St. Joseph High School, South Bend, Ind.