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Prepare to Dazzle

By Nancy J. Bond | May 2020

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In the season of job applications, interviews and job offers, let’s explore the interview process – what to expect, how to prepare, what interview committees want and, finally, what not to say. The better prepared you are, the better you’re able to shine in an interview.

What to expect: If there are certain expectations, such as a PowerPoint presentation, portfolio or a portion of the interview requiring you to demonstrate teaching a lesson or other skill, this is usually indicated up front. Read the fine print closely on any communication you receive from the district in advance of your interview so you aren’t caught unprepared.

Expect to be asked to provide information about your knowledge, skills and attributes. Be ready to explain why you’re the best person for the position. Your dedication and commitment to meeting students’ needs should be top of mind as you consider the organization you will be serving.

Whether it’s a one-on-one interview or you’re in front of a group, your goal is still to answer questions about yourself and your knowledge. Think about a job interview like a media request. Be clear about what you want interviewers to know about you, and share that information in your responses to their questions.

How to prepare: Just as we tell our students that the best preparation for the ACT/SAT is their rigorous coursework prior to taking the exam, our education and experience are the best preparation for job interviews.

In her book “Presence,” Harvard professor Amy Cuddy shares the importance of adjusting the impression we make on ourselves rather than the impression we are making on others. Believing in and trusting yourself comes from knowing your honest feelings, values and abilities. Once you know these, you’ve completed much of the preparation to share yourself with others. You will greatly reduce stressful moments by having confidence in yourself. Knowing yourself allows you to approach challenges with confidence rather than dread.

Once you know yourself, prepare by knowing the district and school with whom you are interviewing. Do your homework. Learn all you can about the district – this conveys your interest in the position while helping you fit that educational environment. What does their data say? What are their needs? Are you the school counseling leader equipped to meet those needs?

Don’t underestimate the value of the right fit. If you were trained in the ASCA National Model you may not be happy in a school that doesn’t have a comprehensive school counseling program and, worse, won’t give you the chance to build one.

What interview committees look for: Interviewers are most interested in an authentic representation of the candidate. In other words, “Be yourself.” At the end of the day, you don’t want to work in an environment where you can’t be your authentic self. But isn’t there more to it than that? Honestly conveying confidence, enthusiasm and passion are often useful indicators of potential success. Being clear about the skills and knowledge you possess is essential to a quality interview. Many school administrators look for knowledge about the ASCA National Model and the value of comprehensive school counseling programs.

Committees are also interested in professionalism. Now is not the time to wear the T-shirt supporting your cause, particularly if you don’t know whether it aligns with the district’s values. Opportunities for more casual attire or language may be appropriate within the school, but in the interview, you want to wow them from the minute you walk into the room.

On a personal level, you want to convey likability. A firm but friendly handshake, a smile and eye contact convey warmth, trustworthiness and competence. Employers also want someone who is coachable. There is always a learning curve when joining a new organization. Conveying your interest in learning about a new environment and, if need be, willingness to change the ways you have done things is important.

Tell Me About Yourself

In addition to questions about your school counseling knowledge and skills, you can likely expect:

Tell me what you know about our school: This question lets the committee ascertain if you’ve done your research. Any candidates who haven’t at least visited the school’s website and educated themselves about the job most likely won’t be seriously considered for the position.

Tell me about yourself: How can such a simple request cause us to perspire and our mind to go blank? Answering with a personalized review of your resume is always a safe bet. Sure, the interview committee has that information, but you can bring it to life.

This isn’t the time to talk about your love of playing in a softball league or your obsession with “The Bachelor,” unless you can frame these interests in a way that extends to school counseling. If, however, you talk about how being on a softball team has helped you improve your collaboration skills and enthusiasm for finding individual people’s strengths and abilities, then by all means mention it.

Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses: This common question helps ascertain quickly what you believe you bring to the role. This is the vantage point from which you want to respond – the role of the school counselor. Your reflection on that role identifies the strengths you believe are required for the position – focus on your strengths that align with those. When addressing weaknesses, do not highlight areas essential to the role. Be honest and authentic in your responses, and when you address your weaknesses, include what you are doing to improve those areas.

Tell me why we should hire you: Be ready to respond with a summary of who you are, what you can bring to the school and what you’d like to accomplish for them. Often a high priority is your ability to help every student through a comprehensive program. Delivering your response to this question with warmth and confidence is critical. Recognizing and being comfortable with the aspect of interviewing that feels somewhat like a sales pitch is necessary. Feel free to share an anecdote that provides an example of an accomplishment or two that would benefit the school.

Tell me what questions you have for us: This is a common way for interviewers to bring an interview to a close. Don’t say, “I think you’ve covered everything.” Do your research and have some questions in mind. Show the committee you’re taking the interview seriously and want to learn about the position. Prepare a few questions that will help increase your understanding of the school and the role.

What Not to Say

Never share the negative, such as complaints or negative experiences with a previous employer, supervisor or school. Vacation plans or other needs for time off is best left until after a job offer. Likewise, don’t bring up pay and benefits; give the interviewer the opportunity to raise that subject. And finally, remember to turn off your phone.

At times, we all are too ready to complain or unknowingly talk about knowledge or skills we lack. Practice reframing your responses to focus on the skills and experience you do have.

School counselors are an integral part of school and student success as well as school leadership. Conveying the importance of your role and the confidence to do it well to improve student outcomes will be music to the interviewer’s ears. The relationship with your district leadership and your principal begins with your interview. Quickly establishing yourself as a team player and someone dedicated to a student-centered approach with the best possible student outcomes in mind sets the stage well for receiving a job offer and for establishing the relationship with the building principal. Collaboration is difficult at best when trust and a relationship don’t exist. Break a leg.

Nancy J. Bond, Ed.D., is a high school counselor and the former school counseling supervisor with Omaha Public Schools in Omaha, Neb.