By Mike Simpson
Working as a school counselor is incredibly rewarding, allowing you to play a critical role in the success of students. While opportunities are plentiful, candidates need to stand out from the competition if they’re going to land a new position. Since that’s the case, you need to make sure that you’re ready for the school counselor interview questions that’ll get tossed your way.
Fortunately, with a bit of preparation, it’s easy to get ready for what’s ahead. If you want to join the ranks of the 118,000 school counselors supporting K-12 schools or are interested in furthering your career, here’s everything you need to know about tackling school counseling interview questions.
How to Answer School Counselor Interview Questions
Before we take a look at the top ten school counselor interview questions and answers, it’s smart to take a second to talk about your interview strategy. While many of the interview questions for school counselors are predictable, there’s always a chance that the hiring manager will ask you something unexpected. With the right techniques by your side, you’ll be able to handle those unanticipated questions.
In many cases, working as a school counselor comes with many challenges. While the recommended ratio of students to school counselors is 250:1, the average ratio in high schools is closer to 430:1. As a result, many school counselors have very full plates.
Why does that matter? Mainly, it’s because hiring managers want to find candidates that can handle intense workloads while remaining compassionate and supportive, which can be a tall order.
However, school counselor candidates also need to showcase more than that. The ability to work effectively with administrators, teachers, students, and parents is paramount. As a result, you’ll encounter questions focused on those areas.
Additionally, the hiring manager will want to see that you have solid techniques for managing common scenarios. Finally, knowledge of applicable laws is deemed a must, so you’ll usually need to discuss those, as well.
So, how do you create outstanding answers? By starting with research.
Start by reviewing the job description carefully to learn about any must-have skills or experience. Don’t just look at the listed requirements, too, as other parts of the job description may include insights into traits the hiring manager wants to find or the school’s culture.
After that, spend time on the school’s and district’s websites. Learn about their missions and values, as well as any educational struggles or priorities. That way, you can incorporate some of those details, too.
When it comes to how to answer the school counselor interview questions, traditional ones are pretty straightforward. The hiring manager will ask if you have a skill or certain types of experience. Then, you can either say yes and follow that up with an example or no and quickly pivot to showcase your willingness to learn.
With behavioral and situational interview questions for school counselor positions, you’ll need a different technique. By combining the STAR Method and the Tailoring Method, you can create thorough, relevant, compelling answers that increase your odds of impressing the hiring manager.
Top 10 School Counselor Interview Questions
In many cases, school counselor interviews are incredibly similar, as most hiring managers have the same broader goals. As a result, you can use many of the more common school counseling interview questions to prepare.
Here’s a look at our top ten school counselor interview questions and answers.
1. Why did you decide to become a school counselor?
In many cases, this question is used as an icebreaker. It allows the hiring manager to learn more about your core motivations and passion for the work. Ideally, you’ll want to offer a personal story that showcases why you became interested in this field.
“My initial interest in becoming a school counselor began in high school. During my sophomore year, I was struggling with a home matter, causing my grades to drop dramatically. One of my teachers took notice of the change and referred me to the school counselor for support.
Ultimately, that school counselor was a blessing. She took the time to get to know me, demonstrating a clear interest in the challenges I was facing, and I quickly viewed her as a trusted confidante. She made recommendations, connected me with resources, and gave me the tools to overcome my difficulties. In the end, I became a successful student once more because of her, and that inspired my desire to do the same for others.”
2. What do you enjoy most about working with students, and what do you enjoy least?
In many cases, this two-part question feels tricky, mainly because the second part requires speaking about aspects of the job you dislike. However, you can craft a strong answer that doesn’t involve badmouthing students.
“What I enjoy most about working with students is the ability to provide young people with critical support. Many students face tough obstacles and challenges, including academically, socially, and emotionally. Having a chance to provide them with resources and guidance is incredibly rewarding.
Additionally, I greatly enjoy having the opportunity to forge strong relationships with students. I get the occasional visit or message from former students, thanking me for providing them with the support they needed to complete school and, ultimately, launch successful lives. That makes any of the challenges I experience incredibly worthwhile.
As for what I enjoy least, the only thing that typically gets to me is when I put in a significant amount of effort to help a student, and the situation ultimately doesn’t resolve. It leaves me wondering if I took the wrong path, even if I know that I exercised sound judgment and gave it my very best. It’s simply disheartening to see a young person continue to struggle, so I consider that the most challenging aspect of working with students.”
3. Can you tell me about a time when you successfully resolved a conflict between a teacher and a student?
School counselors often play a vital role in resolving conflicts between students and teachers. With this question, you want to provide an example of a time when you succeeded in tackling these tricky situations.
“In my last position as a school counselor, there was a conflict between a newer student who had transferred in that year and an English teacher. The student was a senior, had a solid academic record, and was even taking AP English.
According to the teacher, the student was disengaged during a module about a specific book. The student was often shirking requests to take part in classroom discussions or similar group activities relating to the book, which was disruptive.
After speaking with the teacher about the issues, I asked about their performance in regard to their homework assignments, tests, quizzes, and similar work. The teacher admitted the student was receiving very high marks.
I then spoke with the student to see why they weren’t engaged. It turned out that this was the student’s third high school, and the other two were in other states and used different approaches to the curriculum. This was the student’s third time covering this book, as the other two schools also used it, just at different grade levels. Ultimately, the issue was boredom.
I met with the teacher and student to present what I’d learned. Together, we were then able to create a plan that allowed the student to explore other works for individual classroom assignments in exchange for engaging in group discussions while this book was the focus. Ultimately, it boosted the student’s engagement and prevented disruptions, leading to a positive outcome.”
MIKE’S TIP: If you’re looking for your first job as a school counselor, you may not have an example to provide. If that’s the case, you can use one of two approaches. First, you can let the hiring manager know that, as a new counselor, you don’t have any experience resolving conflicts between a teacher and student, and follow that up with the steps you’d take if you encounter that situation. Second, instead of outlining how you’d hypothetically handle it, you can discuss a time where you played a role in resolving another type of conflict, such as between two former work colleagues or two students on a project you worked on in college. Either option lets you showcase your skills, so choose the one that showcases you in the best light.
4. If a student expressed an interest in dropping out, what would you do?
For candidates that are applying for school counselor positions in high schools, there’s a good chance you’ll encounter this question. The hiring manager wants to know that you have a strategy in place for assisting students who believe that dropping out if their best option.
Ideally, you want to balance empathy and support with a firm belief that completing high school is the student’s best choice.
“If a student told me they were thinking about dropping out, my first step would be to ask them why. That gives me an opportunity to see what’s potentially motivating their decision, allowing me to determine what type of support or resources may help them overcome obstacles and complete their education.
At that point, I would work to develop a support system for the student while also ensuring that they know I’m available. Additionally, I would connect them with various resources. For instance, if they were struggling academically, I would find tutoring options or engage with the teachers to see if they could provide additional assistance.
Ultimately, the goal would be to create a path for them to graduate, ensuring the student had everything they needed to succeed.”
5. How does the school counselor support the school’s overall mission?
Here, the hiring manager is trying to see if you understand the core role of a school counselor in the broader context of the school’s mission. Often, that means focusing on academic and social success, as well as forging connections and providing access to resources to provide emotional support.
“Overall, I believe school counselors support a school’s mission by providing support, guidance, and access to resources that help students achieve academic goals while creating a culture that’s supportive, inclusive, and safe. Advocacy and collaboration are big parts of the job, ensuring students’ needs are met and that any conflicts or challenges are promptly and correctly addressed.
Additionally, school counselors play a vital role in assisting teachers. While school counselors can lay the groundwork for improvements in the classroom, teachers are the ones who have to execute many plans. As a result, open communication with teachers is essential, as well as providing them with support.
Finally, school counselors also work with parents to encourage involvement. Since parental engagement is a significant part of the success equation, it’s a critical responsibility that can also support the school’s mission.”
6. What would you do if a student didn’t want to talk to you?
In many cases, school counselors spend a significant amount of time working with students who are experiencing emotional or social struggles. While some may be quick to open up, others will resist the idea. As a result, the hiring manager wants to know that you have a basic strategy for encouraging them to discuss their challenges so that you can provide assistance.
“First, I firmly believe that trying to force a student to speak about their challenges is generally ineffective. Instead, I begin by ensuring students view me as a safe person to talk to, so I focus on developing a general rapport to increase their comfort level.
Additionally, I make sure that they know I’m always available and that I’m willing to adapt to their needs. For example, if they’re concerned about the social ramifications of meeting in my office during school hours, I will find an alternative location – such as an unoccupied classroom – or make myself available after hours to give them a sense of privacy.
In many cases, students initially need some space. If they aren’t ready to talk immediately, then I’ll keep focusing on the rapport and plan for regular check-ins. That way, once they are ready, I’ll be there.”
7. What do you know about FERPA?
This is one of the school counselor interview questions designed to test your knowledge about applicable laws. This one focuses on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
The hiring manager’s goal is to ensure you have a solid idea of what it entails and how it applies to your role as a school counselor. While FERPA is complex, your answer can be straightforward. A simple overview is typically enough as long as it shows you’re familiar with the law.
“FERPA is a federal law that focuses on privacy. It provides parents with specific rights regarding their minor student’s educational records, including the ability to view them, request certain changes, and control the disclosure of information. Once a student turns 18 or begins attending a postsecondary school, the rights outlined under FERPA are transitioned to the student, giving the student control, including limiting or eliminating parental access to records.
There are some exceptions in FERPA regarding the release of records without a parent’s or eligible student’s consent. However, which organizations can access the records without consent varies based on the situation, so it’s critical to review any request for legitimacy.”
8. How would you handle it if you couldn’t reach the parents of an at-risk student?
In many cases, school counselors have to engage with parents as part of providing support to students. While some parents are highly engaged, others aren’t. At times, that can mean that parents won’t respond to calls or messages from you, and the hiring manager wants to know you have a plan for dealing with that.
“If I repeatedly attempted to reach the parents of an at-risk student and am ultimately unsuccessful, my first step would be to get assistance from school administrators, as parents may take a call from a principal or similar authority. If so, I would coordinate with the administrator to arrange an avenue for me to connect with the parents.
My goal would be to remain flexible, as the lack of contact could be due to circumstances I’m unaware of. As a result, I’d offer to have the discussion whenever and wherever is best for them, as establishing communication is more important than my convenience.
Should that prove ineffective, I’d explore other avenues. For example, if there was an upcoming parent-teacher conference, I would coordinate with the teachers to create an opportunity for me to speak with the parents. If I’m able to reach other family members, I would try that approach, as well.”
9. What would you like to accomplish during your first 30 days on the job?
With this question, the hiring manager is trying to gauge a handful of things. Along with assessing your general vision, they want to see if you have a plan that would ultimately help you succeed.
While it seems like you should discuss changes you’d make or various strategies that could benefit the students, it’s often better to lead off your answer with something else. In most cases, your primary goal initially should be to get to know the students, allowing you to see what changes or techniques might be beneficial.
“During my first 30 days on the job, my primary focus would be on getting to know the students, both as a whole and as individuals. Learning about the school’s current culture firsthand will give me critical insights, allowing me to determine which strategies may work best.
Additionally, I would work to establish an organizational system that will ensure I can find critical information with ease. Finally, I would familiarize myself with the various resources in the area that are available to students. That will help me determine what support mechanisms are at their disposal, allowing me to make sounder recommendations.”
10. If you witnessed any bullying, what would you do?
School counselors often have responsibilities relating to ensuring bullying incidents are addressed. As a result, the hiring manager may ask this question to see if you have a plan for quick intervention and any needed follow-up.
“If I witness an incident of bullying, my first step is to intervene. My general approach is calm but authoritative, ensuring that the students who are doing the bullying know that the behavior is unacceptable.
Next, I would schedule times to meet with all of the involved students. For the student that was targeted by bullies, my main goal would be to help them heal after the event, as well as develop tools that can help them either avoid or navigate similar situations.
Then, I’d meet with the students who were doing the bullying. Along with reasserting that such behavior is unacceptable, I’d speak with them to try and determine what spurred their actions. At times, the underlying cause is unexpected, so talking with them can give me critical insights.
Finally, I would mediate a discussion between the students with the goal of preventing such events from occurring again. The exact approach would vary depending on the nature of the situation, but the aim would be to restore a level of peace, ensuring that they can coexist without incident.”
5 Good Questions to Ask at the End of a School Counselor Interview
When you get to the end of your school counselor interview, you’ll typically get a chance to ask the hiring manager some questions. By having intelligent questions ready, you can gather more insights about the position and school. Plus, it helps you come across as engaged, making you a stronger candidate.
With that in mind, here are five good questions to ask at the end of a school counselor interview:
- What is the biggest challenge this school faces today, and how can the new school counselor help solve it?
- How would you describe the culture at this school?
- Are the parents of students here generally engaged and involved? If not, what obstacles to parent involvement are most common?
- What’s the student-to-school counselor ratio at this school?
- Are there any upcoming changes at the school that the new counselor should be aware of?
Putting It All Together
At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to approach school counselor interview questions. Use all of the information above to your advantage. That way, you’re more likely to impress.
Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com.
His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others.
Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.
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