A counsellor’s ultimate guide to job interviews (Part 2 of 2)
By Nathan Beel and Florence Ee, 2018
Interview panels are typically looking to answer two questions:
Do you have the capacity to succeed in the position they are recruiting for?
Are you the best candidate compared with other applicants?
Both of these must be met for you to gain the position. To get to the interview, there is a high likelihood they believe you have the potential to succeed, and the interview is a further opportunity to demonstrate this capacity. In the previous instalment on preparing for the interview, we covered eight areas of focus, included impression management, motivation, skills, and practice frameworks. This instalment will describe another eight areas to consider in preparing for interviews for counselling related positions.
1. Relating with colleagues and conflict management: An important part of agency work is the ability to work well within a team and manage conflict well. On the panels I (Nathan) have been part of, every interviewee has said they work well with others and manage conflict well. It is predictable. The panel is less interested in reassurances and more interested in hearing actual examples the interviewee can provide. Come prepared to discuss a difficulty you had with somebody (without revealing others identities) that you managed well, why you managed it the way you did, and what the outcome was. Typically, examples should demonstrate sensitive assertiveness, rather than passive or aggressive responses. It may also be helpful to talk about what you have learned about yourself and others from the experience.
2. Strengths: The panel may ask for an applicant to describe their strengths. The answers to this will be compared against the position’s needs and/or the organisation’s needs to check for fit. It may be useful to provide examples of how these strengths benefited your clients, colleagues, or organisation in previous situations.
3. Weaknesses and openness to learning: The panel may ask you about your weaknesses, and what you have done to manage or improve on the weakness. This question is designed to check for organisational / performance risks and your willingness to grow, and answers or non-answers can raise questions about lack of insight, evasiveness, lack of boundaries, low self-esteem or other issues. Other answers such as “My weakness is I am so committed to my job” can sound insincere. Only provide a weakness that relates to the position requirements, state the weakness concisely, and then state what you are doing (or willing to do) to address it.
The panel may ask for a time when you were given negative feedback and how you responded to this. Effective counsellors should be open to feedback and actively seek it out, so evidence of openness to feedback can be viewed quite positively by counselling employers. Choose a story where you responded well to a negative feedback. For instance, a story where you actively sought out the feedback as a means for improving, thanked the person for the feedback, considered the feedback critically, identified what parts you could accept, and identified actions to help improve the situation or performance.
4. Managing risk or complex situations: The panel may ask about a difficult situation you responded to or may provide you with a hypothetical situation and ask how you might respond to such a situation. These situations may relate to specific knowledge about a particular risk factor (such as domestic violence risk), an ability to consider contextual factors in the situation (such as other’s safety), relevant legislation, mindfulness of one’s roles and other potential roles (such as clinical supervisor, line manager), mindfulness of potential organisational policies that might guide such decisions, and ethical principles that may relate. One example might be “Suppose an 8-year-old child disclosed to you that her parent was abusing her and asked you not to tell anyone. What would you do and why?”
In such a case, a person might describe how they might respond to this child and manage the rest of the session, indicate they would consult the policies the organisation on reporting, what ethical and legal considerations need to be considered, who might be consulted, who and how to report if this was the option or requirement, etc. Whether or not you make a determination that the panel agrees with this or not (if it is a more complex situation), your depth of reasoning and awareness of relevant principles is likely what they will evaluate your answer on. Your answer will show your professional thinking process. You can prepare for these types of questions by reflecting on ethical case studies in counselling (or in the specialist area of the position you are applying for) in an online search, reviewing your code of ethics, and by discussing these with your clinical supervisor.
5. Stress management: Counselling is a burnout career if self-care is neglected. Panel members who ask this question generally want to hear the person is aware of the potential for burnout, and what the person does or has done in the past previous roles to manage stress and self-care. Inability to manage one’s own stress becomes an organisational risk. Being able to articulate clear and healthy strategies that work for you shows a commitment to maintaining good mental health.
6. Other skills and duties: Counselling positions often involve other duties such as preparing and presenting talks, researching, writing articles and networking with other professionals. Be prepared to discuss notable examples from your own history in some of these areas irrespective of whether the experience relates to a counselling role. Many of these skills are easily transferable from other professions (including parenting skills).
7. Values: Panel members and organisations will typically have a range of values that are not always stated clearly in the application kit. They may have a strong value towards client centredness underpinning client engagement. Some may emphasise the importance of using evidence-based treatments. In a logistical direction, they may have a value of your being available outside of hours. Many of the values will be evident in the application kit, the organisation website, and the questions they ask in the interview. You will need to determine whether the visible values are congruent with your own values. Your own values will be reflected in your answers and even if different, the organisation might be interested in you irrespectively.
8. Questions you may have: At the end of interviews, panels might ask what questions you might have. Not asking any questions at the end can be interpreted as not having sufficient motivation towards the role, being passive, or being unable to process information with sufficient depth. If you have given the position some thought and reviewed their website, you will likely have questions. Asking judicious questions can signal to the panel a thoughtfulness about the role, the position, and the organisation. Common questions might be about the wage, the notification date for position outcome, the start date, and questions about the wage or other benefits (such as providing clinical supervision) if unclear. You might also ask questions about the role itself, such as what staff find most rewarding and most challenging about the role. Remember, you are also checking out whether the position is a good fit for you too.
The interview process is where the panel will view a sample of your behaviour, knowledge, and skills, and will assess it against the needs of the role, their values, and against other candidates. Considering some of the areas mentioned in this article may help strengthen and enable you to target your preparation so that your interview leaves a more positive impression in the minds of the panel. Don’t be discouraged if you do not get the job. It is not unusual for people to apply for several jobs before they are successful. Remember that there may be many applicants and only one will get the job. That you were shortlisted shows the panel believed you earned a closer look. Try to get feedback from the employer about your strengths and weaknesses in your application. This is a subtle way of asking why you did not get the job. Learn from the experience and aim to be better at the next interview. Whether or not you succeed in the gaining the position, the interview itself will provide you with experience in being interviewed for counselling related positions.
Email your comments/questions to Nathan Beel.