“Words of Wisdom”
Advice for people considering a career in
college/university counseling centers.
Maggie Gartner (Texas A & M) from Counseling
Center Directors around the country.
fail to mention your commitment to consultation with colleagues whenever
facing a difficult clinical or ethical situation.
Best piece of advice for entry level position at Center – it never hurts to
try. If you see an ad that catches your eye and you truly feel you have
something to give on it, then try. It's well worth the time and energy to
see what happens.
homework, be very informed about the institution/organization, the people,
the programs, etc. It is much more impressive to ask a specific question
that comes from apparent knowledge than a generic question. Give the
interviewers the opportunity to talk about what they appreciate and are
proud of in their work and their facility.
ability to laugh at yourself is highly valued where I work.
foreclose on every therapy orientation and prematurely settle on the therapy
of the moment. I won't hire you if you do.
Research the centers well. Though there are similarities, they can be very
different and most are looking for "good fit" candidates. And don't accept
or turn down offers via fax or email for Pete's sake!
Provide all the materials as described in the application process.
Always provide a letter of interest and indicate that there has been a
review of the website and specifics of the center.
Provide resumes that speak to the position
be presumptuous as in "I don't know if you are familiar with.... but I am
interested in......: This will not impress the interviewer who is surely
likely to be older and more experience than the intern. Do not accept an
invitation for an on site interview unless you are seriously interested in
working at the institution. (A candidate might accept an invitation but
ultimately wanted to come to the area to visit relative or shop (yes this
really happened!). Do not proclaim an undying interest in counseling center
work if it is not there (a candidate once did this then accepted an offer in
a community mental agency).
everything that the job announcement says it is looking for in the cover
letter. Show how you would be a fit for the position - and if you don't
have the experience, talk about a related experience(s) that would
translate. (This also helps the person avoid appearing as if they are
sending out several cover letters/applications at one time - doing blanket
applications.) With that, be certain to submit what they are asking, such
as a copy of the vita, a role-play tape, etc.
are applying to meet the needs of the organization/company. Keep that in
mind when presenting yourself.
Research the place before calling/interviewing. We can tell who has checked
out what we do (via website, talking to others, etc.) when we talk to the
person. If they don't know what we do, how can we believe them when they
say they would be a good fit?
you letters are important. It shows us that the person can follow through
want job applicants a) to be persuasive about why they want to work with
this population specifically, and b) to be able to talk about their
experience with crisis work, assessment, and recognizing major mental
a bit of research about us, look at our web page, ask questions that are
relevant to us. Let us know what you are interested in, even if it is a
potential area. Let us know where you are with supervision; what is the next
thing that you want to focus on in supervision. Dazzle us with a thank you
note after an interview.
Don't be late. Don't try to fudge your vita. Don't stare blankly at us in
the interview; come prepared. Don't let your 1st or 2nd
question be about salary and benefits.
our campus' diversity of students, I would remind interns to take advantage
of the opportunity to develop a facility with outreach programming in a
variety of ways, particularly to diverse constituencies, so that they can
help our campus become more integral to all our populations. Of course they
need to be good therapists, that's a given, but that other expertise will
help them to stand out and serve a real need.
believe that a new staff member from outside of South Florida needs to be
moving here with a partner unless he or she has family or friends already
here. So my best advice is to be sure you will be comfortable moving to the
site of the Counseling Center; ask a lot of questions and take a tour of the
campus and the town and check out housing, shopping, recreation, prices,
etc. It is not always easy for young professional to establish new
relationships in certain areas and they should not necessarily count on
colleagues at the Counseling Center to fill these needs (as they might for
start out by telling the employer what you do and don't want, but rather
inquire about what the needs of the center are.
relaxed...we are assessing your ability to work with patients...if you are
nervous in the interview (or frankly...anything we notice about you in the
interview) may lead us to think that is how you would be with students
some basic theory knowledge...don't say "I'm eclectic..."...say "While
I'm still learning, I like what so and so does with this population of
patients". You don't have to sell yourself to a theory...just show that you
are actively giving it some thought.
and nice...polite and gracious....I think 80% of being a good therapist is
being a good human being. We've had two interns not get a position this
year for basically ignoring/insulting office staff on their way to the
interview (such as office managers or other interns)...most people who
interview are going to ask their front line staff what they thought of the
person...leave a good impression
the site's website before you go and have some questions ready.
realize they may not leave you time to ask a whole bunch of questions...be
ok with that too....while it's good to go in prepared...don't be
smoke...don't do it right before the interview...our center is combined with
health services and they are very sensitive about smoke and those who
ALL...send a note, fax, card...thanking people for the chance to interview
the following day...it's classy and will set you apart from your other
classmates who are interviewing...
the website & know something about the University as well as the counseling
center. Talk with anyone you know who's been there or has connections.
say that internship experience in a college counseling center is critical,
as is the ability to be a generalist. Also, since colleges are increasingly
seeing non-traditional age students, I would say that an understanding of
the "adult" learner would be important.
you present yourself well, be sure to ask pertinent questions.
prepared--do your homework about the services that site offers, the
strengths they have, and be able to articulate how you would "fit" into
what's happening there. Most centers have web sites--visit them. Also, be
prepared to find out as much as you can about who they are--you need to
interview your site as much as they need to interview you. We want to hire
people who really want to be here--so don't "blow sunshine" if you don't
mean it. It won't go over well later on. Talk to the support staff about
how they are treated--if they feel good about being there, you probably
will, too. Pay attention to the general healthy feeling of the place.
yourself enough (without losing site of the general good interview
manners). If it doesn't work on the interview, it probably won't work when
you're hired. Nobody likes those kinds of surprises. We want to know that
what we see is what we get. Better to wait for a position and a center that
fits than try to squeeze yourself into a mold you wouldn't want to end up
looking like. Look for shared core values. I'd (honestly) rather park cars
than work with a bunch of people I don't reasonably get along with or who
are getting caught up in staff drama.
search is idiosyncratic - you will never really know why you got bounced
from a particular search or why you got kept in - it's not personal, don't
make it that.
search has a life of its own, even if they have a time-table; it's likely it
won't work that way.
worry if you realize you are not their first choice – the biggest question
will be: are you the one they are offering it to now and do you want it?
than internship, the interview process should be viewed as a two-way street
- how they treat you from start to finish says a lot about who they are -
don't ignore it and don't discount it - if you get a really bad vibe, taking
the job because it's (prestigious, more money, closer to where you want to
be, the job you always dreamed you'd get) - won't make it feel any better in
six months when you realize your vibe was right and it's a miserable place
not get the perfect job this time out...and if you wait for it to come
along, you will become good friends with the rest of the folks at
Unemployment...so you can remember that it's OK to take a job you like but
don't love and you don't have to stay there forever. It's easier to get a
job when you have a job.
be overly "creative" with your vita. There are conventional formats that
are customary in university settings and it slows down the paper evaluation
of credentials if conventional formats are not used.
out "Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling Psychology" tends to sound
pretentious--just PhD in Counseling Psychology will do.
to write a cover letter specific to the position.
position outlines required and/or preferred qualifications. Make sure to
briefly address them in the cover letter. For example (from a position here
at XXX): This position includes 25% of time assigned to assist students
from migrant farm backgrounds. Required: education/training/experience in
multicultural issues. Preferred: Knowledge/experience working with persons
from disadvantaged socio-economic-educational backgrounds; knowledge of
Hispanic/Latino cultural issues; Spanish-English bilingual.
experience at a relatively small counseling center, every single position I
have recruited has had certain specific responsibilities we needed to "beef
up." You wouldn't believe...or maybe would believe...how many persons apply
and make no reference to the role called for. The first time I filled that
position, we advertised it as a Multicultural Psychologist position--only 2
of 70 applicants actually had the requisite qualifications! If the position
has some sort of special emphasis—waste of time to apply. I even had one
applicant who thought that maybe being Swedish-English bilingual would
suffice! I think applicants may even create their own discouragement in the
search process by applying for positions for which they are not qualified.
believe that the communication of a positive attitude is critical as well as
willing to go the extra mile; using initiative consistently; and putting the
needs of the Center before their personal needs.
Advice: Do NOT fake it. If you really don't know what something is or
have no experience with certain activities it is best to say so and then
add, enthusiastically, how much you look forward to learning about it! I
would encourage them to think about how they present themselves as advancing
the mission of our center to reach traditionally underserved populations.
Without that clear potential for contribution, they would likely get little
best advice I can give is to be knowledgeable about our center and the
school. Use the internet to research us. Also, it is okay to not be an
expert. If you don't know something, admit it and move on.
more thing. We get so many letter and applications; make sure you take the
time to make the cover letter interesting and informative. This is how one
gets in the door
sure your e-mail name and voice mail message are professional. Also be aware
that employers check out Facebook, MySpace, etc.
a team player, willing to work within Student Affairs/Student Life with a
wellness orientation to student health
counseling center is like any system. Observe the dynamics of the staff and
the director. These folk are critical in terms of how happy you'll be on
the job. Pay attention to system structure and the management style of the
director. If you don't like how the system operates, it'll be hard to be
happy in your work.
how clear is the center on its values and how they are operationalized? If
the center works in a way that is consistent with what you believe in, once
again, it's easier to be happy there.
it is very important to have a mixture of competence and humility - that you
know how to do this work to a certain extent and that you have clear skills
but you are willing to learn still and that the bottom line is that this is
very complex work and we don't know that much about it really.
Generally it is a good idea to avoid talking about your salary expectations
until a job offer is made. If the
interviewer asks what your expectations are you might say that you are
really interested in the job and don't want to overprice or under-price
yourself at this time. You
might also counter by asking what the current salary range for this position
other point, it is sometimes forgotten by new professionals that it is not
only important to get a job offer, but it is equally important to get an
offer from a place that is suitable for you.
evaluating a professional position, whether it is the first job, or a later
career opportunity, it is important to ask the kind of questions that will
help you to gather information such as:
Does this position fit in some way with your overall career goal?
Will this job allow you to add new skills to your professional
it likely that your new boss will be the kind of person you can respect
and who can help you to develop as a professional?
Does the staff you have met strike you as the kind of people you would
be proud to have as colleagues and how positive are they about the work
the work setting, to the extent you are able to determine, suited to
your personal style, does it reward quality work and does it appear to
be a supportive atmosphere?
yourself. Job searching is an issue of "fit" not of trying to match some
mysterious standard that you imagine the site is looking for. If you get a
job based on trying to match the ad or be other than yourself, you're not
likely to be happy in the position. And it's usually pretty transparent to
the search committee too.
GOOOD cover letter....not "I am interested, here's my vita"... one that
explicitly, but succinctly, tells me why you are qualified per the job
manage your anxiety
some sleep the night before
check your clothes for labels you have missed - or not as sometimes we need
a laugh - we eventually hired that one.
fall asleep while talking to the Vice-Chancellor - we did not hire that one.
with our interns about "aligning things" -- meaning, make sure your cover
letter, vita, phone interview, and in person interview, and letters of
reference to whatever degree of control you have on that.....have certain
threads going through them -- so if you're all about eating disorders, make
sure all these things reflect that......when things are out of sync, it
makes me nervous as a director looking at candidates, etc......
for someone who is confident, but not too confident.
someone who knows their stuff, can talk about areas of interest, etc. but
not the "I know it all" attitude. That is, in any role, one of the biggest
turn-offs. I believe we are life-long learners in this field, need peer
supervision forever, etc. If people act (especially young in their careers)
that they are beyond that, I'm not interested.
those seeking an entry-level position...Proofread your resume!
Eliminate misspellings or sentence fragments and clean up sloppy
formatting. When I see a sloppy resume, my reaction is if the applicant
doesn't care enough to take the time to present a good resume, what
confidence should I have that s/he will care about the little details
working in this type of position that can so often trip you up???
looks like my advice should be, "get your internship at Texas A &M"! (My
last 2 hires of 3 staff are from you!) Seriously though, the first thought
that pops to my mind is: "Treat ALL your communication with prospective
employers as part of the application." (It's those little things that set
off red flags.) Maybe I shouldn't be saying this, considering that I think
we avoided some disasters by reading through the lines of some people who
looked terrific "on paper."
"learn the politics of your school" at the top of the list! New hire energy
can often clash with the old-timers' status quo.
that young professionals should be developing an expertise in one of the
following areas that would complement the work in most University Counseling
Drug and Alcohol Counseling
Working with Student Athletes
Working with GLBT students
International students/ Cross-Cultural Adjustment
Remember the adage -- Hire for will; train for skill.
Research the center and
its culture thoroughly, especially contacting staff members to inquire about
teamwork and relationships and understanding/being willing to commit to its
model of service before the hire.
Bring something to the
staff that we don’t already have---whether it’s an area of specialty or the
“missing piece” (everyone on staff kind of has an unidentified, unofficial,
different role, right? Nurturer type, the hippie, the stealthy one, the foot
in the ass, advocate, playful etc). We don’t need more of what we have—we
want what we are lacking!
Know the center where you
are applying – learn about their model, staffing patterns, and
characteristics of the institution as a whole.
Have a good clinical case
prepared for discussion.
Demonstrate in your cover
letter and interview (phone or in person) the specific reasons why THIS
Counseling Center is where you are applying. Come up with at least *something*
that is specific to the particular center. Saying that you want to work in
a UCC is much less impressive than talking about a few reasons why you want
to work in THIS Center.
Be perseverant, jobs
don’t come easy all the time, and in these days, they seldom do.
Be open to part time jobs
at the beginning of your career.
Try small schools, you
will have the opportunity to wear so many hats, learn and put your boundary
skills/assertiveness training in practice.
And, one thing that
really “puts me off” is when I receive a letter of intent with a
resume/vitae that is aggressive, kind of ‘I know it all’ from a candidate.
I will suggest leaving ‘your narcissistic defenses at home.’ Be humble and
able to show how warm and eager to learn from your future supervisor you
are. It will state how the relationship will develop with the other members
of the staff and peer professionals.
Don't be perfect. We're
not interested in perfect. We're interested in someone who can acknowledge
areas of weakness and willingness to grow. My favorite interview question:
We're interested in
learning a bit about how you deal with conflict. Please tell us about a
time when you've dealt with conflict in a way that you're proud of. Then
tell us about a time when you didn't handle conflict as successfully,
and talk about what you would do differently.
I like this question
because it lets us know how accessible candidates keep those important
instances, and thus how they can make meaning of them.
Not all centers have
interns, or even any trainees. In a small center you're likely to be a
generalist, even if you have a specialty, you probably won't be able to
completely let go of generalist responsibilities.
Learn the organization of
the university -- How does the CC relate to students affairs (or whatever
administrative division you're in)? How does that division fit into the
university? Especially at a small school, the CC is less insulated from the
larger university. Most internships (usually at larger schools) don't
prepare you well for that reality.
One of the things I look
for in job searches (for my small center at a small private school) is the
candidate's familiarity with similar institutions. For example, one of my
best hires attended XXX for her undergrad. She easily understood the
mission and atmosphere of a small, private, residential, liberal arts
Show them that you are a
hard worker. Give examples of extra responsibilities you volunteered for –
outreach, groups, screening days, taking extra intakes.
Remember that every
interaction you have with a site is part of the interview. Your treatment
of support staff will be duly noted.
Be aware that like a
first client, first date, first meeting of anyone new---a job interview is
more about making the person doing the interview comfortable with you. Too
many times I’ve talked with interns and GA’s who are very focused on what
they need to share or have a fixed way of responding that overlooks the
importance of building a rapport with the person doing the interview. Like
counseling itself, you can have a ton of content knowledge and have an
amazing intelligence, but if you neglect rapport building and forming a
relationship---you’ll lose the attention and focus of the interviewer in the
end. Pay attention to your surroundings, ask about pictures on the wall, and
talk to the person doing the interview with curiosity and interest.
Use some self-disclosure
judiciously. We want to know that your dog's name is Oskar. That you cook a
mean vegetarian lasagna. And, you went to the ACL music festival last year!
An experience I
encountered during an IACS Field Visit that remained with me was the amount
of time one staff person took complaining about ‘how things were done there’
versus his/her previous center. So advice would be-- be careful NOT to
flexibility and willingness to learn and adapt to the ways/systems/processes
used by the Center where you’re interviewing. To me, someone who appears to
be hardheaded or inflexible in the way they work with clients or colleagues
might as well be waving a flag that says, “I’m going to be a pain in your
ass if you hire me.”
Whatever you do, don’t
say “I know Maggie Gartner!” (haha)
Want the job if you are
going to interview for until after the interview – I had one interview that
had a sour two hours and I went “No way in Hell.” I later found out what was
going on and it had nothing to do with the viability of the job just local
politics but that blew the interview because it changed my reactions later.
For me the one piece of
advice I would give is to make sure that during a client presentation that
you design it to allow the audience to get to know you as a therapist, a
person, a treatment planner, a diagnostician, multiculturally competent,
capable of recognizing errors/shortcomings and responding to them, ethical,
team oriented, and interesting. In other words, although it is a client
presentation, it is still about the candidate. I am trying to get to know
something about him or her. I’ve seen too many that are focused on clients
and the work itself and I learn very little about the candidate. So, I like
to hear lots of I statements for example: I struggled with… and responded
by…., Because I come from ____ perspective, you will notice ____ in my
description of the work, etc.
We look for a strong
commitment to working in a college counseling center and a training history
to support that. So my suggestion is to be able to describe very clearly
why a counseling center is a good fit.
Be an interesting and kind
human being (we are bringing you into our work family), be an exceptional
clinician (we don't care about your dissertation)
No such thing as “ABD”
considered for applicants. We won’t hire anyone unless they are completely done
with their degree. Licensure isn’t a huge issue if we are hiring for an entry
level position (in other words, if we note entry level, then we expect to have
people applying straight from internship or postdoc.) We would prefer licensed,
but if we note “entry level”, then other factors listed on the job description
takes precedence. Last two hires were straight from internship. But when we
note, “must be licensed within one year”, we mean it.
Present your experience in
light of what counseling centers are looking for now:
clinical work with any specialty areas, triage, clinical assessment experience,
work with diverse populations, crisis intervention, outreach and programming,
prevention work. Think about what fits regardless of where you experienced it,
whether in a counseling center or elsewhere.
Never burn your bridges!
Even if you do not get the job that you are hoping for, leave a good impression
with the Director in case there are future openings.
The point of the interview is
what you can provide to the counseling center – whether that is an area of
expertise or an area of interest you are hoping to gain even more training in.
The point is NOT to find out what I can do for you or how I can be a jumping off
point. I want to know that you want to be a part of the system and improve it,
not just passing through onto bigger and better things.
Be as familiar with the place
as you can be before you interview and know that it’s a good fit for you and
why… then be yourself and trust the process.
Be yourself and let people
know you. When I get applications they all seem very identical and the ones
that I notice are the ones that have an ability for someone to be seen as a
person. If you are applying to be a psychologist you have met a certain level
of success and skills. The application should reflect that but I am hiring a
person so letting me into your thinking and personality are wonderful.
I forgot the part about
having a specialty dish ready to discuss when we ask them what we could expect
them to bring to a staff potluck. Extra points for items with bacon or chocolate
Describe what you know as a
professional not what you learned as a student.
Be vulnerable enough to show
us who you really are
Our Center has a very
relationship-focused, team-oriented cultural. As a result, the most important
thing for us in the hiring process is that the individual is a stable,
low-maintenance, hard-working professional who cares about his/her colleagues
and is sensitive to how his/her behavior impacts others in the Center. Here’s a
quote from Marge Piercy that I think captures at least some of this idea:
I love people who harness
themselves, an ox to a heavy cart, who pull like water buffalo, with massive
patience, who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, who do what
has to be done, again and again. I want to be with people who submerge in the
task, who go into the fields to harvest and work in a row and pass the bags
along, who are not parlor generals and field deserters but move in a common
rhythm when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
It’s not a “sexy”
description, but I want to be around these kinds of people when I come to work
My best words of wisdom are
to clean up what is out in cyberspace about you. No odd photos of you half naked
with a dog (yes had that one), no advertisements of your band doing a booty
shaking contest (yes, had that one too), no drunken party photos of you as your
facebook profile (yes, had this also) and please tell them not to use an email
address that says firstname.lastname@example.org.
(had a version of that email with numbers added to it). I have had so many
crazy things on applications I should do a presentation on what not to do. We
even had one candidate put a glamour shot photo at the top of her vita.
We are in a hiring freeze,
which means a slower process from start to finish and thus I’d recommend to be
patient and hang in there.
At our University, HR plays a
major role in the first round screening of all applicants. Thus, be sure you
fill out the application forms and clearly indicate how you meet the job
requirements. I might suggest that you or one of your references who may have a
connection to the Center, email the Director to state your interest and that you
have filed an application and something about you. It could put you on the
Director’s radar if your application is not forwarded from HR. I have had the
experience that something about the application, while fitting for our position,
threw off the HR reviewer. I could ask HR about your application.
Your interview begins with
your first contact and usually with a member of the support staff. Remember,
they are a part of the interview process as well and their experience with you
and impression of you will go a long way in the selection process.
Make sure you have someone
proofread your materials (cover letter, CV, other supporting documents) before
sending them out.
In situations which involve
sharing information about clients you have worked with, be mindful of ethical
and legal guidelines and preface these situations with a disclosure that you
have disguised information about the client's identity. If you are asked to send
a video or audio of your work, ask the Training Director about how this should
be handled. Depending on how you are advised, discuss handling of this
information with the interview site and how and when it will be returned to you
or destroyed. Send the information via overnight delivery, include a statement
that the client has given permission for the use of the audio/videotape and
provide information and instructions related to what happens to this information
after it is reviewed.
Send a thank you letter to
the site expressing appreciation for the interview. In the body of the letter,
mention specifics about what impressed you during the interview and how you
think you can contribute.
Relax and enjoy. The site
is interviewing you, but you are also interviewing them.
Have in mind what your
expectations are from your supervisor....these days some directors see just as
many students as their staff so the individual attention you receive may be
Bring your sense of humor to the interview.
I see applicants who get very intense and miss the humorous comments that are part of some interviews. Picking up on the
interviewer’s humor and responding to it appropriately is an important part of the
represent yourself accurately – strengths, areas of interest, supervision for
licensure, what you’re looking for in a position. do your best to get an
realistic idea of what’s expected in terms of clinical load, outreach, and other
duties, as well as staff personality/group dynamics.