During the course of my career as a school psychologist, I have been fortunate to serve on many interview committees for the purpose of hiring school psychologists, social workers, administrators and teachers. These experiences as well as, my own experience as an interviewee has enabled me to identify a few key factors in the successful interviewing.
In my time as a graduate student at Columbia University and Fordham University, I was fortunate enough to have an excellent preparation for the practice of school psychology; however, I received little guidance on how to secure a position through the interview process. I learned through trial and error, but it wasn’t until I was on the other side as an interviewer that I was able to identify the traits of a desirable interviewee.
Implementing the following strategies will help you be a successful candidate for a school psychologist position, by projecting competence, professionalism and demonstrating clear judgement.
A quick Google search on interviewing tips will undoubtedly highlight the importance of wearing proper, professional attire on an interview. I can attest to my experience on interview panels that first impressions matter and the most effective way of exuding professionalism upon introduction, is wearing roper professional attire. How you are dressed in an interview is a reflection of professionalism and difficult to overlook if you are dressed in unprofessionally. When in doubt, go with a conservative business look.
There are no hard rules on how you should project your personality. It is important to be yourself and allow your natural personality to show. However, don’t be too relaxed and lose sight that you are on a professional interview.
School psychologists have important responsibilities that affect the lives on the most vulnerable students. Employers look to hire applicants that they can trust to make sound decisions with the priority being on the welfare of children. It is important to project that you are a trusted professional, capable of making difficult decisions that will affect the lives of children and families.
Interview questions will vary. My service on many interview committees has indicated the following themes:
- What assessment measures can you administer?
- Describe your clinical orientation.
- How do you work with difficult, challenging parents?
- Do you have experience running groups? If so, which ones?
- Why are you interested in working in this district?
- What are your plans for future professional development?
- Where do you see yourself professionally in 5 years?
- Do you have experience working with children who self-harm?
- Describe your communication skills in working with staff and parents.
The role of the school psychologist involves consultation with various stakeholders including parents, teachers, counselors and administrators. It is vital to highlight that you are a “Team Player” and that you will fit well on a multi-disciplinary team. School psychologists do not work in isolation. The demonstration of effective communication skills with an emphasis that you collaborate well with colleagues will go a long way in distinguishing yourself on an interview.
Be prepared to discuss your clinical orientation (e.g. Cognitive Behavioral) and provide examples of how you helped students with this approach. Providing examples of cases will illustrate your competence and efficacy as a psychologist. Defining yourself as a holistic or an eclectic psychologist will not demonstrate that you are able to employ practical therapeutic interventions to school age children.
Related to attire, a professional portfolio including a resume, psychological reports, and cases studies will serve you well in demonstrating to the interview committee that despite your lack of experience, you can fulfill the main roles of a school psychologist.
I have served on many interview committees in which the submission of a professional portfolio put the candidate over the top. Report writing is a main function of school psychologist, so committees want to see how well you write reports. Consider providing more than one to illustrate your use of various measures of cognition, academic achievement, behavior and personality.
Special Education Law
Many programs in school psychology do not provide coursework related to special education law. It is vital that you familiarize yourself with the special education code in the state the prospective school is located. Special education code varies from state to state. Demonstrating an understanding of the referral process, classification types, and eligibility process will demonstrate your practical knowledge of the law.
Display Your Knowledge
Most Master’s programs in school psychology are 3 years and doctoral programs are 5 years. Remind yourself that you are the expert in assessment and treatment of childhood disorders. Your task as a beginning school psychologist is to convey to the committee an expertise, enabling you to hit the ground running on your first day.
Trust in your diligent preparation through course work and internships. Provide clinical examples from your practicums and internships to illustrate your assessment and therapeutic skills. Providing such examples will demonstrate your practical experience and your readiness for employment.
Preparation for the interview process is not given much attention in school psychology training programs. Following the above actionable steps will help beginning school psychologists project professionalism, competence and that they will be an asset to the school community in providing sound decision making to serve students’ academic, behavioral and emotional needs.
Joseph Graybill, Ph.D.