While there might be some positions in the counseling field that are open to bachelor’s degree holders, if you want to be a counselor or psychotherapist, you need at least a master’s degree. Of course, even with a master’s degree, that first job can be hard to get. That’s because “entry-level” jobs in the counseling and psychotherapy fields aren’t really entry-level — they require not just a master’s degree, but also state licensure.
And most new counselors can’t get licensed right out of school. They need a certain amount of supervised experience to get licensure. But, then they run into the classic dilemma faced by young people in every field: They can’t get a job without experience, but they can’t get experience without a job. How can you, as a newly graduated counselor, overcome this obstacle?
Choose the Right Master’s Program
It’s well-known in the counseling field that new grads often struggle to find positions that can give them the experience and supervision they need to gain licensure. Of course, licensure requirements are a good thing; they ensure that clients receive quality care from the counselors they see. But, for many new grads, they can often mean taking a position that they would have been qualified for with a bachelor’s, just to get licensure.
Some master’s in counseling programs are addressing this problem by helping students get the clinical experience and training they need to apply for licensure right out of school. If you haven’t yet earned your masters in counseling, it’s a good idea to look into CACREP-accredited online programs that can prepare you to apply for licensure as soon as you graduate. You’ll get more interviews for the jobs you want if you’re already licensed, or if you can assure employers that your license is forthcoming very soon.
Be Open to Relocating
Just as in any other field, if you want to get a job, you have to be open to relocating to take a position. This can be especially true if the area in which you live or want to live already has a saturated market for counselors in your specialty. If you want to be a school counselor, for example, but you live in a rural area, you might find that there aren’t any open positions in the local school system. However, many areas of the country are experiencing huge shortages of school counselors, so you should be prepared to move. It’s a bummer, but you can always move back after you’ve gained some experience.
Work Your Network
Getting a job is as much or more about who you know as it is about what you know, so you should start working on building a network of professional contacts while you’re still in school. Join the American Counseling Association or other, local professional organizations. Attend professional networking events and make sure to let people know you’re looking for your first counseling job. But remember, the contact who gets you that first job may not even be in the counseling field, so don’t be afraid to discuss your job search with friends and family.
Don’t Discount Your Internship
Many new counselors get their first jobs with the organizations where they interned as graduate students. In fact, most students choose their internships with the possibility of getting their foot in the door for a job at the organization in mind. If you haven’t started your internship yet, don’t rule this out as an option.
Prep for Interviews the Right Way
When you do start getting interviews, you’ll need to do your homework and present yourself as a polished, competent professional who can get along with staff and represent the organization well. Ace your job interview by:
- Researching the organization and preparing a list of questions in advance
- Wearing a conservative suit or skirt suit
- Having prepared answers to typical interview questions
- Arriving early and being friendly and warm with everyone
- Taking notes during your interview and asking the panel questions
- Using confident, friendly body language
- Sending a thank-you note after the interview
- With these tips in mind, you’ll be well on your way to making a good impression in an interview setting.
Job hunting can be brutal, even in a booming economy. While you’re waiting for a job offer, it’s important to stay positive. Consider using this time to add certifications in areas like technical writing, conflict resolution, autism or addiction to your resume. Spend time researching job interviewing tips and strategies or job hunting techniques. Pursue a part-time job to help you pay the bills and stay sane, or volunteer — helping others will keep your mind off your own problems and can look great on your resume.
In lots of ways, your first job is the hardest to land. You don’t have any experience yet, and as a new counselor, you may not even be licensed. But stick with it; that first job may not be easy to get, but it’ll be worth the trouble counselling job.