Resume Guide

The importance of your resume or CV in the job search process cannot be overstated. As the first thing a hiring manager sees, your resume or CV has the power to grant you an interview or remove you from the running completely. Especially for aspiring therapists, a counselor resume or CV should be clear and concise, and should include education and work experience in positions of prominence on the cover page. An employer should be able to get a sense of your personal demeanor, along with seeing your degree(s) and experience, to determine whether you are qualified to interact with clients in an ethical and professional manner. Both school counselor resumes and mental health counselor resumes should briefly summarize professional goals and aspirations to provide insight into the applicant's counseling style.

How to Write a Mental Health Counselor Resume

  1. Do Your Research: As a rule, while you cannot predict what questions will be asked in your interview, always assume the employer will test you on your knowledge of their organization, the position you are being interviewed for, and why you think you fit the qualifications. In addition to thoroughly reading the job description, also visit the organization's website and social media platforms to learn about the office culture, current initiatives, and goals.
  2. Write Down Your Key Points: To begin writing your resume or CV, write down all the key points you want to include. As a first step, avoid spending too much time on formatting or language -- think of this as a grocery list for your career. Next, organize your key points into a brief outline. Then, take a moment to think about the impression your resume or CV might make, considering your strengths and weaknesses. If you sense that something is lacking, such as experience, consider how you might compensate for this in other ways, such as volunteer experience or advocacy in a related field, and make sure you include those achievements.
  3. Format Your Resume: While a rough draft is sufficient to organize your resume information, formatting is extremely important when it comes to first impressions. Stick to your outline, fleshing out each section one at a time using complete sentences. Be sure to correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling and format margins with enough space for a hiring manager to make notes. Avoid using a font, watermark, or color that is distracting or overwhelms the content, but do consider bold choices to make your resume or CV visually appealing and unique.

What's the Difference Between CVs and Resumes?

A resume is a brief, general overview of a person's education and work experience. While many employers prefer resumes to be contained to one page, a candidate may see fit to include a full list of their degrees, awards, and employment history, using their resume to provide an overall snapshot of their potential eligibility for any number of jobs. But, more often, candidates tailor their resumes to a particular position. A professional CV, however, also includes additional information, such as areas of interest, professional specialties, awards and grants received, and experiences outside of employment that may supplement job skills, like mentorships and continuing education. Applicants may add to a CV to keep it current, but typically do not tailor it to various jobs. Most employers in counseling prefer a CV, so they can gain a fuller picture of a candidate's scholarly achievements and field experience.

Types of Counselor Resumes

As a personal snapshot of a job candidate, a resume can take many different forms, depending on a person's individual career goals. While there are no official rules governing how to draft a resume, there are several common methods of organizing information. Employers do not typically specify what type of resume they are looking for, however a candidate can often improve their chances simply by using the right format to benefit their skills and qualifications. While any of the types below are acceptable in the field, functional counselor resumes are common among aspiring therapists, prioritizing skills and experience, and de-emphasizing the exact dates of employment for irrelevant jobs.

  • Reverse Chronological: Perhaps the most conventional type of resume, reverse chronological resumes prioritize work history, beginning with the most recent position. Applicants with no gaps in their work history benefit the most from this type of resume. While potentially beneficial for late-career counselors with extensive experience in counseling or a counseling specialty, most counseling employers also want to see education, potential certification, and relevant career skills on a candidate's resume.
  • Functional: Functional resumes lead with career skills and experience, which they prominently present within the first page. While work experience is extremely important on a counselor resume, functional resumes downplay exact dates of employment, opting instead to highlight a candidate's skills and include only a selection of targeted work experience in a specialty area.
  • Combination: This type of resume combines the two types above to provide the employer with an extended view of a candidate's skills, experience, and full work history. A highly flexible format for a broad array of job types, combination resumes can also be used when a candidate is unsure which qualifications to include but deems all skills and experience equally important. Many counselling employers request a CV containing such information rather than a resume.

Required vs. Preferred Qualifications

Many job listings outline both required and preferred qualifications for a particular position. Employers often use such language as a way of identifying to prospective applicants what their ideal candidate looks like. For a school counseling position, for example, a master's degree may be a required qualification, however the employer may prefer a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. While this may seem exclusionary to candidates with only the required qualifications, it does not mean that an employer will always choose the applicant with preferred credentials.

Listing preferred qualifications is simply a method of recruiting the top prospects for the job. If an applicant meets the preferred qualifications, they should list them prominently on their resume or CV. However, if they do not, they should not hesitate to apply anyway. In the event that two candidates with otherwise identical qualifications are competing for the same position, it is more likely that the candidate with preferred qualifications would be hired.

How to List Counselor Certifications on Your Resume

Whether a counseling job requires or merely prefers field certification, candidates should always list their credentials following their name on their counselor resume or CV. Counselors who have earned the licensed professional counselor (LPC) designation as an independent practitioner, for example, would include "LPC-I" after their full name at the top of their resume or CV, much like they would on a business card. Applicants with more than one credential should list the one required to practice in their state first, followed by any national certifications (such as in a specialty) in order of difficulty, starting with the most difficult to obtain. Common national certifications include national certified counselor, certified addictions counselor, and certified behavioral therapist.

What Should I Include on a Counselor Resume?

Education and Training: Your education, including all degrees you have earned and training you have completed, is of the utmost importance on a counselor resume. Because counselors must hold a particular level of degree to acquire the necessary certification to practice in their state, your degree(s) should be listed -- without graduation dates, to avoid age discrimination during the hiring process -- in reverse chronological order. If you are currently enrolled, however, your degree should note your expected graduation year. Be sure to list the individual minors and concentrations of each counseling degree. You may choose to include your GPA, though a good rule of thumb is only to include it if it is over a 3.0 and from the last three years.

Experience: Alongside education, experience is critical to land a counseling job. Work experience in the field, including internships, clinicals, practicums, and paid employment as a counselor, should be shown prominently, as employers expect to be able to readily compare your level of experience with the demands of the job. You should list your experience in reverse chronological order on your resume, including employment dates and specific duties performed in each position. Experts suggest using positive action verbs, such as accomplished and delivered, and positive adjectives, like flexible and innovative, when describing job duties. Your experience should be listed in-depth in a brief paragraph, followed by some bullet points highlighting critical skills learned through each experience. This section may also include other relevant counseling experience through advocacy, mentoring, outreach, or research.

Skills: For counselors, having strong interpersonal skills is a must, and something you should emphasize on your resume. Demonstrated communication, time-management, and team work abilities, for example, show potential employers that would make a competent, dedicated counselor. Consider any unique abilities you may possess that could set you apart from your competitors for the job. Look for opportunities to tailor the skills listed on your resume to the particular position you are applying for.

Licensure, Certifications: Be sure to include your licensure and certification information on your counselor resume. While the hiring manager is likely familiar with common counselor licenses and certifications, it is customary to list the full name of the credential on and the conferring organization your resume, as opposed to their acronyms alone. Licensed counselors should include their license number and its expiration date, so the hiring manager can verify that their license is valid and current.

Awards, Accomplishments, Affiliations: For recent college graduates and counselors still in the early stages of their career, a category listing awards, accomplishments, and affiliations on their resume may not be necessary. However, experienced candidates who are members of professional organizations, or who have been recognized by their peers for any counseling accomplishments or awards, should make a section and list them on their resume.

Volunteer Work: Some counselor resumes may warrant an additional category for related experience, such as volunteer work. While listing a volunteer experience as a counselor or in a counseling-related capacity can benefit your resume overall, you should avoid including volunteer experiences here if they are not relevant to the position you are applying for.

What Should I Put on My School Counselor Resume If I Don't Have Any Experience?

While experience may be a critical section of a counselor resume, candidates who are new to the field can employ other methods of emphasizing key skills and qualifications. A counselor resume sample in this case might focus on education, licenses, non-counseling experience, and volunteer work, if applicable. If you are lacking experience in counseling but have other skills that you feel qualify you for the job, expand on how the experience you do have prepares you to transfer your skills to a counseling position. List education and skills first, and consider creating a category especially for volunteer experience.

What Is a Resume-Reading Robot?

What Is ATS?

An applicant tracking system, or ATS, is a software application that many companies use for recruitment purposes. An ATS helps hiring managers streamline the process of reviewing applications by scanning them for keywords and relevant skills that match the job description. In some cases, before a human hiring manager sees a counselor resume, it has been vetted by an ATS to ensure that your degree, license, and experience level meet the employer's standards. When you submit a resume online, your information will likely be scanned by an ATS, managed by the hiring company to automatically exclude any resumes it deems irrelevant or underqualified.

Tips for Outsmarting an ATS

  • Simple Headers: Making it past the qualifying round of an ATS means sticking to easily searchable, straightforward headers, like "professional experience," "education," and "skills."
  • Clean Format: Stick to the basics when it comes to formatting, using simple layouts and standard fonts that are easy to read. Skip the graphics, as they can distract the ATS from recognizing your qualifications.
  • Keywords/Phrases: For counselors, this aspect of an ATS sweep is especially crucial. Stick to industry-standard labels for assets like licenses and experience, using terms like "licensed professional counselor" and "clinical rotations."
  • Industry-Specific Jargon: Like keywords, counselor resumes often include much of the same industry-specific jargon; use this to your advantage when trying to outsmart an ATS by matching specific skills, such as "intervention" or "addiction counseling," to the job description.

Resume Writing Tips for Counselors

  • Tailor Your Resume: Even if you out-qualify all other candidates for a job, submitting a stock resume greatly reduces your chances of obtaining an interview, as it signals the employer that you did not put in the time to research the role and the organization. Always tailor your counselor resume to the acute skills and experience required of a particular position.
  • Save Your Resume Under a Professional Name: All details matter when submitting your resume, including making sure to use professional and appropriate file names. Consider a format such as "Firstlast_specialty_resume.doc" or a similar labeling system before uploading your resume to a job site.
  • Make It Easy to Read: While it may seem tempting to show your creative side through playful colors and fonts, your professionalism should make the first impression. Make sure your font is clearly legible and your accent colors, if any, do not distract from the content.
  • Include a Cover Letter: Like sending the same resume to 10 very different jobs, copying and pasting a form letter to introduce yourself won't do you any favors when it comes to standing out among competitors. Tailor your cover letter to (briefly) explain why you are right for the position.
  • Keep It to One Page: When it comes to a job that matches your skill set, trust quality, not quantity, to highlight your qualifications. As hiring managers often go through many counselor resumes per day, all of your most important information should be listed on the first page.

Common Mistakes Counselors Make on Their Resumes

  • Typos: While counselors may not be applying to be English professors or journalists, typos are equally detrimental on any kind of resume. With as many proofing options as exist today, hiring managers simply see no excuse for sloppy errors. Use your word processor's spellcheck function, but also ask someone you trust to review your resume, just to be safe.
  • Including Personal Information: Simply put, there is no need for personal information, such as your home address, on your resume. Whether submitting your resume by email or an online filing system, you have ample opportunities to include an email address or preferred method of contact separately, without listing it on your resume's front page.
  • Including Salary Information: Including salary information on your resume shows hiring managers your lack of experience in the job interview process. As the resume serves as the introductory step in the hiring process and you must complete many more steps before potentially discussing your salary demands, it is irrelevant and inappropriate to include at this stage.
  • Using Nicknames: Even if you consider yourself informal in other respects, some formalities are universal during the job interview process. One of these common formalities is using your full, professional name instead of a nickname, which can implies an awkward sense of familiarity with hiring managers that is likely unwelcome.
  • Using an Unprofessional Email Address: While this might go without saying, always make sure to use a professionally appropriate email address when applying for jobs. If your primary email is tied to your current job with a competitor or your online dating profile, for example, consider creating an email used only for submitting your resume to potential employers.
  • First Person Pronouns: As much as we use first person pronouns in everyday language, they are a habit best broken when writing a counselor resume. For one thing, anyone reading it will know you are the author, and, secondly, the content flows more smoothly without such interruptions.
  • Unprofessional Voicemail: When submitting a resume, be sure to consider all aspects of contact, should a hiring manager reach out to you about a job. As you may be unable to answer your phone when a potential employer calls, make sure to update your voicemail when you begin your job search, using a professional tone to clearly state your name and when the caller can expect a response.