I remember my first SLP job interviews as a new graduate.
I remember I was nervous. How can you not be nervous?
I also remember feeling prepared. I felt ready.
Luckily, my graduate school professors prepared our class for this transition. They reminded us that SLPs are needed everywhere. They reminded us that our program prepared graduates for the real world, and we’d be ready for that first job. They reminded us that we would find a job, and the trick was to find the right one.
In other words, I was empowered.
I’m still thankful for my professors who gave me advice that allowed me to have a (relatively) clear head through the SLP interview process. Since then, I’ve changed jobs and had a variety of interviews over the years, as well as being part of the team hiring. Although I’m not an interview guru, I hope my perspective from both sides of the interview desk will help you prepare for upcoming interviews.
An interview can feel like the end all be all. It’s important to remember that it’s not. Honestly, there are people who I wanted to hire (because they did an excellent job at the interview), but the rest of the team didn’t agree. Sometimes, several candidates do really, really well. In those situations, it’s really difficult to choose who should be hired. All this to say: it’s not personal. If you don’t get the job, it’s likely it wasn’t anything you did wrong in the interview. Some candidates are chosen over others based on experience and how the interviewers think you will get along with the culture and team already in place.
You can’t control what happens after the interview. However, you can give yourself a good shot at that job by preparing for the interview ahead of time. Here are some of the questions I’m most frequently asked in SLP interviews, and how I answer (in case you are curious).
Tell me about yourself
Honestly, the biggest trick to answering this question is to not look like a deer caught in the headlights.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, you also need to avoid rambling.
This isn’t my favorite question to answer, but I understand why people ask it. They want to ask an open-ended question, find out about your work history, and see if you can communicate in an organized, clear, logical manner.
It’s best to stick to a few main points:
- Why you entered your profession
- Your work history and experience (settings, types of disorders)
- Why you applied for this specific job, and how it fits into your narrative
A nice framework to use might be (given you don’t have extensive work history):
- I decided to get into this profession because of ________.
This is your Why story – if you haven’t heard of Simon Sinek, you can check out his book or Ted Talk on this topic. You can also look at the Hello “Our People” page to see some good examples of how other SLPs answer their Why question.
- My work history (or practicum history for new grads) includes _______ (setting) with _______ (types of population or disorders you worked with).
This step could take anywhere from thirty seconds to a few minutes. You can always summarize, and interviewers can ask follow-up questions if needed. I usually try to comment on what types of clients or settings I particularly enjoyed and why.
- Moving forward, I applied for this job because ___________.
Show that you know something about the company, their values, and their needs. How does it fit into your work narrative? Not just what you want, but what can you give to this setting? If you are passionate about your work, this is a good spot to show it. Why do you want to be an SLP? Why do you want to be an SLP in this setting?
Why did you apply for this position?
Think about this question from your interviewer’s perspective. What are they looking for? What do they need?
Something I’ve said in the past is:
Because I’m interested in working in schools with cultural diversity, and especially those who give me an opportunity to work with Spanish-speaking parents and children. This is an area of interest of mine and is an area I feel passionate about.
My answer certainly isn’t The Perfect Answer, but I like to show that I know something about the organization I want to work for, and what their needs are and how those align with what I’m looking for in a job.
What are your biggest strength and biggest weakness?
As this question has become more common, I have noticed that interviewees are usually prepared for this answer.
I’m going to focus on talking about weaknesses because that’s the part people usually have difficulty with.
The past answer (the one the internet tells you about), is to say you are a perfectionist. Even if you are, it’s such a commonly advised answer, that I would encourage you not to use it. It’s become a textbook answer that – honestly – comes off as (at best) fake and (at worst) a bit deceptive. It doesn’t sound like your real answer. It sounds like the answer the internet told you to give.
There’s also the often-used advice to turn your weakness into a strength. That seems a bit dishonest, and I think professional honesty goes a long way. Within reason. It’s usually better to state what your weakness is, and then how you deal with that weakness within a professional setting. Our students/clients need accommodations, and sometimes we do too.
I’d encourage a dash of vulnerability (as in, a real answer) and a hefty dollop of professionalism (keep it positive and professional). For example:
- Do you have trouble with spelling and need to use Grammarly and Spell Check to make sure your reports don’t have errors? Fine.
- Are you a new grad, and thinking your biggest weakness is that you are a bit green, but your strength is that you know you are going to need to seek out a mentor and look things up? Great!
- Are you great at articulation therapy, but want to learn more about autism to build your skills, and are you willing to take classes to learn more? Say it.
The caveat here is that if you are going to be working in an autism classroom and this is your weakness, this is probably not the job for you, and this answer would probably not get you that particular job.
What are your professional goals for the next 5 years?
Whomp, whomp. Cue the sad trombone.
Here’s the thing. I wholeheartedly, 100% believe this particular question asks you to know the unknowable.
No matter how goal driven you may be (and what you might think the answer to this question would be), amid the hustle, there are still surprises in life. Your course may change, and your values and desires may shift.
I think the reason this question is asked is that interviewers want to know if you are interested in this job for the long term or are going to quit after a year (or less). I think you can express dedication to the job while also being honest that in order to be a fairly happy, well-adjusted person, you know that you are going to need to be flexible and course correct.
I think this answer shows some positive traits: flexibility, thoughtfulness, and the ability to reflect on your work and life. I want to hire someone who is flexible, thoughtful, and reflective. In other words, it’s OK to be honest. Just don’t forget about that dollop of professionalism.
How I have answered this question:
I’m interested in this job because _____. It aligns with what I’m looking for in a position, which is ______. I think it’s a mutually beneficial situation because, it sounds you are looking for someone who ________ (fyi, make sure you actually know what they are looking for, or else leave that part out). Right now, my plan is to stick with this job. I don’t have plans to change or move in the foreseeable future. That said, life has surprised me sometimes. I’m still figuring out what would be a best fit for me in terms of a job. I’d like to stay here as long as I’m learning, I’m happy, and you are happy with my work. If I was ever looking for a change, I’d let you know with as much notice as possible, and I would do whatever I could to ease the transition.
This is how I’ve answered this question. If this feels like a gamble for you, turn it around into something that feels good to you. After all, it’s your answer. Make it yours.
Do you have any questions for us?
The answer to this question is always YES.
It’s typically the last question asked, the interviewee says “no” and then looks relieved that it is all over and they can walk (OK, sometimes run) out the door so that it’s all over and they can go home.
Thing is, you want to show that you are interested. In your interviewer’s organization. In the job. In the clients/students. In the community. The most common mistake is to say you don’t have questions. The second most common mistake is to ask specifically about pay and benefits. The place for that question is after you are offered the job.
In your question, show you’ve researched something about the organization or the position and that you want to know more. The goal is to show you are interested and that you care. For example, when applying for a school job, you might ask:
I’ve heard your school is a Title One school. I’m interested in learning more about what the school is doing to support low-income families and how staff can help. This shows you know something about the demographics of the school. It also shows you care and want to put kids (and families) first.
When applying for a clinic job, you might ask what some frequently treated disorders they see are and ask something like:
It sounds like your clinic sees many children with autism. What are some of your goals in working with these families, and how can staff support those goals?
It sounds like your clinic sees many children with autism. Are there opportunities for staff to gain professional development in this area? If I was hired, how could I learn more about helping these families to support your clients?
All these answers show you are a caring professional. Most bosses I know want to hire caring professionals.
It’s all about them
Honestly, my number one piece of advice would be to remember it’s not about you. It’s about the interviewer. They are looking for something specific. It’s your job to show them who you are, and be prepared and professional. Beyond that, it’s their call.
Instead of feeling hopeless about your lack of control, you can also see it a different way. You can feel relieved that your only job is to be professional, answer the questions, and show the interviewer a little of who you are. The rest is up to the person hiring.
Don’t forget my graduate school professors and their advice:
You’ll find a job. You’re ready.
Now, get out there and ace that interview.
Sarah Lockhart is an SLP who has worked on the schools end of Hello for four years. In addition, she also runs a speech therapy clinic in Ashland, Oregon. She’s passionate about mentoring, Childhood Apraxia of Speech, and Gilmore Girls. You can visit her website at www.sarahlockhartspeech.com