Interview Questions for a Job in Community Mental Health

For those of you just starting out in the fields of social services or mental health, the interview process can be daunting. However, it can also provide an opportunity for you to spruce up your resume and sharpen those interpersonal skills which are paramount to rapport building and the counseling process. Below, I review 5 questions that are either specific to an MHR setting or require specific answers for that setting. With each question, I review what the interviewer is really asking under the question, what you should focus on while answering the question, an example answer (that should be changed to reflect your skills), a good follow up question you can ask to gain more information and exhibit your knowledge, and a not so great answer, some of which my supervisors have really heard! This list is based off of my own personal experiences and my conversations with supervisors and human resources staff. Please understand that these answers are only a loose guide to the interview process and might not apply for your experiences or agencies.

The best thing you can do before an interview is to make sure you understand the agency and the needs of the population you will be serving!

Please keep reading for common interview questions in agency settings and some possible answers to these questions you can use to showcase your knowledge and experience. 

What makes you qualified for this job?

What they’re looking for: Is this person going to be able to handle the crazy caseloads, the overwhelming paperwork, and clients with intense needs?

A chance to discuss: Your education, your job experiences, you “get” what’s involved in community mental health 

Possible right answer: “As a psychology student, I have had to take multiple classes on mental illness and supporting skills such as motivational interviewing. These skills would help me to work with the clients that your agency serves with intense needs such as severe mental illness, substance abuse, or homelessness. I currently work as a caretaker for an elderly patient. This work requires me to have a knowledge of my patient’s physical and mental health needs and requires organizational and assessment skills such as organizing services for my patient and assessing for safety” 

Bad answer: “I’m a student so I don’t really have a lot of experience now, but that’s what I’m hoping to get out of this job” (being a student HAS prepared you for this job!)

What populations have you worked with?

What they’re looking for: Is this person going to be able to handle some of our participants? Do they have realistic expectations for this work?

A chance to discuss: Your clinical and multicultural knowledge 

Possible right answer: “I completed my practicum at our university’s counseling center, so mostly young adults in individual and group modalities. I treated a number of issues you might expect to find on a college campus, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma which I’m sure you see with your populations as well”

Good follow up question: “What are some common diagnoses you see with your clients?” 

Bad answer: “I work well with all kinds of people” (try to be more specific)

Have you done treatment plans before?

What they’re looking for: Am I going to have to spend hours teaching this person basic clinical skills?

A chance to discuss: Your clinical knowledge and organizational skills 

Possible right answer: “Yes, treatment plans are an expected part of the treatment process in my current position. I have also recieved extensive training on treatment planning in my graduate level practicum course. If you look in my portfolio I brought in today, I have included one of my sample treatment plans”

Good follow up question: “What are some models or interventions that your agency encourages to treat clients?” 

Bad answer: “I’ve never done a treatment plan before” (always go into an interview with a treatment plan)

Why are you leaving your old job? 

What they’re looking for: What agency hurt you? Or worse, what ethical rule did you bend and when are you going to do it at this agency?

A chance to discuss: Your professionalism  

Possible right answer: “I love working with my current population and I especially appreciate my agency’s dedication to ethical practices. However, I have been wanting to work at your agency for some time especially in your Fucntional Family Therapy program so I can work with families again. I have included my current supervisor’s contact information in my portfolio should you have any questions about my previous job duties” 

Good follow up question: “What would you say sets your program apart from similar programs?” 

Bad answer: “Honestly, my last supervisor had way too high expectations. How are we supposed to see twenty clients a week and complete all that paperwork?” (an interview is not the place to complain about your old job – but you knew that)

How do you feel about working with participants with severe mental illnesses?

What they’re looking for: Can she work with George? Let’s be real, can any of our employees work with George? 

A chance to discuss: Your professionalism, your clinical knowledge 

Possible right answer: “As I might have mentioned, I worked with a variety of diagnoses in my previous setting. I’ve also taken multiple counseling classes on mental illness and I completed a presentation last week for a class on working with clients with schizophrenia. I believe that a holistic approach is the most effective way to address severe mental illness. That’s why I appreciate the fact that this agency works closely with local healthcare providers to ensure that each client has the same opportunity to manage their mental illness with community supports and medication” 

Good follow up question: “What are some ways this agency works to support the clients with the greatest needs?” 

Bad answer: “Wait I have to work with homeless clients?” – a real answer   

Did you find this list helpful or have a suggestion? Do you have any other questions you were asked at your interview that you would like to see added to this list? Please comment below! Don’t forget to check out our Facebook group My Car Is My Office for additional tips and good luck on your interview.

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