30 Questions and Answers Written by Heather Douglass
Updated on August 21st, 2018 | Heather has over 20 years experience recruiting and hiring candidates, specifically in the health care industry.
Question 1 of 30
What is your greatest strength?
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This is a very common interview question. Tell the interviewer that you are the best person for the job and that you have qualities, skills, and the experience that set you apart from the competition. If leading a team is your strength, let the interviewer know and that you are someone who will make an excellent addition to the team.
"My greatest strength is my ability to encourage patients to open up to me. I've dedicated these past four years to constantly working on my communication skills with patients and value their outcome."
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"I have an extremely strong work ethic. Everything from coming to work 15 minutes early each day to my attention to detail while documenting in charts."
What three words would you use to describe yourself?
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This question is a shorter version of 'tell us about yourself'. Avoid the common answers such as 'team player' and 'organized' as the interviewer has heard these before. By describing yourself as loyal, honest and confident will suggest that you are not only good at your job but that you are a kind natured person. You may choose to answer this question that you are ambitious, diligent and hard-working suggesting that you are motivated to work towards a leadership position if given the chance.
"I would describe myself as being driven, meticulous and reliable."
Second Answer Example
"I see myself as a motivating, communicative and flexible within my professional interactions as well as treatment with my patients."
As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you may encounter confrontations daily from your clients. Clients can get angry about diagnosis, what is discussed during sessions or out of the blue as they are trying to recover. Tell the interviewer how you manage these types of confrontations. Answer this question by telling the interviewer how you may enlist the help of a co-worker or follow a step by step list of instructions set by your clinic.
"When dealing with a patient confrontation I make sure I never raise my voice or talk down to a patient. I take the time to listen to their concerns and let them get everything out before we start over and work on a plan together."
Second Answer Example
"When handling patient confrontation I always take the time to listen and help them come up with a solution to their problem."
Don't get hung up on this answer. Of course, you’d love for your new position to pay extremely well, have an effortless commute, and ensure access to nap rooms during all work hours, but that’s not going to impress your interviewer. Answer this question by highlighting your skills and talk about how you’re looking for a place where you can use them.
"I’ve been honing my group counseling skills for a few years now and, first and foremost, I’m looking for a position where I can continue to exercise those skills."
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"Not only is one on one counseling important to me but being able to also present my findings and suggestions directly to my colleagues excites me. I’m always very motivated by being able to see the impact of my work on other people and how I can share my knowledge with others."
When answering this question you will want to consider qualities that are relevant to this position. Good communication skills, attention to detail, and technical mindset are all important characteristics for any Substance Abuse Counselor. Tell your interviewer about having a good attitude when faced with difficulty or being willing to go above and beyond expectations to help someone out.
"My co-workers would describe me as being reliable, knowledgeable and empathetic to my patients."
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"My co-workers would describe me as being hard-working and trustworthy. I've never been late to work, I never leave the office early when I have a task to complete and trustworthy because it is something I've earned with my clients as well as my co-workers."
6. What is your greatest weakness? When answering this question, remember that the interviewer is not looking for someone that is perfect. What’s something that’s a true weakness you want to improve upon? Here is an answer example: "Public speaking has always been a weakness of mine. I've asked my current supervisor to keep me in mind whenever there is an opportunity to address a group of people so I can work on making this one of my strengths." Here is an answer example: "Being organized wasn't my strongest point, but I implemented a time management system that helped my organization skills. Now I have a system that helps me keep on track and not fall behind on appointments."7. What would your former employer say about you? Feel free to name drop when answering this question. Tell the interviewer if your boss recognized you for a job well done. Tell the interviewer if your boss positively commented on your punctuality, the fact that you never called out sick and that you were dependable. Think of the traits that make an ideal employee in the eyes of a boss. Added bonus if your boss will write a letter of recommendation for you. Here is an answer example: "My boss would describe me as hard-working, knowledgeable and always up for a challenge. I'm often the one that helps with client load without being asked, the one that others come to with questions and the clinician that is always willing to take on tasks that I'm unfamiliar with simply because I want to learn and become a better counselor." Here is an answer example: "My boss would describe me as being dependable, knowledgeable and a hard worker."8. Describe your counseling style. The interviewer is asking this question to find out a bit more about your particular style of therapy. Tell the interviewer how you instruct (provide information), guide (encourage the person to find his or her own goals and achieve them), and listen (understand the person’s experience and feelings). How you describe this counseling session will make or break this interview question. Too lax and it will seem as if you don't care about the patient. Too firm and you might intimidate the question. Do you bring visuals to the session? Play a game? Whatever style you choose during your counseling session let the interviewer know that you give it 110%. Here is an answer example: "I have more of a question and answer counseling style rather than me lecturing them or telling them what to do. I encourage my patients to ask questions so that I can be sure that they fully understand what I'm asking of them and that they know the importance of living a clean life." Here is an answer example: "My counseling style is organic and client led. The clients' personality and situation dictate the focus of sessions, treatment, and theories. I use a lot of listening and validation to increase self-esteem and self-pride. I join with the client and have conversations with them, sometimes taking on more leadership roles, sometimes more equal casual roles."9. What was your biggest disappointment as a substance abuse counselor? When answering this question you don’t want to sound arrogant. Don’t try to convince the interviewer that you have never been disappointed. Answer this question with a response that will allow you to showcase your resilience and your ability to overcome a problem. Steer clear of a response like 'you were disappointed you burnt dinner' it might suggest you are hiding something or that you truly aren't prepared for the interview. Here is an answer example: "One of my psychology 201 exams didn't go as planned. It forced me to re-evaluate my study habits which improved my test scores." Here is an answer example: "Working with patients that slip or relapse can always be disappointing. I have to remember that setbacks are common and we have to just come together to find a way forward."10. If a patient was not recovering as planned, how would you react and what new steps would you typically take? Set-backs happen in the mental health field. Being able to identify them and help your patient work through them while staying on track and motivated is the hard part. Tell the interviewer about a time a patient relapsed and got back on track with your help. Tell the interviewer that you encourage your patient to take time to reflect on what happened and being brutally honest with themselves on why it happened. Here is an answer example: "Substance abuse counseling is always a work in progress. If a patient wasn't recovering as planned we would simply readdress the problem areas and come up with a new treatment plan." Here is an answer example: "When first meeting with a patient and discussing our treatment plan I make sure the patient understands and accepts that failure is part of the recovery process. If the patient encountered set-backs we would take them one step at a time and work through them."11. How do you adapt to a wide variety of people, situations and environments. As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you will have a wide variety of patients as well as the opportunity to assess their situations in different environments. There isn't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to working with addiction so make sure to tell the interviewer that.
Use specific examples, to exclude names, that show you are a well-rounded counselor and that you can take on any challenge that is thrown your way. Here is an answer example: "I had the opportunity to work overseas with a diverse population. My co-workers and I led a very successful therapy group despite the language barriers and environment." Here is an answer example: "When I started my current position two years ago, I agreed to the position assuring the director that I would refresh and work on my Spanish speaking. At the time, I was familiar with very little vocabulary but worked through it with my clients and became fluent after that first year."12. What are the main challenges that your patients face? As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you may help your patients manage their negative emotions, build on their problem-solving skills and improve their moral reasoning. The interviewer is asking this question to hear more about your counseling style and what experience you have. Answer this question with a recent situation or a few ways you encourage your patients to overcome their challenges. Here is an answer example: "Managing anger and emotions is a common challenge that my patients face. I encourage vocalizing their anger before it turns into aggression." Here is an answer example: "Cognitive distortions are common challenges that I assist my patient to work through. When my patients perceive reality inaccurately they reinforce negative thoughts and emotions and can delay our treatment significantly."13. What are your salary expectations? This can be a tricky question if it comes up. It is best to avoid this topic unless it comes up by the interviewer. Turn the tables and allow the interviewer to answer this question for you. If the interview turns awkward just move on and allow the interviewer to ask a new question. Here is an answer example: "I’d rather not commit to that quite yet. I’m sure you are consistent with the market, what are your thoughts on the starting salary for this position?" Here is an answer example: "I'm currently making $65K per year. What salary are you offering for this position?"14. Do you use motivational incentives with your patients? The interviewer is asking this question to determine whether or not you use positive reinforcement in your treatment. If motivation incentives are part of your treatment plans give an example. Here is an answer example: "I've found that motivational incentives increase retention and higher rates of abstinence for patients participating." Here is an answer example: "I do provide motivational incentives for my patients after each clean urine test. A few motivational incentives that I offer are food and gift cards to local businesses and bus tickets."15. What psychological signs of drug abuse do you look for in your patients? As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you often have to tap into your psychology training. Tell the interviewer what type of signs you look for when interviewing new patients, lead group sessions or reconnect with a patient that has been non-compliant with treatment. Tell the interviewer what steps you take when you identify unusual mood swings, lack of motivation or if your patient seems fearful for no reason. Here is an answer example: "When my patient displays paranoid thinking, it is my cue to dig deeper to determine a slip or a relapse." Here is an answer example: "When my patient displays abnormal changes in personality and attitude such as anxiety and unexplained hyperactivity those are my cues to ask more about the patient's drug use."16. What sectors or professional environments have you worked in? Don't be concerned if this interview is for your first job out of school. Tell the interviewer about the type of environments you worked while you were an intern or a volunteer. Be sure to show your excitement of the chance to work in their professional environment. HIghlight how you would be the best fit to work in that particular location. Here is an answer example: "I've volunteered in a nursing facility for the past 6 months and worked at our local hospital. I'm looking forward to the chance to work in your detox center where patients will be working towards getting clean." Here is an answer example: "I've spent my career helping former drug addicts, prisoners and psychiatric patients adjust to life in general society through various halfway houses in our community. I'm looking forward to the possibility of working alongside other medical professionals within your hospital."17. How do you monitor the progress of treatment? Besides monitoring the progress of treatment through one on one sessions, tell the interviewer the other ways you monitor your patient's treatment. You may check attendance records, revisit their treatment goals with them or ask the patient how they are progressing. The interviewer may ask you for a specific example so have a situation ready to share. Here is an answer example: "One of the easiest ways for me to monitor the progress of treatment is through the results of urine tests." Here is an answer example: "When it comes to treatment, I encourage feedback from the patient. The patient’s self-rating of progress toward achieving treatment goals gives me an idea of how they feel they are doing and if I need to adjust my counseling style."18. Explain what slip is in a substance abuse patient. As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you know that a slip is a situation where someone has a very brief 'slip' where they drink or use, but they stop quickly afterward, avoiding a full relapse into addiction. Explain to the interviewer that this happens when a person decides to use again but instantly regrets their decision. Tell the interviewer how you would treat the slip in your patient. Here is an answer example: "a slip is an extremely short-lived situation and does not take away from someone’s motivation to stay sober and recover from their addictions." Here is an answer example: " A slip is a short-lived lapse in treatment. If this was the second or third slip I would extend their stay in rehabilitation by 2 to 4 weeks."19. Explain what relapse is in a substance abuse patient. While treating patients you may come across the patient thinking they can moderate or use again without becoming addicted, romanticize about drug use in the past or even show signs of isolation or withdrawal. Explain these types of signs that you see in your patients that have relapsed and how you treat them. Here is an answer example: "In the case of a relapse, I've had to alter my counseling schedule and introduce more individual counseling for a maximum of four weeks. I also recommend regular urine testing. Associating with old friends who still have bad habits has been the biggest reasons my patient's relapse." Here is an answer example: "If I've noticed that my patient has had a change in social relationships or disengaged with their support groups it may suggest that they have relapsed."20. What would you suggest if a patient slips or relapses? The interviewer is asking this question to see how you would handle this common situation in substance abuse counseling. Start off by telling the interviewer that you would remind the patient that they can still return to recovery, as well as be successful at it. The sooner someone can stop using again, the better chances they have at minimizing the damage. Discuss your treatment plan and way forward. Here is an answer example: "Having a strong support system can help an addict realize that they have value and that it’s worth continuing treatment despite the relapse. Just because this has occurred does not mean that treatment has to start over from the beginning." Here is an answer example: " The key is continued treatment and a commitment to recovery. If relapse occurs, it does not indicate treatment failure, but simply the body’s resistance to recovery."21. Why did you become a substance abuse counselor? Besides the fact that you have the experience and the education to support this career, what made you want to choose this line of work? Have you always wanted to help people overcome and conquer dependencies? This question is similar to the very common ‘Tell me about yourself’ question. Take this time to explain to the interviewer what events, school and experiences you’ve had that made you want to pursue this career. Feel free to tell a story about why you chose this line of work but be sure to keep it short and not too detailed. Here is an answer example: Here is an answer example: "I enjoy helping people from all walks of life and am fascinated by the inner workings of the mind."22. In addition to substance abuse treatment by counselor what another service may your patients require? As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you may be part of a multidisciplinary team providing various treatment to your patients. Whether with another medical professional, legal professional or Vocational Skills counselor, explain the relationship that you have with these local professionals in your community and how you all work together to provide assistance to your patients. Here is an answer example: "I often work alongside medical professionals to determine psychological and mental disorders that my patients might be suffering from." Here is an answer example: "In addition to substance abuse treatment, I coordinate Family-oriented services that assist with reunification, childcare and visitation assistance."23. What are your career goals? Now is not the time to be clever and tell the interviewer that you plan on being in his position in 5 years....too soon my friend. Your career goals could include working in another department within their hospital, teach more classes to large audiences or even finish your Master's degree. Whatever direction you are looking to go make it something that will better yourself. Here is an answer example: " Here is an answer example: "A career goal that I've set for myself for the next 5 years include working with Military Veterans suffering from addiction. I'd like to be a part of finding solutions for our temporary housing crisis."24. How do you handle stressful situations? This is a common interview question for any mental health position. As a Substance Abuse Counselor, you'll experience stressful situations on a daily basis. You may encounter work tension, stressful client situations or even stressful situations out of your control. When answering this question be sure to be calm and precise. The interviewer will notice the way you answer this question and relate it to the way that you handle stressful situations. Here is an answer example: "I can cope with stressful situations. Not only my situations but advise patients on how to handle their stressful situations." Here is an answer example: "“When handling stressful situations, I stay motivated by thinking about the end result. I’ve found that during a challenging situation I remind myself of my goals and it helps me take a step back and stay positive.”"25. How do you build trust with a patient? Here is an answer example: Here is an answer example: "As a Counselor, I want to come across as calm, competent, and in control of the situation. If a situation or topic comes up that is frightening for the patient, they can remain calm, assured that we will discuss the way forward together."26. How do you manage a large work load? As a successful Substance Abuse Counselor, you have become a multi-tasker. Tell the interviewer how you prioritize your workload to avoid getting overworked and behind. When your workload is unmanageable are you able to ask your co-workers for help? Asking for help and offering help when able will show the interviewer that you are a true team player. Here is an answer example: "To manage a large workload I have to prioritize my tasks. I'll first create a to-do list, review my workload regularly and set realistic deadlines for my tasks." Here is an answer example: "I arrive 20 minutes early to work each day. This gives me time to grab a cup of coffee, review my patient's charts, prioritize my to-do list and get started as soon as the workday begins. "27. Why are you the best candidate for us? The interviewer is giving you the chance to sell yourself. Tell the interviewer that you possess a combination of skills and experience that make you stand out from the crowd. That you can do the work and deliver exceptional results. Tell the interviewer that you will fit in beautifully and be a great addition to the team. When you answer this question, gear your personality traits, work experience, and skills towards the job description. Here is an answer example: "Since substance abuse counseling isn't a one size fits all solution I pride myself at being a problem solver that is known for thinking outside the box." Here is an answer example: "I bring experience and knowledge from a diverse skill set. I'm loyal and reliable. I like to be challenged and multi-task."28. What kind of supervisor gets the best work performance from you? This question is aimed at revealing what kind of worker you are. It will be important not to bad-mouth your past employer or answer negatively in any way. Rather than using soft descriptions, such as personality traits, mention specific behaviors that you appreciate as an employee. Tell the interviewer if you like to have regular check-ins or to be consulted before moving forward with a project. Here is an answer example: " I appreciate a work environment where supervisors try to make personal connections with their employees." Here is an answer example: "I work best for a supervisor that makes it clear what their expectations are from day one."29. What individual has had the greatest influence on you? The interviewer wants to hear more about a professional or personal relationship you've had with a mentor that has helped you succeed in your profession as a Substance Abuse Counselor. Tell the interviewer about a relative that instilled a strong work ethic or a professor that encouraged you to think outside the box. Here is an answer example: "My first supervisor had a reputation for being no-nonsense, so I was a bit intimidated to be assigned to her department. I soon found that although she had high expectations of her team members and that she had equally high expectations of herself. She always demonstrated integrity and honesty. I learned a lot from her about how to supervise and motivate a team and how to convey professionalism at all times. I aspire to apply these principles as a manager in the near future." Here is an answer example: "My Sociology professor always encouraged us to march to our own drum. His creativity and insightfulness made me realize that I wanted to pursue merging art and the mental health field to treat my patients."30. What is your greatest accomplishment as a substance abuse counselor? When answering this interview question you will want to choose an achievement that you are genuinely proud of, something that is true to you. The interviewer will be able to see your passion when telling the story. This answer can be a career achievement or a personal achievement. Keep your answer positive and professional. Here is an answer example: "A personal achievement I accomplished this year was running my first 1/2 marathon." Here is an answer example: "One of my professional accomplishments has been organizing a 12-step program in our community that has been going strong for 6 months now."
Author of Substance Abuse Counselor Answers and Questions
Heather Douglass has over 20 years of experience recruiting and hiring candidates. She has a knack for resume writing. You can find her on twitter at @heatherinidaho.
First written on: 05/30/2013 Last modified on: 08/21/2018
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