I Majored in Psychology – Now What?

Psychology Graduate STepsThe Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: Getting That First Job

Throughout history there have been reports of an odd sounding noise flooding the halls of psychology departments on campuses across the nation. The source? It seems that the tone and tenor of millions of psychology undergrads scratching their heads has culminated into an audible query which loudly resonates: What am I supposed to do with my degree?

An internet survey of information available on the topic leads not to an answer, but actually to massive quantities of self-perpetuating, circular logic. Quippy articles pose the question, “What Jobs Can I Get with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology?” and then discuss everything but the answer. Most will do an exemplary job of explaining what qualities a student of psychology must have to graduate; the resources a student of psychology develops both personally and academically; the traits a successful student most probably has acquired in four years of studying human behavior and then wrap up the discussion with a pat on the back and a sturdy “Aatta-boy” hook. The only exception to these “talk a lot and say nothing” pieces are the ones that conclude by listing 900 jobs for which a graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology might qualify. These careers range from real estate agent to retail sales and in the long run do nothing but add to the perception that no one really knows what to say about a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. It is painfully obvious that everyone wants to say something positive; they just have no reliable grounds on which to base the endeavor. As any well-rounded student has learned in statistics 101, numbers can be presented to say just about anything. Only in this case, whatever they are saying is  rattled off in an alien dialect.

Rather than masterfully dodge an acknowledgement that there is an academic baboon in the room; it would seem psychologically sound to introduce oneself, ask it to sit in a comfortable chair and proceed to make some powerfully credible assessments. Probably the most important assertion to make is that when it comes to having a Bachelor’s in Psychology you are on your own. There will be no flashing signs saying, “You will do this with an undergraduate degree in psychology.” No one can say with certainty that you will be hired by this organization or that institution because the market conditions are in continuous flux. To be blunt: there are no definite answers. The only thing for certain is that the future will not be well mapped-out and crystal clear. That is up to you.

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If you are determined to be successful, you will be successful. You will have to work at maintaining your career focus, but you’ve had to sustain your academic focus for 4 years; just consider this the frosting part of the cake. If you survey various blogs and comment threads undoubtedly you will read hundreds of negative stories from undergraduate psychology majors who have their degrees and now work at designer coffee shops and in retail. They outnumber the positive testimonials 10 to 1. You do not have to be in that unhappy majority—not if you take the right steps in the right way and in the right direction; with clarity, focus and unbridled determination. This part of your life is not about your academic qualifications. This is about your character. Resist the temptation to be frustrated and accusatory of the society that encourages education and then fails to support it with accessible employment. This is in reality, the selection of the fittest; the weeding out of the whiners and the test of the winners.  John Kern is a man who was determined to have the life he wanted. He was persistent and thought positively about his future.

“I attended college and have a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology. For the past 31 years I have worked in Social Services in two locales. My income is above 40K and I have an amazing benefits package. I started out as an Eligibility Worker and then worked as an Analyst. I work now as a Social Worker. What I love most about my line of work is my ability to choose where I live because I’ll be able to find employment. I have not needed to get a Master’s Degree to be happy with my life.”                                          

- John Kern B.A., Social Worker

Knowing JobKnow Exactly Where You Want to Work/What Job You Want to Pursue

There are options for you in both the realm of psychology and in the business sector. The key is to develop an understanding of what types of jobs will support happiness in your life. There are no shortcuts to fulfillment. Those who choose work for the wrong reasons end up battling the ravages of stress and discontent. In the long run it’s more cost-effective to do what you love. You alone can determine what that is. Mark Ruiz, a graduate in the field of psychology, made a decision that what made him feel good and what made him feel happy was to work in the world of business.

“I have a degree in psychology and went into the insurance industry. I love what I do and I am good at it. I am not all about the money; I chose this job because it suited my personality. Don’t let anyone tell you that a degree in psychology is useless and that you have to starve. I earn just shy of 100K per year, others with similar degrees who are more ambitious make 150/200K per year in my same business.”  

- Mark Ruiz B.A., Insurance Agent

It is imperative that you are decisive, clear and focused with regards to the job you wish to obtain. The reason for this is that shooting in the dark is for laser-tag, not career accomplishment. Sit down and list out where you picture yourself working happily for 8 hours a day. As a student of the mind, remind yourself that happiness is essential to a healthy and successful life. Resist the temptation to factor in the opinions of others. While parents and authority figures have immeasurable influences on one’s self-esteem; realize that they are not going to walk in your shoes 40 hours a week. This is the time to be selfish.

Until You are Employed: You are in Sales

With a Bachelor’s Degree, getting one’s proverbial foot in the door of most institutions requires connections or creativity; usually both. While the notion that your first job is to sell yourself to potential employers is not academically driven, it’s a fact of life. Get used to it and embrace it. Your future depends upon it.

Assess Your Appearance

It doesn't matter what job you are in pursuit of, you can never look too professional. Steer clear of faddish attire; in the real world you are what you wear and looking temporary is not conducive to stable employment overtures. You need not to dress like your grandmother or grandfather; just dress as if you know as much as they did. Take the latest style and spin it on a conservative note. Watch the details; they matter.

This may sound silly, but it is not—it is a lesson in detail. Look closely at your shoes. For women it means checking the heels; do they have scuffs and/or tears? If so, they are unacceptable. There was once a Human Resource Director who shared that they made a point of looking at the condition of the high heels a woman wore to an interview. They believed that signs of extreme wear indicated that the applicant did not notice the little things that were obvious to others. They believed this translated into an employee who would not be aware of such things on the job as well.

For men, make sure your shoes are as polished as your resume. Once again, everything you present in an interview is a statement about who you are in general. Walking into a potential employer’s office with dull and lack-luster foot attire says you don’t really know where you are going. The key to looking sharp is having a shine that puts a spring in your step and a gleam in your eye. Make sure your socks match and that they are consistent with the color of your pants. While Pharrell Williams’ Mountie hat and athletic zipper jacket made him a hit, chances are you are not promoting yourself at the Grammys; coordinate colors and patterns with consistency.

The rest of the basics are applicable: make sure your outfit is pressed or dry-cleaned; don’t chew gum; carry breath mints and remember that every job interview begins when you enter the parking lot.

“It is unbelievable what I see in the course of the day in terms of how people dress for an interview. Isn’t this the time to look your best? I see jeans, dress shirts that are sloppy, unkempt jackets, and a general lack of preparedness. If this is their best, what comes next? The person that walks into my office “presenting” themselves in a conscious and professional manner have already made it past most of the applicants.”   

- Cynthia Torres, Director of Human Resources, Mandikempt Inc.

Know Exactly What You Want to Communicate

Tantamount to impressing an interviewer is having knowledge regarding the company from which you are seeking employment. Do your homework. Research its history and its mission statement. If the opportunity presents itself, you will be able to incorporate your knowledge about the business in the course of responding to a question.

John Susa is a consultant for a major corporation. Part of his job is to interview graduates in psychology (with Bachelor’s Degrees.) In his words;

“I work in IT consulting, and my company hires psych majors to create training documents and conduct sessions during system go-live. Starting salary out of college in the DC office was close to $60k. If you want to go a business route, start familiarizing yourself with the industry. I can't tell you how many kids I've interviewed at college career fairs who have no idea what consulting is, and are just screaming "I want a job, any job!" While that's probably true, it's not a turn on for those doing the interviewing.” 

- John Susa, Employment Consultant

Consider your resume vital to your success. After all, it’s the only thing you will leave behind.  Bring extra copies to the interview in case there is more than one interviewer. Make sure the information is current and professionally presented. Have it organized and in some form of briefcase or folder. Practice delivering it with ease; this will showcase your confidence and organizational skills.  Make sure you also bring a fresh notepad on which you in fact take notes. Have at least two pens handy as well. Nothing says professional as much as an eager listener jotting down important points the interviewer makes. It also ensures that you remember what is said during the interview; as every psychology major knows, nerves are known to upset memory recall. (And with regards to memory, don’t forget to follow up the interview with a thank you letter.)

Leave your cell in the car. An ill-timed text or phone call does nothing but disrupt the flow of conversation and the interviewer’s focus. There is absolutely nothing appealing or beneficial about “Baby Got Back” blasting from your smart phone in the middle of a serious career move.

Your Attitude: the Most Important Thing You Take to the Interview

Your presence will determine whether or not you stand out from the herd. Make sure you have a positive disposition and that you are sincere. Role-play with a friend or family member enough so that you feel comfortable discussing yourself, your education and your aspirations. Be passionate about who you are and why you are suited for the job. Let the interviewer know that you are persistent.

Discouragement is Never an Option

Do not listen to anyone who tells you that jobs are hard to find, the economy is bad and that you must prepare for the worst. How you think determines your reality and shortages only exist for those who accept them. You have not come this far to falter or fail to actualize your dreams. There is a job just waiting for you to show up and seize it. Look up and look straight-ahead, but never look down or back. You are qualified, you are valuable and you have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.  Relax and let your hard earned knowledge take you exactly where you want to go. Believe you can do it and you most certainly will.