A Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology: Begin Your Career Before You Graduate
If you are embarking on a psychology career, it is imperative that you do not wait for graduation to begin devising an employment strategy. In the late 1980’s there was a saying on college campuses everywhere: “Bachelor’s Degrees are a dime a dozen.” While that is not necessarily a balanced perspective nor is it true, it is indicative of a situational perception that has continued to evolve over the years. Students graduating with Bachelor’s Degrees in any number of the Humanities have found that absent a well thought-out plan for acquiring employment; simply having a degree does not a job provide. Thousands of comment threads amongst newly graduated psychology students bewail the plight of acquiring desirable employment. While it is true that employers are not throwing doors open to newly graduated psychology scholars; they are not throwing them open for chemistry students; history graduates or political science majors either.
In short, the job market will be exactly what you expect of it. If you expect it to be horrendous and difficult, it won’t disappoint. If you instead view it as challenging, exciting and an excuse for adventure, you will no doubt enjoy the process of finding your employment niche as much as you do its inevitable acquisition and rewards.
Probably the most important thing you can do for your career is to begin immediately to strategize in a pro-active manner. Refuse to be overwhelmed by your studies. Your academic pursuits and career designs go hand in hand. After all, the ultimate goal of your education is to provide you with ideal employment. If you take steps now to ensure that you are a desirable job candidate, you will eventually breeze through the right doors rather than stumble or crawl your way inside of the wrong ones.
Browse through the job opportunities on websites, in newspapers, industry publications, local businesses, and employment agencies. Begin to get a feel for who is hiring and how much they are compensating those in entry-level positions. Mentally imagine that you are already degreed and this is the job market with which you will be dealing. Heeding this suggestion will yield powerful results. You will begin to develop the ability to navigate thru employment waters with ease long before the ship has set sail.
Carmen Pacheco graduated with her Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and immediately found work as a Psych Tech, working for CPS. She realized all of her preparation for the job market paid off;
“Having a BS/BA isn't a guarantee to anything. While you're still in college it's really important to get involved in campus organizations in your major, intern, volunteer, network. Think about what it is you want to do after graduation: teaching, marketing, non-profits, health care, whatever, and get experience in that.”
- Carmen Pacheco B.A. in Psychology
Conceptualize: where do you see yourself four years from now (after graduation?) Are you in an office? Are you working with children or adults? Write a brief one page essay on what your 5-year goals are in every aspect; geographic location, housing, work schedule, budget and transportation factors. Factor into the mix a concept of the perfect job; describe it in detail and begin to think about what is involved in achieving these goals utilizing a big picture approach.
World famous Executive Coach, Debbie Robins recently gave this advice in an article regarding employment strategies “Your Career Is A Game - 4 Key Moves To Play And Win!”
“Make Early Moves that Matter: Picture your career as the flight of a rocket -- a difference of a few degrees in the angle of the launch can have a dramatic effect on where the rocket lands. Great moves can pay a dividend from the moment they are made until you exit the game. The earlier you make the moves, the longer you enjoy the reward.
What constitutes a great early move?
- Find a job at a learning company -- one that is willing to invest in developing its people.
- Take the job no one else wants and do more with it than anyone could have imagined -- make a mark by fixing something or turning something around.
- Be bold. Anything that makes you unforgettable is a winning move.”
Put Thoughts Into Action
Once you have conceptually developed a sense of future, you can gradually begin to take action which will contribute mightily to your impending success.
Decide on at least one career avenue that intrigues you and make a list of potential employers. Compose a well thought-out letter listing all of your skills, attributes and experience (if any.) Call the companies you are interested in and find out who is in charge of human resources or who manages the department in which you are interested. Contact these persons in a professional and humble manner. Explain that you are a Bachelor’s Degree candidate and that you have aspirations for a career with their company. Impress them with your ambition and let them know you are interested in any sort of volunteer position they might afford you. If they say they have no volunteer positions ask them to invent one. No job is too small or insignificant when you are planting seeds of greatness. If you are persistent they will in time recognize the value you have brought to their doorstep; even if it’s just because you are one very determined breath of fresh air.
Elaine Jarvis is a Human Resource specialist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her job as a consultant takes her to large corporations and firms which maintain extensive Human Resource teams. When asked what her reaction would be to having an undergraduate approach her and volunteer to work for the experience and exposure she replied,
“I’ve never had it happen, but if I was ever approached in this way, I would consider that student to be motivated, resourceful and likely to succeed. I would more likely than not try and figure out some sort of slot for them within one of the corporate structures with which I affiliate. It would be refreshing to have an aspiring academic looking ahead, striving for preparedness.”
- Elaine Jarvis, HR Specialist
While opportunities do sometimes land in one’s lap; it is always a step in the right direction to seek out that which you wish to find. Along the same lines as volunteering, find a company that would allow you to work for them during summer break. You may have to work for minimum wage, but the networking opportunities and inevitable experience you gain will be things you cannot monetarily quantify. Again, think outside of the box of boring and average. Decide to work a little employment magic. No matter what kind of entry road you can blaze, it’s a way in. Do not be discouraged if they do not label you an “intern.” On a resume, the essence of an internship will be evident and the very fact that you were employed at all in your element will boost your desirability. See our internship overview.
Networking can happen in a number of ways. The ultimate goal, no matter how you reach it, is to surround yourself with people who already have what you want. In other words, begin to incorporate yourself into social groups comprised of folks already doing that which you desire. Pursue them as if you are running for election. Professors are good people with whom to start shaking hands. Visit them during office hours and ask questions about organizations, clubs, conventions, symposiums, lectures, and their own public involvements. If they are not amiable, locate some of the department’s graduate students. Pursue these valuable relationships with a vengeance; it could mean the difference between getting a good job down the road or a fantastic one.
The field of psychology has hundreds if not thousands of not-for-profit organizations dealing with every imaginable topic: suicide, geriatric issues, child-abuse etc. If the non-profits you are interested in are not physically present in your area, there is a plethora of listings on the internet. There are countless numbers of national organizations offering a variety of unlimited resources for career development. These groups can fulfill many of your career strategies at one time:
- You can use them to form affiliations with powerful and influential people.
- By being involved, you are in fact networking.
- You learn the ropes of the psychological services upon which that organization is based.
- You can establish a reputation as being helpful, eager and capable.
- You may become aware of employment opportunities of a stealth nature; in other words, in less you had been active on the inside you would not have known about the position.
Volunteering at a non-profit organization in which you are interested can provide not only experience, but also motivation. By being physically present and doing the things you want to do, you keep your dreams alive. You may even give birth to some new ones. Janice Pope is a single mother of one child and has been a volunteer at a hotline service for 18 months. Her work with others has inspired her to nurture her career aspirations as well as given her the conviction to hang in there, even when the journey is challenging.
“I am a volunteer for the suicide hotline. I signed up because I have always wanted to help people who are hurting or depressed. Working here has opened my eyes to so many things; I now want to become a counselor. I start City College in the fall and even though I’m 34, I know that if I work hard I will be able to get my degree. What I’ve learned here at Hotline is that people really need help and that I am good at what we do here. It has been inspiring for me.”
- Janice Pope, Hotline Volunteer; Future Counselor
Find a Mentor
Mentors are people who have achieved a level of success which you admire. They are persons who have made it to where you want to be and are willing to share their secrets to their accomplishments and future visions with you. According to Debbie Robins, “Early in your career, you need to find a ‘Yoda’ -- a wise character able to teach you what you need to know about your career goals. Such a mentor can help you understand where the land mines are, the best operating procedures, and how to thrive.”
Having a confidant is good for a number of reasons. Human nature tends to invite one to feel alone when a mistake is made or feelings of inferiority undermine self-esteem. Chances are, any mistake you make has been made by countless others. Having someone say you are perfectly normal and on-schedule can take a potential world of uncomfortable pain and hurt, and transform it into a valuable learning experience.
Fully Utilize the American Psychological Association (APA) as a Resource
The American Psychological Association’s website is one with which you need to become familiar and learn to navigate. The site has information on topics pertaining to the field of psychology and important developments in career requirements and related current events. It is comprised of articles and informative data regarding all aspects of the field as well as keys to employment requirements and support networks. Make it a weekly habit to log on and find out what is new in the field. Learn about possible internships, certifications, seminars, conventions and available learning tools. Get involved. Do not hesitate to begin to live the life on which you are planning. Every move you make right now, every step you take toward perfecting your ability to reach your goals is an investment in your well-being. No one else can secure your sense of accomplishment but you. Make that happen now.
Maintain a Positive Perspective
It is easy to become discouraged and join the wailing whiners in their cries of crisis. One key to peace of mind regarding eventually entering the workforce is to remember that expectations based on feelings of entitlement are futile. No one owes anyone a living and each and every graduate stands on the same playing field. The key to success is in going after what you desire before the rest of the pack. Those who wait for an easy ride into the employment arena usually end up stranded somewhere on the outside of the fence; they can see what they want but didn't have the forethought to get tickets early.
Keep perspective—no one has it easy and this is not a challenge only you have to face. Everyone has to forge their own way. You are not alone. Remember that a degree is a piece of paper that has unlimited potential but makes not even one promise. Keep your expectations in check; get motivated and start building a foundation for your success. Believe in yourself and you are destined to end up exactly where you want to go.