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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 1998

Eye on Psi Chi

Fall 1998| Volume 3 | Number 1


How Do I Maximize My Chances of Getting a Good Job With an Undergraduate Psychology Degree?

Betsy Levonian Morgan and Ann J. Korschgen
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

There is much you can do while you are in college that will enhance your career options. In fact, the actions you take while in college determine the type of job you will obtain later. You will want to start off with a job that begins to build your career, and we will discuss how you can maximize the chances of making this happen.

What do I need to be doing now about my future employment?

First things first. Employers believe that your past performance predicts your future behavior, and many are making hiring decisions based on that assumption. In fact, to learn about your past behavior, more and more employers are using an interview technique called "behavior-based interviewing" in which they ask you to recall behaviors you have exhibited in the past. Examples of these behaviors could involve how you solved a specific problem working with a group of people, how you provided a service to someone in need, or when you demonstrated leadership in a work situation. Employers are interested in knowing about your "track record," which means that you should be building a history to carry with you into the future. But how? Building a history is not as hard as you think, especially when you undfirstand what you need to do. And as you start taking the necessary steps, you will discover that enhancing your "marketability" (which means your ability to sell yourself as a candidate to employers) also enhances your academic journey as a student.

So why should I care about my "marketability"?

It can make a big difference in whether you end up in a job that is a career stepping-stone or a career roadblock. Have you ever seen someone in a job they hated? Or, someone who had stagnated in their work? We have. They have been former students who have come back to us saying they had been too busy as college students to optimize their opportunities. We don't want the same to happen to you, and it doesn't have to! You can do things now that will lead you to work that will be meaningful and rewarding for you.

What are some steps to optimize my opportunities?

These steps will take some effort, we admit, but the payoff is well worth it. (Take them in the order that makes most sense for you.)

  1. Get to know your faculty. Their support and their recommendations to employers or to graduate schools will make an important difference for you. To get to know your instructors, drop by and ask them questions about class or provide them with comments about the class discussions. Talk with them about the field of psychology and their own career paths. Share with them your concerns about your career plans. Ask faculty members to guide you through an independent study or an internship. You might want to assist them with special projects or research. Faculty have a lot of wisdom to share and they may also have insights that assist you with your choices. Ffinally, they will be asked to recommend you for work or for graduate study. You want them to know you well and be aware of your skills and abilities so they can speak with enthusiasm about you.
  2. Take course work that supports your plans. Take courses that will enhance your knowledge and skills in your areas of interest. Don't assume the psychology curriculum will have all that you need to ensure your marketability. While psychology courses will be a great foundation upon which to add courses to deepen your knowledge base or skills, these additional courses also signal your specific skills and interests to employers. For example, if you are interested in working with delinquents, you may want to take courses in sociology related to criminology or in political science related to law.
  3. Get to know and use resources that can assist you. On most college campuses services exist that can really help you. Often the career services office has staff and computerized materials that assist you in thinking through your options and deciding on your focus. They also frequently coordinate an internship program. Career service offices can help you identify your areas of interest and decide upon special courses you could take to help you explore these areas more deeply and to enhance your marketability. They also can often provide you with names of alumni who are willing to talk with you about their careers, information about job opportunities in psychology, leads on job opportunities, and often information on internship options.
  4. Participate in at least one internship experience if not more. Internships provide you an opportunity to gain relevant work experiences while you are a student. Often internships are offered for academic credit and are carefully monitored to ensure you receive adequate orientation, training, supervision, and evaluation. Frequently, there is flexibility in terms of when you can participate in an internship experience so that you can select the semester or summer and hours that are best for you. Internships enable you to gain relevant work experience before you graduate, they provide you with employers who are often willing to give you strong recommendations, and they enable you to think through your career options and learn about the atmosphere of a work environment. Sometimes internships provide you the chance to work in a new city, state, or country. Overall, they enhance your marketability. We know of many employers who will not even consider a recent graduate for employment unless she or he has had an internship while they were an undergraduate. A national study conducted in 1996 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that many employers consider work or internship experience a significant factor in determining whether to consider a candidate for an interview.
  5. Volunteer some of your time and talent to campus or community organizations. You will not only make a difference for others by so doing, you also show others that you can be a good citizen in the community in which you live. Many employers of psychology majors especially value these qualities. In addition, you can often gain important skills, such as learning how to lead a meeting, plan an event, or deal with a difficult person, through volunteer work. If you can make an effort to be involved in campus or community projects, it sends a message about the kind of person you are. It enables you to help others, to meet people, to develop your skills, and to enhance your marketability. Employers, as we have said earlier, like to know that you have a successful history. Contributing to the community is a good way to help build that history.
What else should I consider?

Some additional and important points that can help you increase your chances of finding work that is satisfying to you include the following:

  1. Build your communication skills. Employers rank oral communication and interpersonal skills as very important in the people that they hire. Being able to talk with people and to get along with them not only helps in a work setting, but in most everything that you do. Seek feedback from others about how to develop these skills. And remember that gaining these skills is not a "spectator sport." You will need practice. We have seen more people fired from their jobs because of problems with interpersonal relations than because of lack of technical skills!
  2. Participate in extracurricular activities. Being involved in extracurricular activities such as your Psi Chi chapter, professional organizations, student government, athletics, or clubs signals to an employer that you are a well-rounded person. These activities might also provide specific skills gained through organizing events or working with people who have special needs. As with many of your experiences, one of the key things is how well you are able to talk about and convey the implications of your experiences.
  3. Keep an open mind about your possibilities. One way to enhance your career opportunities is to be flexible about the kinds of work you may see as acceptable or "psychological." Also, keep an open mind regarding your geographic destination. Remember that larger urban areas will offer more numerous and more varied opportunities than might be found in smaller communities.
  4. Develop an attitude. A positive one. Survey after survey indicate that employers look for and reward positive attitudes. Employers are especially interested in your enthusiasm toward their organization and the work they offer. They prefer a "what can I do for you?" message to a "what can you do for me?" Along those lines, employers hire people who are actively engaged in looking for work rather than those who are waiting for something to "come to them."
  5. Be savvy about your job search. You greatly enhance your chances of finding a terrific job by conducting a terrific job search.

Overall, after reading this, you should feel confident that you will be able to get a job. More importantly, you should feel ready to start planning strategies to make yourself more marketable so that you can end up in the career you really want. Keep in mind that each experience you have becomes a part of your total marketability. Don't wait until your senior year to try to undfirstand how it all fits together, but rather reflect on your experiences and skills throughout your college career.

Another good resource:

[If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Majoring in Psych?: Career Options for Psychology Undergraduates, you may contact Allyn & Bacon Publishers directly at 1-800-852-8024 or visit their Web site at Your campus bookstore should also be able to order the book for you.]

Copyright 1998 (Vol. 3, Iss. 1) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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