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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2012

A Three-Step Guide to Exploring Occupations With Your
Baccalaureate Degree

Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University (IL)

How often have you and your classmates wondered what you can do with your bachelor’s degree in psychology? In this column, I will summarize a three-step process for exploring occupations that enable you to apply your psychology major.

Step 1. Identify Potential Occupations and Careers
Appleby, Millspaugh, and Hammersley (2011) created An Online Resource to Enable Undergraduate Psychology Majors to Identify and Investigate 172 Psychology and Psychology Related-Careers. This excellent resource can be accessed from the Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology (OTRP) HERE, along with other helpful career related articles. The Appleby et al. resource enables you to obtain information such as: (a) the knowledge, skills, abilities, tools, and technologies that graduates need in order to enter and succeed in a particular occupation or career; (b) the kinds of tasks performed, with asterisks identifying those careers that require a post-baccalaureate degree or certification; (c) interests, values, and work styles manifested by successful employees; (d) salary information; (e) current and projected employment numbers; and (f) additional information about this and related careers. The website links you to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), O*NET, the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT), and additional links that Appleby et al. designate as WILD CARDS, such as the Psychology Career Center and All Psychology Careers.

Step 2. Create Contacts
Perusing Appleby et al. (2011) is easy and instructive, but contacting an individual who works in a particular position may become challenging. For example, if you want to test your interest in becoming a market research analyst after exploring the DOT, O*NET, and WILD CARD sites that describe that occupation, how could you meet someone who performs that work, preferably in an area of your interest, such as the environmental products industry? Begin by asking friends, family, teachers (including your business/ commerce department faculty), staff, and neighbors if they know anyone who works in market research. Perhaps the career services center can provide leads. Perhaps your psychology department and alumni office can identify graduates who work in marketing. Check with your reference librarian or surf the Internet to locate environmental products and services organizations. Persist until you identify a source whom you can contact in person or, if you attend college in rural area, by phone, Skype, or email.

Step 3. Conduct Informational Interviews
Marty Gahbauer worked in advertising for 20 years before he became the employer relations coordinator at Loyola University Chicago. During the 14-month period between these positions, he conducted 125 informational interviews, more than enough to establish expertise in what he calls "Mastering the Art of Informational Interviewing” (2011).

Gahbauer defines informational interviewing as a highly focused discussion with a network contact (the interviewee) for the sole purpose of gaining knowledge about a particular job or occupation. Informational interviewing is not a job interview, so if you take a resume, keep it tucked in your folder unless you are asked for it. Informational interviews have several benefits

  1. You can learn about specific skills and abilities needed for a particular job, and then assess the extent to which you posses or can develop those requirements.
  2. You will likely discover jobs, occupations, and careers you never knew about and how they are achieved.
  3. Because these interviews require careful planning, they afford an opportunity to practice the skills you subsequently use during job interviews.
  4. Informational interviews are opportunities to generate contacts and become visible to that organization.
  5. Unlike job interviews where the interviewer is in charge, you construct and sequence the questions to gain the information you need.

Obtaining an interview.
Once you have a name and contact information, use email or LinkedIn to request an interview. Your request should contain three paragraphs: (a) a statement indicating how you obtained that person’s name and why you are seeking an informational interview; (b) a concise summary of your background; and (c) a request for an informational interview about that person’s job and occupation. In your last sentence, indicate you will follow-up with a phone call. Gahbauer also recommends that you request only 20 minutes for the interview. This is beneficial because many professionals schedule meetings at 30-minute intervals, but some interviewees will likely offer additional time for which you will be grateful. Next, follow your initial request with a phone call within three or four business days if you do not receive a reply. If there is still no reply, follow-up a second or third time if necessary.

During the interview.
If your contact agrees to meet, be very aware that the person is doing you a favor; be well prepared to use the time efficiently. Gahbauer recommends you carefully script and rehearse your questions with friends or family. Dress and act professionally; be punctual. Introduce yourself with a brief summary of your background. Inquire about your contact’s background and then ask the questions you prepared. Remember, your time is limited, so glance at your watch periodically and pace your questions accordingly. Your Internet search of the Appleby et al. (2011) resource guide should provide you with basic facts about the occupation, so you may want to clarify and expand that information with a few of the questions Gabhauer found helpful in his interviews:

  • How did you get into this work?
  • What particular skills are needed for success in this position?
  • What do you like most and least about your work?
  • How would you describe a typical day in your job?
  • How rapidly is this field growing?
  • In what other areas can I find persons who do this kind of work?
  • To what extent is a graduate or professional degree or certification necessary to succeed and advance?
  • Do you have names of individuals I can contact to learn more?

To this list I suggest you consider these queries:

  1. What is the availability of internships related to this or similar positions?
  2. What academic coursework within and outside of the psychology major will help me?
  3. Are there extracurricular or volunteer experiences that would help develop skills required for that position?

Be prepared to listen—it’s your primary task in an informational interview. Be courteous, be time-conscious, be yourself, and enjoy the experience. Gahbauer also recommends that you ask if there is anything you can do for your contact—you never know where an offer of reciprocation will lead you. Finally, thank the person for his or her time and the information you received.

After the interview.
Send an e-mail or a hand written card of thanks within a day. Follow-up on any contacts or suggestions you received. If you felt the interview was particularly productive, send the interviewee an occasional update on your activities. Do not expect to be a polished interviewer after only one or two experiences; seek additional informational interviews about the same or related occupations that interest you.

Gahbauer views informational interviewing as a three-phase process. In Phase I, you explore opportunities available in a particular occupation, and your target contact may be anyone working in it. In Phase II, clarification and validation, you seek additional or more specific information about the occupation, perhaps with a different person. In Phase III, strategic prospecting, your contact is an individual working at one or two levels higher than the current job or occupation you are investigating. In each phase, the process is essentially the same: Summarize your background, inquire about interviewee’s background, ask your questions, request contacts, offer to reciprocate, express your gratitude, and follow-up. After each interview, you should critically evaluate your performance and identify specific steps for improving your next interview.

In conclusion, there are several rewarding jobs, occupations, and careers that use an undergraduate psychology major, and they can help you decide if and when a graduate or professional degree is necessary for advancement. Be prepared, however, to aggressively investigate these areas now, while you are still in school, so that you can graduate from college oriented toward and better prepared for one of these occupations. It may not as simple as 1–2–3, but this three-step process can certainly help you establish career objectives thoughtfully and ease your job search when you graduate.

Appleby, D. C., Millspaugh, B. S., Hammersley, M. J. (2011). An online resource to enable undergraduate psychology majors to identify and investigate 172 psychology and psychology-related careers. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. Retrieved from HERE

Gabhauer, M. (2011). Mastering the art of informational interviewing. Retrieved from HERE

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and a corporate applied scientist—positions that created a "real world” foundation for his career in college teaching and administration. He was inspired to write about college-to-workplace readiness issues by graduates and employers who revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices.

Copyright 2012 (Volume 16, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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