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Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2015

Eye on Psi Chi

Summer 2015 | Volume 19 | Issue 4


Surviving Your "Freshman" Year in the Workplace With a Bachelor's Degree

Paul Hettich, PhD,
DePaul University (IL)

Ronald G. Shapiro, PhD,
Independent Consultant

David Earnest, PhD,
Towson University (MD)

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

This article summarizes a symposium of the same title presented for Psi Chi at EPA in Philadelphia (PA) on March 6, 2015. Because the symposium was warmly received and generated considerable discussion, the editor of Eye on Psi Chi invited the presenters to summarize their remarks in the order they were presented at the symposium. A video of their symposium is also available.

From College to Workplace: When Your Expectations Confront Reality
Preparing for Your Successful “Freshman” Year
Applying Your Cultural Competence
Paul Hettich, PhD,
DePaul Univesity (IL)

Ronald G. Shapiro, PhD, Independent Consultant David Earnest, PhD,
Towson University (MD)

To succeed in the workplace, you must show evidence of having acquired specific skills that employers seek, enter with realistic expectations, and subsequently adapt to an organizational culture vastly different from college.
If you plan and implement an effective undergrad- uate program for yourself, I believe you will find that your psychology major will serve you well throughout your career. Cultural competency is a desired skill that psychology majors should foster and harness in order to better prepare themselves for the global marketplace.

From College to Workplace: When Your Expectations Confront Reality

Paul Hettich, PhD, DePaul University

You devote four to six years of your life to achieve it and go deeply in debt to pay for it, so naturally you have high expectations of your college education. However, you must “get real” about your expectations because, in your first post college job, you will be a “freshman” again, experiencing new situations and dynamics such as

  • a new organizational culture drastically different from college;
  • new responsibilities, skills, procedures, and information to master;
  • work experiences with age-diverse peers and generational tensions; and
  • a place at the bottom of the hierarchy,where you will always be expected to act professionally or your supervisors may complain about your unrealistic expectations, lack of preparedness, and entitlement attitudes.

In time you will adapt to this exciting, highly anticipated, and remarkable life transition. The purpose of this article is to share insights and suggestions that will help you experience a successful first year in the workplace.

Organizational Cultures Differ

New graduates must adapt to their organization’s particular culture. If you have considerable job experiences in diverse settings, you will probably adjust quickly; if not, expect to be challenged by the significant differences between college and corporate organizational cultures.
Feedback. During college, you receive feedback on each exam and assignment for each course (perhaps 20 to 30 measures each academic term). In most organizations, however, you may have formal reviews only a few times annually, although some supervisors may periodically discuss your progress with you informally.

Structure and control. During college, you follow a system where classes and breaks occur in a predetermined schedule; your assignments are outlined in a syllabus. At work, there is no syllabus. You are expected to work with minimal supervision and deal with ambiguity. Students can control their schedule and efforts (A, B, or C level), but employees report to supervisors who control their assignments and expect quality work at all times.

Focus. During college, you focus on your individual academic and career goals. At work, you focus on your assigned tasks, your team, and your supervisor.
To succeed in your first job, critically examine and apply these and other dimensions that distinguish college from corporate organizational cultures (Holton and Naquin, 2001). What can your current work environment teach you about future situations?

Skills Triumph

The learning outcomes of your major include knowledge of psychological concepts, theories, and research—its content—and important marketable skillsets. Because most recruiters have some notion of psychology’s content, do not expect them to test your knowledge unless, for example, a particular mental health or a research position requires it. Instead, expect most recruiters to ask about your skills, your evidence for these skills, and how you might apply them to their organization. Can you identify specific skills you are developing and offer evidence in support of them?

According to a survey conducted by Hart Research Associates (2015), between 80% and 85% of the employers sampled identified the following skills/learning outcomes as very important (listed in order of importance): oral communication, working with others in teams, written communication, ethical judgment and decision making, critical/analytical thinking, and applying knowledge/skills to the real world. Between 56% and 70% of the sample regarded these skills as very important: analyze/solve complex problems; locate, organize, and evaluate information; be innovative/creative; stay current on technologies; work with numbers/statistics; and work with people from different backgrounds.

You are developing these skills during college. Unfortunately, many teachers are so focused on psychological content that they neglect to articulate such skills and discuss their importance for the workplace. It’s up to you to identify and document these skills if you want to succeed in a job interview; your career center can help you in this task.

  1. Use your part-time job to understand how college and corporate cultures differ, and to strengthen the skills that employers seek.
  2. Seek collaborative experiences in classroom, research, internship, and extracurricular activities because strong interpersonal skills and experience with diverse individuals are essential to workplace success.
  3. Complete workplace-related courses such as industrial/organizational psychology, economics, marketing, management, communications, and technology. Don’t enter the workplace illiterate in basic business concepts.
  4. Work regularly now with your counseling center on career and personal development-related issues.
  5. Actively construct meaning in your life by seeking diverse experiences that strengthen your values and promote your goals.

Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from the Association of American Colleges and Universities website:
Holton, E. F., III, & Naquin, S. S. (2001). How to succeed in your first job: Tips for new college graduates. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

Preparing for Your Successful “Freshman” Year
Ronald G. Shapiro, PhD, Independent Consultant

Welcome to the start of a new school year! Although many of you may be focused on what courses to take this year or what party to attend tonight, I would like you to spend a few minutes to think about your future and prepare for your next “freshman” year, which may be your first year in graduate school or your first year on the job. I realize that you may change your goals and plans several times while in college. That is OK, but you may be better off having a plan and changing it than having no plan at all.

First, I would like you to think about what you would like to do for your career. Would you like to (a) be a psychologist, a university professor, an industrial/organizational or human factors/ergonomics professional, or a social worker (implying that your next “freshman” year will be graduate school); or would you like to (b) move directly into a career (implying that your next “freshman” year will most likely be a job or possibly a business degree). Knowing this will certainly help you to optimize your psychology degree for you.

As you know, the psychology degree requirements at most schools are far more flexible than many other STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) degree requirements. This puts far more responsibility on you to make the best choices. If you make wise choices, your degree ought to be extremely valuable to you. If you don’t make good choices, your degree will be of minimal value. Think about the following plan for a college psychology major who wants to get paid to go to graduate school, rather than having to pay:

Freshman Year:
  • Read research written by your department faculty in areas that interest you.
  • Visit faculty members whose research you have read during their office hours and discuss this work with them. Inquire about how you can be of help to them as a research assistant. Join one or two of the research teams.
  • Aim to have completed sufficient quality research work to be acknowledged in a poster or paper by the end of the year.
  • Attend department research colloquia.
  • Join your psychology club and be an active participant, helping out with some projects.
  • Earn good grades.
  • Complete your research methods and statistics courses so that you will be better prepared to contribute to your research teams.
  • Join one or two professional associations, such as APA or EPA, and sign up for newsletters so you can start to learn about different fields and types of research.
Sophomore Year:
  • Contribute original ideas to help guide the research on your teams.
  • Complete your own research project with support from more senior members of your team.
  • Present a poster with your name on it at a regional psychology convention.
  • Join Psi Chi.
  • Assume a leadership role for projects for your psychology club, or possibly be elected to an office.
Junior Year:
  • Become a leader on your research team.
  • Contribute significantly to research leading to article publication.
  • Send articles to journals for review. Possibly become the first author on an article for a student journal.
  • Present a poster featuring your own work at a regional psychology convention.
  • Be elected chapter president of Psi Chi or your psychology club.
  • Begin to explore potential graduate school advisors and meet them at regional or national conventions.
  • Consider joining professional associations or groups that focus on your specific area of interest.
  • Begin to search for your ideal job: pay attention to the job requirements and ask yourself if you will have the necessary skills and experiences by the time you graduate.
Senior Year:
  • Continue working on research, which will lead to more article publications and conference presentations.
  • Apply to graduate schools that you have selected based upon overlap of your interests and faculty interests. I’m betting you will receive acceptance with full funding.

If you wish to complete your formal education with your bachelor’s degree and move immediately into a career or possibly pursue a graduate business degree, then the emphasis on publication and involvement in the psychology department might be deemphasized (but not eliminated), and you should complete one or, better yet, two internships. Be sure to secure internships with employers who hire their best interns when they graduate, and obviously perform in an exemplary way as an intern. Although summer internships are often desirable for students, it may be easier to secure a fantastic internship during the school year. You might then take elective courses during the summer at a low-cost college or community college and transfer them to your school, possibly saving tuition dollars. Additionally, you should

  • Assume a major leadership role in several student activities.
  • Take plenty of business courses.
  • Be sure to network with business professionals whenever possible.
  • Develop a resume that ROARs (is Results Oriented and Relevant).
  • Practice interviewing whenever possible.
  • Always carry business cards.

You would benefit from forming a board of directors for yourself. Think about people who may be able to guide you, and ask them to meet with you periodically throughout college to help you make successful career plans. Although university faculty ought to be part of this board, be sure that you have board members who are very tuned in to industry and business because some of your university faculty might not have ever worked outside of the academy.

Applying Your Cultural Competence
David Earnest, PhD, Towson Univeristy

In today’s global work environments, the ability of an individual to adapt to culturally diverse situations is essential. As technology and globalization bring people together socially and in the workplace, our exposure to diverse situations and individuals has grown dramatically. Thus, an individual’s ability to communicate and work with dissimilar individuals is a skill sought after by employers that students of psychology might have gained from study in the field without ever knowing it.

Cultural Competence

The idea of cultural competence is closely related to the importance and necessity of diversity. In terms of the workplace and teams, one of the major advantages of diversity is in the different information content, problem-solving skills, and perspectives and opinions held by diverse groups of people. This diversity allows the group to better understand, develop solutions to, and resolve complex real-world problems. For diverse individuals to communicate and work well together, individuals must possess competencies that will allow them to interact with others that may differ from themselves across a variety of demographic, cultural, and cognitive areas. An individual’s cultural competence is a reflection of this ability.

Although many names exist for this ability (multicultural competence, global mindedness, cultural adaptability, etc.), cultural competence refers to the process by which individuals develop cultural awareness of their own beliefs, values, personal biases, knowledge of cultural elements, and skills to assess cultural information and communicate effectively. From a workplace perspective, cultural competence is an individual’s ability to adapt to and succeed in culturally diverse situations in which they may work with dissimilar individuals.

Development of Cultural Competences

Cultural competence may be acquired through many acts, and for many psychology students, you have been building your cultural competence in your everyday life, academic endeavors, and the study of psychology without even trying. Developing your cultural competence comes from exposure to new and diverse challenges, situations, and people. This competence can be gained through:

  • Courses. Your psychology courses in abnormal, cross-cultural, industrial, developmental, and other fields have exposed you to different ways of thinking, new theories, complex problem solving, and the individual differences that make us all unique. In addition, your general education courses (History, Art, Religious Studies, etc.) have further exposed you to diverse elements of culture, society, and perspective.
  • Academic life. You have engaged in activities in college that have pushed you to meet new people, develop new skills, and learn how to communicate with others. These experiences such as study abroad, social clubs, honors organizations, and intermural sports have broadened your social network and exposed you to additional new ideas.
  • Work experiences. Those who have held jobs, participated in internships, and volunteered free time have been exposed to diverse situations and individuals in a workplace context. Within this context, you might have been exposed to and interacted with individuals from different generations, social economic status, professional skills, and levels of seniority.
  • Personal life. Beyond the classroom and the workplace, we are regularly exposed to different options, beliefs, and values. Our contact with friends, family, and everyday interactions with strangers offer opportunities to meet, communicate, and learn about others.
Importance of Cultural Competence

As the needs of the workplace call for individuals with cultural competence, it is important that you and your future employer

  • The diverse workplace. Diversity is necessary, unavoidable, and advantageous. As mentioned previously, diversity promotes better problem solving and critical thinking, and is integral to successful organizations. In addition, organizations are composed of diverse individuals from different backgrounds with different perceptions and ideas who will interact regularly.
  • The global workforce. Multinational organizations are becoming the norm. As organizations become more global, the need for culturally competent individuals will continue to increase.
  • Prominence of teams. It is estimated that the majority of all organizations use teams in some way. For individuals to work well together in team situations, individuals must be able to understand, communicate, and build relationships with others.
  • Necessity of communication. Communication is a vital component to any workplace. Miscommunication can be avoided when adaptable individuals with the appropriate competencies are involved.
  • Global leadership and management. As teams and organizations take on a more global focus, leaders must be able to understand and work with others from across geographic regions, countries, and continents.
  • Personal growth and balance. Psychology promotes the idea that exposure to challenges and adversity facilitate personal growth and adaptability. Cultural competencies are developed through aversive situations that may make an individual uncomfortable. By challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones, we are developing ourselves and our cultural competencies.
Psychology Career Preparation Questions

The following questions were adapted from the discussion with students at the EPA “Surviving Your ‘Freshman’ Year in the Workplace With a Bachelor’s Degree” symposium.

Uh-Oh. I haven’t had any (or most) of the experiences you guys are talking about, and I’m graduating in six months. What should I do?

Earnest: Go out and take action. Be proactive and take advantage of the opportunities that comes your way in the time that you have left. Actively seek out opportunities with faculty members or organizations that could provide you with the experiences we discussed. Use the time you have left to develop a story/resume that illustrates your desire to learn and achieve while also indicating your focus in the 6 months you have to make a change.

Hettich: Don’t panic (you are not alone), but be sure to answer these questions: What are you good at doing? What are your interests? What goals do you want to achieve in 2, 5, and 10 years? How can your psychology major help? Tentative answers would reveal that you have some direction to your life, but it may take longer than you expect to reach your goals. Talk to family, advisors, the career center, and friends, and create an action plan. If you cannot answer such questions, you should engage in activities that help you “know thyself ” better and generate productive diverse experiences (e.g., a postcollege internship, career planning, volunteer work, a job, or affordable travel) that help you to focus, focus, focus.

Shapiro: You need to do a very serious self-assessment at this time. Write down a list of which employers might hire you, for what jobs, and what would make you the ideal candidate for these jobs. If you are unable to do this, please seek professional help, possibly starting at your school’s career center. You need to develop a remedial action plan, which may include delaying graduation until you are able to complete this list in a satisfactory manner. One reason to delay graduation is that, as a student, you may be able to secure an internship which you could not secure once you graduate. There is little point in graduating with a degree only to take a position that you could have gotten with your high school diploma. If you are able to identify employers who might consider you to be an ideal job candidate, prepare a resume that ROARs (is Results Oriented And Relevant) for each of these potential employers. Meet the potential employers and move forward from there.

My younger sibling is starting college in September as a psychology major and wants to become a psychologist. What advice should I give?

Earnest: Knowing about people is an advantage. One of the benefits to studying psychology is that it focuses on human behavior and ways of thinking. Many psychology majors go on to get jobs outside of the field of psychology because of the training they received in understanding and studying human beings. Learning about people is an advantage for many jobs so, even if someone majors in psychology and does not remain on a psychology career path, the skills they develop in the major can be beneficial.

Hettich: Try it! The introductory psychology course is analogous to entering a shopping mall, each chapter (store) offering a particular perspective on scientific psychology. Coursework is an essential but not sufficient basis for planning a career, so actively engage in diverse activities to “know thyself” better such as volunteer work, extracurricular activities that develop interpersonal and leadership skills, internships, career planning, and coursework in other liberal arts disciplines (psychology does not have a monopoly on human behavior). Complete at least one academic minor or double major. Conduct informational interviews with psychologists who have differing specializations. Work hard to achieve a high GPA and find a compatible faculty advisor or mentor. Finally, if you discover midway that psychology is not for you, don’t hesitate to change your major because what you have learned will influence any career you choose.

Shapiro: Please send them a copy of my segment of this article and encourage them to follow the recommendations as much as possible. Consider the entire field of psychology, not just clinical and counselling. Learn about neuropsychology, human factors/ergonomics, and industrial psychology. Show them the APA website and especially the listing of the divisions, which show many of the specialties in psychology. Encourage them to get started on reading articles that I mentioned this summer. Possibly take some elective courses this summer at a community college (check to be sure they will transfer to your sibling’s college) to have more time to explore advanced psychology classes at their university . . . or to save some money by graduating early.

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.

Ronald G. Shapiro, PhD, is an independent consultant in human factors, ergonomics, learning, career and leadership development. He received his BA from the University of Rochester and his MA and PhD from Ohio State University in experimental psychology. He is a certified human factors professional (CHFP #18, Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics) and a fellow in APA, EPA and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). He is a past-president of APA Division 21 and a past secretary-treasurer of HFES. He has managed human factors/ergonomics, technical learning/technical leadership, new employee orientation, employee university education, and career services for IBM. Dr. Shapiro frequently accepts invitations to address high school and college psychology students, and offers a number of game show style programs to increase the visibility of and interest in psychology. He is a regular columnist for the Rhode Island Small Business Journal, Rhode Island Creative Magazine, and Thirty Something Magazine.

David Earnest, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychology at Towson University (MD) where he teaches courses in industrial and organizational psychology, behavioral statistics, introduction to psychology, and study abroad in psychology. He earned his PhD in psychology from the University of Memphis (TN; 2010). Dr. Earnest’s research interests include realistic job previews, recruitment, and teaching psychology through experiential learning. As an industrial and organizational psychologist, he has experience in recruitment and selection procedures, program evaluation, and experimental methodology across business, health care, education, civil service, and military organizations.

Note. The authors are grateful to Dr. Deborah Harris-O’Brien for her support of the symposium and to Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

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Copyright 2015 (Vol. 19, Iss. 4) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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