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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2018–19

Eye on Psi Chi

Winter 2018–19 | Volume 23 | Issue 2


Can Psychology Majors Prepare for a Career in Business? Part I: There Is HOPE

Drew C. Appleby, PhD,
Professor Emeritus of Psychology Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

Your choice of psychology as your major to prepare yourself for a career with a bachelor’s degree is a wise one. Jane Halonen (perhaps the strongest advocate for the remarkable occupational versatility of the psychology major) has said, “Students who complete a baccalaureate degree in psychology will have completed an almost ideal workforce preparation” (Halonen, 2013, para 6). Her justification for such a strong statement is the abundant set of career-related skills that psychology majors can develop if they take full advantage of both the curricular and extracurricular opportunities their major provides, which were identified and described by Nicky Hayes (n.d.) over 20 years ago. This broad set of skills makes psychology unique among undergraduate disciplines because it provides its majors with multiple opportunities to experience a combination of the following three very different types of undergraduate education and to develop their accompanying lists of skills that are necessary for success in both the job market and the workplace.

A Liberal Arts Education
  • to write and speak in a correct and appropriate manner
  • to examine issues and phenomena from multiple points of view
  • to evaluate evidence and the quality of arguments
  • to engage in a variety of types of critical thinking
  • to obtain information in a variety of ways from a variety of sources
  • to understand and abide by a set of ethical principles
A Scientific Education
  • to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different research methods
  • to use a wide range of research methods to collect, analyze, interpret, and report data
  • to interpret data summaries and understand probability statements
  • to operationalize the measurement of complex process
  • to be familiar with a wide range of statistical procedures and processes
  • to learn to write, speak, and interact in an appropriately scientific manner
An Applied/Technical Education
  • to apply different strategies and approaches to understanding problems
  • to identify the practical steps to implement solutions to problems
  • to collaborate effectively with diverse others during the problem-solving process
  • to anticipate problems or difficulties during the problem-solving process
  • to employ a pragmatic approach to work and problem-solving
  • to utilize a variety of technological applications during project-related tasks

If you take a moment to reflect upon the various components of your psychology major that can help you develop the above-mentioned skills (e.g., introductory psychology, statistics, research methods, social psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, independent research, and internships), you will begin to understand the wisdom of becoming a psychology major and the variety of ways you can utilize your major to create yourself in the image of the person you want to become.

What If You Don’t Want to Go to Graduate School, at Least Not Right After You Graduate?

I taught, advised, and mentored thousands of psychology majors during my four-decade career at both a small, private liberal arts college and a large, public, research university. Many of my students continued their education in graduate school to prepare themselves for careers in psychology, social work, law, and medicine. However, the vast majority ended their formal education with a bachelor’s degree and then obtained jobs in a wide variety of occupational fields such as business, social service, health care, and education.

The advantages and the disadvantages that my non-graduate-school-bound students experienced as they progressed toward their careers prompted me to publish an article titled “How to Maximize the Blessings and Minimize the Curses of Being a Psychology Major” (Appleby, 2015). The information in this article will help to strengthen your already existing belief that psychology is the right major for you because it will remind you that the knowledge you are acquiring as you learn about the causes and consequences of human behaviors and mental processes is perhaps the most important, complex, and fascinating topic addressed in higher education today. It will also make you aware that your psychology major can prepare you for a remarkably wide variety of careers because it provides so many opportunities to develop seven crucial job-related skills (i.e., communication, collaboration, critical thinking, professional, self-management, technological, and ethical reasoning) that employers value during the hiring process and that help new college graduates to survive and thrive on-the-job once they are hired (Appleby, 2016).

My article will also bring your attention to a situation that might have diminished your passion for psychology in the past. Psychology can prepare you for an amazing variety of careers, but your amazement can turn to bewilderment when you face the prospect of having to make an occupational choice from so many alternatives. The fact that you have chosen to read this article—and hopefully the remaining four articles in this series— to help you prepare for a career in business is a good sign. It means that you have progressed past the first hurdle of this dilemma by choosing to enter a particular occupational field (i.e., business). You still have occupational decisions to make within the broad category of business (e.g., sales, management, advertising, and finance), but this reasonable number of choices will prove far less daunting than that posed by the hundreds of careers in dozens of different occupational fields for which you can prepare as a psychology major (see my “Online Career-Exploration Resource for Psychology Majors” at

If the activities and outcomes contained in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary definition of business (i.e., “the activity of making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money”) sound interesting and rewarding to you, I would like to introduce you to six important “employability concepts”—and their defining questions—at the end of this article so you can begin to understand how each of these concepts will play a crucial role in your ability to prepare for, pursue, attain, and maintain a successful and rewarding career in business. Your next step should be to use the information in this series of articles to create persuasive answers—both for yourself and for important others in your life (e.g., parents, spouses, teachers, advisors, and potential employers) to the questions they may ask about your future “employability” in the field of business.

Once you construct these answers, you should practice them until you can give them in a confident, complete, and convincing manner when you are challenged by those—including yourself—who may doubt the wisdom of your choice of psychology as your major and business as your intended career. After you have done this, your next step should be to put the information contained in your answers to work by using it to create a clear and comprehensive plan to obtain and succeed in the business career to which you aspire.

The Final Question

Perhaps the most common question my students asked me was, “What can I do with my bachelor’s degree in psychology if I do not want to go to graduate school?” Their question prompted me to teach a course titled B103 Orientation to a Major in Psychology and to write The Savvy Psychology Major, which was the textbook I created for this course. I required my students to identify, investigate, and clarify their occupational goals in B103, and then use the resources I provided to create a Plan A (their preferred plan) and a Plan B (their back-up plan in case Plan A proved to be unsuccessful) to achieve these goals. The product of this process was an eight-chapter “book” that described these plans in a very detailed, step-by-step fashion. My last assignment in B103 was to ask my students to answer what I called The Final Question, which was “What conclusions have I come to about myself, my major, my undergraduate education, my future career, and my life as a result of writing this book?” One of my students provided the following answer to this challenging question.

I am now confident that psychology is the appropriate major for me, and that I am getting very close to successfully deciding the specific career I want to pursue. B103 scared me, stressed me out, and made me a better, more complete person all at the same time. I have realized over the last few months that the reason I was floundering around with no direction was because I was wishing that everything would just magically fall into place for me after graduation. Through some serious soul searching, caused mainly by the stress of having to make certain decisions in order to successfully write my chapters, I learned I have never had to truly fight for anything in my life before and that now the time has come for me to clarify my goals, make a plan to attain them, and then aggressively pursue the things I want for my future. I have also realized that I am capable of achieving anything I want if I plan ahead and try hard enough.

If you recognize anything about yourself in my student’s answer—and you would like to come to the same conclusions about yourself that she did—then I firmly believe the time you spend reading this series of articles will be a valuable investment in your future success. Although you are not a student in my B103 class, I can still offer you a similar career-mentoring experience that will enable you to create a clear, convincing, and confident answer to the question: How Can I Use My Psychology Major to Prepare Myself for a Career in Business?


Hope is an essential characteristic you will need to prepare for, enter, and succeed in the career of your choice. Using the six employability concepts I will provide at the end of this article to prepare yourself for a specific business career will not be easy, but it will be far easier than trying to accomplish this challenging and complex task without them. I also want you to know that you will need to create or attain the underlined concepts in the following list to ensure that your goal of using your psychology major to prepare for and attain a career in business will become a reality.

  1. You will need a goal you can explain clearly and defend convincingly when it is challenged by your own doubts— or the doubts of important others—as you strive to attain it.
  2. You will need a realistic plan composed of smaller steps that will enable you to monitor your progress toward your goal and experience feelings of accomplishment as you successfully complete each of these steps.
  3. You will need the hope that will motivate you to transform your plans from wishful notions into goal-attaining behaviors.

The final underlined term in the above list—hope—was introduced as a psychological concept by positive psychologist C. R. Snyder (1994). Snyder says hope provides individuals with the direction, strategies, drive, and sense of purpose they will need when they are faced with important challenges such as choosing, preparing for, entering, and succeeding in a particular career. According to Snyder, hopeful individuals are those who are capable of engaging successfully in all three of the following tasks.

  1. Envision a clear and realistic goal.
  2. Create an effective and flexible plan to attain this goal.
  3. Exhibit the energy and determination necessary to both begin and then carry out this plan to its completion in order to attain this goal.

Hope is like a vehicle that can take you where you want to go. But in order to get “there,” you must know exactly where “there” is (your goal), you must have an accurate mental map that tells you how to get “there” (your plan), you must have enough gas in your tank to get you “there” (your energy), and you must have the will power and the focus to overcome the obstacles and ignore the distractions (e.g., flat tires, detours, or tempting roadside attractions) that could potentially delay or terminate your trip before you get “there” (your determination).

Hope has been studied as both a stable and a situational trait. Snyder created the Hope Scale to measure how people differ from each other in regard to hopefulness. This instrument contains items such as “I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are important to me” (which measures people’s perception of their ability to plan in a strategic and flexible manner) and “I energetically pursue my goals” (which measures their perception of the amount of energy they possess and are willing to expend in order to carry out a strategic plan). When Snyder and his colleagues used this scale to study academic success in college students over a 6-year period, they found that students with higher scores on the Hope Scale had higher GPAs, were more likely to graduate, and were less likely to be dismissed because of poor academic performance (Snyder et al., 2002). In another study—whose results reflect the remarkable ability of hope to predict academic success—Rand, Martin, and Shea (2011) found that scores on the 12-question Hope Scale actually predicted the academic performance of law students more accurately than their LSAT scores.

These findings are encouraging for those of you whose trait for hope is strong. But what if your score on the Hope Scale indicates that you possess less of the hopeful trait than others? Does this mean you are doomed to be less successful in important aspects of your life (e.g., your education and career)? Or can something be done to help you become more hopeful and, therefore, more successful?

A study carried out by Rebecca Görres as her undergraduate thesis at University College Utrecht (described in Kaufman, 2011) provides us with an initially positive answer to this question. Görres increased the level of “situational hope” in some of her participants by instructing them to think hopefully before she required them to engage in a series of challenging cognitive tasks. She did this by encouraging them to reflect upon both the motivation and the abilities they already possessed that could help them to perform well by prompting them with questions such as “What motivates you to pursue your goal?” and “What are your alternative pathways to reach your goal?” Her results were heartening. She found that those who received hopeful instructions demonstrated a higher degree of divergent thinking (i.e., the ability to generate many creative solutions to a problem) during the cognitive tasks they performed by not only producing a larger number of solutions, but also adding more details to the solutions they produced than did their nonencouraged peers. This enhanced thinking skill can be of obvious value in situations such as career exploration and attainment where the ability to produce many strategies to overcome obstacles can lead to more successful attainment of a preferred occupational goal. Görres described the value of this causal link between the “situational hope” produced by encouraging instructions and an increase in divergent thinking when she said:

It seems that performance can be enhanced in the short term by reminding people that they have the motivation and the means to pursue a goal. This “situational hope” could potentially be useful in the future as a means of short-term intervention to enhance performance. By reminding people before tests or situations in which performance and achievement are required, that they have the will and the ways to do well, possible potential can be better utilized (para. 10).

But, what about a less experimental and more long-term situation than Görres’ study such as a career development class or a document similar to the one you are now reading in which students are encouraged to (a) identify, evaluate, and select potential careers; (b) generate multiple pathways to reach their career goals; and (c) create strategies to deal with potential obstacles to their goals and are then provided with information, strategies, and encouragement to accomplish these three challenging tasks? Could the effects of such a long-term intervention produce a longer-lasting increase in “situational hope” that could produce eventual career success? That has yet to be proven, but another student’s answer to the Final Question I posed in my B103 class hints strongly that it could.

It feels good to be a savvy psychology major with a strong sense of hope for my future success. My newly developed sense of hope is due solely to this course, which gave me the tools to succeed, the confidence to pick them up, and the motivation to use them.

The Way Forward

As I have said previously, although you are not a student in my B103 class, I firmly believe that you can come to the same conclusion as my student whose words appear above if you accept my offer to use the information in this series of articles to help you prepare for a career in business. Without the type of hope my student described, you are likely to either (a) continue to postpone the actions you know are necessary to begin preparing for your career or (b) begin your plans, but then abandon them when you discover they are not proceeding exactly as you had wished. Life seldom provides a linear, stress-free path to our most important goals, and you will almost certainly encounter a few formidable challenges (e.g., educational, financial, familial, and personal) as you strive toward your preferred career. When these challenges do occur, you must find a way to convince yourself that you have the ability to overcome them because, if you cannot, your journey will end before you reach your desired occupational destination. Perhaps the best way to accomplish this is to make a conscious and genuinely concerted effort to understand and strengthen your sense of hope, which Snyder says requires the successful posses¬sion and demonstration of three components: goals, pathways, and the motivation to use these pathways to reach these goals. As you will see from the list below, your lack of any one of these components will produce a profoundly disappointing result.

  1. Without goals, you will have no hope because you have nothing to hope for.
  2. Without realistic and well-thought-out pathways to your goals, you have no hope because you have no way to reach your goals.
  3. Without the motivation to both begin and continue to travel the path to your goals, you are doomed to the unfortunate situation in which you have only yourself to blame for the lack of action that sabotaged both your carefully chosen goals and your well-crafted plans to attain them.

It is now time for me to offer you a formal invitation to begin your “hopeful journey” to use your major in psychology to prepare yourself for a successful career in business. The four upcoming articles in this series will allow you to spend some serious time creating the answers to the six important questions listed below, each of which is preceded by an “employability concept” that captures its essence. I will discuss these topics in depth in these articles, and provide you with the information and strategies you will need to answer these questions in a realistic and credible manner.

  1. Actual Employability → Are psychology majors actually employed in business careers?
  2. Specific Employability → What specific business careers can I prepare to enter with a bachelor’s degree in psychology?
  3. Potential Employability → How can I use my psychology major to increase my potential to enter and succeed in a business career?
  4. Strategic Employability → What strategies can I create to use my undergraduate education to develop and strengthen the knowledge, skills, and characteristics (KSCs) I will need to enter and succeed in the specific business career to which I aspire?
  5. Promotional Employability → How can I promote the existence of my KSCs during the hiring process so a potential employer will come to the conclusion that my KSCs are a better match for the position for which I am applying than the KSCs of any other applicant?
  6. Sustainable Employability → Once I am hired, how can I successfully sustain my employment by keeping my job, avoiding negative on-the-job consequences, gaining promotions, and developing a sense of occupational self-actualization

Appleby, D. C. (2015, Fall). How to maximize the blessings and minimize the curses of being a psychology major. Eye on Psi Chi, 20(1), 16–19. Retrieved from

Appleby, D. C. (2016). Career skills to increase your marketability. How to use your college education to develop skills that employers value. Psychology Student Network, 4(2). Retrieved from

Halonen, J. S. (2013, Winter). The worthies vs. the great unwashed: Overcoming psychology’s tier problem. Eye on Psi Chi, 17(2), 10–12. Retrieved from

Hayes, N. (n.d.). The distinctive skills of a psychology graduate. Retrieved from

Kaufman, S. B. (2011). The will and ways of hope: Hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Rand, K. L., Martin, A. D., & Shea, A. M. (2011). Hope, but not optimism, predicts academic performance of law students beyond previous academic achievement. Journal of Research in Personality, 45, 683–686.

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York, NY: Free Press.

Snyder, C. R., Shorey, H. S., Cheavens, J., Pulvers, K. M., Adams III, Virgil H., & Wiklund, C. (2002). Hope and academic success in college. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94, 820–826.

Drew C. Appleby, PhD, earned his BA from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD from Iowa State University in 1972. He chaired Marian University’s Psychology Department, was the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the IUPUI Psychology Department, and served as the Associate Dean of the IUPUI Honors College. He used his research on teaching, learning, advising, and mentoring to help students develop academic competence and achieve their career aspirations. He published over 200 books and articles; made over 600 professional presentations (including 29 invited keynote addresses); received 44 institutional, regional, and national awards for teaching, advising, mentoring, and service; and was honored for his contributions to psychology by being named a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the 30th Distinguished Member of Psi Chi. Over 300 of his students earned graduate degrees in a wide variety of professional fields, and he was designated as a mentor by 777 IUPUI psychology majors, 222 of whom indicated that he was their most influential mentor by selecting the following sentence to describe his impact: “This professor influenced the whole course of my life and his effect on me has been invaluable.” Dr. Appleby retired from IUPUI with the rank of Professor Emeritus in 2011.

Copyright 2018 (Vol. 23, Iss. 2) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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