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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2019

Eye on Psi Chi

Spring 2019 | Volume 23 | Issue 3


Can Psychology Majors Prepare for a Career in Business? Part II: Actual, Specific, and Potential Employability

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

View this issue in Digital and PDF formats.

See Part I at

Are any psychology majors actually employed in business careers?
What specific business careers can I enter with a bachelor’s degree in psychology?
How can a major in psychology increase my potential to enter and succeed in a business career?

A career in business is the most often reported occupational field for psychology majors whose highest degree is the bachelor’s. If this career path is one you would like to pursue, then this series will provide you with the information, strategies, motivation, and confidence you will need to pursue and accomplish this goal in a successful manner.

In the previous installment, I identified the challenges that you may face as you begin the process of convincing yourself and others that your plan to use your psychology major to prepare yourself for a career in business is both feasible and wise. I also introduced you to the concept of “hope,” which positive psychologist C. R. Snyder (1994) has described as a “dynamic cognitive motivational system” that can provide you with the ability to (a) create a clear and realistic goal, (b) create an effective and flexible plan to attain this goal, and (c) display the energy and determination necessary to both begin and to carry out this plan to its completion. In the present article, I’m going to address the first three of six challenges that you will encounter if you are interested in using your psychology degree to prepare yourself for a business career: Actual, Specific, and Potential Employability.

1. Actual Employability

The first portion of the challenge you face when you attempt to convince yourself and other important people in your life that your psychology major can prepare you for a career in business is what I call Actual Employability. The actual in Actual Employability is at the heart of a very important and very reasonable question, which is: “Are any psychology majors actually employed in business careers?” The answer to this question is yes. But a simple yes is not going to convince many people, especially a psychology major like yourself who has been trained to doubt the validity of answers that have no empirical data to support them. Luckily for you, there is strong empirical evidence that a major in psychology can and does prepare students for a wide range of occupational options regardless of whether or not they are one of the 46% of psychology majors who either immediately or eventually continue their education in graduate or professional school (Carnevale, Cheah, & Hanson, 2015).

A recent report from the American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies (2015) based on U.S. Census Bureau data representing an estimated 1,793,725 individuals with at least a bachelor's degree in psychology confirmed the occupational versatility of a major in psychology by listing the following occupational areas in which these individuals report they were employed: business, management, sales, office support, social services, education, health care, social science, and computer science. Smaller numbers of psychology majors reported they were employed as engineers, mathematicians, statisticians, life scientists, physical scientists, and architects, or worked in other occupations fields such as law, construction, production, agriculture, or arts and entertainment. The results of further research by APA’s Center for Workforce Studies (2016), based on data from the National Science Foundation, revealed that 66% of the 1.3 million individuals whose highest degree in psychology is a bachelor’s report that their primary job was in one the following five fields: sales, professional services, employee relations, accounting/finance/contracts, and management/supervision. All of these qualify as business careers because they all involve the activities that meet the definition of business (i.e., “making, buying, or selling goods or providing services in exchange for money”) from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

In conclusion, your answer to the question “Are any psychology majors actually employed in business careers?” can be a very confident “Yes.” And, if you are asked to provide data to support your answer, you can reply that two thirds of all psychology majors whose highest degree is a bachelor’s report that they are engaged in business activities. Now that we have determined that a substantial number of psychology majors are—in fact—employed in business careers, it is time to turn our attention to the specific areas of business you can prepare to enter with a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

2. Specific Employability

Once you have used the data I provided in the previous section to convince yourself and others that many psychology majors are actually employed in careers that involve business activities, your next challenge will be to create a precise answer to the question, “What specific business careers can I enter with a bachelor’s degree in psychology?” The word specific in this question requires you to provide specific job titles (e.g., Assistant Bank Manager, Media Buyer, and Pharmaceutical Sales Representative), not just an overarching occupational category (e.g., business) or a broad area of business (e.g., sales, management, or finance) when you are questioned about the specific career in which you want to find yourself employed on the first Monday after you graduate.

Saying you want to be in business or sales or management is not an acceptable answer to this question. I created a resource for my students titled An Online Career-Exploration Resource for Psychology Majors so they could provide a convincing and honest answer to this question (Appleby, 2018). This resource consists of more than 2,400 hotlinks you can use to explore 300 careers organized into 15 broad occupational categories that psychology majors can prepare to enter. Persons employed in 56 of these careers are psychologists who must hold the appropriate graduate degree. The remaining 244 psychology-related careers (i.e., those that require the demonstration of psychological knowledge and skills, but which do not carry the title of psychologist) are divided almost equally into two categories: those that can be entered with a bachelor’s degree and those that require a graduate degree. When you access this resource at, you will discover that it contains the following 25 titles of specific jobs for which you can prepare to enter with a bachelor’s degree in psychology that I have categorized into four broad areas of business.

1. Management
  • Assistant Bank Manager
  • Department Manager
  • Customer Service Representative Supervisor
  • Claims Supervisor
  • General Operations Manager
  • Loss Prevention Manager
  • Medical and Health Services Manager
  • Training and Development Manager
  • Training and Development Specialist
  • Management Analyst
2. Advertising, Marketing, and Public Relations
  • Advertising Sales Representative/ Agent/Executive
  • Media Buyer
  • Public Relations Representative
  • Customer Service Representative
  • Market Research Analyst
3. Finance
  • Financial Advisor
  • Fund Raiser
  • Loan Counselor
  • Loan Officer
  • Assistant Bank Manager
4. Sales
  • Pharmaceutical Sales Representative
  • Realtor or Real Estate Agent
  • Realtor or Real Estate Broker
  • Retail Salesperson
  • Sales Representative
  • Purchasing Agent

Although there are undoubtedly more than just these 25 business-related jobs open to psychology majors—and some of these jobs may have different titles in different organizations—this list provides a good starting point for you to begin exploring specific business careers by clicking on the hotlinks that follow each career, which will take you to a variety of reputable online sources that can provide you with answers to the following important questions about these jobs.

  • What tasks are workers in this career expected to perform?
  • What knowledge, skills, and characteristics (KSCs) are important for success in this career?
  • What types of job training or education is required to enter this career?
  • How much money do people employed in this career earn?
  • How many people are employed in this career?
  • What is the projected need for this career in the future?
  • What other occupations are related to this career?

This online resource can provide you with the information you will need to create and give a very specific answer to the question, “What specific business careers can I enter with a psychology degree?” It can also provide you with a great deal of information about each of these careers that will help you to decide which of them would be a good fit for you in terms of your own unique set of knowledge, skills, characteristics, interests, goals, values, and lifestyle preferences.

I recommend that the first information you obtain about a career in which you might be interested is the set of tasks you would be expected to perform if you were employed in this career. A sure sign of a career that would not be a good fit for you is the discovery that the tasks you would be required to carry out on a day-to-day basis are those which you could not perform in a competent manner and/ or that you would not enjoy doing. (BTW: I have been working on this resource for almost 30 years and, although I am now retired, I am still updating it on a regular basis when I discover new careers for you to explore. If you discover other careers that you think my resource should contain—or more hotlinks to careers that it already contains—please contact me at

A VERY Important Heads-Up

Please be aware that simply graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology by only meeting its minimum requirements will seldom qualify you to obtain one of these jobs. These are potential jobs that you can attain only if you achieve good grades, actively participate in your education, and engage in the types of activities (e.g., an internship or leadership position in a student organization) that will enable you to develop the specific KSCs that these jobs require. Also, be aware that some of these jobs— especially those in the Management category—may not be available to you unless you have had appropriate managerial experience in the past. (In the next article of this series, I’ll provide a sample cover letter and resumé of a psychology major who has had this type of managerial experience and how she markets it to a potential employer.)

3. Potential Employability

After you use the online resource I described in the previous section to identify, explore, and narrow the set of specific business-related careers that are attractive to you, your next step will be to create a convincing and well-supported answer to the question, “How can a major in psychology increase my potential to enter and succeed in a business career?” Many factors will determine your ability to obtain and thrive in the career to which you aspire. Perhaps the most important of these is whether or not you possess—and are willing and able to demonstrate—the KSCs that people employed in this career report they need to perform their duties in a competent manner.

You can increase your “potential” to attain your chosen career by performing a careful analysis of that career to determine its unique constellation of important KSCs by utilizing the Occupational Information Network (also known as O*NET), which is a truly remarkable online career-exploration resource maintained by the Employment and Training Administration division of the United States Department of Labor. O*NET ( is a hotlink listed under many of the careers in my online resource described in the previous section. The component of O*NET that is most important for your ability to understand the KSCs you will need to succeed in a particular job is the data gathered from surveys of professional job analysts and thousands of people who are actually employed in that particular occupation who have been asked to provide the KSCs that are important for success in their jobs (BTW: O*NET uses the term “work styles” to refer to characteristics).

To help you begin this process, I used O*NET to perform an analysis of 24 of the 25 business careers contained in my previous section (Pharmaceutical Sales Representative is not listed in O*NET). I captured the types of KSCs that both professional job analysts and those actually employed in these careers report are important, and then combined all these KSCs into one master list. I then performed a simple analysis of this list by pairing each KSC with the number of times it appeared in the list, and finally arranged the KSCs in descending order of how often each one appeared. What I discovered was very enlightening, and it brought my attention to the fact that not all KSCs will be equally important to your ability to attain and thrive in the specific business career to which you aspire.

Professional job analysts and people employed in all four categories of these business careers (i.e., advertising, management, finance, and sales) reported a total of 43 KSCs that are important for success in these jobs, but the following six (two types of knowledge, two skills, and two characteristics) were reported most frequently. Each of these most frequently reported KSCs is followed by the percentage of the 24 careers whose employees listed them as important. (A detailed O*NET definition for each of these KSCs—and also those KSCs that appear in the next section—will be given in the next article of this series where I present specific strategies you can use to attain each KSC.)

  • Customer and Personal Service (100%)
  • The English Language (96%)
  • Active Listening (96%)
  • Speaking (88%)
  • Dependability (92%)
  • Integrity (88%)

This information is extremely important if you are planning to prepare for a career in business because these KSCs are reported as important by 88–100% of professional job analysts and those who are employed in all four of the major categories of business careers listed in the preceding chapter. Simply put, the possession of these KSCs will help you succeed in business and their absence with cause you to fail. You must use your undergraduate education to develop and strengthen these KSCs, and you must also be able to demonstrate them or provide compelling evidence that you possess them during the hiring process. I therefore place these six KSCs into a category titled “The Attributes of Primary Importance for Psychology Majors Who Are Preparing to Enter a Career in Business.”

There are several other KSCs that, while not reported as frequently as the six KSCs listed above, are still very valuable in business careers because they were reported as important for success by employees in 33–71% of the 24 listed occupations. I place these nine KSCs into a category titled “The Attributes of Secondary Importance for Psychology Majors Who Are Preparing to Enter a Career in Business.” These KSCs include the following.

  • Administration and Management (71%)
  • Sales and Marketing (46%)
  • Critical Thinking (54%)
  • Reading Comprehension (54%)
  • Attention to Detail (67%)
  • Cooperation (50%)
  • Initiative (42%)
  • Persistence (33%)
  • Achievement and Effort (33%)

Although the two above sets of KSCs are important for anyone who aspires to a career in business, it is also important to understand that careers in different types of business have their own unique patterns of necessary KSCs that differentiate them from one another. I identified several sets of KSCs that, while not reported as important by those employed in all 24 occupations, would most certainly be essential for success in one of the following four specific sub-types of business-related careers because each of them requires a different set of specialized tasks and responsibilities (e.g., a Department Manager will need more knowledge about Personnel and Human Resources than an Advertising Sales Representative, and an Advertising Sales Representative will need more knowledge of Communications and Media than a Department Manager).

  • Social Perceptiveness (29%)—Being aware of others' reactions, and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Judgment and Decision Making (21%)—Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.
  • Law and Government (21%)— Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.
  • Personnel and Human Resources (17%)—Knowledge of principles and procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, training, compensation and benefits, labor relations and negotiation, and personnel information systems.
  • Leadership (17%)—Willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.
  • Education and Training (16%)— Knowledge of the principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.
  • Negotiation (13%)—Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.
  • Social Perceptiveness (29%)—Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.
  • Persuasion (21%)—Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.
  • Service Orientation (21%)—Actively looking for ways to help people.
  • Independence (17%)—Developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.
  • Negotiation (13%)—Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.
  • Mathematics (29%)—Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
  • Economics and Accounting (17%)— Knowledge of economic and accounting principles and practices, financial markets, banking, and the analysis and reporting of financial data.
  • Computers and Electronics (21%)— Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.
  • Persuasion (21%)—Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.
  • Computers and Electronics (21%)— Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.
  • Communications and Media (17%)— Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods, including alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.
  • Negotiation (13%)—Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.

In conclusion, it is important to realize that your potential to be hired into the business career to which you aspire will depend upon whether or not you possess the KSCs that people employed in this occupation report are important for the successful completion of the tasks their jobs require them to perform. The research on these KSCs I have performed with O*NET has yielded two sets of KSCs that are necessary for success in virtually all areas of business. I have also suggested that each specific business career will have a unique set of required KSCs that differentiates it from other business careers. Part III of this series will be to introduce you to the concept of Strategic Employability, which will offer you strategies to develop and strengthen these KSCs.

A VERY Important Heads-Up

In addition to the business-related KSCs I have listed in this article, it would also be wise for you to familiarize yourself with the complete list of attributes sought by employers in all occupational fields— not just business—in new college hires. This information is compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), and you can access it at


American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies. (2015). How many psychology bachelor’s degree holders work in STEM occupations? Monitor on Psychology, 46(5), 17. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association’s Center for Workforce Studies. (2016). Datapoint: What do people do with their psychology degrees? Monitor on Psychology, 47(6), 12. Retrieved from

Appleby, D. C. (2018). An online career-exploration resource for psychology majors. Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Retrieved from

Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., Hanson, A. R. (2015). The economic value of college majors. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from

National Association of Colleges and Employers. (2016). Job outlook 2016: The attributes employers want to see on new college graduates’ resumes. Retrieved from

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

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 2019 (Vol. 23, Iss. 3) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology

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