|Eye on Psi Chi: Summer 2019|
Eye on Psi Chi
Summer 2019 | Volume 23 | Issue 4
Can Psychology Majors Prepare for a Career in Business? Part III: Strategic Employability
Drew C. Appleby, PhD,
What strategies can I create that will enable me 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?
In the previous installment of this series, I explained why psychology majors make a wise choice when they decide to use their undergraduate education to prepare themselves for a career in business. I accomplished this challenging task by introducing the concepts of Actual Employability (i.e., many psychology majors actually are employed in business careers), Specific Employability (i.e., psychology majors enter many specific business careers such as management, sales, finance, advertising, marketing, and public relations), and Potential Employability (i.e., the KSCs necessary to successfully prepare for and enter these specific careers are the same as those that you can acquire as a psychology major). In the present article, I will introduce you to the concept of Strategic Employability by providing you with a series of strategies that you can use to develop these KSCs by taking full advantage of both the curricular and extracurricular opportunities your undergraduate education in psychology provides.
The word strategic in Strategic Employability refers to the specific plans you will need to give a convincing answer to yourself and others to the question, “What strategies can I produce to use my undergraduate education to develop and strengthen the KSCs I will need to enter and succeed in the specific business career to which I aspire?” Before I provide you with suggestions about how to answer this question, I want you to engage in some serious reflection about how you view the purpose of your education, which should produce the answer to another very important question, which is “Are you an occupationally savvy or an occupationally not-so-savvy psychology major?” The following information— taken from the article I previously invited you to read (Appleby, 2015, p.1) will help you to understand why your answer to this question is so important.
One way to determine if you are occupationally savvy or not-so-savvy is to read the following two statements and then decide which of them is a more accurate description of how you have been using your education to prepare yourself to enter the workforce.
If the purpose of your undergraduate education is reflected more accurately in the first of these statements, then I am sure you stopped reading this article long before you got to this sentence. If you truly believe you have been simply buying a “creducation” by spending your money on courses you plan to get out of the way so you can accumulate enough credits to graduate as quickly and easily as possible, then the effort I have asked you to expend by creating the answers to the challenging questions in the previous sections of this series would seem like a very poor investment of your time and effort.
However, if your beliefs were reflected more accurately in the second statement, then you are beginning to realize that using the information contained in this series to help you create a plan to obtain the career of your dreams could very well cause you to use the same words I have shared with you in Part I of this series, which were written by one of my student to describe the results of her experience in my B103 Orientation to a Psychology Major class. “It feels good to be a savvy psychology major with a strong sense of hope for my future success. My new 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.”
FOUR People Who Can Help You
It is now time for me to assist you in the process of becoming “strategic” by helping you identify the resources that will enable you to create specific plans to take advantage of both the curricular and extracurricular components of your undergraduate education to develop and strengthen the KSCs you will need to prepare for and enter the business career you wish to pursue. But first, I want to bring your attention to four people, other than myself, who can help you develop these strategies.
Each college campus provides a unique set of educational opportunities that psychology majors can use to prepare for their occupational futures, and your academic advisor and career counselor are the most appropriate sources of this information. However, I can begin this process for you by describing some of the strategies I shared with my B103 students that helped them to acquire the “Attributes of Both Primary and Secondary Importance for Psychology Majors Who Are Preparing to Enter a Career in Business” that I briefly listed in the previous article of this series. Each of these attributes is provided below followed by its O*NET definition and several strategies to use the curricular and extracurricular components of your undergraduate education to attain it.
Primary Attributes for Entering a Career in Business
Customer and Personal Service
The principles and processes for providing customer and personal services including customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.
STRATEGY If you are able to fit work into your busy academic schedule, try to obtain a job in which you will interact with and/or provide services to customers. Remember that Customer and Personal Service was reported as important for all 24 of the specific careers listed in the Potential Employability section of this series, which means that it is crucially important for you to (a) possess this experience if you want to obtain a career in business or to (b) come to the conclusion that a business career would not be a good fit for you because you do not enjoy working with the public in this capacity.
STRATEGY Ask an advisor in your business department to recommend business classes such as Consumer Behavior or Product and Service Management that will increase your knowledge of customer and personal service.
STRATEGY Serve as a peer advisor or peer mentor in your department, and participate in the evaluation of the impact of these services by collecting feedback from those who you serve and then using this feedback to help yourself and your department to improve the advising and mentoring services both you and it provides.
The English Language
The meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
STRATEGY Take your required English composition class very seriously so you can strengthen your spelling, grammar, and compositional skills, and also have a high grade on your transcript to prove your possession of these skills. Then, enroll in advanced writing classes (e.g., Professional Writing, Technical Writing, and Business Writing) to further strengthen your mastery of the English language and to prove your awareness of the importance of this skill within business settings.
STRATEGY Learn to write in APA style, which is the style you will be required to use when you write formal papers in both your psychology and your business classes. You can do this by choosing instructors who will (a) require you to write in APA style, (b) provide you with constructive feedback on both the style and content of your written work, and (c) enable you to improve the quality of your writing by allowing you to submit multiple drafts. (Hint: Use the APA Style Workshop available on the Purdue Online Writing Lab to help you master this complex writing style. You can access this workshop at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/664/1/)
Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.
STRATEGY Although this may sound odd at first, enrolling in a counseling class is one of the best ways to develop and strengthen your active listening skills if you plan to prepare for a business career. You will learn to make eye contact, pay attention to body language, show understanding of what another person is saying, and avoid giving advice so you can provide the people to whom you are listening with the opportunity to come to their own conclusions and make rational decisions based on these conclusions. This set of counseling skills will improve your effectiveness in business activities such as sales, employee management, and financial advising. BTW: One of my students who became a very successful real estate agent reported that the most valuable class she took in college was her Introduction to Counseling class.
STRATEGY Once you have taken a counseling course to improve your active listening skills, your next step should be to volunteer to be a peer advisor or mentor (as described above in the Customer and Personal Service section above) so you can practice and become more confident and proficient in your active listening skills and have evidence on your resumé to prove it.
Talking to others to convey information effectively.
STRATEGY Take your required speech class very seriously so you can improve your public speaking ability and also earn a high grade as proof of your skill. Given that glossophobia (i.e., the fear of public speaking) is a one of the most common phobias, your ability to speak in a confident, clear, and compelling manner will serve you well, both on-the-job and especially during the interviews that will determine whether or not you obtain the job you want.
STRATEGY Once you complete your required speech class, plan to enroll in other classes to further strengthen both your public and your personal speaking skills. Good choices for these classes would be Business Communications, Interpersonal Communications, Persuasion, and Nonverbal Communication. Most students refuse to take another speech class after they complete the one they are required to take. You will be the exception to this rule, and this will give you an advantage during the hiring process because it will provide you with an opportunity to show that you are willing to go “above and beyond” what is expected of you.
STRATEGY Once again, serving as a peer advisor or mentor will prove to be valuable experience because it will allow you to practice and strengthen both your speaking and active listening skills.
Being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
STRATEGY You should avoid classes taught by instructors who reinforce procrastination and irresponsible behavior by accepting flimsy excuses for late assignments or missed tests and who do not seem to care if their students come to class late, leave class early, or miss class entirely. The lessons you learn from these instructors produce the types of on-the-job behaviors and attitudes that can lead to reprimands from your supervisors or, worse yet, termination from the job you believed you were preparing for during your undergraduate education. BTW: If you are a Millennial or a member of the Me Generation as described by Twenge (2006) in her book Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled and More Miserable Than Ever Before, you may respond negatively to the advice I just provided in the previous two sentences because you may possess an attitude of entitlement characterized by Twenge as “the pervasive belief that one deserves special treatment, success, and more material things.” This may cause you to believe you are entitled to come to work late, leave work early, and place a higher priority on your own personal concerns than on the requirements of your job. I hope I have not insulted you if you are a member of either of these age-defined groups, but if you recognized some of your beliefs in Twenge’s quote, I urge you to do everything in your power to keep these beliefs in the form of private thoughts rather than displaying them as publicly observable behaviors, both at school and on-the-job.
STRATEGY Be the type of student whose teachers would use the following sentences to describe you if they were contacted by a potential employer to provide support for your job application. “Ashley was a joy to teach. She attended class faithfully, was never late, and always submitted her assignments on-time. She understood what was required in my class and completed her assignments in a correct and cheerful manner.” A potential employer will interpret a description like this to mean that you will be the type of employee who always comes to work, comes to work on time, understands your required tasks, and carries them out in a correct and positive manner. What more could an employer ask of an employee?
STRATEGY If you work while you are in school, make sure your supervisors would be able to say the following things about you if they were asked to describe you to a potential employer. “William was a reliable, responsible, and dependable employee. He never missed work, he was never late, and he always completed his assignments and duties correctly, on-time, and in a cheerful manner.” Once again, what more could an employer ask of a potential employee?
Being honest and ethical.
STRATEGY You should be aware that job interviews can include questions designed to evaluate your ability to think and act in an ethical manner, such as “Tell me about a project that required you to be aware of and act in accordance with a set of ethical principles.” The only way to answer this question in a credible manner is to have actually participated in such a project. Therefore, you should engage in (a) research projects that require the creation of IRB protocols to ensure that you treat your participants in an ethical manner; (b) writing assignments that require you to conform to guidelines that prohibit plagiarism; and (c) internships that will require you to be aware of, understand, and act according to ethical guidelines such as those you would need to follow if you work with clients whose confidentiality must be protected or who may be exposed to risks.
STRATEGY A study published by Michigan State’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute (Gardner, 2007) revealed that unethical behavior is the most common reason employers give for firing new college hires. One way to bring your ability to behave in an honest and ethical manner to the attention of a potential employer is to enroll in a Business Ethics course, include this on your resumé, bring up the importance of being honest during your interview, and then share what you learned in this class with your interviewer in a clear and convincing manner.
STRATEGY To become familiar with the topic of ethics across the full spectrum of business, go to your library and skim through several issues of the Journal of Business Ethics, which contains articles on ethical issues related to business topics such as advertising, accounting, labor relations, public relations, marketing, production, consumption, advertising, accounting, and organizational behavior.
STRATEGY Join a student organization like Psi Chi or Psychology Club and run for the office of treasurer. This will provide you with an opportunity to act in an ethical and honest manner as you collect and disburse the club’s money, keep accurate financial records, and create complete and truthful financial reports. Your next step should be to include this on your resumé—and discuss it during your interviews—as proof of your honest and ethical behavior.
Secondary Attributes for Entering a Career in Business
Administration and Management
The business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership techniques, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.
STRATEGY Become an officer in a student organization. This will provide you with abundant opportunities to engage in its administration and management by helping to create its goals, plan its activities, allocate its financial resources, and motivate its members to achieve the goals of the organization.
STRATEGY Enrolling in business classes such as Management and Leadership, Strategic Planning, Project Management, and Introduction to Human Resources will familiarize you with the fundamental principles and practices of these essential business processes.
Sales and Marketing
Principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services including marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
STRATEGY Enroll in business classes such as Consumer Behavior, Sales Management, Introduction to Marketing, and Marketing Research.
STRATEGY Enroll in an internship or seek employment in a part-time job in which you are required to show, demonstrate, promote, and/or sell products to the public. If you are considering a career in sales or marketing, this will help you discover the following two very important things about yourself: do you enjoy the process of convincing people to purchase products and are you capable of doing this in a successful manner. Internships are a truly wonderful opportunity to help you identify, prepare for, and obtain a particular career. They can provide you with abundant opportunities to begin building a professional network in a career field that interests you. They can also provide you with potential job offers because, if you are working at a paid internship, 60% of the time that internship will turn into a job offer because some organizations use internships as recruiting tools (Adams, 2012). Internships are also wonderful opportunities to become familiar with the “real world” of work in which you can clarify and affirm your career direction. Deciding upon a particular career without actually engaging in that career is a strategy that is as unwise as learning how to drive by reading a book about driving without ever having actually driven a car. An internship is like the learner’s permit that requires you to drive with a licensed driver in your car for a specified period of time before you earn the privilege of driving on your own.
The ability to use logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions, or approaches to problems.
STRATEGY Enroll in “problem-based” classes that will require you to create solutions to real-world problems. Many capstone courses are designed to help senior psychology majors apply what they have learned in their previous classes by working alone or in groups to manage projects designed to simulate—or actually engage in—the solution of problems that exist in business, health care, educational, or social service settings. This experience will enable you to identify, use, and strengthen the critical-thinking skills of comprehension, analysis, application, evaluation, and creation as you work to (a) understand (i.e., comprehend) the nature of a problem, (b) break down (i.e., analyze) the problem into manageable parts or stages, (c) put what you have learned to use (i.e., apply) by beginning the process of solving the individual parts of the problem, (d) determine the effectiveness of (i.e., evaluate) the problem-solving processes you have constructed, and (e) combine the four previous stages of this process into an integrated whole (i.e., create) to solve the problem.
STRATEGY Enroll in business classes that will offer you opportunities to practice and strengthen your critical thinking skills. An online search using the words “business classes” provided me with the following titles of classes that could meet this criterion: Analysis of Business Decisions, Business Application Development, Critical Thinking and Decision Making, Retail Strategy, Global Business Analysis, and Strategic Management and Leadership.
Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
STRATEGY Participate in an undergraduate research project that requires the creation of a literature review. This process will require you to read and understand the research that has been previously conducted on the topic you are investigating and then to use your understanding of this research to generate a clear and compelling rationale for your study.
STRATEGY Ask your librarian to show you where the business journals and periodicals are located and to give you some suggestions about those that would provide you with introductory material that would increase your understanding of the literature of business.
STRATEGY Go online and purchase a used copy of a textbook for an introductory business course such as Understanding Business (Nickels, McHugh, & McHugh, 2012). This book will have chapters on each of the basic areas of business and, as you read it, it will increase your business reading skills, your business vocabulary, and your understanding of the world of business. It may also help you decide that business is not a good career fit for you if you find its contents to be confusing, boring, or in conflict with your personal values and ethics.
STRATEGY Read for pleasure on a variety of topics that interest you. Reading is a skill. The more you practice, the more proficient you will become.
Classroom and Workplace Attributes
The next set of five characteristics completes the category of “Attributes of Secondary Importance for Psychology Majors Who Are Preparing to Enter a Career in Business.” The best places for you to strengthen these five crucial attributes are in the classroom and in the workplace, and the best people to provide evidence that you possess them are your teachers and those who supervise you on-the-job. My two pieces of strategic advice about how to attain these characteristics are presented at the end of this five-item list.
Attention to Detail—Being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.
STRATEGY Be the type of student about whom I wrote the following in a letter of recommendation. “Cindy was a student in my Orientation to a Major in Psychology class where she was introduced to writing in APA style. Like her fellow classmates, she was initially challenged by the professional rigor of this style because it requires such strict attention to a set of very formal rules, but she used my feedback in a very positive and productive manner and her writing improved rapidly. Later in the semester I discovered that she had been serving as an unofficial 'APA style tutor' to some of my other students who gave her credit for helping them to improve their grades. Based on this discovery—coupled with her extremely cooperative and approachable nature—I invited her to be my teaching assistant, and she continued in this capacity for the next three semesters. Her impact on my students was remarkable, and it was clearly described by the following passage that one of my students wrote to her in a thank-you note: 'You were a wonderful TA and one of the most thorough people I have ever met. The pointers you gave me helped me to not only identify and understand my writing weaknesses, but how to improve them as well. Your feedback is one of the things that helped me earn an A in B103, and I want to thank you for that!'”
STRATEGY Be the type of student whose internship supervisor would write the following in her end-of-semester evaluation report. "John was one of the most competent and cooperative interns I have ever supervised. He worked hard to understand exactly what he was supposed to do, and he was willing to expend the extra effort to complete his tasks in both a timely and accurate manner. He was also willing to ‘pitch in’ and help his fellow interns when they had trouble meeting their deadlines or understanding how to complete their tasks correctly. His initiative, persistence, and attention to detail were exceptional. I plan to offer John a position in our company as soon as he graduates, and I will be extremely disappointed if he does not accept my offer.”
Additional Strategic Recommendations
Enroll in an Introduction to Business course as soon as you can. You may think you know what business is all about, but until you are familiar with the many different subareas of business, you are playing a risky game in which your misconceptions may lead to unwise decisions about your occupational future. A quick glance at the table of contents from a text by Gareth Jones (2007) titled Introduction to Business: How Companies Create Value for People can provide you with an idea of the subcategories of business. In it, you will find chapter titles such as Information Technology and E-Commerce, Human Resource Management, Marketing and Product Development, and Customer Relationship Management. You could also consult O*NET or the Occupational Outlook Handbook (https://www.bls.gov/ooh/) to get information about these occupations/fields.
Although you will gain valuable KSCs in all your psychology classes, perhaps the one that will be of most value in your preparation for a career in business is Industrial/ Organizational Psychology, especially if a career in management interests you. If you read the table of contents for a text by Paul Spector (2017) titled Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Research and Practice, you will see why I recommend this class so highly.
BTW: It may interest you to know that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017), the median salary of Industrial- Organizational Psychologists is $87,100, and that those in the top 10% of the salary range for this profession earn $184,520. You will need a graduate degree to enter this field, but these salary figures may motivate you to take a serious look at this occupation. If you would like to become better acquainted with I/O psychology, use the following URL to access a very readable introduction to this field (Coulton, 2017): https://psichi.com/IO.
In conclusion, many KSCs are valued by those who hire college graduates for careers in business and there are many strategies— both curricular and extracurricular—you can use to acquire and strengthen them. But your mere possession of these attributes will not be enough. You must also be able to “sell” them by convincing those who are in the position to hire you that the KSCs you possess are both stronger than those possessed by any of the other candidates for the job and are also a better match for the unique set of KSCs that are contained in that position’s job description. To put it another way, you must learn how to successfully promote your possession of these attributes during the competitive hiring process so you will be hired because you are considered to be the best candidate for the job. This leads us to my next employability concept, which I will discuss in Part IV of this series, Promotional Employability.
Adams, S. (2012, July 25). Odds are your internship will get you a job. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/07/25/odds-are-your-internship-will-get-you-a-job/#23889f6f62e5
American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ethics/code/
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 https://www.psichi.org/page/201EyeFall15hAppleby
Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). Occupational employment statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193032.htm
Coulton, G. F. (2017, March 6). I-O psychology: From early origins to current trends. Psych Learning Curve. Retrieved from http://psychlearningcurve.org/i-o-psychology-trends/?utm_source=Psych+Learning+Curve&utm_campaign=52a0078bf1-PLC_New_week_Mar_8_17&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_ff6044c3a5-52a0078bf1-92273453
Gardner, P. (2007). Moving up or moving out of the company? Factors that influence the promoting or firing of new college hires. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University. Retrieved from http://ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/brief1-07.pdf
Jones, G. R. (2007). Introduction of business: How companies create value for people. London, United Kingdom: Irwin/McGraw-Hill.
Nickels, W. G., McHugh, J. M., & McHugh, S. M. (2012). Understanding business, 11th edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Spector, P. E. (2017). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice, 7th edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Twenge, J. M. (2006). Generation me: Why today's young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled, and more miserable than ever before. 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. 4) Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology