Good News for Psychology Graduates

In recent years, across the board college graduates have had to look harder than ever just to find a good entry-level job. Competition for positions is intense and only the most qualified graduates find top industry positions. Notwithstanding, the prospects for psychology students are high. A growing demand for psychologists is contributing to new job openings and employment opportunities for recent psychology grads. In addition, psychology students possess a versatile, flexible skill set that makes them perfect candidates for many untraditional positions.

Of the approximately 75,000 students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology each year, most immediately enter the job market. However, a small percentage will pursue a graduate degree part-time or other opportunities.

According to the APA psychology grads can look forward to entry-level jobs in a myriad of fields from business to social services to healthcare to government. Starting salaries will range from roughly $20,000 to $50,000 a year depending on the type of job obtained, the industry, and the location of employment.

For those grads looking for higher salaries, jobs in business are going to present the greatest earning opportunities, while jobs in nonprofit and social service sectors are going to be on the lower end of the compensation scale. However, across all employment sectors salaries and benefits increase as students earn graduate degrees and pursue administrative positions.

In order for graduates to be successful in their job search it's important that they're self aware and confident. Candidates should be able to adeptly communicate the value of their unique skills set and match their skills to employers' needs. Remember, employers aren't as interested in what you know as they are in what you can do. Critical thinking, interpersonal skills, oral and writing skills, and the ability to work collaboratively are qualities every employer is looking for – and skills most psychology graduates possess.

When it comes to finding a job, the most successful candidates are not only highly qualified, they're good networkers. If you want to maximize your chances of find a quality job right out of school, you need to network, network, network. Like they say, it's not necessarily what you know, rather who you no. This doesn't mean you need to start brown nosing or shmoozing. It means you need to develop a strong network of professional and academic contacts that you can lean on for assistance, information, contacts and references when it comes time to start looking for a job.

Where is the Employment Opportunity?
As mentioned, an undergraduate degree in psychology prepares students for a diverse array of job opportunities. In fact, many in academia believe psychology grads have a leg up on the competition because a degree in psychology teaches valuable "soft skills" along with quantative skills acquired through years of performing research. Upon graduation, students are prepared for a myriad of jobs including accountant, teacher and real estate agent.

Unfortunately, starting salaries for psych majors are typically lower than those obtained by graduates with applied or professionally oriented degrees. The average starting salary for psychology majors right out of college ranges between $30,000 and $40,000 a year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The National Science Foundation estimates starting salaries for psychology majors at around $35,000 a year.

A recent survey performed by the National Association for Continuing Education (NACE) indicated that psychology majors receive the most job offers in the areas of teaching, management, counseling, social work and sales.

According to both the American Psychology Association (APA) and NACE the most common employment areas of psychology graduates include the following:

  • Education. Job responsibilities include teaching, provisioning students, counseling and research.

  • Health care and social services. Job responsibilities include research, administration and patient counseling.

  • Government. Psychology graduates frequently fill federal, state and local government positions. Job responsibilities include administrative support, legislative support and law enforcement.

  • Management and business. Last, but by no means least, are management and business. Psychology graduates who obtain positions in management or business have the highest salaries right out of school and the best long-term earning potential. Job duties are diverse and may include employee training and development, banking, customer service, administrative work, customer service and consulting

Finding Your First Job
Not surprisingly, a large number of students who graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology end up finding jobs in industries and areas unrelated to psychology. Not only does a psychology degree equip students with a diverse set of skills that can be applied in various industries, most entry-level career positions in psychology require a doctoral-level degree – not an bachelor's degree. In a survey of alumni from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Psychology Department, a majority of respondents indicated the jobs they obtained post-college were not psychology related.

However, many students don't fully appreciate the relationship between their work and the skills they acquire as a psychology student. The most valuable skill psychology students develop is the "learn-how-to-learn" skill – which can be applied in any job, in any industry.

The key to finding your first job out of college is knowing your strengths as a psychology graduate and being able to effectively communicate those strengths to employers. We also recommend the following job search times for recent grads:

  • Complete a Thorough Career Assessment - Being self aware, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and then selecting jobs accordingly will greatly enhance the effectiveness of your job search efforts. Many students develop a list of jobs to pursue based on "Top 10" lists, or highest-paying job lists, or high demand jobs only to find out they're not a good fit for the job and vice versa.

  • Consider a Career in Business - Many psychology students focus their career search on areas they can relate in some way to psychology (e.g. counseling, social work, etc.) and overlook other careers they consider unrelated. The skills psychology students develop are a good fit for many business, finance and management jobs, and not surprisingly many psychology grads end up excelling in business.

  • Present Your Unique Value Proposition - Psychology grads have to be more proactive about making a case for what they bring to table. However, once you get good at pitching yourself to employers you'll be able to effectively communicate what you offer that other majors don't. For example, psychology majors often have much better interpersonal and communication skills than business majors.

  • Don't Get Caught Up In Finding the Perfect Job Right Out The Gate - The first job you get is not likely to be your last. Look at it as a steppingstone to your next career opportunity. Remember, unless your name is Warren Buffett you're going to need to work your way up the ladder.

  • Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities - Involving yourself in extracurricular activities (e.g. student clubs, research programs, etc) will help you start building a strong career network you can turn to when it comes time to find a job.

Psychology grads are a unique breed that have many strengths that employers in just about every industry are looking for. Become self aware, know your strengths, learn to communicate your unique value propositions, start networking early, and you'll have not problem finding the perfect entry-level positions to get your career off to a good start.

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