Good News for Psychology Graduate Students Looking for Jobs

The current recession is forcing college graduates to look harder for good jobs, but despite the economic downturn, qualified psychology students should have no problem finding jobs in various fields. Continued demand for qualified psychologists is attributed to the fact that psychology graduates leave school with numerous and flexible skills.

If between 73,000-75,000 expected graduates follow the same path as psychologists before them, as discovered in a survey administered by the APA's Research Office, the majority will begin working immediately, but some will simultaneously complete graduate studies part- time. Other graduates will attend graduate school at a later date.

Although job prospects are still good for psychology graduates, the National Association of Colleges and Employers estimates there will be fewer jobs available for graduates this year. This organization estimates a 20 percent reduction in new hiring.

However, as during previous years, most graduates, regardless of major, can locate entry-level opportunities in healthcare, government, business, social services, and education. Beginning salaries in these fields range between $18,000-45,000 annually, but salaries vary by geographic location and specialty.

Graduates finding jobs in business typically earn much higher wages than graduates working for non-profit organizations and social services agencies. However, in all industries, wages increase as workers get promoted to administrative positions or acquire additional education.

Employers seek graduates with skills and knowledge matching position requirements. Graduates can also find jobs by networking with professionals in fields they're seeking employment in. By networking and developing skills employers seek, graduates will have less difficulty finding jobs in a tough market.

According to experts, employers want to fill open positions with graduates possessing outstanding qualities and a lot of potential. In most cases, they're not seeking applicants with a lot of knowledge; rather, they want to hire graduates with exceptional written and verbal communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills.

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Students earning degrees in psychology will learn the skills employers are seeking, providing them with an advantage over graduates from other majors. These skills, often referred to as "soft skills," in conjunction with quantitative skills developed by conducting research, prepare graduates to work as teachers, accountants, and real estate agents.

However, beginning salaries are usually lower for graduates in psychology than graduates in other fields. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that average starting salaries for psychology graduates barely exceeded $29,000 a year during 2002, but some career analysts claim this figure is inflated since the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that entry-level salaries for psychology graduates fell between $21,900-27,200 a year.

During 2001, psychology graduates earned the highest salaries in these specialties: sales, $34,451; social work, $26,988; counseling, $24,724; teaching, $25,378; and management, $30,488. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the American Psychological Association, psychology graduates typically find jobs in these fields and receive starting salaries in these ranges:
  • Social services and healthcare – $20,000-25,000: Typical responsibilities include research, administrative tasks, and counseling.

  • Education – $17,000-25,000: Job duties include administering student services, conducting research, and teaching. Graduates finding jobs in childcare usually earn under $20,000 a year.

  • Business and management – $25,000-40,000: These specialists are responsible for providing customer service, purchasing merchandise, offering consulting services, or training employees. Those working for consulting firms and banks earn the largest wages, while administrative assistants and customer service specialists earn the lowest wages.

  • Government agencies at all levels – $20,000-29,000: This includes jobs as administrative assistants, legislative aides, and law enforcement agencies.
How to land the job

Since psychology graduates find jobs in many fields, some consider their jobs and majors as unrelated. According to a survey, 75 percent of psychology graduates reported that their jobs were only somewhat, or unrelated to their undergraduate work.

However, some experts are troubled by the survey results since many employers seek graduates with the type of skills psychology graduates typically possess, which include quantitative, writing, and interpersonal skills.

Experts claim the key to finding an entry-level job out of college is convincing employers you have the aforementioned skills. The following are additional useful tips:
  • Understand your strengths and career goals. Find jobs related to your career interests. Most graduates look for high paying jobs that are in demand. However, it will not benefit you to seek jobs unrelated to your strengths and interests.

  • Consider working in finance and business. Psychology graduates often rule out jobs in finance and business because these jobs seem unrelated to psychology. However, skills learned while studying psychology can be applied in these fields, and those specializing in human services often counsel people with financial concerns.

  • Sell yourself to potential employers. Present to your potential employer the benefits you offer as a psychology graduate. For example, detail the advantages of hiring a psychology graduate over a business graduate. Emphasize your interpersonal and analytical skills.

  • Consider an entry-level job as the first step towards achieving career goals. Your first job is usually the first step to a career. Everyone has to begin somewhere. Many CEOs began their careers in low paying entry-level positions.

  • Participate in extracurricular activities and utilize available resources. Participate in research groups and student clubs. It's also advantageous to utilize career services offered by your school and begin networking early during undergraduate study. Many schools sponsor career classes.
Networking and participating in school activities usually pays off. A recent graduate attributed her employment with an integrated services provider as a result of participating with student council, group research, and Psi Chi. By working with peer advising, she was able to meet industry contacts that served as valuable resources when she began looking for a post-graduation job.

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