Lighting the Way for Workplace-Bound Psychology Baccalaureates

As commencement approaches, our baccalaureate psychology graduates will likely hear the familiar admonition “But you can’t get a decent job with a bachelor’s degree in psychology!”  There is some truth to that warning (Carnevale, et al., 2015; Rajecki & Borden, 2011) and to employers’ complaints that graduates are unprepared for work. However, if we vigorously shared other data with our students we could instill optimism in the 55% of those graduates who enter the job market.

How can teachers and advisors help?

Articulate skills and abilities, not just content.

When applicants interview for a job, chances are that hiring managers will be more interested in exploring their abilities and skills than their coursework. Consequently, in addition to teaching content, instructors should also articulate the skills they impart so students can connect to them during job interviews. Do not assume that students can identify specific skills they acquire in class (Martini et al., 2015; Strohmetz et al., 2015).

In addition, teachers could instill confidence by sharing the very good news that skills students learn are the same or highly similar to those employers seek, although college and corporate contexts and cultures can differ widely.  Of the five curriculum goals contained in the APA Guidelines v. 2.0, Goal 1 is Knowledge Base in Psychology. The remaining goals are skill-based:

  • Scientific inquiry and critical thinking
  • Ethical and social responsibility in a diverse world
  • Communication
  • Professional development.

What learning outcomes do employers seek?

Hart Research Associates surveyed 400 employers to learn which college learning outcomes or abilities are most important. Between 56% and 85% of the respondents identified the following (from higher to lower frequency):

  • Oral communication
  • Working with others in teams
  • Written communication
  • Ethical judgment and decision-making
  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning
  • Apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
  • Analyze and solve complex problems
  • Locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources
  • Innovate and be creative;
  • Stay current on changing technologies and their applications to the workplace
  • Work with numbers and understand statistics
  • Analyze and solve problems with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

Consider how many of these abilities are at play when students conduct a group research study to be written APA style and presented to the class. As an aside, other employer-based surveys reveal the same or similar skills that employers seek.

Applied learning experiences are important.

Employers want evidence that graduates can apply their knowledge and skills to real world settings. Among the applied experiences that 66% to 94% of the employers in the Hart sample valued most were (from higher to lower preference):

  • Internship/apprenticeship with a company or organization
  • Senior thesis/project demonstrating knowledge, research, problem solving, and communication skills
  • Multiple courses involving significant writing
  • Research project done collaboratively with peers
  • Service learning project with community organizations
  • Field project in a diverse community with people from different backgrounds/cultures.

Internships are typically at the top of the list in other employer-based surveys. Job experience was not explored in this study, but the National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 91% of employers prefer applicants with either relevant (65%) or any job (26%) experience (NACE, 2016). In short, classroom learning must be augmented by hands-on experiences if graduates are to obtain gainful employment.

Promote career-specific and broad-range knowledge and skills.

Taking workplace preparedness to a higher level, “The majority of employers think that having both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge that apply to a variety of fields is important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success at their company” (Hart Research Associates, 2015, p. 2). Most employers value the knowledge and skills that cut across liberal arts disciplines, but they also want graduates to possess career/field specific skills. In support of this finding, Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm, identified eight skillsets (jobs) that can be acquired with additional coursework such as an academic minor or an internship in that field; the jobs require three or fewer years of experience and pay a premium above entry level pay. The eight jobs identified were:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • General business
  • Social media
  • Graphic design
  • Data analysis and management
  • Computer programming
  • IT networking and support

Psychological concepts are important components in many of these fields. In fact, 20% of baccalaureate graduates enter the field of sales, 17% professional services (i.e., health care, counseling, financial services, or legal services), 16% management/supervision, 11% teaching, 9% accounting/finance, 5% employee relations, 3% research, and 19% other work areas. Encourage students to explore career-specific minors or double majors.

Stamm, K., Lin, L., & Christidis, P. (2016, June). What do people do with their psychology degrees? Monitor on Psychology, 47(6), 12.












None of the above suggestions, individually or collectively, are silver bullet solutions to improving workplace preparedness; other variables also influence a successful transition to the workplace. But there is light in the tunnel for bachelor’s level graduates, and teachers and students, together, operate the light switch.


Carnevale, A. P., Cheah, B., & Hanson, A. R. (2015). The economic value of college Washington, DC: Georgetown University, Center on Education and the   Workforce. Retrieved from reports/valueofcollegemajors/

Rajecki, D. W., & Borden, V. M. H. (2011). Psychology degrees: Employment, wage, and career trajectory consequences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6,          321-335.

Hart Research Associates. (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Retrieved from Association of American Colleges  & Universities website:

Martini, T.S., Judges, R., & Belicki, K. (2015). Psychology majors’ understanding of skills-based learning outcomes. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 113-124.

Strohmetz, D. B., Dolinsky, B., Jhangiani, R. S., Posey, D. C., Hardin, E. E, & Shyu, V. (2015). The skillful major: Psychology curricula in the 21st Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1. 200-207.

American Psychological Association. Task Force on Psychology Major Competencies. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Version 2.0. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from  

National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). (2016). Job outlook 2017. Bethlehem, PA: National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Burning Glass Technologies, (2013). The art of employment: How liberal arts graduates can improve their labor market prospects. Boston, MA: Burning Glass Technologies. Retrieved from

Stamm, K., Lin, L., & Christidis, P. (2016, June). What do people do with their psychology degrees? Monitor on Psychology, 47(6), 12. Retrieved from 

About the Author

Paul Hettich, PhD, Professor Emeritus at DePaul University (IL), was an Army personnel psychologist, program evaluator in an education R&D lab, and corporate applied scientist – positions that created a “real world” foundation for a long career in college teaching and administration. He has delivered numerous professional presentations and authored or coauthored several refereed publications including three books and three book chapters. He coauthored Your Undergraduate Degree in Psychology from College to Career with R.E. Landrum, and writes the column “Wisdom from the Workplace” for Eye on Psi Chi. His interest in workplace transition derives from the frustrations of alumni and employers who complained of a major disconnect between college and workplace cultures and expectations.