Using Your Psychology Degree For A Career Outside Academia

Recently, I was looking at numbers and trends in employment for psychology degree holders gathered in  the 2015 National Survey of College Graduates (I know – I’m a data geek, and I embrace it). As you would expect, the most common occupation reported through the survey was either a faculty or a psychologist providing psychological services (and in some instances both).  Having been a graduate student and the director of a graduate training program, that wasn’t so surprising to me.

What was surprising, though, is those two careers account for less than half of the over 200,000 individuals included in the survey (to be exact, they combine to 49% of respondents).  Meaning the other 51% are employed doing …. well, something else. Doctoral psychology degree holders worked in 59 of the 129 different occupation categories included in the survey.  For individuals with master’s degrees, it was 71 of the 129 (you can see the analyses for yourself in the APA’s Center for Workforce Studies data tool below).  And, it isn’t like the people working in these fields “left psychology” for other non-psychology careers in public relations, entertainment, education administration, government administrator, or labor relations.  Nearly all of the respondents (96%) reported that their job was related to psychology.

Get a psychology degree, and the career options available to you are endless.  Okay, that is hyperbole, but you get my point.

There is a flip-side here, though:  the occupations that graduate students (and postdocs) are exposed to on a regular basis are psychology faculty member and/or professional service provider.  When I was a graduate student and a postdoc, I saw on a daily basis what it was like to be a faculty member in a psychology department.  If you asked me, I felt very confident I could answer the following questions about life as a psychology professor:

  • What are the day-to-day responsibilities?
  • What skills, abilities, and competencies are required?
  • What do I need to have in my application to get a job?
  • Where do I network and learn about jobs?

But had I been interested in say, running a policy research office for the District of Columbia, I would have been completely stumped. I mean – it sounds like an awesome job – but how do I get it?

We, at APA, want to help graduate students and postdocs in psychology learn about as many rewarding career options that utilize psychology training and experience, as possible.  And as part of that initiative, two APA colleagues and I will be hosts for a free, virtual conference called How Did You Get that Job?  Psychologist at Work. It will feature psychology degree holders as they talk about their jobs and how they use their psychology training at places like:

  • Walmart
  • Herman Miller
  • Wendy’s
  • Bose

I’m excited to be a part of this event because it highlights the myriad ways psychologists use their training and skills to work in a variety of places.  It is also an opportunity to teach attendees how to learn more about career options on their own.  Over the two days, my colleagues and I will conduct six Informational Interviews, a key tool of the Explore Career Module of the APA’s Resource for Individual Development PlanAt the end of the conference, you’ll have a bevy of information about where to find job opportunities, how your skills and abilities translate to various careers, and what life is like outside of academia!

About the Author

Garth A. Fowler, PhD
Garth directs the APA’s efforts in producing resources and information to help psychology graduate students, postdoctoral trainees, and those that teach them, improve their training and career success. Before coming to APA Garth was a faculty member and Assistant Chair in the Department of Neurobiology, where he managed the departmental office staff, advised students, taught courses for undergraduate, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, and was the director of the MS Program in Neurobiology. His first job after finishing his postdoc was the Outreach Program Manager for Science Careers, the online career resources for Science magazine & AAAS. When not reading about educational policy and best practices, he enjoys traveling, running through the city, and cycling with his friends. Garth has a B.A. in Psychology from the College of Wooster, a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Washington – Seattle, and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute in San Diego, CA.

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