10 Top tips for under/graduates to get a foot on the ladder

Information about qualifications, experience and the typical career path
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maven
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10 Top tips for under/graduates to get a foot on the ladder

Post by maven » Tue May 08, 2007 7:31 pm

1) See if you can get some relevant experience either part time, or during the holidays. This need not be directly with clinical psychologists, but could relate to any of the client groups we work with (people with mental health problems, children with disabilities, families under stress, older people, inpatients, people with learning disabilities, etc). Chances are there's something you'll enjoy and can earn you a bit of money. For example, you could work as a care assistant in a residential home, as a healthcare or nursing assistant in a hospital, or in a school or playscheme, or for a charity related to mental health manning a phoneline. These kinds of experiences allow you to begin to think about how you would apply the knowledge you learn in your psychology degree, give you an awareness of the types of challenges people face, and allow you to see the roles different professionals take. Many of them are hard work, and either voluntary or quite poorly paid, but they can be extremely rewarding. They can also allow you to mention on your CV your awareness of multi-disciplinary working, applying degree knowledge to life, confidentiality, specific knowledge on challenging behaviour, training provided etc.

2) When you're thinking about what to do for your final year project, think about ways to build in a bit of relevant experience or thinking. This is a useful addition to the research skills you'll gain. Clinically relevant research is particularly useful. This could either comprise research with a clinical population (eg people with depression, or ADHD) or by considering something that might be theoretically relevant (eg does reading magazines relating to fashion correlate with having negative body image or negative cognitions about eating, or do gender and ethnic group predict risk of bullying). You could also think of extrapolating a clinical association to a non-clinical population (eg you read a paper that says self-harm correlates with impulsiveness, so you ask students to fill in an impulsiveness questionnaire, rate themselves on a short scale of risk taking and describe the most risky thing they have done this month, this year, and ever). You can also think what could give you good transferable skills. For example, getting out and interviewing people, or administering a common task or assessment. Your supervisor might prefer you to analyse some data from their own work or do other bits they don't have time for, but only do something that interests you, and stretches your skills, as that little interviewing experience might really help land your first job once you graduate.

3) Use any contacts you have to get voluntary work: you may know someone who is an assistant psychologist, a trainee, or a secretary in a psychology department. If jobs are thin on the ground (and if you can afford it), get some relevant voluntary work. If this is with psychologists (or a team which includes a psychologist), so much the better, as they may give you a reference, and when paid work comes up, you'll probably get an interview. Plenty of people end up doing this, and it tends to be a great way to get your foot in the door and to make some contacts. You might start off doing administration, or data entry, or making cups of tea, or helping out with reception, or less popular tasks in the department, but show willing and you'll be on their list when a 'proper' post comes up.

4) If you can, join your local AP or psychology graduates group. We have a list of some of them here. Its a great way to network, hear of opportunities, and keep up with the current issues and lingo. You may find some supportive people, share a moan, get some ideas, feedback, a bit of professional development. They often organise seminars, invited speakers, local events, even times to prepare for course interviews, etc.

5) Think of research posts as an opportunity to build your experience. Look out for research assistant and junior research associate posts on http://www.jobs.ac.uk and at your local university. These are very relevant, and are often advertised by university social science, psychology, neuroscience or psychiatry departments (or similar). Obviously, great for your research skills, but you might get your name in a publication, might work alongside psychologists, should get some form of client contact (making assessments of whatever kind), and pay is usually decent (though there may also be opportunities to volunteer if you can't find paid work).

6) Canvas local psychologists for opportunities to shadow them, assist with tasks in the department (filing, data entry, audit, compiling information packs, literature searches etc) or see if there are any paid or voluntary posts available. Do your research beforehand and check out whether the psychologist concerned has any particular interests, has any publications, and what the department provides. Then you can make informed suggestions about what might be possible. However, be aware that you probably won't get responses from the majority of these approaches unless you have networked enough to have some sort of personal or memorable approach. You could even suggest that you apply for grant funding for a research project, or sponsorship through an organisation like the Wellcome trust.

7) When applying for jobs make every application unique and tailored to the job description and person specification (though it is good to have a word file of all your relevant ideas and experience to cut and paste from, so that it isn't too time-consuming as many posts close very quickly if they cap the number of applicants they are willing to consider). Try to keep it concise and don't repeat yourself, but illustrate exactly how you meet their specifications. You can even use their points as headings and give bulletpoints of your relevant skills and experiences. Ensure that you get someone else to proofread it to remove spelling mistakes and ensure it all makes sense (its often harder to spot errors on a document you have worked on for ages). It is also good to read it aloud to a non-psychologist to ensure you have expressed yourself clearly and concisely without trying to lever in too much lingo.

8) If you get short-listed for interview then you really have to do your homework. Try to visit the department, learn about the people who work there and the type of services provided. Are there any recent staff publications? Can you get hold of a leaflet about what the service does? Can you speak to a past post-holder? If you manage to visit or speak on the phone, it shows willing and initiative, shows you're really interested and you can make an impression. Ask questions, get an idea of what the work would be like, find out about the team, smile. You'll also get ideas for what the interview might involve, and what sparkling questions to ask. Try and find out a bit about the structure of the service and how that department (or unit or team) fits in. If you can't visit or phone, at least do some internet research and try to find out the same information online. It shows a bit of initiative and makes you appear to have a clearer idea of what you have applied for.

9) Make the most of your opportunities. Ask lots of questions. Talk to other psychologists as much as you can. Write a journal in which you record what you have done or learnt and reflect on every experience (what did you do? what was the aim or theory behind it? what was the outcome? what was the impact on you of doing this work?). Read papers and books and then discuss them with people. Network with local graduate psychologists. Join or set up a journal club. Join in the workshops and scheduled events on this site, or just make the most of LiveChat by discussing psychological topics with others.

10) Finally, and most importantly: Get the best mark you can in your degree - every point counts when the competition is so tough, so don't just aim to scrape through, aim to excel. This is more important than anything else as an undergrad. You can get experience later, but a weak degree mark can really slow you down, and may mean you need to do a post-graduate qualification to compensate later. Aim to stand out to supervisors for all the right reasons. Even with post-graduate or conversion courses aim high, as distinctions help you stand out from the crowd. Choose options and courses you will enjoy and perform your best at, and those which relate to the kind of jobs you want to do in the future.

A link with more advice can be found here

Further information about the minimum requirements of getting onto training can be found here.

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Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 28/01/2018
Last modified on 28/01/2018
Last edited by BlueCat on Sun Jan 28, 2018 11:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Checked
Maven.

Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something - Plato
The fool thinks himself to be wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool - Shakespeare

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