So how do you make the most of the learning experience that you will find yourself in over the next 1-2 years? In particular, what can you do to make yourself more employable once you’ve finished the course?
These are the questions I’m going to focus on because by this point you probably already know the obvious stuff about attend lectures, do your homework, try to play nicely with your course mates, etc, etc. However, what I learnt during my Msc, beyond the usual, is that if you focus on the right things you can greatly increase your chances of getting a job as an Occupational Psychologist once you’ve finished.
So that’s what Im going to do, tell you the stuff no one else has about approaching your time during your Msc to make you stand out from the crowd once you’ve completed the course and are gleefully clinging on to that bit of paper that says that you’ve made it (almost).
1. Pick a commercially relevant thesis topic. By the time to come to choose your thesis topic you’ll just want to do whatever will be quick and easy, with a large body of research to help you get through the literature review. You may even be tempted to just replicate an existing study. Resist. Resist!
If you are interested in being a consultant then any potential employers will immediately be scoping out your commercial awareness. Hence, searching out and seeking to answer a real world problem will make you stand out. The chances are that at any first interviews you will be asked to present your thesis, so picking something that you are genuinely interested in and passionate about will also help.
2. Approach potential organisations prior to submitting your thesis proposal. This is one I learnt the hard way, the really hard way. I decided to research stress in call centres and then had serious problems trying to find an organisation that was willing to expose themselves in this area – as there were legal implications to doing something about it if stress was found to be a problem. I discovered that they’d rather not know.
So, if you are researching a real world problem do everything you can to gain a firm commitment from at least one organisation, preferably more, before signing on the dotted line and submitting your tender proposal.
There is however, a little known positive to this too. In particular, if at this point you are already thinking about specific sectors or companies you would like to work for. For example, many test publishers are always looking for validation studies to be done on their ability tests and personality questionnaires, so this can be a good way of putting you on their radar. That’s how I got my first job – although I didn’t know that’s what I was doing at the time!
3. Build relationships with your tutors. This is something I alluded to in Part 1, and it is one definitely worth keeping in mind as it will increase the level of support they will provide you during the course and potentially afterwards. It’s not a definite but it certainly can’t hurt. Occupational Psychology is a niche area and once you are in you start to realise that everyone knows everyone, so being on good terms with your tutors is a good start.
4. Get involved with industry events. There are two main conferences every year – organised by the Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) and the Association of Business Psychologists (ABP). There may also be others related to the more Human Factors side of things that don’t make it onto my radar.
The good thing for you is that they both use student volunteers. Bingo! A fantastic opportunity to ease your way into the inner sanctum of real live practising psychologists, via a little known side door. Cue, 2-3 days of access to the latest research, schmoozing with key players (note: don’t make the sucking up too obvious) and eyebrow raising insights into how Psychologists act when they let their hair down and think no one is looking!
5. Start working on your public profile. There are so many tools to help you do this that weren’t available in my day (wow, I am starting to sound old). But seriously, LinkedIn and Twitter are your friends if you use them in the right way. I’m sure you’ve already heard about employers checking out the social media profiles of potential employees. Take this seriously. Particularly, with Twitter, if you want to post pics of you and your drunken flat mates making bake bean toasties at 4am save it for Facebook, or set up a second ‘professional’ profile.
The key with this stuff is if you really want to set yourself apart, rather than just being a silent stalker of your Occ Psych heroes or acting like a groupie, is to interact with them, comment on their posts in an intelligent way. Even better is to post links to interesting articles of your own that you’ve found.
6. Read outside of the ‘academic’ box. This maybe the last thing that you want to hear right now as you will already feel that you’ve got academic papers and journal articles coming out of your ears. The harsh reality is that all the good stuff you are learning doesn’t often translate into addressing the challenges organisations are really struggling with on a day-to-day basis. So to prepare yourself for working in the ‘Big bad’ use Twitter, join LinkedIn groups and follow discussions to see what is really going on. You’ll find that issues such as leadership and motivating people through change are at the forefront of people’s mind on a day-to-day basis.
In addition, if you are curious to know what the practicing Occupational Psychologists are reading, a few keep their reading lists updated on LinkedIn. Feel free to check out my virtual bookshelf here.
So, that’s Part 2 done. Hopefully a few gems and insights there which will help take your experience of your Masters beyond the obvious learning experience and help you think about how to maximise your time there. In Part 3, I’ll pick up what to do as your Msc comes to an end and it’s time to try and find relevant work experience.