Matters to a Degree

Thinking ahead

For most students, the intense workload and immediate deadlines of graduate school can easily occupy most of their time and attention. But don't forget to think about the big picture, too, in particular the work you need to do in graduate school to prepare yourself for your first several jobs.

How do you strike that balance? Here are some tips:

  • Regularly review classified ads. Check out the job postings in gradPSYCH and the Monitor. Take advantage of the PsycCareers e-mail notification system, which sends you new job announcements that meet your criteria. You can also check out other websites for classified ads. For academic teaching and administrative positions, visit the Chronicle of Higher Education. For federal jobs, use USAJOBS.

    Keeping an eye on the classifieds will give you a sense of the opportunities in your field or geographic location. If you find your dream job but aren't yet ready to apply, schedule an informational interview with the organization. The connections you make could set you up to get your dream job when it opens up again in the future.

  • Develop marketable skills. Consider your field, and develop skills that will be advantageous for you on the job market. When I was looking for my first job as a practitioner, I promoted my bilingual skills (Spanish) to make myself stand out. Other ways to distinguish yourself for clinical positions are to gain competencies with specific populations or clinical techniques. For researchers, marketable skills might include specialized training in statistics. If you want to work at a teaching college, consider developing expertise in required courses such as statistics and research methods.

  • Network! The contacts you make as a graduate student will probably help you land your first job. Meet other psychologists and your peers by joining an APA division related to your interests. Or become a member of your state psychological association. Attend conferences and social hours at conferences — and talk to people. If you make a good impression, folks might remember you when they have a job opening.

  • Be prepared. Update your vita regularly with your academic accomplishments — quarterly is often frequent enough for graduate students — so you can document all your experiences while they are fresh in your mind. Prior to any conference you attend, print out a few copies of your vita to hand to anyone who might know of a position for you. Consider creating different versions for different types of positions (e.g., clinical, research, teaching) that have sections organized to prioritize the most relevant areas.

  • Know your worth. Review the data from APA's Center for Workforce Studies on average salaries based on position, experience level and geographical location.

  • Pay it forward. Help your friends, classmates and colleagues by letting them know about positions you see that they might be interested in. It'll make you feel good, and they may return the favor.

  • Reframe it. As you get closer to that first job, you may worry that you won't find the perfect fit. Don't sweat it. Few folks stay at their first position forever. Think of it as one step in what will be a long career. Focus on what you hope to learn from your first job and where you hope to go next. The good news is that 90 percent of 2009 psychology graduates found jobs or full-time postdoctoral positions, according to the APA Center for Workforce Studies. By keeping an eye on job opportunities as a student, you'll have an edge in the job market — and it will help ensure that you are not among the 10 percent who don't land a job.

Network online

Share your job search tips with other grad students on the APAGS Facebook page.