What can I do with my psychology degree?
Choosing a job when you have a psychology degree is a tough ask. When you are at university you don’t know how many jobs there are in the world. Most graduates aren’t aware of the complexity of the industries that exist outside the universities, and the range of careers that psychology graduates are perfect for.
Psychology has consistently been one of the most popular university courses in the UK. According to UCAS, in 2007 there were around 80,000 applications for psychology degrees and this number has since risen steadily to 106,000 in 2014. The spike in tuition fees appears to have done nothing to deter psychology applicants in the last few years; the latest reports still show social studies are high in demand for undergraduates.
What this data doesn’t tell us is the other side of the story. Many psychology graduates finish university feeling uncertain about what to do next. Sure, you could go on to study further and eventually become a qualified psychologist, but this isn’t necessarily the only option. Many people change dramatically whilst at university and discover that what they thought was a great career option at age 18 isn’t quite what they see themselves doing post-university. Equally, many people choose psychology because it is their favourite academic subject, not a vocational calling.
Fortunately for many psychology graduates, there are a lot of employers who value the transferable skills that a psychology degree can teach you. You don’t have to be a psychologist just because you have a BA or a BSc in psychology (unless you want to of course). While working with graduates to help them land jobs at startups BrighterBox sees a great many psychology students that are unsure about their next steps. The vast majority of them are perfectly well-placed in a number of roles that benefit from smart graduates with a variety of skills, they just need the confidence to apply.
To get started, here are a list of job roles and industries that you can start thinking about:
Jobs that don't directly relate to psychology:
Advertising account manager
Customer service and operations
HR and recruitment
Digital marketing executive
Web design/User experience
Jobs that directly use your psychology degree:
Applied behaviour analyst
If you need any other motivation here is a list of people who studied psychology and are doing just fine in other vocations. This includes:
Natalie Portman (actress)
Benjamin S. Carson (neurosurgeon)
Guy Kawasake (marketing specialist and author)
Jon Stewart (comedian, writer and producer)
Lil Wayne (rapper)
Hugh Hefner (Creator of Playboy)
Who employs a Psychology graduate?
A lot of people employ psychology graduates. Perhaps stating the obvious, but it’s true. Psychologists are often in high demand, and the path to being in full time employment is fairly straightforward. The NHS, local government, local schools and academies and social services will all be in need of Chartered Psychologists, if that is the way that you are heading. Depending on your specialism, you may wish to acquire some relevant work experience during your further study. Due to the confidential nature of most psychologist work, this extra work experience can be hard to come by, however if you find some then you have a veritable gold mine of valuable knowledge. If you are struggling to find any relevant paid experience, then volunteer work can look just as good on your CV – local retirement homes, schools for children with disabilities, homeless shelters, mental health schemes and more are all likely to welcome input from psychology graduates looking to expand their work portfolio.
If you are veering away from a psychologist role, then there is a vast amount of options available to you. Many employers find that psychology graduates are very desirable candidates. They have a deeper understanding of how to interact with people, work well in teams and understand the importance of maintaining relationships. Here are some company types worth looking into:
Banking & Finance
Business Development & Sales
Creative & Design
HR, Talent & Recruitment
Marketing & PR
Media & Digital
Startups & SMEs
Startups and SMEs in particular have use for psychology graduates because they often have a wide range of skills. At a startup everyone is needed to pitch it to make it work, so having someone who is comfortable working closely with others as well as having a few different skills on their CV is a good shout. If you aren’t sure what startups can offer you as a graduate, then read our article about all of the great reasons why grads should look at smaller companies for a great career (higher levels of responsibility, a steep learning curve and usually a company culture that focuses on a ‘work hard, play hard’ ethic are just some examples). Startups are also the perfect route into getting a solid grounding in how to run a business. If you are the entrepreneurial type, then you might find working in a startup gives you the knowhow that you need to start building your own business.
What sorts of jobs do psychology graduates do?
If you have read up to this point, you have probably realised that psychology graduates are well-placed to move into a great number of different jobs. Startups are a great idea for anyone with a set of solid generalist skills and want a chance to shine. This article on the Cleverism website states that psychology graduates are perfect for supporting entrepreneurs in almost any business as their ‘understanding of human behaviour can help him create an ideal user experience for consumers.’
Stefanie Hajiyianni, an applied psychology graduate from the University of Brighton was placed in a marketing and digital communications executive role through BrighterBox. She feels that her psychology degree has ‘helped by honing analytical skills and understanding of human behaviour, which are integral to marketing. Critical writing was also a huge part of the degree course, which has definitely had a positive impact on creative content writing.’
Wondering which roles are most suitable in particular? Have a read on below:
- Any kind of account management will rely heavily on your ability to network and engage clients; keep them content, and encouraging them to come back for further services.
- Account executives are required to research and produce reports that will impress clients. Psychology degrees cover both qualitative and quantitative research methods meaning psychology graduate jobs in this area are common.
Customer service and operations
- Customer service and operations are other solid roles for anyone who thinks they have a certain level of sensitivity and are happy dealing with enquiries. Being good at solving issues and having a calm disposition are useful when helping with any external customer complaints or problems.
- All psychology degrees include the study of cognition. If you can understand the thought process behind decision-making, then you will be suited to roles in customer service.
HR and recruitment
- HR and recruitment firms have a similar need for anyone with a keen sense for communication and willingness to work directly with people, rather than machines.
- This is an obvious career path for psychologists. Given the degree covers behaviour modification, attitudes and attitudinal change you are well placed to contribute in a HR department.
- If you think your understanding of human interaction is a strong point, then pursuing a career in business development is ideal, as it requires a high level of liaising with clients and maintaining business relationships.
- Business development is about building and maintaining relationships. The area of psychology covering social interaction, emotions, aesthetics and person perception, can be of considerable use here.
- Marketing jobs will often come in two types – one relies on creative types that enjoy writing engaging content and working on copywriting and social media campaign management.
- The other end of digital marketing can be heavily involved in the business intelligence side of a company and therefore be suited to anyone happy to crunch numbers and then deliver their calculations in a format that can be understood and easily digested by the less mathematical among us.
- Or if you think you combine both these skillsets you could really be in demand – companies (particularly in the media and digital space) love a creative person who can also analyse and develop statistical insights!
- Efficiency and organisation are key to succeeding in an administrative role.
- Psychology students learn early on how to be precise and accurate in their research as well as how to work best collaboratively.
What skills should a psychology graduate put on their job application?
The skills from a psychology degree that you should put on your CV will be specific to your university – each will teach a slightly different syllabus. Similarly, they may change depending on whether you studied for a BA or a BSc. That said, all graduates should leave university with well-developed written and verbal communication skills. If you have written your fair share of essays, literature reviews and a dissertation, then you should know how to convey arguments in a clear and organised manner. Being able to find relevant sources that are reliable and persuasive is another aspect of a university education that should not be overlooked. If you also found yourself doing a lot of presentations, then that can go onto your CV as well, as it shows a willingness to speak in public, and that you have honed your ability to communicate ideas beyond paper. Emphasise the formats you have used to deliver your work, for example using PowerPoint.
While those skills might be general to all university graduates, psychology students do have more to offer. Having studied the intricacies of human interaction and the reasons behind certain behaviours, you are more likely to have a better grasp on dealing with people and being sensitive to the nuances of communication. This might be a generalisation, but in other degrees you won’t learn how to analyse the human mind and be taught how to understand why people react and choose the way that they do. You will be able to work effectively in teams and reason with others to achieve goals, all skills that work well in almost any role. In this article on the Learn Psychology website, psychology graduate turned marketing coordinator, Dan Clason said that he believed that ‘we are moving towards a climate that is more about the individual customer experience and to understand the individual, you need psychology (not everything works for everyone. Individual tailoring can be a huge competitive edge.)’. This indicates that psychology grads are in with a great chance of standing out from the crowd in this respect.
BSc Psychology students may have a particularly analytical mind set and have well-honed skills in that area. Knowing how to interpret complex data and then present it in an easily digestible manner is an amazing thing to have a grip on when applying for analytical jobs. Problem-solving is another good skill to put on the CV; startups in particular need people that can logically manoeuvre out of difficult situations. Having the ability to think critically and responsibly, particularly when working independently, is vital for any business trying to grow because it ensures the candidate won’t need constant hand-holding.
How do I improve my employability after a psychology degree?
As with any graduate, the way to improve your employability is by showing an employer how passionate you are about the industry you want to go into. For those wanting to become psychologists there is a mandatory path that leads from a master’s into very specialist further study, which is all fairly self-explanatory. That requires you to do as you have done throughout your schooling and slowly narrow down your interests, as you better understand the industry.
For psychology grads who only have a rough idea about what they want to do and what industry they could go into, there are a range of extracurricular things you could start doing to understand better if a particular career path will suit you and to improve your employability.
For anyone interested in marketing or social media there are lots of ways that you can demonstrate a committed desire to progress in this space. The simplest step is to clean up your own public social media profiles and start a blog. Choose a topic you are interested in and just start writing – you will only get better at it with practise and sustained effort. Then why not create new social networking accounts specifically to promote the blog? Get used to tracking the success of certain posts (e.g. using Google Analytics) and do some research into the different online programmes that can help you improve your strategy. There is so much information on the web about anything and everything, and applying it to something in real time (like a blog or social networks) will help you make sense of it. Do this over a sustained period of months and voila – you not only have experience in using the web to promote something, you have a far better idea of whether a move in digital marketing is right for you.
If you want to build a career working with clients, then why not start going to networking events and build up some contacts. A lot of events happen throughout the year in multiple locations and can be a great insight into different industries, as well as a chance to chat to those in a wide range of roles. These might be meet-and-greet events arranged by your university careers team or academic department with relevant employers or something more informal like a Meetup. This is great practice for interviews and gets your name out into the working world faster than by attempting to reach out over LinkedIn. Remember that 95% of professionals said that face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships.
If you are finding it hard to get any initial paid work experience, then don’t sit back and start twiddling your thumbs waiting for something to fall upon you. Seek out voluntary work that gives you a chance to develop interpersonal skills and stops you from falling out of practise with working behaviours. Volunteering can be lucrative in terms of giving you something to discuss in an interview and showcasing your willingness to pitch in for causes that you believe in despite no monetary gain. Short term work placements at early stage startups can also be a good place to look for professional experience, although they are unlikely to be able to pay much. While you shouldn’t let yourself be taken advantage of by offering your services for free, you may be able to negotiate a few weeks of flexible interning that will afford you a wealth of insight into a developing business.
How can I build on a Psychology degree?
As you prepare to leave university you should stop comparing yourself to your friends. You might have a housemate who has managed to bag themselves a top graduate scheme, but that doesn’t have to be the route that you follow.
A great place to begin your research is your academic department’s website, which is likely to have a lot of information on where your degree will be able to take you. For example, this pagefrom Southampton University’s website gives you a lot of information about what the undergraduate and postgraduate courses offer and what routes of employment are available after graduation.
If you want to continue along the psychologist route there are a multitude of options available to you. For the majority of jobs, you will be required to take a specialised master’s degree in order to become a Chartered Psychologist and therefore recognised as having been trained through an accredited programme. The importance of course accreditation in terms of employment is tantamount, and it is useful to use search tools such as what’s available on the British Psychological Society website in order to check which courses are recognised as the right standard. After you receive your MA you will need to take a further course depending on the area you want to go into.
If you have your BA or BSc qualification, but decide not to pursue becoming a psychologist, you might want to look at the different ways you can use your degree as a stepping block for other opportunities. The best way to begin is by identifying what parts of your degree, or even A-levels, that you found most interesting and engaging. Then use these as a way of thinking about what sort of role you could be best at.
There is nothing wrong with drawing inspiration from your A levels either – if you really weren’t a fan of your degree, there is still time to go back to other subjects that you were good at a few years ago. Whether that means exploring your creative writing skills again, or picking up a language where you left off, you are bound to have a lot to draw upon that you won’t have forgotten just yet.
Once you have identified where your transferable skills are, you can start to explore jobs that contain those attributes within their job description. If you need some more inspiration, read back over our ‘What sorts of jobs do psychology graduates do?’ section.
Mitch Seymour, a psychology graduate from the University of Bath landed an account executive role through BrighterBox. He reflected that ‘the broad spectrum of analytical and communication skills that I've acquired as a psychology graduate has enabled me to quickly adapt to the fast paced world of Digital Marketing. I need to be able to analyse data in order to optimise performance, as well as understand consumer behaviour in an ever changing market.’.
So whether you want to be a Chartered Psychologist or take the skills you developed during your degree and apply them to something a bit different, you are likely to have the luxury of choosing from a wide variety of jobs available. Now the groundwork has been done at university, essentially the next steps are up to you, so go ahead and get started.