Bruce R. Fretz, Ph.D

Excerpted and reprinted with permission from the complete article published in the Spring
1976 issue of the Psi Chi Newsletter (vol. 2, pp. 5-13). Copyright 1976 by
Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved

This information has been prepared for all students studying psychology who wish to enter full-time employment after completing a bachelor's degree. While the M.A. and Ph.D. remain the only degrees with which one can enter professional positions labeled "Psychologist," over the past few years an increasing number of students at the bachelor's degree level have found stimulating and interesting career opportunities in numerous fields, many utilizing their interests and knowledge of human behavior gained through psychology course work.

The first section describes the kinds of course work students might elect while undergraduates in order to enhance their career opportunities at the bachelor's degree level. The next section describes briefly the broad range of career opportunities psychology students are encouraged to consider and how an individual student and/or a psychology club or Psi Chi chapter might develop a good file of relevant local employment opportunities. The third section of this article describes the numerous pertinent state, federal and government employment opportunities, how to find out information on these positions, and how to apply and compete for them. The final section gives hints on how to present yourself in the most positive way when applying and interviewing for positions.

All of this information has been developed especially for psychology students. Much general information about career opportunities and procedures for finding employment is available in college and university career development or placement offices. Please use this article as a supplement for such general information.

This compilation has been prepared under the auspices of the central office staff of Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. The impetus for developing this material was a 1975 workshop sponsored by the Council of Undergraduate Psychology Departments. Professors Douglas Bloomquist and Joyce Hoffman of Framingham (Mass) State College prepared much of the material included below on employment in federal and state governments and helpful hints for the job hunt; they generously consented to permit us to include and expand upon their initial presentations. Other parts of the material in effective interviewing were developed by Hugh Warner of the University of Maryland Career Development Center. Many of the areas we have elaborated were at the suggestion of the workshop participants and Psi Chi members reviewing this article; most of the additional research and preparation of supplemental material was completed by Sharon Lieberman, a University of Maryland Psi Chi member. To all these people we owe our sincere thanks and appreciation.

I. Are there any elective courses that I can take that may make me more employable at the B.A./B.S. level?

Faculty and personnel working with career advising and placement of bachelor degree holders, surveyed in 1975, suggested that students need more often to combine psychology with other courses that lead more directly to employment at the bachelor's degree level. For students interested in maximizing their employment opportunities, those surveyed recommended that students need to take two or more courses in at least one of the following areas: economics, business administration, personnel administration, marketing, consumer education, journalism, speech, communications, English composition (for editing, technical writing), biological and ecological sciences, math/statistics, computer science, sociology, and social work. They also recommended that any opportunities for taking music, art and recreation courses pertinent to therapeutic uses of these media were also very valuable.

Additionally, either within psychology or as available in other departments, students should elect courses which prepare them to use psychological tests, interview techniques, or research design. In some schools such courses are more frequently available for undergraduates in colleges of education than in psychology departments.

Even more important may be independent study, research, or field work as part of your undergraduate curriculum. Field placements and research assignments often lead directly to job opportunities in similar settings after graduation. Additionally, in such activities a professor or professional psychologist often can refer you to potential employers.

II. Where do I look for positions?

Students often think only of mental hospitals as places for employment for those interested in work related to psychology. Listed below are many other types of agencies and settings. In all of these, in various sections of the country, persons with bachelor's degrees have found interesting and challenging positions which utilize their knowledge of psychology.

  1. Community Relations Officer: works either for business or government in promoting good relations with the local community.
  2. Affirmative Action Officer: works for recruitment and equal opportunities for minorities; employed by business, industries, schools and government.
  3. Recreation Worker: plans and supervises community recreation facilities. (Increasing number of opportunities available for therapeutic recreation workers, often requiring course work in therapeutic recreation.)
  4. Urban Planning Officer: deals with city planning, renewal.
  5. Personnel Administrator: works with employee relations, selection, promotions, etc.
  6. Advertising copywriter: researches audience and media, writes text of advertisements.
  7. Media Buyer: researches product and audiences to select most effective media for advertising.
  8. Health Educator: gives public information about health and disease.
  9. Vocational Rehabilitation: counsels persons with handicaps and illnesses in preparation for new vocations (some states require an M.A. degree for this position).
  10. Psychiatric Assistant: administers routine tests, helps with patients under supervision of psychiatrist.
  11. Director of Volunteer Service: responsible for volunteers--recruits, supervises, trains, and evaluates volunteers.
  12. Public Statistician: collects and interprets data on health and disease and community relations.
  13. Customs Inspector: serves at international borders and airports in investigations and inquiries.
  14. Probation and Parole Officer: persons with psychology backgrounds are often preferred for such positions, especially with adolescent parolees.
  15. Newspaper Reporter: social science, psychological interest areas.
  16. Technical Writer: researches and writes material dealing with social science and psychological knowledge for magazines, newspapers and journals.
  17. Sales Representative: major publishers of psychological books often seek out undergraduates with psychology majors for these positions on college campuses.
  18. Opinion Survey Researcher: does opinion polls and interprets results.
  19. Daycare Center Supervisor: supervises and coordinates activities of preschool children with working parents.
  20. Research Assistant: assists in the collection and analysis of data for major investigations. Positions usually available only in large hospitals, businesses, and government.
  21. Laboratory Assistant: psychology background preferred for students working with animal behavior research, especially primate laboratories.
  22. Scientific Instrument Salesperson: opportunities in sales and development for companies specializing in psychology apparatus.
We have not listed the numerous kinds of "counselor" roles that are available to many students with a bachelor's degree in a variety of social work service and mental agencies. Opportunities of this type are most abundant in the inner city and rural areas. Usually you can find out about such opportunities through contacting your local community service agencies, e.g., half-way programs for alcoholic or drug addicts, former prisoners, former mental hospital inmates, and former institutionalized retardates. Many of these programs while they often times do not have much of future as a career, for a beginning post bachelor's position they can be quite challenging.

Any Psi Chi chapter or psychology club wishing to develop better knowledge of local employment resources could plan to survey all agencies in the area which employ any of the types of persons listed in the foregoing occupations. Much useful information might be gained through a series of telephone calls and/or letters to the personnel departments of area businesses, hospitals, research institutes, newspapers, military bases, department of corrections, mental health agencies, child care centers, and all the service agencies that one finds listed in the brochures for United Fund giving.

III. How do I find out what kinds of jobs are available in state and federal governments?
How do I apply and compete for these positions?

Government is big business. The federal and state governments are the country's largest employers of civilians. Federal employees hold hundreds of different kinds of jobs; most of the kinds of occupations found in private industry are found in the government too. Compensation is competitive. A variety of benefits--vacation and sick leave, injury compensation, group life insurance, health plans, and retirement programs--make Federal employment attractive, also. Similar benefits may be offered by state agencies.

Federal Government: The Federal Career Directory 1975- A Guide for College Students (check for more recent editions in your college placement office) describes a variety of Federal careers and jobs for college graduates. Among positions which are relevant to psychology majors with a B.A. degree are the following: psychology technician (e.g., in a VA hospital or research laboratory), correctional officer, employment assistant specialist, manpower development specialist, social science analyst, writer-editor (scientific and technical writing), and statistician (for candidates with a strong background in math and statistics plus courses in social sciences). Other professional and administrative jobs specify no particular major with the bachelor's degree.

To find more about these jobs and how to apply you should get in touch with the nearest Federal Job Information Center. At least one center is located in every state. (A list of information centers for each state appears at the end of this article.) Write, call, or preferably visit one of these centers located nearest to you or in the area in which you seek employment. These centers serve as a "one stop information service" for the prospective candidate, as they provide information about the job opportunities and vacancies, requirements and qualifications, and application and examination procedures. A variety of pamphlets is available from the information centers.

Most federal positions are filled on a competitive basis under the civil service merit system. You will receive a civil service rating on the basis of your education, experience, and performance on written examinations (if required for the particular job). If you meet the requirements for a particular job announcement, then your name will be put on a list of eligibles. Appointments to jobs may be made from within federal agencies, e.g., by promotion of an employee or by hiring a qualified employee from another federal agency. However, when a job is to be filled from a list of eligibles, appointments are made by choosing any one of three top ranked eligibles.

Some professional and administrative positions for college students require applicants to take the Professional and Administrative Career Examination (PACE). Satisfactory performance on the PACE plus suitable education and experience will qualify you for an appointment at the grade of GS-5 or GS-7.

To qualify for a professional job covered by the PACE you must meet certain education and/or experience requirements (in addition to scoring well on the parts of the exam which are relevant to the job you are seeking). The education and experience requirements for GS-5 positions are easily met; your bachelor's degree satisfies this requirement. For a GS-7 job the requirements can be satisfied in two ways, either by (a) having a bachelor's degree plus 1 year of graduate study, or 4 years of relevant experience, or (b) having a bachelor's degree, an earned rating of 90 or higher on the PACE, and either a 2.9 GPA on a 4.0 scale for all undergraduate courses, or a rank in the upper third of your class, or membership in a recognized national honorary scholastic society (e.g., Psi Chi). As stated previously, selection for open positions is based upon your relative standing (ranking) among all applicants who qualify for the position.

Each position announcement will list other education, experience, and perceived characteristics that are important for applicants.

State Government. State government employment opportunities will vary from state to state. Merit or civil service systems are established in all the states. Addresses for information and application appear below. You should write or call the appropriate agency or officer in your state for information. State job qualifications are similar to those adopted for Federal positions. Thus, education, experience, and examination performance will determine your merit rating for state jobs.

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