Psychology jobs abound
Some consider it a narrow field, but psychology graduates are everywhere, writes Sophie Toomey
IF you’re looking for great job prospects you may want to consider enrolling in psychology. According to experts, a psychology degree is one of the most valuable when it comes to post-university employment and can open up vast opportunities in both public and private sectors.
And it’s not just at postgraduate level that the job market opens up, says Peter George, managing director of the consulting group at Talent2 in Melbourne.
‘‘ If you look in the paper or on CareerOne for jobs under the title of psychologist you won’t find much at all. But if you’re looking for jobs where a psychology degree is not only welcome, but preferred, then you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
‘‘ Pretty much all the graduate intake programs for large companies and many public sector organisations will be happy to take psychology graduates. Government departments like the Wheat Board, major banks and large retailers are all open to psych graduates.’’
According to the Department of Education Training and Youth Affairs, psychology graduates are employed in areas as diverse as public relations and media affairs, advertising and human resources and the Department of Employment Workplace Relations and Small Business found there are well above average job prospects for psychology graduates. These include business information, marketing, advertising, health and social welfare.
George says that graduates must get creative with what they are looking for, and be prepared to branch out. ‘‘ I have been invited over the last four years to speak at career nights for psych graduates and they can be dour affairs as students are told there are no jobs for psychology graduates.’’ But George says there are. ‘‘ For example, you might have an organisational psychologist who needs to look under the job title of ‘ change manager’, where they will find 150 jobs. Psychology graduates are great at rolling out change in companies and also at recruitment. They have wonderful qualifications for those jobs and organisations and are very keen to have them. The majority of psychology graduates now go into business.’’
George says psychology graduates are ‘‘ considered to have more insight into human behaviour as well as being skilled in the areas of quantitative analysis and statistics. A psychology graduate is also highly regarded for their analytical skills and research capacity. This is very attractive to employers.’’
George says there is some confusion about what unregistered psychology graduates can do by way of testing. ‘‘ Psychology graduates are the only ones who can administer psychological tests in organisations, which is a great asset — but they must first be registered for two years of supervised practice.’’
George is a qualified counselling psychologist who, after two years in clinical practice, decided to move into the commercial sector. ‘‘ I found working as a counselling psychologist wasn’t for me. I worked with organisations counselling long-term unemployed and found it gruelling listening to eight people a day with really severe issues. I was very young, so I went to Morgan and Banks and offered to do psych testing for them with the aim of getting into organisation psych practice.’’
That was 20 years ago and over that time George has worked on several of the largest corporate change projects in the country. ‘‘ I have worked in projects in Tasmania that required moving 2800 workers when whole towns were being shut down.’’
George now manages a group of psychologists who implement change projects for large organisations, and says his job is a mixture of devising strategies to minimise stress in times of change, motivating workers and assisting employees to adapt to new ways. ‘‘ My role is to look at what’s stopping people coping with change. It might be the implementation of a new IT system or new company practices. It might be granular or big picture. I work with managers to help them motivate their teams, or with the teams themselves.’’
George says he wouldn’t brand himself a counsellor for fear of being considered too ‘‘ wishy-washy’’ in a corporate environment. ‘‘ If I introduce myself as a counsellor then I would be considered superfluous. I would have to overcome people’s resistance to being counselled. If I say I am a change manager who is going to help you achieve your goals, then people really listen!’’
But he says there is an element of counselling in his job. ‘‘ I look at a situation and try to find the best way to look at a problem more optimistically and if someone expresses discomfort then we talk through it.’’
While plenty of graduates opt out of a pure psychology career, for those who do wish to stay in the field George stresses the importance of a postgraduate specialisation. ‘‘ The vast majority of those practising psychologists will have some kind of postgraduate qualification.’’
Kate Moore, spokesperson for the Australian Psychological society, explains that graduates at the masters and doctoral levels typically continue to work in their field of expertise.
Moore says the most common areas of psychology practice are clinical and counselling, but that other fields are growing fast. ‘‘ There are several popular specialist areas now including organisational and forensic psychology. Educational and developmental psychology is popular, too. They help children with learning difficulties and problems assimilating at school. Organisational psychologists work helping companies with human relations, stress management and recruitment of staff. These are just some of the areas study psychologists can pursue.’’
Forensic psychology is now one of the fastest growing areas of psychology and one that takes the practice of psychology into the realm of the law and the criminal justice system.
Professor Lynne Eccleston is a forensic psychologist who works in the criminal justice system and lectures at the University of Melbourne.
Says Eccleston, ‘‘ My practice covers assessment of offenders and interventions designed to rehabilitate criminal offenders. But there are also other areas of research such as jury decision making, the role of children in the courtroom and the impact of expert witnesses.’’
Eccleston says forensic psychologists also provide testimony in cases of psychological syndromes, such as battered wife syndrome. ‘‘ They would also become involved in cases where there are questions about competence to stand trial, criminal responsibility, assessing risk of prisoners, as well as looking at trauma suffered by victims and the insanity defence.’’ She says there are varied careers for forensic psychologists and many work as prison psychologists specialising in rehabilitation of prisoners. Others work in civil law assessing those who claim to have been physically or emotionally injured, and some work
‘‘ in the area of child protection assessing such things as testimony.
Eccleston says a typical day can involve anything from teaching postgraduate students in the masters of criminology course to providing training to team psychologists, or editing specialist forensic psychology journals.
‘‘ I’m also a member of an advisory reference committee for the Homicide Squad of the Victoria Police and routinely provide consultancy services on sexual and violent offenders.’’
Eccleston says popular culture has created some confusion about exactly what forensic psychologists do. ‘‘ I find there is often confusion about forensic science and psychology. Shows like CSI are focused on forensic science while forensic psychologists study offender behaviourmore like the TV show Criminal Minds .’’
Eccleston says she loves her work because of its variety. ‘‘ It’s never boring and I love teaching and sharing knowledge.’’ She says, however, that it is not without its difficulties. ‘‘ I am constantly juggling competing demands and I am also exposed to people’s tragic life stories, but my job has led me to work with some fascinating individuals and cases.’’
While a masters degree such as Eccleston’s equips graduates for work in their areas of specialisation, George says psychology students can be confident that their undergraduate degree is sufficient to position them well in the job market. ‘‘ They are armed with the skills to think critically and creatively and are skilled communicators. There isn’t much a psychology graduate isn’t equipped for.’’
Psych majors, he added, are especially well positioned in the job market because they are trained to think critically and creatively and are skilled in communications.
‘‘ Psychology offers the same skills that you’ll need as a business executive, architect, librarian or social worker. There are not many jobs that require skills that psychology majors don’t have,’’ says Brewer.
Testimony: Forensic psychologist Lynne Eccleston says work is