Taking your first steps as an occupational psychologist

By Rhiannon McGuinness

It’s graduation day and you’re feeling a real sense of pride and relief at finishing your occupational psychology course. Whilst celebrating with your friends, one of them asks you ‘So what’s next for you?’

How would you answer?

Within the field of occupational psychology, there is a wealth of different career paths available to early career psychologists:

  • You could work in an HR department, perhaps within a learning and development team, or helping to select and assess the best people for the job.
  • You could work for consultancies with a specialised focus on occupational psychology, which could each have a unique niche, e.g. selection and assessment techniques.
  • You could work within an educational environment, such as a career adviser within an university.

Plus many more!

But what’s tricky is that there isn’t a clear-cut career path as there is with other professions, such as accountancy or nursing. It can feel overwhelming for early career psychologists – especially when it’s well-known within the profession that not all post-graduate courses provide the practical guidance and work opportunities to students that might help them build a clearer picture of their career direction.

So, how do you overcome this challenge?

Being a relatively new occupational psychologist and having experienced some of these feelings myself, I wanted to share my own perspective on what I found most useful in overcoming this challenge.

After gaining some valuable experience within an HR environment, I realised that for me, there wasn’t enough opportunity to share my passion of occupational psychology within this type of role. So, I went back to the drawing board and thought carefully about my ideal role and working environment, and how I was going to find it. I did this by working through the following steps:

The first thing I did was spend time reflecting on the type of psychologist I wanted to be:

  • What positive impact or contribution at work can I make?
  • What is the one thing I can change at work for the better of all?
  • Importantly, what sort of psychologist do I want to be? In which areas do I want to have a meaningful impact?

In answering these questions, I gained a better picture of what was important to me in my ideal role. This helped narrow down my search, and prevented me from repeating previous mistakes of applying for potentially unsuitable work environments simply because they were hiring!

Once I had an idea of what would make work meaningful to me, I was better able to take control of shaping my career, which I did by:

  • Attending networking sessions within the OP field. This not only enhanced my understanding of the various career paths within the profession, it also provided the opportunity to meet with likeminded professionals who gave me valuable advice and support, which really helped me through the next step of my career journey.
  • Completing company research. After attending a few networking events, I had several business cards and delegate lists at my fingertips, which helped kick off my company research. Using these sources, I began to read through company websites, blogs, social media updates, and learnt about different organisations within the OP field; their differing cultures, their ethos and whether this matched up with my own values.

By completing these steps, I was able to gain a greater understanding of the potential work opportunities available to me as a new OP.

I decided that I would ideally like to work with others that are as passionate about OP as I am, and who are driven by the intrinsic rewards of improving people’s working lives, rather than just earning money or awards. This narrowed down my search to a few potential organisations, one of which was the Future Work Centre. And although it’s early days within my role, I can honestly say I have never been happier at work!

So, although this process may initially feel quite daunting, I would encourage any early career psychologists to follow these steps as it could really pay off in the long-term!

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