Finding a Career in Psychology: Job Hunting 101

| Nina Chamlou

Finding a Career in Psychology: Job Hunting 101

Are you ready to discover your college program?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects about 13,400 new employment opportunities for psychologists each year from 2020-30. That's about as fast as average compared to all other occupations.

Despite this, many people struggle to find a therapist. In fact, the overwhelming majority of counties in the U.S. are considered shortage areas or partial shortage areas.

If you've recently finished a mental health degree and anticipate starting your psychology job search soon, don't worry. Mental health professionals are in high demand. Read on for job hunting tips to help you find a great position.

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Psychology Job Hunting Sites and Directories

While some employers in the psychology field use Indeed and ZipRecruiter, you may find more listings on the following psychology job search websites.

Many employers use the American Psychological Association's job search website. You can use the site to find positions at clinics, universities, and hospitals. You can also sign up for job alerts and upload your resume so employers can contact you. The Chronicle of Higher Education runs a website for job seekers. While most postings are academic positions like roles for professors and school psychologists, the site features a special section for those seeking jobs outside of academia. The Association for Psychological Science hosts a platform mainly for psychology students seeking internships and postdoctoral fellowships. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology offers a job search function that mainly features commercial positions in psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, and human resources. "Locum tenens" usually refers to short-term work in healthcare. This website helps healthcare professionals find temporary work. This can be a helpful resource for mental healthcare workers seeking clinical opportunities.

Job Hunting Materials

For a psychology job search, you should have a resume and/or CV, a cover letter, and references. You may also need to provide letters of recommendation, proof of graduation, GPA, and documentation of licensure for some positions. If you are applying for academic jobs, you may be asked to provide example syllabi and writing samples.

People often use "resume" and "CV" interchangeably, but in psychology, the two are distinct from one another. Some employers prefer one over the other and some may ask for both.

A resume should generally be one page long and provide an overview of your work history, credentials, and skills. Check out our in-depth guide on how to write a psychology resume.

A CV is usually more than one page long, and lists your academic accomplishments, publications, and research in greater detail.

Job Titles and Keywords to Search

Simply searching "psychologist" or "counselor" on a job search casts a wide net. Instead of wasting time sorting through listings that don't match your skill set, try searching job sites for keywords that match your priorities.

You can narrow down results by searching your desired work setting along with key phrases such as psychologist, therapist, or counselor. Examples include terms such as primary school, hospital, nursing home, on campus, work from home, and in house.

You can also add the population that you specialize in working with, such as children, adults, or people with eating disorders.

Another method is to search by the name of a treatment you specialize in, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectic-behavioral therapy, or gestalt therapy. If you would consider moving for a job, remove the location setting from your search parameters.

These strategies can help you find roles that most closely match your resume.

Interviewing for Psychology Jobs: What to Expect

true Academic Psychology Job Applications

Universities typically advertise long-term academic jobs in late summer or early fall, and short-term positions like "visiting professor" or "lecturer" in the spring.

The hiring process typically starts with a 15-30 minute phone or Zoom interview to screen applicants. This helps narrow down the large pool of applicants to two or three serious candidates.

These candidates come to campus for one or two days. During this visit, applicants meet with faculty members and conduct a "job talk," which could be a lecture, teaching demonstration, and/or research talk.

To prepare for your on-campus interview, determine if the institution emphasizes research or teaching. Generally, community and small liberal arts colleges place a greater emphasis on your teaching ability. Larger schools and those that offer graduate programs tend to value professors' research and presentation skills more.

Preferences also vary depending on the type of institution you are interviewing at. Liberal arts professors engage more with students during class time, while professors at large universities tend to give more lecture-style lessons.

Clinical and Private Practice Psychology Job Applications

Outside of academia, many graduates find psychology careers in clinical settings and private practices. Clinical settings include hospitals, outpatient facilities, and clinics. Private ones usually refer to an office setting shared by one or more practitioners.

Each practice or clinic has a unique hiring process, which could be as short as one in-depth interview or stretch into a series of sit-down conversations with team members.

Many private practice positions are never advertised. Instead, employers seek out specific candidates within their professional network. You can start to make these professional connections in psychology by attending conferences, lectures, and seminars. Join your local psychology association to stay up to date on local events.

Once you land an interview, think about how you stand out from other applicants. How would your expertise and treatment methods add to a potential employer's practice?

Research the clinic or practice to identify its niche, mission, and philosophy. Prepare to tell practitioners how you align with their values and ask questions that show you have done your research.

Corporate Psychology Job Applications

Many corporations hire candidates with backgrounds in psychology to benefit from their knowledge in human behavior and research. However, corporations also place greater emphasis on skills such as organization, project management, and business knowledge than clinical employers.

The hiring process differs according to a company's size, culture, and industry area. Sometimes, current or previous employees post anonymous accounts of their interview experiences on the website Glassdoor, which can give you some hints as to what to expect throughout the process.

Companies hiring psychologists with master's or doctoral degrees typically seek candidates with experience in conducting focus groups, research, and data analysis. A decent portion of your interview may focus on your experiences with independent research.

Junior roles in corporate psychology usually do not involve independent research and data analysis. Assisting in research may be a part of the job, but you will likely have other responsibilities, such as writing surveys, creating presentations, and meetings with Human Resources.

Q&A With Christine Carville, LCSW

Portrait of Christine Carville, LCSW

Christine Carville, LCSW

Christine Carville is chief clinical officer and cofounder at Resilience Lab in New York City. She has been in private practice since 2010 and has helped hire over 100 clinicians. Before entering the mental healthcare field, Carville had a decade-long career as an entrepreneur. She earned her bachelor's degree from Barnard College in 1994 and her master's in social work from Columbia University in 2007.

Is it realistic to offer therapy independently directly after graduation or do most new therapists look for employment first?

Therapists cannot practice independently after graduation because they are required to complete a number of practical hours under the license of a supervising clinician. Because training therapists can't just pay directly for a senior therapist to be their supervisor, they must work in a setting that employs both the supervisor and the supervisee.

This "setting" is complicated and costly to establish as a business entity and company structure, so many private practices do not go through the difficulty, leaving only hospitals and agency settings available to obtain these required hours. It also takes a while to learn the skills to retain clients, learn your therapeutic style and how to pace yourself as a therapist, so many opt for the salary dependability and initial client contact through employment with a hospital or agency first.

Do clinicians typically take their clients with them after they've gained licensure and finished their supervised experiences?

Practices typically will have you sign exclusivity or non-compete contracts with wording about clients being the clients of the practice. This is because until you are practicing independently, the clients are technically the clients of the supervisor under whose license the therapist is working. The practices invest quite a bit into helping you to get there and to get those clients.

It is possible to have a non-compete in your contract, but then there's also a code of ethics which will supersede that contract for continuity of care. For example, if you've been working with somebody on a very particular issue and it would disrupt their therapeutic process, it's actually unethical not to take that client with you once you become independent.

At Resilience Lab, we believe very strongly in the therapeutic alliance and continuity of care for the clients. Once therapists do become fully licensed and it's in their clients' best interest clinically to follow their therapist should they decide to leave, that would be fully supported.

What are the pros and cons of working as an independent therapist versus for a clinic?

At a clinic, you're given salary and benefits right from the first day and it's guaranteed that you'll get supervisory hours, but it usually comes at the cost of having a really high caseload and pretty low pay. You'll have financial stability and be exposed to a lot at the beginning, which is good, but then that can also lead to low direct contact to adequate training, compassion fatigue, or burnout.

If you start off in private practice, you build your case fairly slowly, but have access to specific training about how to build, maintain, manage, and treat clients that choose specifically to work with you and are seeking that relationship.

What do you look for when interviewing candidates?

What we find very important are folks who describe themselves as curious, lifelong learners and have an understanding of boundaries. We want to see people understand what boundaries are and the purpose of them, both emotionally and professionally. If somebody is displaying passion and curiosity for the new field that they're entering, but are taking a lot of the worry and concern home and over-identifying with clients, that's usually an indication that it might not be a good fit.

Since therapists are able to design their own schedule, we look for candidates who balance self care and are not over-identifying emotionally or offering to be available 24/7.

What are the biggest mistakes that you can make in an interview?

Red flag number one is someone who says, "I want to work seven days a week. I want to help everybody. And I become really upset when I can't help." But also, people on the other side of the spectrum, where they're very concerned about how many hours they have to work and what is the minimum amount that they can do. [Don't ask] "Do I have to read outside of work? Do I have to continue studying?"

We like to hear from our candidates that lifelong learning is important to them … a curiosity about patients rather than pathologizing them. We can hear that difference in the interview process. It's not about the number of hours you're putting in, but the enthusiasm you bring.

Are there any questions that interviewees may find surprising or have taken them off guard?

One question we ask is, "What are you looking for in supervision? What style are you looking to work with? What's a deal breaker in the relationship?" Often people have said, "Wow, nobody's ever asked about that." But we're very aware that it's a relationship [between the supervisor and the supervisee], just like the therapeutic relationship. It has to be chosen thoughtfully and intentionally.

Featured Image: Kilito Chan / Moment / Getty Images

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