Early career psychologist's corner

A compilation of job search advice for early career psychologists

By Meredith J. Bashaw, PhD

Advice and stories for and from APA, ECPs and other inscrutable acronyms compiled by your Division 6 Early Career Psychologist representative, Meredith J. Bashaw, PhD

In this issue, job search advice gleaned from the "If I knew then what I know now! Lessons for early career psy-chologists" symposium at the 2011 APA Convention, with panelists Kathryn Wentzel, Anastasia Kitsantis, Steve Ferrara, Jessica DeCuir-Gunby & Ken Barron. Similar sessions are held each convention and provide a chance to ask questions you have always wanted answered to a panel of mid- and established-career psychology PhDs from employers in both academic and applied settings.

Before you apply

Do good work

Publish in good journals, teach at respected institutions, intern or do rotations at the best facilities that you can. Building your CV is the most important part of landing a job.

Applied or academic?

Applied jobs often begin with completing assigned tasks and have less initial autonomy than academic jobs (though at the applied job autonomy is likely to develop over time). Typically it is easier to obtain data in applied jobs, but you may need to involve clients or customers in what you want to publish. In applied positions interactions with other scientists provide the opportunity for development of new ideas, and most projects are done as part of a team. In academia, you typically have more interactions with students than other scientists and this can bring new ways of looking at your research questions. In applied positions the pace of work is often determined by the caseload or clients, while in academia it is largely self-determined. In both types of jobs it may be difficult to find time to write up data, so you should expect to work evenings and weekends if you want to publish.

Network, network, network!

In the last APA survey, 35 percent of ECPs reported getting their first job through informal channels. Try to get to know the people who you want to hire you five years before they are looking for someone. Seek out people in your field who do what you want to do, as they may know where jobs will be coming available. Meet with people at institutions that may be a good fit for you even if they are not currently hiring. APA provides speed mentoring sessions and social hours at the convention that allow you to meet one-on-one and get career advice from some of the most well-respected APA members in a variety of areas without cold-calling! Networking is especially important if you are not able to relocate.

In the application stage

Tailor your application, especially your cover letter and statements, to the advertisement and institution. Study the website and any other information you can get on the institution and department. Identify the mix of applied work, research, and teaching at that institution and use this information to decide how much time to spend on each component in your materials. Think about how your work will fit into their teaching and research programs and address this specifically. Selection for an interview is about the match between you and the available position.

  • How does your experience allow you to perform the tasks specifically listed as part of the advertisement?

  • How will you do your research with the facilities, funding and support they offer?

  • What courses that they already have could you teach? What new courses could you offer to broaden their curriculum?

  • How do your skills dovetail with the position they have advertised?

Be up front about who you are and what you want to do

You do not want to wind up at an institution where you have to pretend to be someone you are not, or where your focus is expected to be much broader or narrower than you would prefer.

Develop a thick skin

You will be rejected. This does not reflect negatively on the quality of your CV, your work ethic or anything else about you. It just means your application did not appear to be the best fit for that institution and position.

When you have an interview

Do your homework

Reread your initial information about the institution and add information about the work of specific relevant department members. Reread your application materials. Depending on the balance of applied work, research and teaching at the institution, consider doing one or more of the following.

Review case reports, treatment plans or other work that you might be called upon to discuss, particularly for individuals whose stories are consistent with your materials and illustrate your skills.

Read at least one recent journal article from faculty members in your field and think about how their research might overlap with yours. Develop a research plan for that institution and be prepared to articulate your unique research trajectory, including publication and funding opportunities.

Even if you have never taught it before, develop a thoughtful plan for at least one course that was requested in the job advertisement.

Stay on message and be professional at all times

You are interviewing from the minute you get off the plane to the minute you get back on the plane and in any contacts with the institution before and after your visit.

Tell your story

Don't be afraid to repeat things from your application or cover letter. It is likely that faculty read them so long ago they will not notice or will appreciate your consistency. Remember, your application got you the interview!

Pay attention to your instincts

Ask faculty about each other. Ask students about faculty. Look for clues as to the relationships among both student and faculty members of the department and think about whether those are the kinds of relationships you are looking for.

Say thank you

After you get home, let the department know you appreciated their time by sending your thanks. This can range from a single note to the department coordinator to be shared at a department meeting to sending individual cards to each person you met. Emails are perfectly acceptable.

After you get the job

Negotiate what you need to do your work well

In U.S. jobs, there is typically a lot of room for negotiation, even if the institution initially says offers are firm. Other countries may have different negotiation expectations. Members of the department may be willing to provide you with a ballpark figure of what others have received in the past. You can negotiate some or all of the following: student support, salary, startup, travel, equipment, job requirements and benefits. Many salaries are public information or can be found in the APA salary survey; use these sources to understand the market rate in your field. Be prepared to justify your request.

Find a mentor who does work like yours or who works in a place like yours

Believe opportunities are out there and reach out to other scientists. Talk to them about themselves, their career path and what they wished they knew when they were starting out.

Don't become a workaholic

Find time for yourself and your family, even when things are at their most hectic.

I hope this increases your chances (or at least your morale!) as we approach job search season again. If you have any stories or advice you'd like to share, please write me and they may appear in an upcoming issue. Have a great summer!