Psychology Careers: The Definitive Guide

While psychology is still a relatively young field, it’s also a flourishing one.  From clinics and rehabilitation centers to major companies and city councils, career opportunities in psychology abound and new and exciting applications for psychological knowledge are being developed every day, making this a dynamic and fascinating field to work in.

An understanding of human nature and behavior allows psychologists to:

  • Help people to confront and manage their emotions
  • Facilitate and enhance the academic and emotional growth and success of students in an educational setting
  • Support returning veterans as they make the transition to civilian life
  • Create marketing materials that effectively tap into the motivations and desires of intended audiences
  • Serve as consultants to companies, bringing about a work environment that is more cooperative and conducive to success
  • Positively affect the lives and interactions of people in a variety of ways

A few questions for you to consider in your career planning…

  • Do you enjoy working with others and having the opportunity to positively impact their lives?
  • Do you find human behavior compelling?
  • Have you always been fascinated by the motivations behind our actions?
  • Are you seeking an exciting career path that offers opportunities for growth?

If the answer to these questions is yes, a career in the field of psychology may be exactly what you’re looking for!

About this Psychology Careers Guide

This is a comprehensive guide to jobs in psychology, encompassing everything from a basic knowledge of the field of psychology to an understanding of the types of positions available in the field and a detailed overview of the job seeking process. We will be covering psychology’s past, as well as looking at its role in our world today.

Careers in Psychology

  • Clinical psychology
  • Counseling
  • School psychology
  • Forensic psychology
  • Industrial organizational psychology
  • Research psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Child psychology

Finding Psychology Jobs

We’ll examine various avenues and methods of finding jobs in psychology that match your interests. In order to help you get the kind of psychology job you’re seeking, we’ll be:

  1. looking into online research
  2. Seeking leads at colleges and universities
  3. Working with recruiters
  4. Joining psychology-related groups in order to network
  5. Attending psychology-related events in order to expand your career prospects

The Right Career Path

The field of psychology offers you an interesting and deeply rewarding career path. Whether you seek a more traditional job in counseling or clinical psychology or are more interested in exploring novel and innovative ways to use your psychology knowledge, there are many opportunities to pursue in this fast-growing industry!


  • History of Psychology as an Industry

  • Cultural Roles of Psychology

  • Career Paths in Psychology

  • The Hiring Process

  • Finding Psychology Jobs

  • Conclusion

History of Psychology as an Industry

Let’s begin with an overview of the field of psychology.

We’ll be looking at:

  • The beginnings of psychology
  • Its historical progression
  • Its emergence as a broad and multi-faceted field
  • The many ways in which it has influenced and molded our modern world

History of Psychology

The science of psychology can trace its origins back to the philosophies of ancient thinkers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Its predecessor, the Philosophy of Mind, was focused on attempting to understand thought and consciousness by answering various questions, such as:

  • Can the mind be distinguished from the brain?
  • Does a permanent self or soul truly exist?
  • How can consciousness be defined?

The Philosophy of Mind was preoccupied with how human beings saw and experienced things, as well as our thoughts, emotions and other mental processes. Although these matters were not tangible or visible, they featured heavily in the lives of all humans. Because of this, the ideas brought forth by Philosophy of Mind sparked a growing interest in psychology.

Psychology in the Medieval Period

During the Middle Ages, physicians sought to understand how the mind and body were connected. In this environment, psychology began to be seen less as a purely philosophical matter and was increasingly viewed as a subdivision of medicine.

Doctors became aware that a person’s mood was often strongly linked to their ability to recover from an illness or injury and maintain health. There was also a growing realization that many forms of mental instability, whose origins were formerly shrouded in mystery, were directly affected by a patient’s physical state.

These observations drove physicians to study the link between physical and mental well-being and led to the emergence of the idea of “mental health”.

Physicians sought to understand:

Why insanity appeared permanent in some cases and transient in others?
What caused certain people to experience long term depression following tragedies, while others failed to react in the same way?
Why spiritual rituals proved effective in certain cases and not in others?

These and other questions regarding the mind and its reactions absorbed medical practitioners of the time and drove them to seek answers through experimentation and observation.

This move towards using formal methods to make sense of the mind and its often mysterious workings would eventually lead to the birth of psychology as we know it today.

Psychology as a Science

In 1879, German physician and physiologist Wilhelm Wundt established the first formal laboratory solely for research and experimental psychology. This marked the dawn of the modern era of psychology and Wundt, who was also the founder of the first scholarly journal of psychology, introduced several new concepts to the field.

Among Wundt’s legacies are the introduction of a theory of psychology that laid stress on the mind-body connection and teachings emphasizing the use of a scientific approach in studying psychology. Wundt espoused a theory of consciousness called Structuralism. Structuralism stated that the nature of a thing could be understood through the study of its parts and the interaction of these parts.  His method of studying psychology focused on investigating how the various parts making up the brain produced the mind and its effects.

His theories, which met with both acceptance and refutation, were extremely influential in the scientific development of psychology and led to his reputation as “The Father of Psychology”.

No discussion of the history of psychology would be complete without mention of the Austrian neurologist now known as the “Father of Psychoanalysis”, Sigmund Freud.  Freud remains an important name in the history of clinical psychology, counseling and developmental psychology. Freud influenced child psychology in particular with his theories on the effects of childhood development on the psyche and the part it plays in different psychological disorders. He was also an early practitioner of a type of therapy known as the “talking cure”, which allowed patients to manage the psychological effects of traumatic experiences by talking about them to a therapist.

Premised on the theory of the repression of desires and memories, this type of therapy gave birth to modern psychoanalysis and the theory of the unconscious, both of which would exert considerable influence on the field of psychology’s further development.

Freud’s development of psychoanalysis led to the creation of many sub-fields within the broader field of psychology which are still widely practiced, including:

  • Psychiatry
  • Forensic psychology
  • Developmental psychology including child psychology
  • Research psychology
  • Experimental psychology

Freud’s theories, like those of Wundt and other pioneers in the field of psychology, attracted their share of opposition. Those who disagreed with Freud, Wundt and other early theorists carried out their own experiments and research, adding their observations and theories to the field of psychology. In this way, dissenting opinions further enriched the understanding of mental processes and behavior within psychology and spurred on the field’s progress.


Behaviorism, one of the major psychological movements established by opponents of Freud’s theories and those of other foundational psychologists, focused on external, observable events. This school of thought stated that cognition could be understood through analysis of an individual’s observable behavior rather than through discussion of invisible concepts such as the unconscious mind.

Proponents of behaviorism held that, because such hypothetical forces could not be observed directly and were only perceivable through the actions they elicited or the emotions described by those being observed, Freud and others were wrong in trying to asses and interpret these forces.

B.F. Skinner, one of the most prominent Behaviorists, originated a scientific methodology to assess the link between events and behaviors.  In doing so, he attempted to replace abstract theories of the structure of the mind with externally observable principles that detailed behavioral patterns.

Behaviorists’ emphasis on testing and scientifically measurable information led them to perform many experiments in order to understand the learning process and the nature of conditioning. These experiments involved teaching laboratory animals to react to various kinds of stimuli and caused some opponents of Behaviorism to dub Behaviorists “rat-runners”.

Nevertheless, this school of thought‘s contributions to psychology include advanced methods of research and important observations on the behavior of organisms, as well as a deeper understanding of how outside forces affect behavior.  Attempts to prove or disprove theories on cognition through laboratory tests and observation of the behavior of subjects still feature prominently in the work of many in the field of psychology today.

As psychology developed further, emerging schools of thought took influence from aspects of Behaviorism as well as the approaches of earlier theorists to gain greater knowledge of cognition and behavior.

The Emergence of Modern Psychology

Although the Behaviorists of the 1920’s and 30’s had veered away from internal concepts of mind and thought in favor of externally observable behavior, these internal concepts made a reappearance in the Humanistic Psychology of the 1950’s. Humanistic Psychology was concerned with understanding phenomena that played a major role in human existence but were largely ignored by Behaviorism, like freedom, creativity, meaning and identity.

The emergence of cognitive psychology also re-emphasized the importance of internal states. Through its use of understanding gleaned from fields of study such as computer science and linguistics, cognitive psychology introduced a perspective of psychology that viewed thoughts and emotions as worthy of investigation. This shift occurred at a time when the field of psychology began to take on growing societal significance.  Psychology progressed beyond being a discipline concerned solely with academic investigation and the treatment of disorders into a means of using knowledge of the human mind to enhance lives.

Day-to-day activities that were of great importance in the lives of the masses including teaching, organization of work environments  and the design and marketing of products began to benefit from the insights and observations  provided through the study of psychology. This gave rise to many new and useful roles for psychological knowledge and a general awareness of psychology in popular culture that effectively brought this field out of the shadows and into each one of our homes and work environments. From careers in therapy and counseling to legal and forensic psychology, psychology jobs now run the gamut of interests, skills and experience. These careers are often pursued by driven individuals with an interest in human nature and a desire to positively affect the lives of others.

Newer arenas for the practice of psychology have also opened up. One example of this is the rise of industrial organizational psychology or occupational psychology, which uses an understanding of human behavior in the workplace to create work environments that are more cooperative, productive, satisfying and conducive to success.

In the following section, we’ll be examining some of the cultural roles of psychology and their significance and contributions to society.

Cultural Roles of Psychology

Psychology was once considered a remote and mysterious division of philosophy that was far removed from the lives of ordinary people.  However, as the field progressed, so too did public awareness and understanding of it, and today, psychology clearly affects many aspects of our society.

Its influence in modern culture can be seen in:

The growing interest in the positive affirmations
The popularity of self-help books stressing the importance of understanding human nature and behavior
The burgeoning interest in applying insights about human nature in the worlds of business and marketing

All of these are direct products of psychology’s importance in our modern lives.  Let’s examine some of the effects that sub-divisions of psychology have exerted on our world view and social interactions.

Clinical Psychology and Counseling

In the relatively recent past, counseling and psychoanalysis were viewed negatively and the general public was wary of and uneasy with the idea of such treatments.  This uneasiness was born of a lack of awareness about psychology in general and frequently led to the societal stigmatization of those who sought out these therapies. Today, the change of opinion is striking.  As the public’s comfort level with psychological subjects increased, so too did the acceptance of, and indeed, interest in psychoanalysis and counseling.

In our modern society, the popularity of psychology has led to unprecedented numbers of people receiving counseling and psychoanalysis to manage common stressors such as:

Difficulties in family life or the work environment
Highly distressing events
Major life changes
Loss, illness and other harrowing aspects of human existence

As more people sought out these types of therapy, help that was once difficult to access became an accepted and even normal part of daily life.  This led to a rapid increase in the number of practitioners and the convenience of receiving treatment.

Perhaps the greatest impact of this shift in public opinion can be seen in the changing views of the recipients of psychoanalysis and counseling. Where once it was widely believed that those who received these treatments were either suffering from conditions such as spiritual possession or madness, today it is generally understood that almost everyone can gain something from using psychoanalysis and counseling to deal with day-to-day challenges. This change has effectively tempered once hardened beliefs about the division between those deemed to be “normal” and “abnormal” or  “sane” and “insane” and has made it easier for everyone to access the benefits  of these therapies.


Those with neurologically-based conditions generally met with the same stigmatization that faced those with psychological conditions. In recent times, however, this has largely changed. A greater understanding of both psychiatry and clinical psychology has altered public opinion and improved the lives of those with neurological and psychological disorders, by removing the shame previously attached to their conditions and offering them effective treatment paths.

Psychiatry is a medical field concerned with preventing, diagnosing and treating mental and emotional disorders having their roots in problems with the functions or makeup of the mind. Psychiatry is usually practiced by:

Physicians with a specialization in biochemistry or neuroscience
Physicians who have studied both psychology and the human brain, as well as the interactions between the two

Psychiatry’s progress has contributed to the growing awareness that certain mental and emotional disorders have their origins in problems with the functions of the physical brain. In doing so, this medical field has cleared away many long held prejudices and misconceptions about those suffering from these disorders and removed much of the blame attributed to them for their disorders. We now know that the brain, just like any other physical part of a person, is subject to improper functioning and illness.

The results of this major shift in thinking include:

The normalization of disorders once labelled “strange” or “abnormal”
The realization that the physical brain may require treatment in the same way that other organs do
Increased awareness and understanding of mental conditions and growing support for those with such conditions

Psychiatry’s progress has also fed into the debate surrounding the difference between personality traits and personality disorders. Many common disorders seen as potentially affecting sufferers professionally or academically have been intensively researched. These include:

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)

The development of various medications to manage and treat these disorders has sparked medical and public discussions regarding the role of these medications and has led many to question whether or not such drugs could, in effect, alter someone’s personality while treating personality disorders. Questions such as these are part of psychiatry’s contribution to the continued public discourse on and understanding of personality.

Psychology at Work

Today, psychology has also contributed greatly to the development of more productive and streamlined businesses and organizations, as well as helping to increase job satisfaction.

Psychological concepts have been used to improve the workplace by increasing the efficiency and efficacy of:

Methods of communication
Business processes
Workplace regulations
Advertising and marketing campaigns

Industrial organizational psychology’s focus on improving the ease and convenience of workplace processes means that you may have enjoyed the benefits of this branch of psychology’s work without even realizing it. Commonly used methods of enhancing and streamlining workplace processes and productivity, such as suggestion boxes and performance evaluations, are the direct results of the practice of industrial organizational psychology.

This branch of psychology has substantially changed the way we work and the environments in which we work, by using an understanding of the mind and human behavior to surmount many of the challenges of the workplace.

Whereas problems ranging from ineffective communication, improper management of personnel or uncomfortable, impractical work environments were once largely ignored, industrial organizational psychology’s rise has resulted in a widespread drive to examine and constantly enhance both business processes and employee’s job satisfaction.

Career Paths in Psychology

In previous sections, we’ve covered the historical and cultural background of psychology. Now, we’ll examine some of the careers available in psychology today. We will be looking at the kind of work done in various fields of psychology including:

Clinical psychology
School psychology
Forensic psychology
Social work
Industrial organizational psychology
Developmental psychology
Research psychology
Experimental psychology

We will also look at the typical work environments of each field as well as the educational background and licensing required to work in them.

Clinical Psychology

As the oldest career path in psychology, clinical psychology is perhaps the most widely known of all psychology careers. The responsibilities of those working in this field include:

The diagnosis of those with psychological conditions
The designing of therapy courses
The provision of counseling
The prescription of treatments and medications designed to cure or improve the patient’s condition
The management and treatment of a broad variety of mental and emotional disorders and behavioral issues

A clinical psychologist may typically handle complaints ranging from stress to recurring or chronic clinical depression cases. Clinical psychology tends to be practiced in a medical setting, including doctor’s offices and hospitals, and clinical psychologists may work with physicians in prescribing medication or managing and treating physical issues that may accompany some psychological disorders. Clinical psychologists may also practice their profession:

In institutions where psychological therapy and treatment are needed such as rehabilitation centers, addiction recovery clinics and correctional facilities
In higher educational settings such as medical schools and universities, where they may provide students with training in psychology

Educational Requirements to Practice Clinical Psychology

In order to become a licensed clinical psychologist, you must:

Hold a master’s degree or doctorate in psychology
Pass a state certification test

Depending on the state you intend to practice in, you may also be required to complete one year or more of field work to gain state certification. It is important to note that licensing regulations differ from state to state. You can find state-specific requirements for clinical psychology licensing on the website of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB). Checkout the requirements for practicing in your location and make sure that you have a good grip on them before moving further in the planning process.

School Psychology

Those working in the field of school psychology have a focus on counseling, advising and working with students in an educational setting. Careers in school psychology can include a wide variety of responsibilities, such as:

Providing students with advice on selecting the most appropriate classes and courses of study to achieve their future goals
Encouraging and assisting students who face various difficulties
Working closely with at-risk or behaviorally challenged students
Providing recommendations regarding teaching methods
Helping teachers and principals to manage responses to behavioral and other issues that may arise within the school
Meeting, discussing and working with parents on issues involving students’ academic, emotional and social well-being

While school psychologists most frequently work within schools, they may also practice their profession by helping to craft educational policies and curricula with positions on education boards and other school-related bodies. Others may work as consultants to several schools or education-related bodies, providing their services from their own private offices.

Educational Requirements to Practice School Psychology

Regulations governing school psychology differ widely from state-to-state and among schools. While a bachelor’s degree may fulfill the requirements of certain schools, others will require a master’s degree at minimum and still others, a doctoral degree in psychology. Certain states may also impose other requirements for licensing, including the passing of licensing exams. To confuse matters even more, there are a variety of licensing agencies such as the Board of Psychology, the National Association of School Psychologists and the Department of Education. You’ll find the National Association of School Psychologist’s website to be a comprehensive and useful source of information.

It pays to carefully study your options and to fully understand the licensing regulations and requirements of the state and school in which you wish to practice.


Counseling places a greater emphasis on direct interaction between the practitioner and patient and as such, is particularly suited to those who seek a more hands-on psychology career. Counselors’ responsibilities include:

Assisting others to learn methods of confronting and managing trauma and emotional problems

Speaking to them
Listening to them
Encouraging the exploration of their issues in order to help them eventually surmount them

Counselors provide their patients with guidance in more clearly understanding their own emotional states and the problems they face. Through a variety of methods such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, counseling assists patients in exploring and dealing with complicated thoughts and feelings.  Unlike clinical psychologists, counselors do not usually prescribe or provide medical treatment. Instead, they help their patients work through emotional trauma with therapeutic activities such as discussion and writing.

Their work frequently involves providing patients with help in dealing with complex matters such as:

Emotionally distressing events
Grief and loss
Other issues

Counselors often work in a variety of different environments including:

Hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities
Rehabilitation centers
Educational institutions

Many companies and organizations have begun to appreciate the need to provide employees with therapeutic counseling services. As the positive effects of such services on job performance and overall productivity have become apparent, counseling positions have also become increasingly available in corporate environments. This list of settings is by no means exhaustive because counseling can be practiced in any setting where discussing issues and learning coping techniques is desirable.

Educational Requirements to Practice Counseling

There are three main requirements to become a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). These are:

Holding a master’s degree in counseling, psychology or a related subject
The completion of certain coursework requirements
Certification through passing a licensing exam

Forensic Psychology

In recent years, a spate of popular television shows portraying the work of forensic psychologists has familiarized many with this once-lesser known field of psychology. Forensic psychology is concerned with the study of criminal behavior and the development of knowledge about factors such as life circumstances or mental and emotional disorders that can influence the likelihood of someone committing a criminal act. This knowledge is then put to use in solving and prosecuting criminal cases.

Those practicing psychology in this field often do so by working with law enforcement agencies and the justice system.  Forensic psychologists are often working at the scene of crimes, alongside law enforcement officials, where they play a part in examining evidence and are called upon to use their psychological knowledge to help investigators understand the motivations, identities and likely next moves of potential suspects.

Not only are they involved in solving and prosecuting cases, but forensic psychologists also bring insights about human nature and behavior to proposing ways to help rehabilitate and reintegrate the prosecuted and even making recommendations regarding sentencing. These recommendations are frequently used to organize laws and sentencing with a view to discouraging criminal acts.

Forensic psychology places an emphasis on understanding the motivations behind criminal acts in order to prevent, solve and prosecute these offences.

Forensic psychologists often work in:

Law enforcement settings where they may help members of law enforcement to solve crimes
University classrooms where they provide training in crime prevention and prosecution to those studying to become investigators, members of police forces and members of the legal profession
In court settings where they may provide assessments in insanity cases or evaluations in child custody cases
In rehabilitation centers or local community centers where they may work with juvenile offenders and their families

Educational Requirements to Practice Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychologists are usually required to hold a master’s degree in psychology, at minimum.  Some employers may favor applicants with doctorates in the field.

Forensic psychologists may also be trained in sub-disciplines of psychology such as research psychology, clinical psychology or experimental psychology.

Those wishing to work in the field of forensic psychology can also benefit from going through certification programs provided through the American Board of Forensic Psychology. These certifications are not a requirement of all positions but can be very useful for jobseekers in the field.

Social Work

Social work provides an opportunity for those working in psychology to work closely with people and provide them with the help and resources they need. Jobs in social work are focused on working with individuals and families requiring assistance to help them to solve, overcome or prevent problems ranging from addiction to emotional issues. They do so by utilizing an understanding of problem-solving, positive interpersonal interactions and methods for supporting vulnerable families.

The responsibilities of social workers may include:

Supporting individuals through injury rehabilitation
Providing assistance to those seeking to recover from addiction
Helping patients understand and make complex healthcare choices
Providing counseling and assistance to individuals after incarceration
Offering child and family services, covering everything from adoption to domestic violence prevention

Social work is frequently defined as providing assistance to individuals and families under the structure of non-profit organizations, government or other programs. Social workers are frequently engaged in offering support and therapy to those experiencing emotional or behavioral challenges.

Social workers are often employed in:

Hospitals, clinics and other medical facilities
Rehabilitation centers
Addiction treatment facilities
Family courts
Governmental and non-governmental organizations
Correctional facilities

Educational Requirements to Practice Social Work

Requirements vary among states but a bachelor’s degree in social work is the usual prerequisite for obtaining a license to practice social work. Other certifications may also be required, depending on the location and position you intend to work in. Positions in social work may be available for those with degrees in clinical or developmental psychology as well as counseling.

Social work certification is not clear-cut. There are many different boards of certification and the validity of certifications also differs in various locations. The Association of Social Work Boards and other resources can provide you with information specific to your needs.

Industrial Organizational Psychology

Industrial organizational psychologists are concerned with studying how humans behave and interact within work environments and utilizing psychological insights gained about human nature and behavior to improve the workplace.

Industrial organizational psychology focuses on:

Helping people to work together more effectively
Increasing productivity
Maximizing performance
Streamlining business processes and regulations
Creating a more pleasant workplace environment
Improving management structures
Strengthening workplace communication

Because industrial organizational psychology is centered on the workplace, most practitioners of this sub-field can frequently be found working in:

Human Resources departments
Factories and plants
Businesses and other organizations
Private practices, as independent consultants

Educational Requirements to Practice Industrial Organizational Psychology

While industrial organizational psychology jobs are available to those holding bachelor’s degrees in the field, particularly in Human Resources departments, these tend to be somewhat limited.

It may be worth considering pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate in industrial organizational psychology discipline, in order to access a greater range of higher-level positions.

Developmental Psychology, Including Child Psychology

Have you always been curious about the ways in which people grow and adapt through various stages of life?

This may indicate that you would enjoy working in a developmental psychology position. Developmental psychology including child psychology is centered on understanding how human beings grow, change and mature throughout life.

This sub-discipline of psychology focuses on gaining knowledge about the brain’s development and the way cognitive functions shift over time as well as using this knowledge to support adults and children through this process.

Developmental psychologists in general and child psychologists in particular, place an emphasis on understanding childhood development and changes in the brain. Their work may be mainly research based or hands-on, covering the study and treatment of developmental disorders. Child psychologists may also work closely with children to ensure that  disorders are managed and that children are able to reach their full potential.

Developmental psychology also emphasizes understanding, preventing and dealing with cognitive disorders that may occur over the course of the aging process.

Developmental psychologists may work in:

Academic settings where they may engage in research or provide training
In medical care facilities where they may work to prevent, diagnose and treat various developmental disorders
In schools, private practices and other settings where child psychologists in particular may work closely with children to ensure a successful development process
In governmental agencies where they may use insights about the human development and the brain to help craft policies and programs

Educational Requirements to Practice Developmental Psychology Including Child Psychology

Doctoral degrees in developmental or child psychology are frequently required for those wishing to practice in these fields.

The completion of an internship or at least one year of postgraduate work may also be required for certain developmental psychology positions where you will be working with medical professionals.

Research Psychology and Experimental Psychology

Are you drawn to the idea of conducting in-depth studies of human behavior and the inner workings of the mind?
Does the idea of adding to the body of psychological knowledge through experiments testing concepts in developmental, social or cognitive psychology appeal to you?

If you find that you are most interested in conducting research and experiments that help you to gain a deeper understanding of topics such as cognition, perception, motivation and memory, the fields of research psychology and experimental psychology may appeal to you more than careers involving practically applied psychology.

Positions in research psychology and experimental psychology often involve:

In-depth study of the mind and behavior in both humans and animals
Designing and conduction of scientific experiments on the mind’s functions
Analysis of experiment results in order to form theories about the way the mind works

Most sub-fields of psychology involve a certain amount of research but research psychology and experimental psychology are primarily research-based. Those working in these fields are often able to design and test out more abstract and less practical experiments than those working in fields of applied psychology. In the process of carrying out such experiments and analysis, they add a great deal of vital information and understanding of human cognition and behavior to the field of psychology.

Research psychologists and experimental psychologists may not offer direct assistance to individuals in the same way as those practicing counseling or social work do. Nevertheless, their efforts in researching the mind provide all psychology professionals with valuable insights that can be used to treat disorders, manage behavioral problems and improve the lives of others in a variety of ways.

Research psychologists and experimental psychologists often work in:

Higher education settings such as universities and colleges where they carry out research or provide training
Research centers
Government laboratories
Private businesses
Non-profit foundations

Educational Requirements to Practice Research Psychology and Experimental Psychology:

If you are interested in seeking jobs within the fields of research psychology and experimental psychology, it’s important to note that a master’s degree is commonly required. Doctoral degrees are also frequently required for many research psychology and experimental psychology positions

The Hiring Process

In the preceding sections, we’ve examined the types of jobs available in psychology today. Now, let’s take a look at the steps necessary to land the position you desire. We’ll be covering everything from creating a successful resume and cover letter to tips and insights into the interview process and advice to help you achieve the salary level you have in mind.


Creating an effective resume is the first step towards getting the psychology position you want. A successful resume is one that is well-organized and presents your qualifications and strengths in an accurate way. Your resume should also clearly highlight what differentiates you from other applicants.

In order to get the very best out of your resume, you may want to consider retaining the services of professional resume writers. In particular, you may want to choose a professional resume writer who works predominantly or solely with psychology resumes. While professional resume preparation services can provide you with a clear, compelling and comprehensive record of your achievements, costs can approach $1000.

Fortunately, with the following tips, you can put together your own polished, professional resume that sets you apart from others:

First: Select the type of psychology job you intend to seek.

As we discovered in previous sections, the requirements of psychology jobs can differ widely. Starting out with a clear idea of the kinds of jobs you intend to pursue can help to ensure that you prepare the specific type of resume required.

For example, if you are seeking a position in developmental psychology and expect to be working closely with medical professionals, your resume should highlight any internships or postgraduate work in related fields.

If you are looking for a research psychology-based teaching position, you’ll want your resume to emphasize your published or presented papers and works with a curriculum vitae. If you intend to apply for jobs in social work, a resume highlighting your previous experiences in providing advocacy and assistance can enhance your application.

Second: Select great sample resumes to learn from.

Whatever the category of psychology job you intend to apply for, you’ll find a wide selection of sample resumes to learn from online.  Universities often offer excellent online collections of suitable sample resumes.  Select several sample resumes that match your job category and examine them for similar features that you may want to include on your own resume.

Third: Enter your own information.

After reviewing several samples resumes and learning from them, you can then begin to prepare your own. It’s important that you remember to include all relevant, field-related jobs, internships, skills and achievements that can illustrate your suitability for the job and help your resume to stand out in a crowd.

Fourth: Don’t forget to include all of your academic achievements.

An emphasis on awards received as well as published or presented academic work can help you to catch the eye of potential employers and win the position you want.

Fifth: Have it reviewed.

Make sure your completed resume is as effective as possible by asking colleagues, teachers, mentors or others with some psychology career-related knowledge to look it over.

If it isn’t possible to find someone with an understanding of jobs in psychology to review your resume, you can still eliminate any grammar, spelling or formatting slip-ups by asking a sharp-eyed friend or family member to help you with proofreading.  An error-free, clear and well-written resume will definitely increase your chances of getting the position you want.

Cover Letters

Perhaps one of the most common mistakes people make when applying for jobs is investing a great deal of time and effort in preparing a fantastic resume while completely overlooking the need for a cover letter. Even worse, some simply attach a hurried, unconsidered letter that employers find impossible to take seriously.

When writing your cover letter, keep its purpose in mind. Cover letters are written to introduce an applicant, provide information that doesn’t belong on a resume and help distinguish an applicant from the slew of others seeking the same position. Unlike your resume, you can inject a certain amount of personality into your cover letter, making it easier for potential employers to pay attention to your application.

A cover letter should:

Include the purpose of your resume submission.

Explaining who you are and why you’re sending in your resume ensures that your application will not be lost in a sea of mail and will reach your intended recipient.

Explain where you learned about the available position.

Including details like where you first learned about the position in a cover letter helps potential employers to see your submission as more than just another application in the pile.  This is particularly true if you found out about the position from a member of the organization itself or a well-known authority in your chosen category of work.

Maintain a personalized approach.

When applying to a large number of jobs, many people succumb to the temptation to just send in a default cover letter. Employers can often tell when your letter is a one-sized-fits-all piece sent automatically. This usually won’t produce the interest and attention you’d like your application to receive.

Instead, try to write a new cover letter for each position you apply to or at the very least, add personalized details to your letter that fit each position you’re applying to.

Highlight background strengths.

Use your letter as an opportunity to draw attention to a story that displays your training, education or experience. A strong academic or practical background related to your chosen field of work is sure to place you at the front of the pack.

Let your attitude come through.

A positive tone and interested attitude will give your cover letter and application a winning edge.

Include all requested information.

Requested information that can’t be added to your resume, such as your preferred start date, is usually best included within your cover letter.

Signal your desire to follow up.

Closing your cover letter by letting potential employers know that you intend to follow up within a reasonable period of time signals your respectful interest and your initiative. When you do follow up according to your letter, you are effectively demonstrating that you are also reliable and responsible.

You should also look to sample cover letters for ideas on how to proceed with writing a good one and finish up by having a qualified or knowledgeable friend, family member or colleague review it for you. Because cover letters are essentially your introduction, even minor mistakes can negatively impact your image with employers and your chances of landing the job you want.

Paying attention to details and following the tips above will help you produce a cover letter that gets you noticed for all the right reasons!

Now that your qualifications have been shown off to maximum potential with a carefully crafted resume and cover letter, you can expect to be called for an interview.  While this positive news is exciting and encouraging, it can also sometime be a daunting prospect. Many people struggle with the interview portion of applying for a job, out of nervousness or inexperience. That’s why proper preparation is essential.

Preparing for the Interview

If you’ve received a call to interview, it’s important to begin to properly and thoroughly prepare, in order to ensure that you banish any nerves and present a pulled together, knowledgeable and reliable image to potential employers during the interview process.

Being selected for the interview process is a sure sign that your resume and cover letter have effectively communicated your qualifications, interests and positive personality traits to potential employers, causing them to select you out of a pool of potentially hundreds of other applicants.  Now, you have the chance to communicate these things in person by preparing thoroughly for your interview. Keep these useful tips in mind to ace your interview and land that dream job:

Research the Company.

Find out:

Some background information on the company or organization that you are applying to. In particular, learn about the company or organization’s history and mission. Showing that you’ve taken the time to learn about the company conveys many positive messages to potential employers, showing them that you are keen, motivated and very interested in the job
What the company or organization’s primary areas of concern or focus are
A little helpful background information on some of the company or organization’s leadership, including names and fields of interest

Working these details into your discussion when you are interviewed is a great way to communicate both your initiative and serious interest in working for that particular company or organization and is a move that is sure to favorably impress your interviewers.

Be punctual.

Nothing will hurt your chances of being selected for a job faster than arriving late to your interview.  Plan ahead to avoid  factors like traffic and give yourself a comfortable margin of error  by starting out a little earlier than required.

Sleep well the night before.

A good night’s sleep will help to ensure that you show up to your interview alert and confident. Poor sleep can leave you looking nervous or unprepared when in fact, you’re simply tired.  Avoid this and make sure that you present the best possible version of yourself to employers by getting the rest you need.

Dress appropriately.

No matter how casual the actual work environment seems to be, be sure to wear formal business-appropriate clothing to the interview.  This communicates seriousness, attention to detail and respect for the company or organization and your interviewer.

Have copies of all required materials on hand.

Being able to produce a copy of application documents, including your CV, resume and references when asked, is a simple but effective way to come across as well-prepared and detail-oriented.

Prepare for Interview Questions

While the nature of many of the questions asked at your interview will largely depend on the category of psychology jobs you are seeking to fill, you can give yourself a head start by preparing for common psychology job interview questions such as:

What motivated you to pursue a career in psychology?
What are some of your strengths and weaknesses in (insert field such as developmental psychology, social work, forensic psychology etc. here)?
What theoretical orientation do you support?
Tell us about your internship experience and what you feel you’ve learned from it.
What areas of research in your field interest you most?
What type of supervision do you seek?
How do you stay abreast of new developments within your field?
Which, if any, professional psychological organizations do you belong to and why do you belong to those particular organizations?
Describe your goals and plans as a psychologist?

Giving these and other potential interview questions some thought and preparing even further by researching likely questions specific to your field delivers many benefits.

You will go into the interview more confident as a result of your preparations and will be able to give well-considered answers to a variety of questions posed by employers.

Salary Expectations and Negotiations

You’ve prepared ahead, arrived on time and impressed your interviewers with your thoughtful replies and professional appearance. You’d be forgiven for thinking there’s nothing left to do but in fact, one challenge remains: salary negotiations.

Discussing money is never easy, even for those trained in psychology. You may find yourself caught between asking for a fair salary that accurately matches your knowledge and experience level and ensuring  that your interviewer knows that you’re  not only  interested  in the money. Fortunately as with all other parts of the job seeking process, negotiations can be made much easier with a little advance preparation. Keep these recommendations in mind for salary negotiation success:

Know what others in similar positions earn.

The easiest way to ascertain how much you should be asking for is to research the salaries of those working in similar psychology jobs. Utilize online sources such as job listings and salary comparison sites to get a clearer understanding of the average salary for those with similar experience, working in your field, specialty and location. Doing this will help to ensure that you aren’t simply quoting figures out of the air and will give you a strong sense of confidence, when you do begin salary discussion.

Factor in your own uniqueness.

While knowing the industry baseline for salaries in your jobs similar to yours is useful, every applicant is different and this does tend to affect the salary range.  You can gain a still more accurate idea of what you should expect by factoring any aspects unique to your situation such as specialized skills or in-demand training not commonly found among the average applicant in your field.

Keep the salary range specified in the job listing in mind.

While salary ranges are not always set in stone, remember that they are included in job listings to give you an idea of the range your potential employer is most comfortable with offering for that specific position. No matter how highly trained or qualified you are for a position, don’t assume that the salary range listed doesn’t apply to you.

If you seek a higher salary than the range specified, be prepared to back up your demands with reasonable justifications. Make sure you’re primarily pursuing jobs with salary ranges matching your own requirements as this will eliminate obstacles in negotiations and help you not to waste your time on pursuing positions you may end up not being able to accept.

Clearly define ideal and acceptable salary ranges.

Remember that you are ultimately responsible for accepting an offered position and set yourself up for a negotiation outcome that you are truly happy with by clearly defining both the lowest salary you’d be willing to accept for the job and the ideal salary range you had in mind. This will help you to avoid any confusion and work towards your goals in negotiations.

Don’t be the first to bring it up.

Although the potential salary naturally plays a large role in helping you to decide whether to take a position or not, being the first to raise the issue can make it seem as if the salary and not the job itself, is your primary concern. Allow the interviewer to mention the salary first and wait to hear his/her initial offer. This clearly demonstrates your interest in the position itself and also helps you to negotiate more effectively by knowing what range they had in mind, before you mention a number yourself.

Ask for the salary you feel you deserve.

Don’t let awkwardness about discussing money deter you from making sure that you receive the compensation you believe to be fair for your qualifications and experience.  Communicating the salary range you feel is appropriate will help potential employers understand your position and even if further negotiations are required, your justified salary preferences will be kept in mind. This makes it far more likely that you’ll receive a salary that better matches your own number.


Salaries in psychology can vary greatly from sub-field to sub-field and specialization to specialization and also depend largely on the specifics of particular positions.

The best way to find out the salary range most applicable to your own qualifications, specialty and location is to utilize valuable online resources such as:

The website of the American Psychological Association
The website of the Bureau of Labor Statistics

When it comes to negotiating a satisfactory salary, knowledge is definitely power. Gaining insights into the salary levels offered for positions similar to the ones you seek can help you to negotiate more effectively and successfully.

Finding Psychology Jobs

In the last few sections, we’ve covered crafting an impressive cover letter and resume, preparing for the interview process and successful salary negotiations for potential positions, but what about finding those positions themselves?

Mastering the job finding process is as essential as understanding the application, interview and negotiation process. In this section, we’ll be looking at some very useful ways to find great jobs in psychology to apply for.

Personal Networking

Never underestimate the human element in your job search. While an excellent cover letter and resume and winning interview are key to landing any position, personal recommendations from people that potential employers are familiar with are one of the best ways to get your foot in the door. This is because when an employer sees a recommendation from someone they know, even in passing, they often feel more confident about the qualifications stated in your resume.

Personal networking has always been and continues to be a major part of the job hunting experience, and if paid attention to, can generate not only references but recommendations to apply for fantastic jobs that you may not have found through the usual job-searching routes.

Colleges and Universities

If you are just beginning to establish your psychology career, you’ll want to make sure that you develop strong, lead-generating relationships that can point you in the right job-seeking direction now and well into the future. This is often possible at colleges and universities where professors and administrators that you have made the effort to approach and get to know, may provide you with valuable references and fellow students may develop into useful contacts in the field of psychology, in the future.

Psychology events in these settings can also offer opportunities to meet with recruiters in the field.

Reaching out to Firms of Interest

While recommendations and networking certainly play an important role in the job hunt, simply taking the initiative and reaching out to the organizations that you would be interested in working for can often yield results too. Contacting firms of interest to find out if jobs in your field and specialty are available can help to set you apart. When you contact an organization directly, you avoid being simply yet another applicant among the many whose resumes were sent in through the usual channels.

Other benefits of this approach include:

Taking the lead in the job search indicates to potential employers that you are the kind of candidate who will take the lead when it comes to work as well.
Ensuring that you follow up your inquiries, without appearing too insistent or pushy, can help show off your responsible nature and tenacity, as well as demonstrate to employers that you are truly enthusiastic about working with them.

Don’t overdo it though. Let them know you’ll be following up in a couple of months and stick to that statement. Don’t fall into the trap of going from “impressively motivated job seeker” to “regular annoyance” in the books of those responsible for hiring.

By making the first move, so to speak, you’ve helped to ensure that your application really does stand out in the crowd.  However, there are some crucial things to remember when using this approach:

Your qualifications and initiative may impress potential employers but contacting them to inquire about a possible opening means there is no guarantee of an available position.
Taking the process into your own hands means that you’ll need to remember to follow up every few months or so, for availability.
Your cover letter will need to be an even better representation of your skills, qualifications and positive traits, since you’ll be sending it in to employers who haven’t initiated contact. This letter will be acting as a formal introduction of yourself, your skills and your qualifications. Make sure that its tone is assured but respectful and that your accompanying resume is well-formatted. Go over your cover letter and resume with an extra-critical eye to ensure both are effective enough to open doors for you and spark interest in your potential.

Following these recommendations will help place you at the front of the line for consideration when an opening in your specialty becomes available at the organization you contacted.

Psychology Associations

Associations abound within the field of psychology and include both academic and professional organizations with a focus on bringing together those working within similar sub-disciplines and sub-fields of psychology. These associations are often used to share new developments and information but can also provide a wide array of important career-building opportunities to their members.

Associations structured around specific areas of practice within psychology who share similar careers, geographical locations and goals, making them prime choices for successful networking. Belonging to psychological associations focused on your area of practice or specialty also lets potential employers know that:

You’re dedicated to your field
You utilize channels like associations to stay up to date on any new developments in your field
You’re interest in and engagement with psychology extends beyond the workplace.

There are specific associations for all psychology sub-disciplines, including:

Child psychology
Research psychology and experimental psychology
Industrial organizational psychology
Developmental psychology

Broader psychology sub-fields such as counseling and social psychology also maintain several associations.  These associations may be grouped along doctrinal camps or sub-division within those sub-fields and as such, are good places to find other like-minded professionals within your field.

The Roles of Associations

Associations serve a variety of purposes such as:

Handling certification examinations
Record keeping
Creating and enforcing standards with certain areas of professional psychology
Providing support for scholarly journals
Helping to disseminate knowledge of new developments within psychology as a whole and especially within the sub-fields and sub-disciplines they represent
Serving as places where psychology professionals working in similar areas of the field can meet, exchange knowledge, share experience and establish networks.

Involvement in these associations could represent a major boon to your career because certain companies and organizations may even maintain relationships with these associations for the purpose of recruitment.

Associations often have private email lists or other forms of inter-association communication available for their members and very valuable knowledge of promising jobs within the specialties and areas they represent is frequently available within these lists.

For all of these reasons, finding and becoming a member of an association relevant to your particular sub-field, sub-discipline or special area of practice may substantially help your career prospects.

So how do you go about finding psychology associations that match your interests?

The following websites offer comprehensive listings of psychology organizations and are an excellent way to track down the types of associations you may want join:

The website of the Social Psychology Network
The website of the American Psychological Association
The website of the Encyclopedia of Psychology


Psychology functions can provide the same career-boosting networking opportunities that psychology associations offer. They too are often organized along lines like:

Geographical location
Psychology sub-disciplines
Specific doctrinal camps
Specific disorders or areas of interest

These events are often held by psychology organizations and serve as venues and forums for member interaction, dissemination of new methods, research and developments and as a way to publicize and garner public support for specific causes.

In addition to these activities, psychology events may also include activities set up specifically to help job seekers. Recruiters and company representatives may attend these events, providing a chance for qualified candidates to make contacts and find out about promising openings.

Because of this, attending psychology events that match your intended field of practice is a worthwhile addition to more traditional job-searching avenues.

Working with Recruiters

Working with recruiters is another tried and true method of finding psychology opportunities within your specialization.  Recruiters have access to extensive job listings along with all of the relevant details and specifics of those jobs and are therefore able to help you to zero in on those openings that best match your interests and needs.

Recruiters can help you with:

Scheduling interviews
Salary negotiations
Completing the paperwork required to help you get your career off the ground

However, it’s important to note that such services are provided in exchange for a fee.  This fee is often paid from a percentage of your new salary. In some cases, the fee may be paid for by the company or organization that hires you and in others, it may come directly out of your salary.  In cases where the fee will be paid from your salary for a certain period of time, this will obviously affect your decision regarding working with a recruiter to find a position.

Even with these fees, however, working with a recruiter is still an option worth considering because it offers an especially time and effort-conserving way to find the specific type of position you seek and receive useful information through the job search process and beyond.

Utilizing Online Job Sites and Blogs

You may be very successful in using online resources such as job sites and blogs to find psychology jobs. Online job searches can often turn up leads that would be difficult to find in other ways and the sheer volume of open psychology positions a quick internet search can turn up may provide you with motivation and hope when it seems like you’ve exhausted all other job searching methods.

Great online resources to use in seeking out jobs in psychology include:

Sites like, which gather links to available psychology jobs. In addition, such sites also provide links to job search resources and career advice for those looking to work in the field of psychology. These types of sites are particularly helpful because they provide field-specific resources, beating out larger and more general job search sites like and others which are more likely to show you listings in fields and specialties that are unrelated to your own.
Other valuable online resources include psychology-related sites and blogs that maintain job listings. Companies, academic institutions and other types of organizations seeking applicants for their open psychology jobs will often make sure to use such sites to obtain a wide and high quality pool of applicants.

You can also utilize online resources to gain insight into the job seeking process, help with salary ranges, tips on negotiations and information on paperwork.

Searching online is an excellent way to find essential information on conducting an effective job search as well as tracking down good job opportunities that match your skills, specialization and preferences.

However, it’s always wise to confirm the validity and veracity of all information and job listings found online, before acting on any advice or pursuing any opportunities that you come across.


Throughout history, human beings have always struggled to understand human nature, behavior and the inner workings of the mind and it was in this struggle that the seeds of modern psychology were first sown. Today, this field has developed almost beyond recognition, and has gone from near-total obscurity in the shadow of philosophy to being widely recognized in its own right and playing an important role in molding and influencing our culture and society. With its development, it has broken down once hardened attitudes and beliefs.  Illnesses and disorders that were once so untreatable as to doom those suffering from them to a difficult and lonely life are now curable and the formal methods of studying the mind pioneered by early theorists continue to prove their usefulness and merit, as we continually learn more about cognition than we ever thought possible.

As you stand at the threshold of future academic or professional endeavors in the psychology of today, it is fitting that you’ve begun this journey by looking back, noting just how far the field has come and remembering the work of all who contributed to its progress.

Looking Forward

What will tomorrow’s psychology look like? It’s a question those in the field have asked themselves almost from its inception and is as unanswerable today as it has always been.  What we know for sure, however, is that the field of psychology will continue to grow, develop and branch out and will be used in amazing practical applications that we never imagined. Ongoing research is still yielding surprising discoveries about the treatment of various disorders and the very nature of the human mind. New realities made possible by technology are certain to have fascinating implications on the field of psychology and our lives alike.

As you turn your natural interest in human nature and behavior into concrete steps towards working in the field of psychology, you are moving towards an inspiring and richly rewarding career path.  This work will allow you to positively impact the lives of others and potentially add your own contributions to psychology’s vital and life-changing body of knowledge about the mysteries of the human mind.