Your Undergraduate Degree in Psychology: From College to Career


Paul I. Hettich & R. Eric Landrum

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    To my parents, who taught me that work is good—that work, however menial or elevating, teaches.

    —Paul Hettich

    Dedicated to psychology majors everywhere, working to make a positive difference in the world.

    —Eric Landrum


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    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, … it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

    —Charles Dickens (1812–1870)

    Excerpted from the opening lines of Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities, these words ring true for many college students today. Arguably, the need for, promises of, and access to higher education have never been greater than in the second decade of the 21st century. In this respect, it is the best of times to be a college student. Yet the challenges students encounter while forging their college education into a satisfying career are daunting. Many students may face three crises as they graduate. The first is overwhelming loan debt, with repayment typically beginning 6 months after they leave college whether or not they are employed. The second crisis is unemployment or underemployment in an unstable national and global economy where countless jobs continue to be outsourced, replaced by technology, or simply terminated. The third crisis, nurtured in part by the first two, is that of (returning to Dickens) great expectations. Students are conditioned from elementary school to believe that a college degree will place them on a fast track to personal success in a secure and satisfying career. Yet competition for the best postgraduate opportunities continues to be fierce: In 2009–2010, there were 97,216 recipients of a bachelor's degree in psychology in a total graduating class of 1.65 million baccalaureate recipients (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). So these may also be the worst of times for college students and, for some, times filled with despair or frustration but little hope.

    Teachers are concerned about the world their baccalaureate graduates must enter. Psychology educators are passionate about dispersing psychological science, but they may not be experts in the current job market or in how to help psychology students choose and succeed in a career. For example, to what extent are their students aware of the clashing cultures of corporate and college organizations and of the particular skills and behaviors they need to succeed? Do students know how to market themselves effectively amidst the competition and subsequently adapt to the workplace once they are hired?

    Our goal in writing Your Undergraduate Degree in Psychology is to help students enter the workforce during and after college cognizant of the issues and prepared for the challenges they will encounter. We strongly believe that teachers can be highly influential partners in this goal. There are no quick and easy solutions to these issues and challenges, but we introduce them for serious discussion and share ideas, insights, and recommendations we believe will help build competence and confidence for a student's journey after college. The salient features of this book include the following.

    Many “careers in psychology” books focus primarily on occupations requiring baccalaureate or graduate degrees and the skills students should learn. We approach the college-to-career transition for what it truly is—a diverse and interactive combination of dynamic intrapersonal, interpersonal, and environmental career-shaping experiences. Specifically, we encourage students to engage in systematic self-assessment; exploit campus opportunities that enhance self-reflection and career development; establish transferable skills employers seek; heighten awareness of their continuing journey through psychosocial development; master job-search skills; recognize the critical roles that organizational culture, communications, motivation, and self-management occupy in entry-level job success; and prepare for changing relationships and further life/career transitions. We know of no other resource in psychology that examines these dimensions to the extent we do.

    Our focus is on individuals who enter the labor market immediately after graduation, including students who delay entry to graduate or professional school for 1 or more years to gain experience, earn money, and solidify goals. So welcome also, you graduate-school–bound students!

    Your Undergraduate Degree in Psychology may be read as part of a course, such as Careers in Psychology, Orientation to the Psychology Major, or Introduction to the Psychology Major. It is also intended as supplementary reading for internship and capstone courses. Even if this book is not part of a specific course, the key is for students to critically examine the information it reveals and act on the recommendations we present. Ultimately, students need to know the answers to the questions, “How can I be best prepared to stand out from other new graduates entering the world of work?” and “How can I succeed in my first jobs?” Those are the types of questions we can help with!

    To accomplish our goal of helping students prepare for work and career, we provide a forum in which students and teachers interact with one another and with us—as “paperback mentors” of sorts—as we explore the crucial issues that influence successful entry into contemporary workplaces. Having engaging interaction with a book and its ideas is a challenge, but it can be done. We designed this book to help students actively think about the world of work and career choices; frequent and meaningful self-reflection can lead to a strategic plan to help students pursue their life goals. The features we embedded in this book to facilitate self-reflection include “Time Out” sections inserted periodically in our narrative: “Time Out: Reflective Questions” and “Time Out: Exercise.” At the end of each chapter are “Getting Involved” activities that include “Journal Starters” and diverse and often research-oriented projects that teachers may want to assign as is or modify to fit their specific goals. The “Additional Resources” component of each chapter enables students to dig further into a particular topic by consulting websites or other print sources. Each chapter ends, of course, with a list of the references we consulted for the topics we addressed.

    College-to-workplace preparedness and transition is a major topic of growing importance in today's world of work, but it is not widely researched in psychology. Consequently, we invited colleagues with expertise exceeding our own in specific critical areas to guest-author chapters on career planning, job search, and post-college relationship changes. In addition, an important segment of our literature is drawn from outside of mainstream psychological research; this portion derives from surveys or reports of job-related issues originating from such organizations as the Collegiate Employment Research Institute and the National Association of Colleges and Employers, as well as from popular but reliable print and electronic sources. Finally, we illustrate several concepts using examples based on the experiences of former students and actual events.

    No book project of this magnitude thrives without excellent advice. We are very grateful to many individuals who have been helpful and supportive throughout our journey. This has clearly been a team effort. In the editorial department at SAGE, Christine Cardone was our starting pitcher and Reid Hester came in as the closer. We are very thankful for Sarita Sarak, who kept us, in her firm but friendly manner, on track each step of the way and batted 1.000. Our team contains other valuable members. For the breadth and depth they shared on crucial topics, we thank our guest authors Camille Helkowski, John Jameson, and Abby (Wilner) Miller.

    For their critical reviews of the manuscript and the invaluable insights and comments they shared, we are very grateful to William Addison, Eastern Illinois University; Ruth L. Ault, Davidson College; Bernard C. Beins, Ithaca College; Kristie Campana, Minnesota State University, Mankato; Phil Gardner, Michigan State University; Jane S. Halonen, University of West Florida; Meera Komarraju, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale; Beth M. Schwartz, Randolph College; Randolph A. Smith, Lamar University; and Annette Kujawski Taylor, University of San Diego.

    Behind the scenes at SAGE were others who shared their expertise, including marketing manager Lisa Brown, permissions editor Karen Ehrmann, production editor Laureen Gleason, copy editor Megan Granger (our extra special thanks!), and cover designer Glenn Vogel. In addition, we appreciate Jon Keil's critical reading of several chapters and his helpful suggestions, as well as the gracious assistance of the DePaul University Library staff. We thank Robert Shelton and Nakware Howard for their helpful suggestions for Chapter 7 (“Jump-Start Your Job Search”).

    To mix our metaphors, it takes a village to win a game, and we are thankful for every member of the team that made for our cumulative game-winning effort. And, last but not least, we as coauthors have grown in knowledge and wisdom from our mutual collaboration.

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2011). Digest of education statistics 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from

    About the Authors

    Paul I. Hettich, PhD, earned his degrees in psychology from Marquette University, New Mexico State University, and Loyola University Chicago. He served as an Army personnel psychologist at the Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Armed Forces Examining and Entrance Station (now the Military Entrance Processing Station); as a program evaluator at Cooperative Educational Research Laboratory in Northfield, Illinois; and as applied research scientist at the Intext Corporation in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

    These positions created a “real-world” foundation for a 35-year academic career at Barat College (Lake Forest, Illinois). In addition to full-time teaching, he chaired the psychology department; served as academic dean; and directed institutional research, grant writing, and community college articulation. He was Barat's first recipient of the Sears-Roebuck Foundation award for teaching excellence and campus leadership. He taught at St. Clare's College in Oxford (England) and at the University of Stirling (Scotland). At Stirling, he subsequently served as an online tutor for the master's program in Lifelong Learning and on the editorial board for the Journal of Adult and Continuing Education. Following DePaul University's acquisition of Barat College, he continued to head the psychology program and retired with the rank of Professor Emeritus.

    Hettich is a Fellow in Division 1 (Society for General Psychology), Division 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology), and Division 52 (International Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. He has more than 90 professional presentations and has authored or coauthored more than 25 refereed publications, including two books and three book chapters. He writes the quarterly column “Wisdom From the Workplace” for Eye on Psi Chi. His interest in workplace transition originates from graduates and employers who have revealed a major disconnect between university and workplace expectations, cultures, and practices.

    R. Eric Landrum is a professor of psychology at Boise State University, receiving his PhD in cognitive psychology from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His research interests center on the educational conditions that best facilitate student success as well as the use of SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) strategies to advance the efforts of scientist-educators. He is responsible for more than 300 professional presentations at conferences, more than 20 published books/book chapters, and more than 70 professional articles in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals. He has worked with more than 275 undergraduate research assistants and taught more than 12,500 students in 20 years at Boise State. During summer 2008, he led an American Psychological Association working group at the National Conference for Undergraduate Education in Psychology, studying the desired results of an undergraduate psychology education.

    Eric is the lead author of The Psychology Major: Career Options and Strategies for Success (4th ed., 2009) and also authored Undergraduate Writing in Psychology: Learning to Tell the Scientific Story (2008) and Finding Jobs With a Psychology Bachelor's Degree: Expert Advice for Launching Your Career (2009). He coauthored An EasyGuide to APA Style (2012) and You've Earned Your Doctorate in Psychology … Now What? (2012), and was lead editor for Teaching Ethically: Challenges and Opportunities (2012) and coeditor of Assessing Teaching and Learning in Psychology: Current and Future Perspectives (2013). He served as vice president for the Rocky Mountain region of Psi Chi (2009–2011). He is a member of the American Psychological Association, a fellow in the American Psychological Association's Division 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology, or STP), served as STP secretary (2009–2011), and will serve as the 2014 STP president.

    About the Contributing Authors

    Camille Helkowski, MEd, NCC, LCPC, is associate director of Loyola University Chicago's Career Development Center. She has been involved in higher education for more than 30 years, and her roles have included counselor, administrator, and instructor. She currently teaches an undergraduate course in career and life planning and a graduate course in career counseling, and supervises counseling practicum students throughout the academic year. Cam is the coauthor of several articles and books about college students, including Connect College to Career: A Student's Guide to Work and Life Transitions with Paul Hettich and The College Student Counseling Treatment Planner with Chris Stout and Art Jongsma. She is also a highly evaluated speaker who has presented at conferences throughout the United States and Canada. Her life outside of Loyola includes spending several hours a week in her private counseling practice and sharing as much time as possible with her very large family.

    John Jameson is a seasoned higher-education, talent management, and job transition consultant. He recruited diverse talent for CNA Insurance and General Growth Properties in campus, lifecycle, and sourcing roles. He served as a career advisor at Robert Morris University and, in 2009, founded Connecting Insights, where he enables job seekers to interview with confidence through video mock-interview programs. He is a board member of the DePaul University ASK (Alumni Sharing Knowledge) organization and president of Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity's Chicago Alumni Chapter. John enjoys collaborating with student organizations in the areas of recruitment and leadership development, and he has facilitated various interviewing, résumé writing, and networking workshops. John received a bachelor's in industrial and organizational psychology from DePaul University and lives in Chicago.

    Abby (Wilner) Miller conducts and manages research focusing on low-income, first-generation college students for The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education. At the time of publication, Abby was transitioning from her role as research manager for the Pell Institute to a position as consultant in higher-education policy at JBL Associates. She is also the coauthor of the bestselling Quarterlife Crisis: The Unique Challenges of Life in Your Twenties and Quarterlifer's Companion: How to Get on the Right Career Path, Control Your Finances, and Find the Support Network You Need to Thrive. She has provided commentary on the transition from college to the workforce for media outlets including Today, Oprah, CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Abby also created and maintains the website, an online community for twentysomethings. Abby holds a bachelor's degree in psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in educational policy and leadership from the University of Maryland.

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