Peggy Christidis and Jessica Conroy
American Psychological Association
The mission of APA’s Center for Workforces Studies (CWS) is to collect, analyze, and disseminate data that is relevant to the psychology workforce and education pipeline. CWS has looked extensively at the psychology education pipeline, focusing on psychology degree recipients at the master’s and doctoral levels, but in recent years, there has been a growing interest in understanding our psychology bachelor’s degree recipients. In particular, we were interested in knowing what psychology baccalaureates are doing with their degrees once they graduated. Are they moving on to graduate school? If so, are they continuing with a psychology graduate degree, or a degree in a different major? How many psychology baccalaureates are entering the workforce? What types of jobs are they doing? What sorts of skills are they developing during their undergraduate study and using most often at their jobs? Do these skills coincide with the types of skills employers are looking for? Our goal was to collect vital statistics about career trajectories, outcomes, and the psychology job market, as well provide useful resources and tools for psychology faculty and students exploring their future careers. Our research has led to several findings which contribute to the corpus of knowledge currently available, which psychology faculty and students can use to understand their postgraduation options.
What do you do after receiving a psychology bachelor’s degree?
According to data from the 2017 National Science Foundation’s National Survey of College Graduates, there were approximately 3.5 million people in the United States with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. For two million of these people (56 percent), the psychology baccalaureate was their highest degree earned, meaning most students directly enter the workforce after graduating.
The remaining 1.5 million (44 percent) did obtain a graduate degree, but not necessarily in psychology. In fact, 1.1 million (30 percent) of psychology bachelor’s degree holders obtained a master’s or doctoral degree in a field outside of psychology. Approximately 13 percent of psychology baccalaureates went on to receive a psychology master’s degree, and only four percent obtained a doctoral degree in psychology (to learn more about degree pathways in psychology, CWS provides an interactive data tool: https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/degrees-pathways).
These findings suggest that the degree pathways of psychology baccalaureates do not necessarily lead to a psychology graduate degree. In fact, this path is the one least traversed. This information has implications regarding what elements of a psychology degree should be emphasized and which skills should be taught to prepare students entering the workforce. As such, psychology faculty and students should be aware of the types of occupations psychology baccalaureates are entering after graduation.
What jobs can you get?
According to NSF’s 2017 National Survey of College Graduates, 72 percent of the two million psychology bachelor’s degree recipients were employed. Another 24 percent were not in the workforce for various reasons, such as being retired, leaving the workforce temporarily for family reasons, or working on another degree but not having earned that degree just yet. Only 4 percent were unemployed.
For the 72 percent who were actively employed, what were their occupations? Psychology baccalaureates cited 92 different types of occupations, including counseling, accounting, marketing, personnel, and insurance. However, most often noted were occupations such as “social workers” (5 percent), “management-related positions” (5 percent), “administrative occupations” (5 percent), and “service” (4 percent). Three percent also had occupations as top-level managers, executives, and administrators (to learn more about careers in psychology, CWS proves an interactive data tool: https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/careers-psychology).
Individuals with a psychology bachelor’s degree as their highest degree are clearly finding employment, in a variety of occupations. This finding suggests that the psychology bachelor’s degree, at the very least, is giving the degree recipient skills and abilities that are transferable to a number of different occupations and make them well-suited candidates for management and leadership roles. As such, faculty and students need to be aware of the types of skills that are developed during a baccalaureate education so that students can both recognize the occupations they are suited for and capable of entering, as well as market themselves effectively when seeking employment.
Skills and the psychology job market
So, which skills are important? Understanding the skills that students acquire during their education, those they need in the workforce, and how those skills are changing over time, is of vital importance to preparing students for life after graduation. Unfortunately, there are few sources of information on this topic, so how can we know which and even if the skills students are earning in their programs are being used in the workplace? To begin addressing this question, we have explored and analyzed multiple sources to understand the skills used on the job, as well as the skills employers are looking for.
To access the demand for skills from an employer perspective, we used a text analysis of psychology job advertisements pulled from the APA psycCareers job board (APA, 2018a). This provided unique and valuable insights into the skills employers are looking for in psychology fields and a snapshot of how those skills are changing over time. To complement these data, we also performed analyses on interviews from the APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” webinar series and of the O*NET database to find the most important skills for performing psychology jobs. Using these three data sources, we were able to identify several important skills that employers are looking for, as well as skills that are vital to performing psychology occupations. It is important to note that while employers may be placing a high emphasis on certain skills, it may not indicate the skills that are actually being used on the job, but rather, the skills that employers are having the most trouble finding in their candidate pool.
Which skills do employers want?
Using a keyword-based decision-tree, we identified the skills requested in all the job advertisements posted to the APA psycCareers job board over a three-year period; from 2015 through 2017. This dataset consisted of 6,922 advertisements, approximately 48% of which were for health service psychologist positions and 37% of for faulty positions. The remainder were for researcher (6%), applied psychologist (4%), and other positions (5%). Across all job types, the most frequently requested skills included “leadership,” “cultural awareness,” “teamwork,” and “communication.” However, the pattern changed when examined by job type.
Employers looking for faculty candidates requested “cultural awareness” most frequently, followed distantly by “leadership” and “teamwork” skills. Postings for health service positions, on the other hand, requested “leadership,” “teamwork,” and “communication” the most and at almost the same rates. Unsurprisingly, “analytical skills” were most requested among researcher positions, and “communication” and “leadership” skills took the lead for applied psychology positions which included human factors, consulting, and forensic psychology.
Over time the frequency of advertisements requesting at least one skill has increased, with 45% of advertisements posted in 2015 increasing to 49% in 2016 and 54% in 2017 (APA, 2018b). When broken out by skills requested, we found that some skills were increasing in frequency more than others. Specifically, cultural awareness, which overtook leadership skills as the most requested in 2017. Teamwork and communication skills also increased in frequency between 2015 and 2017. An investigation into these trends found that the increase in requests for cultural awareness was driven primarily by advertisements for faculty positions, while the increase in requests for teamwork and communications skills was likely driven by ads for health service positions. These trends have important implications for students and early career psychologists looking for positions in these fields. They may indicate areas of increased emphasis, such as a shift in the health services field towards interdisciplinary care. They may also indicate the skills that employers are having difficulty finding in the candidate pool (Burning Glass Technologies, 2015). As such, psychologists on the job market should consider highlighting some of the more sought skills that they possess and developing those that they don’t.
Which skills will you use?
Accessing the skills used on the job for psychology degree holders is extremely limited by the available data sources. To gain an understanding of these skills, we used a two-fold approach, using both a small dataset of 18 interviews from the APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” (HDYGTJ) webinar, and an analysis of occupations requiring a higher than average knowledge of psychology from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).1 The HDYGTJ Interviews consisted primarily of applied psychologists, while the O*NET analysis used the average importance of psychology to job performance to determine which occupations to include, and therefore includes jobs that are performed by individuals with or without a degree in psychology.
The analysis of HDYGTJ Interviews consisted of methods like those utilized in the psycCareers analysis, using an automated key-word search to identify the skills mentioned most frequently. Analyzed questions included a description of the interviewee’s current position, similar job titles for the role, and the most valuable skills and abilities acquired during their training. This analysis identified communication skills, analytical skills, and critical thinking skills as the most frequently used and most useful skills in day-to-day job performance.
The O*NET analysis consisted of filtering the database for occupations with an importance of psychology higher than average for day-to-day job performance (386 of 967 total occupations represented in the O*NET database).2 Across these occupations, we then averaged the importance scores for the 35 different skills included in the O*NET database. Similar to the HDYGTJ findings, communication skills like active listening and speaking, and critical thinking had the highest average importance scores.
These findings can be used to help point students and early career psychologists in the right direction when exploring their current skill profile and options for professional development. Furthermore, understanding the skills gained during training and how those can be leveraged on the psychology job market is an important steppingstone for success, and one that should not be ignored.
Psychology students often turn to faculty for information and guidance regarding the next step after graduation, whether that be graduate school or entry into the workforce. As such, it is essential to provide psychology faculty with the necessary data and statistics to help inform their students. It is also important to recognize the variety of pathways from undergraduate psychology education. While some psychology baccalaureates obtain graduate degrees in psychology, more sizable proportions obtain graduate degrees in other fields or go directly into the workforce. Students that follow that latter pathway could benefit from information about employment options, how to find a job, the skills they should highlight when looking for employment, and a general understanding that a wide range of career pathways exist beyond a graduate education in psychology. We hope that both psychology faculty and students will take advantage of the tools, reports, and statistics that CWS offers, and that these resources will provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions about the many education and career opportunities that are available to psychology baccalaureates.
For more information on the Center for Workforce Studies and the various resources we have available for psychology students and faculty, visit our website at www.apa.org/workforce.
American Psychological Association. (2018a). 2015-17 Psychology Job Advertisements: An Overview. Washington, DC: Author
American Psychological Association. (2018a) 2015-17 Psychology Job Advertisements [Unpublished special analyses]
Burning Glass Technologies. (2015). The human factor: The hard time employers have finding soft skills. Retrieved from https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/Human_Factor_Baseline_Skills_FINAL.pdf
National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2017). National Survey of College Graduates Public Use Microdata File and Codebook. Retrieved from https://sestat.nsf.gov/datadownload/
1Source: This information is from the O*NET 24.1 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA. The American Psychological Association has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed or tested these modifications
2 Importance was scored on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (very important). Ratings were based on survey data collected from representatives in each occupation and input by occupational experts with years of experience in and around the occupation. Additional information on O*NET knowledge definitions and methodology can be found at https://www.onetcenter.org/database.html#overview
CWS Data Tools - https://www.apa.org/workforce/data-tools/index
APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” webinar - www.apa.org/members/your-growth/career-development/how-did-you-get-that-job/index.aspx
O*NET OnLine tools for career exploration - https://www.onetonline.org/