1. Use the right language
Most psychology services will be used to emails and letters from students hoping to gain work experience. So much so, that the very words ‘work experience’ may be enough for a prospective employer to stop reading. From speaking to a few psychologists, there is the mindset that offering ‘work experience’ is often costly – in both time and energy. Therefore, by proposing a working relationship which is mutually beneficial, this original hesitation can be changed. For example, offering to be “an assistant” sounds a lot more encouraging that “I am seeking work experience”. A short summary of your specific strengths and ways in which you believe you can make a valued contribution to a service is also a great way to get noticed and be memorable. Which brings us on to the next point…
2. Research each service
There is little point offering to help with admin if the psychologist you are contacting works independently. Research everywhere that you contact (before you contact them) and make a few bullet-pointed notes on every service. It sounds a lot better to say “I am really interested in working with you because you specialise in X” than something more generic. This is particularly important with research positions; explain why that specific project/researcher is of interest to you and try to draw from your university course for evidence: “In second year I had a module called X which got me really interested in etc…” Knowledge and interest in your course is a really strong quality to be able to offer a potential employer (particularly if, like me, your work experience is limited).
3. Manage expectations.
As psychology (and other social science) students will be used to hearing – confidentiality is key. Although shadowing therapy sessions may sound like a brilliant way to get experience (and I’m sure it is), this will rarely be possible. Psychologists are bound by ethics in every part of their work and particularly in the most sensitive environments; this means that work experience is even more difficult to obtain. Having an understanding of these ethical considerations can really work in your favour when first approaching prospective employers. It will show that you understand the field you’re hoping to go into, and you have full awareness of the extent of your role in the service. This is important in terms of maintaining professional boundaries and protecting the confidentiality of the clients. Also, as mentioned in part 1 of this series, contacting psychologists early can allow plenty of time for DBS clearance (which can take up to 6 weeks).
4. Keep track of your contacts
I found that due to the large number of contacts that I eventually made, it could have been quite difficult to remember which conversations were with every service. I made a simple spreadsheet that allowed me to keep on top of who I had contacted, who had replied and so on (see below for an example. Be persistent, but respectful – if somewhere declines your offer firmly, then take their word for it.
|Name of service||Emailed?||Telephoned?||Posted letter?||Reply: Y/N?||Reason/feedback given||Date.|
|MP Psychology||Yes. firstname.lastname@example.org||N||N||
||They don’t offer work experience. Given details of another service which might.||
Madeleine Pownall is a second year psychology student at University of Lincoln. She runs a blog www.thoughtbubblesblog.co.uk which discusses current issues in a psychological context. Find her on twitter: @1thoughtbubbles
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