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Student Blog: A Quick Guide to Finding Work Experience in Psychology: Part 2 – by Madeleine Pownall

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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. mppsychology@uol.com N N
  1. Reply from Joe Bloggs on 05/01/2017
They don’t offer work experience. Given details of another service which might.

01/01/2017.

 

 

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

If you missed part 1 of this blog series, catch up here:

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email: collegesocialscience@lincoln.ac.uk

Student Blog: A Quick Guide to Finding Work Experience in Psychology: Part 1 – by Madeleine Pownall

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Psychology – and other social sciences – are notoriously difficult fields to find work experience in. The need for relevant, clinical experience is ingrained into students from the moment they walk into their first lecture, and yet it is a feat which is easier said than done in many respects. Last summer I worked for two independent psychotherapy services and an NHS specialist service. All these experiences taught me a massive amount, and here is some advice to secure these placements and (more importantly) get the most out of them.

1. Contact Contact Contact

Research your field – where do you want to work? Why? What kind of services are near you? Find them, look at their websites and gather as much information as you can, and then contact them. I found that short-term placements (suitable for 3-4 months over the summer) were almost never advertised on recruitment websites. The larger, most popular companies are usually inundated with student requests for work experiences, so I targeted smaller independent firms by telephone. Phone calls are the easiest way to communicate personality, enthusiasm and are less likely to be ignored (unlike emails). I wrote letters to 48 practices and the ones that accepted me for work experience were the ones I telephoned directly.

2. Be creative and realistic

If – like me – you’re a psychology student, the most typical work experience that you will hope to get is a clinical placement. These opportunities are often few and far between, which means that it is time to get creative. Have a long think about where you want your degree to take you and explore the opportunities which are likely more ‘off the beaten track’. I worked with a lovely psychotherapist who specialises in mindfulness and holistic therapies – the experience was hugely relevant to my course and due to the small nature of the business gave me a real insight into alternative psychology practices. Despite the obvious appeal of large clinical practices, smaller more niche companies can offer a rather unique and personable experience. If you’ve approached all the NHS/private sectors near you and haven’t had any luck, do not despair. Expand your search criteria and keep your options as open as possible. For example, although typing “psychology services” into google may seem a fail-safe plan, using slightly more creative language can give you more hits.

3. Join a staff bank

NHS and independent sectors advertise for bank staff throughout the year. This is perfect for students, because there are no contracted hours (you work as and when available/required). Health care support worker posts are the most frequently advertised and are often available in secure units, psychiatric wards and private hospitals. Additionally, there are temporary recruitment agencies (I worked for TaskMaster Resources) who employ cover staff for the NHS. These are well worth pursuing, particularly for short-term opportunities.

4. Look early

It is likely that psychology practices receive many requests from students, particularly just before the summer or other holidays. Start your search early and build up a bank of contacts which you can later approach when you know your university holidays (with exam dates etc.) For example, I started looking for placements starting for May in January time, and was able to relax during exam time knowing that relevant work experience had been secured.

5. Be prepared to volunteer

Two of my work experience placements were voluntarily. Expenses were paid (train tickets etc.) but other than that, the work I did was entirely free. When the offers first came in I was suitably sceptical and had to secure full time paid work to fund myself, working around the volunteer positions. However, these opportunities gave me genuinely invaluable experience and contacts. Show enthusiasm, invest in your long-term career and be prepared for placements which don’t pay (especially the most competitive sectors).

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

If you have something you would like us to post here, please email: collegesocialscience@lincoln.ac.uk