A lot of jobs within the psychology job market regardless of your preferred subdiscipline, require you to have experience working with different clients and showing different skill sets. The problem with this “need for experience” is you cannot get experience without a job but you cannot get a job without experience. This is why unpaid work experience is unfortunately, extremely important if you want to get a job in psychology. Therefore, in this careers in psychology podcast episode, I’m going to explain three different ways to find work experience. If you’re interested in working in psychology, developing a psychology career and creating the best CV you possibly can, then you’ll love today’s episode.
This episode has been sponsored by Careers In Psychology: A Student’s Guide To Working In Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Business Psychology and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Note: as always nothing on this podcast is any sort of professional, legal or official advice. This is just based on my own experience of trying to find psychology work experience.
A Quick Note On Why Work Experience Is Important For Psychology Students
Whilst I’ve already mentioned a lot of benefits of work experience in the introduction, I just do want to share this small extract from A Student’s Guide To University and Learning because it explains another important aspect of work experience:
Our final point we’ve preluded to throughout this blog post but I want to say it explicitly- work experience can equip you with skills and experiences that lots of people don’t have.
For example, my placement year in research will help me develop my skills in researching a real-world setting. Other students in my year they’ll have research experience from their degree but not necessarily in a real-life setting.
If you studied medicine and you got work experience at a Doctor’s Surgery, you would have real-world experience and skills that I don’t think many other students would have.
Overall, work experience can be great for increasing your employability because you will have some great skills and experiences that you can draw on in your future work.”
How To Find Work Experience For Psychology Students?
Search Online and Check The Websites of Where You Want Experience
Moving onto the different ways you can find work experience, the easiest way is by searching the internet and checking the different websites of places that you want to work in or gain experience. I managed to find my learning disability experience by searching for it on the internet and then finding that the Kent Community Health Trust had an entire webpage on work experience in a very wide range of different departments.
Another great find I had was in the South London and Maudsley Trust because they had a lot of different schemes for people interested in psychology. There were a lot of volunteering schemes and a lot of interesting information.
I wouldn’t know any of this and I wouldn’t have developed and learnt the skills and knowledge from my learning disability placement if I hadn’t researched it online. It sounds so simple but still a lot of students miss out on options they would like and benefit from because they don’t look things up online.
Then what normally happens is you download a work experience application form off their website, you fill it out and send it back to them so they can make a decision. Also, you typically need a reference from anyone who can voucher for you and that you would benefit from the experience.
I remember on my application form I wrote out why I would benefit from it and then my supervisor for my dissertation last year basically reworded what I had written, because he is so not a clinical guy. So he wasn’t sure what new things he could add, but I got the experience thankfully.
Write To Places You Want To Work
This is definitely an interesting approach to work experience that I am both really nervous about and really, really excited about. Since I have work experience with people with learning disabilities, but over the summer I wanted to gain some work experience with working-aged adults. So originally I contacted some local NHS trusts about some volunteering work I had seen on their website with group therapy (that would have been ideal for me) but they never got back to me.
In addition, I developed a real interest in transgender people over the summer and I realised it was my ideal clinical population because it is a great group of people. Therefore, I knew I wanted to work in a Gender Identity Clinic and gain work experience in these settings although there were problems, none of them offered work experience and there are extremely few of them about. That made me want to branch out into looking for private psychologists that do the assessments too.
As a result, I didn’t want to let this stop me because I really, really wanted to work with this clinical population. And I had already saved a template or list of points to make in a professional application letter to the Clinical Psychology Doctorate after I had seen it on LinkedIn. So I grabbed that template, I adapted it for a work experience setting and I wrote to tons of different places all over the UK regardless of how much travelling I would have to do.
I wanted this work experience, and at the end of the blog post there is an example of one of the letters I wrote.
I wrote to 23 different places total.
The results of my letters were mostly two-fold. Firstly, the vast majority of places came back to me saying they don’t have the infrastructure for work experience but they were really impressed with my letter anyway. Secondly, I did get a fair amount of offers for meetings in-person or over Teams about career advice.
Even though I rejected the offers for a meeting because at the time I was certain I didn’t want to work with Transgender people as a career. I sort of wish I had now because that is the clinical population I want to work with, period.
Thankfully, one place did come back to me with an offer of work experience that I’m doing towards the end of October 2023 up North and I was really excited about it.
And I only got the work experience because I took a chance, I wrote a letter and I sent it off. It was scary and I was nervous but I am glad that I did it and now I get to work in a psychology mental health setting that I will hopefully love.
The Letter Structure
I am actually going to share a brief description of the letter structure I used and this was adapted from a post by Trainee Counselling Psychologist Melisa Eyuboglu who I do recommend you follow on LinkedIn too. She’s always posting useful psychology job-related things.
Therefore, these are the things I put in the letter based on her advice. It isn’t foolproof but I found it helpful.
· Clinic Experience
As you can imagine, even though you’re trying to get experience in clinical psychology, you’ll still have to explain how you already have experience that will help you in the role you hope to gain experience in. This is why non-psychology experience is useful and any volunteering you’ve done.
Just make sure that you explain how your experience will help you in this work experience.
· Using the structure of a letter helps the readability of it.
· Express your interest in the service and/ or the clinical population the service helps out and outline your psychology-related career goals. This helps the reader know you’re interest and benefit from the experience.
· The body of the letter needs to focus on how you’re the right person for the experience.
I’ll admit this is a hard one because normally you have a job description to work with and you should address every “Essential Person Specification” on the job application. Yet when it comes to work experience, I found NHS Trust’s websites detail out a lot of good information about how they work, the sort of people they employ and so on. I would say try to get creative and if you can find job vacancies, obviously you cannot apply for them but they can help you structure your letter a bit better.
· Make sure your letter flows properly and is easy to read. It needs to be comprehensive but it has to be readable. Thankfully, some of the person specification points tend to work together so you can write about them in a single sentence. For example, your ability to communicate sensitive information and having good communication can be tied together quickly and easily.
· Don’t repeat information unless you really can’t help it.
· Refer To the Trust’s values.
I cannot stress that point enough. That is insanely important and it isn’t hard to find out what they are.
· Take advantage of non-psychology experience if they’re helpful in responding to the person specification points.
· Make your letter personal by sharing something personal about you. Be it lived experience, how your personal values align with the role or your unique perspective.
· Write a conclusion that expresses gratitude for their time, repeat your interest in working with the client group and/ or the service.
· Never copy and paste these letters. Instead tailor them to each service.
· Limit this letter to about 700-800 words.
I’ll repeat that there’s an example of my letter at the bottom of the blog post but these are not guaranteed tips for writing a successful letter. I got a lot of praise for my letters but rejections from the work experience (granted I was writing to the wrong places) so just bare them in mind.
It’s Who You Know
The final way to get work experience as a psychology student is to make connections, network and find work experience opportunities that way. For example, through my mother’s work she knows the husband of a Lead clinical psychologist for Essex in the UK and the psychologist has said to my mother that she’s willing to gain me some experience whenever I want it.
Granted, I’ll be the first to admit that because of the bad summer I had, I haven’t given it much thought nor interest.
However, I have been checking out the Essential Criteria for some psychologist jobs lately and there seems to be a minor focus on working with families and carers. I don’t have experience in this area at all and I’m not particularly sure how I would get experience in this area.
Therefore, at the time of writing, when my parents get back from holiday, I’ll ask my mother to put me in contact with her friend so I can hopefully get some experience working with families and carers. Personally, I would rather enjoy getting some experience in the systemic and family approaches to psychotherapy. That would be a lot of fun and it would be a nice break from the cognitive-behavioural approach that I tend to focus on a lot.
Of course, I know I am very privileged to have a family member who knows a contact for me, but all of us can network, talk to and build relationships with clinical psychologists and other professionals that in the future might be able to help us with work experience. They might offer us work experience working directly with them or they might know people they are willing to talk to on our behalf.
Until we start building relationships and networking, you will never know where they can take us.
That’s another reason why I’m looking forward to my Gender Identity Clinic at the end of October 2023, because in an ideal world, I’ll be able to build contact there that might help me in the future after my Masters. Maybe even a job, I seriously doubt it but I can only hope.
Careers In Psychology Conclusion
Overall, we know that psychology students need work experience because it is impossible to get a job in the psychology job market without experience. Also, work experience helps us to develop skills, interest and it teaches us the different jobs we like and don’t like in psychology.
However, work experience is still difficult to get if you don’t know where to look.
That’s why we learnt you can find work experience online by searching the internet and the websites of the different places you want to gain experience in in case they offer work experience or volunteering.
Secondly, you can write a letter to the places you want to gain experience in using the letter structure I shared in case they do offer work experience and just don’t share it on their website. Or they might like your letter so much they are willing to make an exception to their no work experience rule. It could happen, I don’t know.
Finally, you might be able to get work experience through your connections and network.
Overall, I am really excited for my future work experience coming up in the last quarter of the year because it will be fun, insightful and it means I have more things to report on the podcast from a real-world setting.
And ultimately, all this experience will help me grow, develop and be one step closer to becoming a clinical psychologist in the future.
Something that will be challenging and maybe even depressing at times, but it will certainly be rewarding for sure.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s careers in psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Careers In Psychology: A Student’s Guide To Working In Clinical Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Business Psychology and More. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it. Also, you can buy the eBook directly from me at https://www.payhip.com/connorwhiteley
Have a great day.
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The Psychology Work Experience Letter That Got Me A Placement
Word count is 729.
Dear INSERT SERVICE’S NAME HERE,
I am writing to you to request possible work shadowing in your Clinic please for a working week in September 2023. I would like to deepen my knowledge and support working with transgender people. This experience will help me gain relevant clinical expertise for my future career as an assistant clinical psychologist upon the completion of my Clinical Psychology Masters's in September 2024. Also, this would allow me to start gaining experience in an NHS Working-Aged Adults setting in addition to my work experience in an NHS Learning Disability setting in September 2023.
I have attached my CV to this email and I have read your website and I am greatly interested in the assessment services you offer clients. Especially learning how gender dysphoria impacts a wide range of areas of functioning and mental health outcomes. For example, mental health, their journey and their interpersonal relationships. Since assessments would allow me to further develop my understanding of how this vital and life-changing part of a service works in a real-world setting.
Furthermore, I wholeheartedly support Trust’s values because all care must be delivered with care, respect and compassion because all clients are equal and it is only by being honest and transparent with clients that they will be able to make informed about how to improve their lives. This is even more important when it comes to the distressing natural of gender dysphoria and how it can negatively impact service user’s lives to the point they feel hopeless.
Moreover, whilst I currently lack direct clinical experience, I have excellent communication skills as supported in my Outreach and Research work. Since whenever a new participant was coming into the lab for the first time, they would be nervous. Therefore, it was my job to help them relax, open up and realise nothing bad was going to happen to them, and by the end of the experiment, the participant was laughing, smiling and glad to have taken part in the research.
Another example of why I would be suitable to work with clients is during my Outreach work as a Student Ambassador, you need to be confident, calm and competent about supporting students you have never met before. This includes encouraging them to share their ideas and experiences, inspire them to realise they can achieve things they never thought possible, like going to university because of their postcode, and it requires teamwork. Outreach events only happen because Ambassadors and members of university staff work together seamlessly to manage the day. Hence, I have good teamwork and listening skills as well.
Additionally, I have a high work ethic allowing me to work independently and finish a given task to a high standard. For example, I am the Host of The Psychology World Podcast, requiring me to research a topic, write a blog post, record, edit and upload an episode each week. This requires dedication and passion from me to make sure I deliver for my audience. Another example was during my academic placement year in 2021/22, my supervisor left me to conduct two literature reviews because he knew I would get them done with minimal supervision.
Personally, I am greatly interested and passionate in this area because I have a trans male friend and whilst I can only support him so much in the face of transphobia, since he started transitioning years before I met him. I would greatly appreciate the chance to develop my knowledge of transgender people in general so I can understand some of the things and difficulties my friend went through and is still going through. Also, I would ultimately like to help support transgender people in this negative political and social climate that tries to villainise trans people when they are nothing of the sort. This is another reason why during June 2023, my podcast conducted several podcast episodes in support of Trans people to educate the wider public.
Overall, thank you for taking the time to read this email, because I would like to gain work experience in the clinic working and supporting transgender people to help educate me further on trans people. In addition, to gaining invaluable clinical experience for my future clinical psychology career.
I look forward to hearing from you.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Have a good week,