Aileen has a BA (Hons) in applied psychology and an MSc in occupational psychology. She currently works in the Human Capital practice of a global business consultancy firm.
When I started my psychology degree, my ultimate goal was to become a clinical psychologist. However, through my studies, I developed an insight into what this role actually involved and decided that it wasn’t the right career path for me after all. Throughout my course I particularly enjoyed my modules on occupational psychology and this got me considering a career as an occupational psychologist. In particular, the variety of career options within the discipline really appealed to me. After my degree, I took a year out to travel and gain some work experience and then I applied for an MSc in occupational psychology.
I thoroughly enjoyed the MSc programme, particularly my thesis project where I looked at the factors influencing graduate engineer retention in two manufacturing companies. I loved the consultancy aspect of the project - gathering and analysing quantitative data, meeting with staff and managers to gather qualitative data, and presenting my findings and recommendations to the senior management team. I was pretty sure at this stage that consultancy was the right career for me.
While doing my Masters thesis project I came into contact with a small consulting firm/psychometric test publisher as I had wanted to use one of the tests they produced to gather data for my project. I stayed in touch with them and when I had completed my Masters they invited me to interview for a junior consultant position. I really enjoyed the work, particularly the problem-solving aspect and the constant interaction with clients across a wide range of sectors and companies. However, as it was a small company, the progression opportunities were limited, so after two years I successfully applied for a role in the Human Capital practice of a large global consultancy firm.
My work is extremely varied, which is probably what most appeals to me about the job. On one project I might be designing a management development programme for a client, and on another, helping a company to manage the people-related change associated with a new business strategy. The less enjoyable aspects are sometimes having to do quite long hours (although this is not a regular occurrence) and the fact that sometimes, for various reasons, clients don’t implement your recommendations. Overall, it’s an interesting and challenging job and the financial rewards are quite good. Under the supervision of my manager, who is an occupational psychologist, I am working toward chartered status.
My recommendations for aspiring occupational psychologists are to have some business experience, which will usually help with your Masters application. Everyone on my Masters programme had worked for some period of time before starting the course. If you are thinking about getting into consultancy, consider doing an internship or work placement. Many of the larger firms offer formal programmes. Also, if you are planning to become a chartered psychologist, get working on your ‘stage 2’ as soon as possible and try to stay focused. It takes time and it’s easy to become distracted by other things once you start working.
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