Bridging the chasm between college and career is no easy feat, especially when you've just earned a degree in psychology. You've built a foundation in the subject and you know the jargon and understand its principles, but proving you have enough context to work in the field is another thing altogether.
Fortunately, even if you lack direct work experience in a psychology-based job, your degree, internships and other life events can form a resume that catches the eye of hiring managers. Here's how to translate your accomplishments into a resume that will help you land that first psychology-related job.
1. Show what you've learned
Use your real-world experience to bolster your resume. For Kirstin Kelley, a psychology graduate now working as a resident life director at Springfield College in Massachusetts, that meant pulling directly from her knowledge of human development to inform her resume approach.
"Working in resident life at a university relies heavily on my psych background," she says. "I respond to mental health crises, help identify barriers to success and talk to students about anything that's on their minds."
During her job interview, Kelley described how her psychology degree equipped her to handle such scenarios, which she believes helped her get hired.
2. Highlight internship experiences
Clearly describing prior work, volunteer or internship experience on your resume allows hiring managers to see that your training extends beyond the classroom.
"While I was in undergrad, I did an internship at the local domestic violence shelter," Kelley says. "After graduate school I used that experience to get a job as a sexual assault and domestic violence advocate. From there, I had the experience I needed to land my first job working in my current field — particularly working with a lot with students who needed support around sexual assault."
3. Use exact keywords
Don't forget to talk the talk. For Kelley, that meant showcasing on her resume that she was fluent in psychology terminology.
"For my field, I use phrases like 'student development' and 'trauma-informed,' which are both things I gained directly from my undergrad experiences," she says.
Nathan Adams, a psychology graduate student at The Citadel in Charleston, SC, concurs. "It's okay to name drop terminology," he says. "Before I entered grad school, I worked for six months in an autism classroom. I learned that so much of school psych is disability determination, and that involves a lot of nitty-gritty legalese."
When it came time to apply to grad school, Adams was armed with the language to show he had a well-versed understanding of how school psychology departments work ― as well as the experience and skills to back it up ― which he believes ultimately helped him get into the program.
If you're not sure which keywords to include in your resume, reread the job posting to see what types of experience and knowledge they're looking for in a candidate. Using those words verbatim will help you get past the applicant tracking systems (ATSs) that often scan resumes before they go to the hiring manager. You'll want customize your resume for each job to make sure you're including the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the role.
4. Include all essential resume components
Your resume should include the five key sections hiring managers expect: a header with your contact information; a professional summary that covers your most relevant and valuable experiences; a skills section highlighting items from the job description; your work history; and education section. You can check out our guide on how to write a resume for more details.
5. Build your resume to set the scene for the story in your cover letter
If your resume shows the facts of who you are, your cover letter tells the story that links your experiences together. The cover letter is where you can get a little more personal and explain to a potential employer why you want the job and spell out how your qualifications make you a great fit. More than anything, the best approach for your cover letter is to be honest.
Although we don't recommend listing your GPA on your psychology graduate resume unless it's very high, listing your grades in applicable courses is more applicable to recent graduates who lack work experience, since it's a measure of importance. If you leave it off your resume, instead highlighting your fields of study and practical experience, you can use your cover letter to explain your own personal growth and maturity as you developed over your years of undergrad. Check out our guide to resume formats to determine the best way to present this information.
"I waffled over bringing up my GPA in my interviews and on cover letters, but figured that anyone hiring would ultimately see it," says Adams.
Instead of hiding the fact that he struggled in his first years of college, he used his GPA as a positive to explain how he turned his grades around his senior year, earning a 4.0 GPA. That kind of candor can be a plus in the field of psychology, where the study of conscious and unconscious, as well as feeling and thought, are all part of the discipline.
"Psychology is a pretty forgiving field," says Adams. "Ultimately, it's just important to show your innate passion for the job."
6. Edit all your materials carefully
While psychology might be forgiving, you don't want to submit application materials that are riddled with typos or other sloppy mistakes. Our Resume Builder assures that your document is bulletproof and helps you put your best foot forward, offering guidance on how to create a psychology resume that will impress potential employers. Have others look your resume over, once you've gotten it together – there's nothing like a fresh pair of eyes. You can also browse our Psychologist Resume Samples and Entry-Level Psychologist Resume Samples to find inspiration.