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Thoughts, ideas, gems of advice

This page is for any bits of advice you have received which you would like to pass on, or conclusions you have reached in your burgeoning career.

Here are a few of my own, for starters. This only represents my own experience and viewpoint - please share yours!

This page was last added to (or edited) on 31st March 2003

As an undergraduate

[ Please also see the FAQ for undergraduates ]

When you're thinking about what to do for your final year project, think about ways to build in a bit of relevant experience (in addition to the research skills you'll gain). Clinically relevant research is particularly useful, as is anything that gives you good transferable skills. For example, try getting out and interviewing people. Your supervisor might prefer you to analyse some data from their own work or do other bits they don't have time for, but that little interviewing experience might really help land your first job once you graduate.

Similarly, get some relevant experience during the holidays. This need not be within the psychological field. Chances are there's something you'll enjoy and can earn you a bit of money. For example, I did a playscheme for children with a range of disabilities for two summer holidays. It was hard work, but rewarding, and it enabled me to put all sorts on my CV about multi-disciplinary working, applying degree knowledge to life, confidentiality, specific knowledge on challenging behaviour, training provided etc.

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Volunteering your services

If you are an undergraduate or have recently graduated, don't be disappointed if voluntary work doesn't involve any client contact initially. Once people get to know and trust you, you have a much better chance to get increasingly 'more relevant' work.

Use any contacts you have to get voluntary work: you may know someone who is an assistant psychologist, a trainee, or a secretary in a psychology department. If jobs are thin on the ground (and if you can afford it), get some relevant voluntary work. If this is with psychologists (or a team which includes a psychologist), so much the better, as they may give you a reference, and when paid work comes up, you'll probably get an interview. Plenty of people end up doing this, and it tends to be a great way to get your foot in the door and to make some contacts. You might start off doing administration or clerical stuff, but show willing and you'll be on their list when a 'proper' post comes up.

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Getting that first post

Jobs are advertised in all sorts of places. A large number of posts are probably not advertised at all, or perhaps only on internal university or trust bulletins. Thus it's important to make a few contacts - yes, it's that dreaded word NETWORKING. Join your local psychology graduates group - some posts only get advertised through them, naughty as this may be. You may find some supportive people, share a moan, get some ideas, feedback, a bit of professional development. They often organise seminars, invited speakers etc.

Look out for research assistant and junior research associate posts. These are very relevant, and are often advertised by university psychiatry departments (or similar). Obviously, great for your research skills, you might get your name in a publication, might work alongside psychologists, should get some form of client contact (making assessments of whatever kind), and pay is usually decent (often higher than assistant psychologist scale). If there are no immediate links with psychologists, start asking around, listening out, you might be able to get the odd half-day working with one, even if it is just shadowing. Again, it can all go on the CV, and may lead to more in future.

Find out about psychologists working near you (e.g. from papers, internet or journals), what their interests are, send a CV with covering letter saying you'll phone them soon, and er, phone them. Yes, psychologists may get plenty of these letters, but if you show in your letter that you've done a bit of research, know what they do, explain why you'd love to work with them (not just 'I want a DClinPsyc'), and gear your CV accordingly, you never know. Again, if you can afford to do this for no money, all the better, but there might just be some funding coming in. I only sent off two such speculative applications, and was offered some paid part-time work two months later. Even if you get nothing, you have got your name known and it gives you an excuse to have a chat with a psychologist.

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Job applications

Look at the job specification that comes with each application form, and gear your 'further information' section towards it quite specifically. Try putting all the 'essential' and 'desirable' requirements in the first column of a table, and a few lines on each in the second column. Format it nicely, and you have outlined your 'relevant experience' for the job. I have provided an example layout which I have used many times in the past.

Try not to repeat yourself, and if you really feel you have nothing at all to meet a criterion, leave that out completely. Keep this on disk and use it as a template for each application. Most importantly, keep reviewing it, adding to it, get someone else to read it, and make each version fit the job description as closely as possible. If it's clearly written, the people sifting those applications can see at a glance how you meet their criteria. (And of course you thus demonstrate written communication skills)

Wherever possible, try and visit places where you apply to work, or at the very least, phone the contact person on the job description. It shows willing and initiative, shows you're really interested and you can make an impression. Ask questions, get an idea of what the work would be like, find out about the team, smile. You'll also get ideas for what the interview might involve, and what sparkling questions to ask. Try and find out a bit about the structure of the service and how that department (or unit or team) fits in.

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Job interviews

You may well have many interviews, and will grow mighty sick of them. But believe me, it'll pay off eventually. Prepare the obvious questions - important things in teamwork, equal opportunities, strengths and weaknesses, what you got from degree and other bits of work, what you could bring to the job, what you'd hope to gain. You may be asked questions that DClinPsyc interviewees encounter, e.g. about recent research you have read, about a difficult client you had, which model interests you most and why, about research you've done. So it might be worth thinking about these and doing a bit of reading. Find out about other questions people have been asked at such interviews. Some like to ask fairly random things, such as 'If you were a pizza topping, what would you be?'. This is not a trick or 'analytical' question, but tests your ability to think on your feet. A little unkind when you're probably nervous enough as it is, but there we are.

Know why you want the job - include reasons other than 'I need it to get on to the course' - you can be honest about that, but you'll need a bit more. Think about how your previous work experience is relevant, e.g. working with anyone in any shape or form who presents some challenging behaviours is relevant to most assistant posts (for example work with children or elderly groups). For the majority of posts, you're not expected to have direct experience with a client group. Rather, people will look at your 'transferable' skills.

Think about what they might ask that is more specific to the post. What do you think are the major issues for people with illness X or disorder Y? How can they receive the best service possible? What would you do if child Z went ballistic and no-one else was about? If you're asked about your strengths and weaknesses, do tell them about your weaknesses, but be sure to say how you address them, perhaps by seeking supervision. Smile, be enthusiastic, get enough sleep, relax, interviewers are only people too. Try and arrange a mock interview, e.g. with a local university careers service (probably more appropriate than job centres).

If you get an interview, but aren't offered the job, always phone and ask why. There may be issues you can easily address. Plus it gives you another chance to chat a bit, and you may be asked if you'd like your CV to be kept on file. When little bits of work come up, it's often not worth the time, money and hassle to advertise, so people will simply phone someone they've interviewed before and thinks could do the job. 'It could be you!'. Alternatively, they might contact people via a graduate group - another good reason to join one.

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Learning from the job

Just 'doing the job' can sometimes end up as 'collecting stamps' - you end up ticking off things from your mental checklist ("next, I will do learning disabilities!") instead of not actually learning from your job and the people around you.

Yvonne Waft has very kindly written a splendid article on this topic.

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Completing the course application form

You can download some 2003 entry application forms on the downloads page. Would you mind sharing your form with other users of this site? If so, please get in touch. Of course, you could edit and/or anonymise it all you like.

In terms of tips and pointers, this section is on my 'to do' list.

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Tips for course interviews

I have had a recent interview, with others coming up. If you have some experience to pass on, please get in touch. Perhaps you could tell us your impressions of the interview, what questions you were asked, or what you learned about that particular course.

This section is on my 'to do' list.

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(Re)claiming income tax on BPS subscriptions

If you are a BPS member working working as a psychologist, you can claim income tax relief on your membership fees. This can be applied retrospectively for 3 years. All you need to do is write to your employer's Inland Revenue office with a few details.

I wasn't aware of this until a few months ago, and nor it seems were my colleagues. It's not a huge amount of money but worth doing if you are entitled to it.

I have provided an example letter which I used to successfully (re)claim this money. You can get it from the downloads page.