How to Leverage a Master’s of Psychology for Success in the Job Market

According to ZipRecruiter, professionals holding a Master’s of Psychology experience incredibly severe variation in compensation–as low as $19,500 and as high as $129,500. But like any degree, how you use it will determine the outcome. And in this article, we outline how to use a Master’s of Psychology degree to enable professional dreams and achieve financial security.

The Value of a Master’s in Psychology

Any psychology student will have experienced some pushback at some point in their academic careers, likely in the form of someone claiming that psychology is a dead field or that “nobody makes money in psychology.” In fact, this type of resistance will be familiar to any student of the liberal arts. But psychology is a well-established science with decades of groundbreaking work, so where does this myth come from?

Like any myth, its prevalence is a result of its truthfulness. The truth is that a career in psychology is a dead end for some, but will also offer the highest levels of success and fulfillment to others. As evidenced in the salary ranges, psychology just happens to be one of the fields where these polarities stretch to points of extreme outcomes in success and failure–which vicariously conveys to others that psychology is a risky endeavor, professionally speaking.

Conquering the risks of mediocrity

The good news is that earning a Master’s of Psychology is among your best strategies for building toward success. As a newer science that is simultaneously evolving and intellectually demanding, high end careers in psychology typically require at least a Master’s.

But for students striving for success, minimum requirements are of the least concern. As graduate school has taught you or will teach you, going above and beyond initial expectations is how you compete and actualize goals–after all, that’s how one gets accepted to graduate school to begin with.

The value of a Master’s of Psychology is in how one uses it

One’s acceptance into graduate school is dependent on more than the cards one was dealt, and instead is dependent on how one plays those cards.

But unlike graduate school, there are no guide rails or training wheels in the job market–there is only what you do and what you don’t do. Thankfully it is this simplicity that also allows for advisement such as we offer in this article, so let’s dive-in to the do’s and don’t’s of achieving success after graduate school.

The Transition from Student to Professional

If one has earned or is in the process of earning a Master’s, then the years of requisite schooling will have likely conveyed at least one truth: each tier of education bears new and unique challenges. College is demanding in ways that a high school student cannot imagine, a fact that is likewise poignant in regards to college students transitioning into graduate school.

But the transition from graduate school–or any school for that matter–into the job market is of a totally different nature. The nature of education is one of privilege and contract. Students pay for an education for which their educators are contractually obligated to oblige, a fact obfuscated by the stringent demands of academically rigorous programs. But the simple fact remains that students benefit from an implicit guarantee of sorts that they will be taken care of, should they put forth the agreed upon efforts.

No guarantees after graduation

This is why graduate students often enter a state of shock upon entering the job market:

Suddenly there is no contract.

Suddenly there is no privilege.

There is only what one can do with the cards in one’s hand.

While some students may get tremendously lucky with a job offer or a professional connection, these are wild cards that should not be relied upon because in the end those are anomalies and the house always wins, particularly in a recessive economy.

But like any game of cards, there are methods for reading the deck and predicting the hand of the dealer. So let’s take a look at how to hedge your bets.

Identifying Opportunities in the Job Market

The task of identifying opportunities in the job market will differ drastically depending on what market one pursues. Data Scientists for instance often take jobs around the country every year or two in order to multiply their salaries and capitalize on regional market growth opportunities. Sales professionals often find success by demonstrating loyalty and continued success within one sector of a market. Professors and educators often look to put down roots in a school system or university to pursue tenure.

The constraints of a profession in psychology however, will depend almost entirely on which specialization one wants to pursue. That being said, there are some effective strategies and analytical techniques that hold true throughout different specialized tracks.

Steps for Identifying Opportunities in Psychology Job Markets

  • Find the hotspot for your job type: Like a field of technology, high-end psychological careers tend to cluster around regional hot-beads of research and industry. High density population centers typically offer a host of opportunities in private practice, industrial-organizational jobs, and research.

  • Look for inroads to the professional community: Because the field of psychology is dominated by “best practices” determined by current research and theory, there is typically a backdoor to any specialization located in the research. That is, by participating in the research of one’s desired field, one can simultaneously develop professional connections and begin scouting industry trends and opportunities.

    And perhaps most importantly, one can begin this step while earning one’s master’s or even before.

  • Take certifications and specialties seriously: Because the field of psychology exists in a perpetual state of evolution, professional psychologists can distinguish themselves by staying ahead of the curve. Particularly in fields of research, counseling, and Industrial-Organizational there are certifications and participation in conferences that employers find exceedingly favorable.

  • Seek out both recruiters and dream jobs: Even if you are unqualified for you dream job, it is crucial that one seeks them out and identifies job requirements and who typically earns the position. To this end, having a recruiter in your corner can be a godsend. These professionals have access to databases and networks that average professionals simply do not. Particularly in the field of psychology where opportunities are not always obvious, recruiters are highly beneficial.

  • Engage the industry: Many professionals make the mistake of landing a job and then waiting for the next thing to happen–the next opportunity to arise. In the field of psychology, opportunities often come in unexpected ways, so it is important to always maintain a strong connection to the industry. One might do this by participating in research, attending conferences, or by maintaining a presence in contract work or writing.

    Psychologists often build brands in their spare time by writing (in which case Medium.com is a great choice) and posting blog-style reflections. Additionally, one maintain contract-work profiles to offer services on the side and continue to build a portfolio (Fiverr.com is a popular choice in this context).

Regional Hotspots for Psychology Jobs in America

Finding a psychology job often comes down to the question of “where?” because while certain regional salary data might be appealing, higher salaries are often counter-balanced by high costs of living in the area. Additionally, a high concentration of psychology jobs is not always a good thing and might even indicate a saturated job market, however it can function as a great place to start one’s search.

One metric to keep in mind is employment concentration. The following tables rank states by the number of jobs but also the concentration of jobs, in other words, an area with a high employment rate but low concentration (employment per 10,000) means that the job market is not saturated.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the regional data for some of the most popular psychology jobs in America with all data being supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It is also an important note that the BLS does not include self-paid workers in the following statistics.

Jobs of Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists by State

The states with the highest levels of employment for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are as follows:

California: 17,210 jobs

$ 55.69 per hour

$ 115,830 per year

New York: 9,900 jobs

$ 46.65 per hour

$ 97,030 per year

Texas: 8,930 jobs

$ 35.18 per hour

$ 73,160 per year

The states that pay the most to clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are as follows:

Hawaii: 410 jobs

$ 53.26 per hour

$ 110,780 per year

Louisiana: 270 jobs

$ 52.49 per hour

$ 109,180 per year

Oregon: 1,520 jobs

$ 51.92 per hour

$ 108,000 per year

Jobs of Industrial-Organizational Psychologists by State

The states with the highest levels of employment (by concentration per 10,000) for Industrial-Organizational psychologists are as follows:

California

.01 per 10,000 jobs

$ 57.26 per hour

$ 119,100 per year

Texas

.00 per 10,000 jobs

$ 31.17 per hour

$ 64,820 per year

Ohio

.01 per 10,000 jobs

$ 47.49 per hour

$ 98,770 per year

States that pay the most to Industrial-Organizational Psychologists are as follows:

California

.01 per 10,000 jobs

$ 57.26 per hour

$ 119,100 per year

Ohio

.01 per 10,000 jobs

$ 47.49 per hour

$ 98,770 per year

Pennsylvania

.01 per 10,000 jobs

$ 45.68 per hour

$ 95,000 per year

Industry Breakdown of Psychology Jobs

Often as important as where a job is, the industry in which a job is positioned can be as important or even more important. So let’s take a look at some industry data provided by the BLS to get a better idea of the thriving sub-sectors of psychology job markets.

The industries with the highest levels of employment of psychology jobs are as follows:

Federal, State, and Local Government

8,000 jobs
0.40 per 10,000

$ 48.05 per hour

$ 99,940 per year

Offices of Health Practitioners

1,340 jobs
0.15 per 10,000

$ 64.26 per hour

$ 133,660 per year

Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools

800 jobs
0.03 per 10,000

$ 41.42 per hour

$ 86,160 per year

The industries with the highest salaries for psychology jobs are as follows:

Offices of Health Practitioners

$ 64.26 per hour

$ 133,660 per year

Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services

$ 55.87 per hour

$ 116,210 per year

Elementary and Secondary Schools

$ 50.18 per year

$ 104,360 per year

The Key Takeaways of Psychology Job Data

While there are many conclusions to be drawn from the available data on psychology jobs in the United States, there are some clear overtones. Texas and California offer some of the most lucrative and numerable opportunities for those working in various psychological fields. Texas comes out as the winner in these comparisons however, as the cost of living is much higher in California.

Oregon and Pennsylvania represent some of the best states for psychology jobs otherwise. The trend being that the west coast seems to offer more jobs, but don’t let that fool you. There are some tremendous opportunities and job clusters on the East Coast as well, they just can’t compare to the largest and most populous states in the country (California and Texas).

Additionally, the most lucrative and opportunistic industries seem to be positioned in federal job markets, medical facilities, as well as schools and research facilities. Depending on your specialization and desired area of work, these data points should help to narrow your search and to identify opportunities.

How valuable is psychology job data?

Data like that provided above is only valuable insofar as its answers questions that one needs answering. For instance, if one is looking to earn the highest salary possible, then psychology job data is crucial, but if someone is looking to find a great job where they live where they can practice a certain skillset, then such data sets are basically meaningless because the individual has such a narrow set of expectations.

So as a final point on evaluating opportunities for jobs in psychology, never forget to self evaluate–to know what it is that you want and what you are looking for–because without that, job data is exceedingly unhelpful.

How to Measure Success in the Field of Psychology

In a science that is based on the sheer wonderment of the human mind and its seemingly endless potential, it is sad that many psychologists reduce their careers to a few numbers, salary and pay per hour. Chances are that many individuals were drawn to psychology because its basic premise is one that elevates existence beyond remedial obsessions with the material world.

In a stroke of cruel fate many psychology graduate students come to find that money will still be a fundamental concern after graduation, no matter how enlightened one might be. So how does one reconcile psychological enlightenment with the drudgeries of rent payments and student loans?

Don’t forget to measure your success in terms of fulfillment and wellbeing

In any career, psychology or not, sacrificing one’s wellbeing for success is a shortsighted solution with risks of longterm detriment. Many graduate students feel that if they do not make the most of their degree specifically, then they have failed in some way. The only failure there is forcing one’s self to do something that makes them miserable.

There is a reason that there is a drop out and burn out epidemic in doctoral psychology programs. After graduating from graduate school, one may find that they are best served in pivoting from the originally intended destination of their degree.

This might seem counterintuitive in a guide aimed at maximizing the effectiveness of one’s degree, but in the end–it is all about what you do with it.

Sharpen Your Writing and Communication Skills

Because psychology is a field concerned with mastering the mental realities of human existence, there will be certain expectations once you enter the job market with a Master’s of Psychology. Among these expectations is that psychology students are masters of analyzing both data and theory and can effectively communicated the nuanced complexities therein.

Unfortunately, this skillset is often overlooked in graduate programs where classroom presentations and peer collaboration often falls short of mimicking the chaotic demands of real-world job environments. Simply put, in graduate school most people around you will think similarly to how you do–peers will have had similar educations and will have had similar goals.

After graduation however, you will be held to the same standard of excellence in writing and communication but within the context of an entirely different audience.

Become a master of abstracted translations

After graduation one will need to translate one’s psychological knowledge and theories into various forms. For one’s boss for instance, one will need to sell the big picture and the broad strokes–the hook and the payoff. For one’s colleagues however, one will need to be more instructive and cater to the individual needs of the group or project.

One of the biggest predictors for success in fields of psychology comes down to the equation of how well one can represent information in challenging circumstances. This is true whether one wishes to work in a one-on-one private practice–where one needs to effectively represent information to each individual client; just as it is equally true for psychologists seeking collaborative business environments.

Practice this unique form of translation regularly and often, and seek out challenges that remove the factor of a comfort zone. Presenting one’s thoughts for different audiences in writing, or presenting ideas to friends with a laymen’s understanding will work as sufficient exercises–though higher hanging fruit abounds, too.

Know the Value of Your Education and Skill

One cannot always expect employers to demonstrate an accurate appraisal of one’s worth in a professional setting. In fact, the contrary reality will be the more often occurrence. Thus in terms of communication and translation, one’s greatest finesse and ability should include the ability to sell one’s self in a truthful but promotional filter, and to demonstrate a resolute evaluation of what one can offer.

Make connections between your background and the needs of prospective employers. Oftentimes they might not be aware of how one’s special skillset and background might offer new and valuable perspectives and solutions.

For this reason, learning how to interview well might just be more important in the field of psychology than any other, because psychology jobs are uniquely demanding in that they require professionals to know and demonstrate their value–an unfortunate consequence of prevalent stereotypes concerning graduate level psychology students.

Solutions and actions over theories and proposals

One of the unfortunate stereotypes about professionals in the field of psychology is that we operate in a realm too far removed from reality by heady theories and abstractions. Particularly for graduates looking to enter collaborative sectors of the job market, it is crucial that one disarms employer’s of this concern.

To do so, focus your self-evaluation to include only what offers immediate solutions and actions. Anyone can offer an idea or proposal, but employers pay for individuals who can transmute ideas into actions.

And as you accomplish this art of transmutation, keep a portfolio of your success in the same way a graphic designer collects examples of art–because the art of the psychologist is converting objects of thought into objects of reality, an art that when repeated successfully will pave the road to many successes, both personal and professional.