In my last post, I gave you a list of questions to consider about your psychology SWOTmajor-- now it's time to take those answers and use them to create a powerful brand you can present to an employer.

Branding is really just a contemporary term for presenting yourself in the best possible light, and the steps you take to create your brand for the job market can help you set yourself apart from other candidates. If you're not familiar with branding and how it applies to your job search, check this post. Dan Schawbel is probably the best-known expert in branding, and his branding blog now has a Student Branding Blog worth checking out.

Interestingly enough, if you Google "branding psychology" you'll find several references to the psychology of branding-- but nothing on branding a psychology major. (Well, after this post there will be but for the moment it's a pristine field.)  This is somewhat ironic given that psychology is an important element in advertising, marketing, and branding.  I did find one interesting and humorous post about the branding of psychology from Dr. Mezmer's Psychopedia of Bad Psychology.

So how do you start "branding" your psychology major--and yourself-- for the job market? It always helps to start with an analysis of your current situation. One technique I find helpful is the SWOT analysis. SWOT analyses, common in strategic planning processes, are a systematic method of analyzing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats in a project, organization, or a business venture, such as a job search. You can even do a personal SWOT analysis-- here's a nice article from Mind Tools  on doing a personal SWOT analysis with a free worksheet you can download.

So... armed with the answers to the questions from the last post, let's conduct a SWOT analysis of you and your psychology major in relation to the workplace.

1. Draw four blocks on a piece of paper. Label one block "Strengths", one "Weaknesses", one "Opportunities" and one "Threats." The strengths and weakness sections apply to you personally (internal factors), while the opportunities and threats sections are likely to be outside your control (external factors).

2. If you have a specific job opportunity in mind, ("I'm planning to be a buyer for a retail merchandiser.") use that as your focal point. If not, use a career field you're considering ("I would like to work in advertising."). You can also use this structure to analyze your positition vis-à-vis a graduate program ("I am applying for the graduate psychology program at Stanford University.")

Once you have a focus in mind, fill in the blocks:

  • Write down the strengths you have-specifically in relation to your focal point. Where did you excel in your psychology major and elsewhere? What will the employer/graduate school be most interested in? What are your key selling points? If you're seeking a job in advertising, what skills do you have which would be most relevant to that field?
  • In the weakness block, list areas that might hold you back. For instance, did you receive lower grades in certain classes? Did you not take any classes related to your field of interest? Is your experience lacking? What weaknesses do you perceive about the psych major? Maybe you aren't sure how what you learned relates to a job. Just put down what concerns you about the major.
  • In the opportunities section, write down the opportunities you see in this career field, at this job, or in this graduate program. Note: if you can't write down more than one or two items, you don't know enough yet. Time to research the job, field or grad program and uncover the opportunities. Opportunities might include the location of the job, the opportunity for growth, the research or other activities you might do on the job, the connections you could make, etc.
  • In the threats section, you list the things that might prevent or block you from achieving your goal. This could include students whose majors are more related to your field of interest, the weak economy, the competition for the opportunity, etc.Keep in mind objections to your major or misunderstanding about the field of psychology in general.

Once you've filled in your boxes, analyze them to begin developing your brand and determine the next steps you need to take:

  • Strengths section: make sure you haven't sold yourself short. List everything. Identify examples which illustrate your strengths and craft them into stories to tell employers or for graduate school essays. How did you acquire your strengths and skills?
  • Weaknesses: How can you overcome them? Are they truly relevant to your situation? If a job requires a skill you don't have, can you find a way to quickly acquire it? Can you research the information you're lacking, take a class to build your knowledge, do an internship or otherwise acquire the needed experience?
  • Opportunities: the more you understand the opportunities in your field or job, the better you can position yourself to take advantage of them. Research, research, research. Talk to people in the field, ask your professors, learn everything you can.
  • Threats: don't bury your head in the sand and pretend they don't exist. Take time to consider why the psych major provides a different perspective than the major traditionally associated with your desired field. What do you have that the other majors don't? If the job market is poor, what can you do to build experiences and knowledge while waiting for the right job? Your fobus should be overcoming or compensating for the threats.

Now you've got a better picture of your position relative to that job, career field or graduate school. The next step is...well, what's next? Where do you want to go and how will you get there? More to come psych majors...

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