Syanne Walker, Assistant Psychologist discusses the important lessons she learned through her experiences pursuing that all important Assistant Psychologist job! Here she gives some insights and guidance on how to deal with the applications, the rejection and tips on to produce an application.
Getting an Assistant Psychologist role is not everything (seriously!)
I would firstly like to state that you don’t need an assistant psychologist (AP) post in order to obtain a place on the Clinical Psychology doctorate. Don’t compare yourself to others as there is no right route. Other roles are extremely valuable. For example, I was on the reserve list this year and I had never had a paid Assistant Psychologist post and many people get on each year having never had one. Three years postgraduate, I didn’t think it was going to happen for me, one because I wasn’t getting any interviews at first and the other due to significant anxiety in interviews. The main point I want to make is, don’t wait to have an Assistant Psychologist role before applying. The things I would say is wait until you’re comfortable and have at least a year’s relevant experience in mental health obtained after your degree.
Don’t give up!
I know I said you don’t need one but it doesn’t hurt to keep applying. It was 2 years of applying before I even got my first interview. Each year I built my experience and worked with a wider range of people in more settings. I spent time perfecting my application and learnt what works and what doesn’t. Between April and August 2016 I applied for about 35 jobs choosing only the ones I actually wanted. I was offered 10 interviews of which I attended 6. I was offered 1 and then added to the talent pool for another. Another tip is, consider relocating or a longer commute if you can as there are opportunities everywhere.
Refresh NHS Jobs every hour
The reason I’d say this is, some of these applications are only up for just 30mins-1hour because they limit it to 50 applicants. Set up alerts and keep on searching. I’ve received an alert and woken up at 6am before work to submit an application and been given an interview so persistence does pay off!
Have a template ready
This is something I have found incredibly useful. Write job applications for jobs that have not come up yet. Generally there are three things which determine the type of person specification you will encounter; the trust, the population and the task (clinical, admin & research). Think of the trust you want to work for let’s say Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust. Find an old person specification perhaps from one you have applied to before. Write an application which encompasses all of those points. Take your time. Next think of one or two populations you want to work with (it’s better to go for one you have experience with). Now tailor it to suit that population e.g. children (CAHMS) and learning disabilities. Ok perfect. Now sit back and wait. Once you see the job, pounce! All you have to do is spend 10 mins proof reading and adding a few lines which indicate you can do the specific tasks. Spend more time on the jobs where you meet the specification and have experience with that client group.
You have to be in it to win it!
If you see the job before you have finished your template don’t let it pass. Apply! If you send an application that wasn’t ready you might get an interview. If you don’t send an application at all you definitely won’t.
Address each point in the person specification!
Even if you’re thinking I have no idea how to demonstrate I know that. It doesn’t matter. You don’t have the space for it anyway. It’s fine for one or 2 points to just say that you know it. It’s better than missing it out completely. You have time to elaborate in the interview. E.g. I have knowledge of psychometric tests and have used them before in my work. Simple but better than leaving it out altogether. If you’re going to leave anything out sacrifice the ones about being able to concentrate in meetings or sitting down for a long period of time. If it says you need a car mention that you have access to one and a licence.
Read the advert!
They have gotten even sneakier people! They put tasks in the advert. It’s an easy way to reject an application. If the applicant hasn’t put the special code at the top or done the special instructions, they won’t be considered. A simple example is a word limit of 300 words.
Never turn down an opportunity to speak to someone with experience. Go along to the free Aspiring Psychologist group meet ups and speak to likeminded people.
Accept every new opportunity – It gives you something to talk about
If someone is giving you the chance to do something new, take it. Provided it’s not exploitative there are a lot of people charging an arm and a leg for services targeted at aspiring psychologists. A great opportunity for me was when I was offered the chance to participate in an audit as a support worker. As an aspiring psychologist I was quite critical of the research methods and was not sure about doing it on top of my current work. That experience turned out to be extremely valuable. It gave me insight into audits, their purpose, the issues and how they can inform services. Talking about this experience and genuinely reflecting helped me land the role.
Keep a record
Every time I start a new role (that is relevant to my career) I buy a new notebook. I use it to write down all the tasks I’ve done and the things I have learnt. I reflect on the clients I’ve worked with remembering confidentiality. I note the challenging situations I’ve been in and the contacts I’ve had with patients. This will be useful to look over for applications
Volunteering is an excellent way of building experience and getting your foot in the door. Think outside the box. My first honorary contract was in a Parkinson’s clinic looking at how the pathology of the stomach can affect the progression of the disease. Any volunteering with the client group or to help get involved in research when you’re starting out is good. It eventually helped me to get an honorary assistant psychologist role.
Make sure you are getting something out of your experience
If you’re an expert at what you’re doing it’s time to move on. If there are no new opportunities to develop it’s time to move on. If it’s been more than two years it’s time to move on. Don’t become complacent. I volunteered for a year to get a good reference for my clinical psychology application. When I read the reference (yes you can request to see it from clearing house) it was not very strong at all. When I reflected on the role I had not done that much at all in order to demonstrate my skills. I no longer volunteer if I am not getting anything significant from it to benefit my career or my learning. Prioritise yourself. Loyalty is good but remember institutions are looking out for the best interests of the institution not your career. Having volunteers means that they don’t have to pay someone else to do the role. Make volunteering work for you.
Do an MSc?
Not for everyone and once again you don’t need one. I always said that I would never do one but I did in the end. I talk about my experience in a separate post.
Good to know
This may sound strange but the most comforting thing that I have learnt is that the feeling of not knowing what you’re doing or not feeling good enough never leaves you throughout your career. You will continue to develop and strive to be better and you will always want to progress no matter what position you are in. I have spoken to doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professionals and at the end of the day they are all just people. You will never know everything or be everything. Remember your mentor has a mentor. This may seem obvious but it’s helped me to calm my nerves in interviews. These are just people sitting in front of me asking me questions because they want to see what I know and make sure I am the best person for the job.
Ghiselle Green, Assistant Psychologist adds Ok, I’m sure you already have lots of these but I think research experience is really useful, getting to grip with statistics and an MSc is a really good way of building up your experience, but also thinking outside of the box and volunteering to help get involved in research. Be patient, it takes time to get one and not to get disheartened by rejection. Apply to jobs where you meet the specification and have experience with that client group. Volunteer or work for charities to achieve this. Never turn down an opportunity and take up every opportunity to speak to people with experience. Don’t compare yourself to others as there is no ‘right route’. I think it’s important to write something about some clinical research assistant roles and other positions as they are also extremely valuable roles. Some courses favour IAPT trainees.
I think it is important to share the things that you learn to help others and also for your own self-development. This post details some of the things I learnt and offers some advice to others trying to obtain an assistant psychologist position. Please keep in mind that everybody’s journey is different.
Good luck everybody as you embark upon your individual journeys and look out for more posts on the psychology events blog!
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