Graduate School

How to Get an Awesome Job With Your Psychology/Evaluation Graduate Degree

(This article is specifically written for my colleagues studying positive organizational psychology and evaluation at Claremont Graduate University. It may be relevant to you, too.)

My job is awesome.

I want you to have an awesome job, too.

I was hired at an organizational design consulting firm called Undercurrent. Due to some unfortunate circumstances they went out of business a couple weeks after I joined them, but shortly thereafter I started as the first employee at another company doing similar work called The Ready.

The basic idea is that we help organizations change the way they organize and operate. We think of organizations as running on an “operating system” like a computer (the way they make decisions, have meetings, hire, etc. etc.)— we try to upgrade that operating system by making them more adaptive, responsive, and human. We work with Fortune 50 conglomerates, tiny startups, world changing non-profits, and nearly every kind of organization in between. I spend my time doing all sorts of things — developing and facilitating workshops, doing 1-on-1 and small group coaching, developing strategy for major projects, writing, speaking — a little bit of everything.

The cool thing is that I’m using the stuff I learned in my evaluation and positive psychology classes every day even though I didn’t land this job by searching for jobs mentioning “positive psychology” or “evaluation.”

There is a growing movement of marketing, strategy, and product development consultancies that are converging on this idea of “organizational design.” Basically, each type of organization realized that over the course of doing what they were hired to do (do marketing, develop a strategic plan, develop a product, etc.) they would run into problems with their clients that would diminish their impact. The stumbling blocks had nothing to do with the specific work itself, but instead with the way the client organizations operated and organized themselves. Instead of just throwing their hands up in the air and walking away more and more of these consulting firms are trying to tap into what it means to be an effective organization and are trying to sell consulting services around not only doing their main thing, but also helping their clients be better organized or just “work better” (whatever that means in the specific context).

These companies are looking for people who understand psychology. They are looking for people who have ideas about how to help employees be more engaged or feel more meaning at work. They are trying to figure out how to measure their impact.

They need evaluation and positive psychology specialists — they just don’t realize it.

If you can talk about the education you’re getting in a way that connects with the right people doing this work you will be hired.

If you want a job doing consulting like the kind I’m doing right now, keep reading. This is what worked for me and now that I’m starting to help with hiring for The Ready I’m starting to see the other side of the picture.

Step 0: Start Writing Somewhere. Now. Yesterday, Even.

For most positions at The Ready we won’t even look at an applicant if they can’t share something they’ve written online. It sounds harsh, I know.

First, it’s a useful filter because we get lots of applications and have very few openings. Being able to read someone’s writing helps us see the types of things they care about, how they think about these topics, and their ability to convey their ideas in a clear and straightforward way. Most of our client-facing roles require the ability to write extremely well anyway so it’s also directly relevant to the job.

If you aren’t writing somewhere right now you need to start. Create a simple website on Squarespace or Medium and start writing regularly about what you’re finding interesting about your classes, reaction to business related news, things you don’t understand — it almost doesn’t matter. You just need to start writing about stuff even just tangentially related to psychology or business or work.

I was fortunate to have started a website in 2009 that I’ve kept regularly (or at least semi-regularly updated) ever since. That means I had an archive of several hundred articles that I could point to any time someone asked me what I cared about. I’m not saying all of those articles are great (a lot of the early ones really, really sucked) but writing hundreds of thousands of words on any topic shows at least some kind of dedication. You don’t need hundreds of thousands of words, you just need to start writing at least an article every couple weeks from now until forever.

Step 1: Look For “Organizational Design” and “Strategy” Jobs (Particularly in NYC)

Stop using “positive psychology” in your job searches. Use “organizational design” and “strategy” instead. The job descriptions you see there won’t be perfect, but they will be better than most of the other stuff you’re seeing right now. Try looking specifically in New York City, too. There’s a lot happening here.

As a starting point, try looking at these companies (in addition to The Ready) as well: SYP, MAYA, August, Nobl, Incandescence, The McChrystal Group, Vega Factor, and IDEO.

Step 2: Get Good At Talking About Positive Psychology Without Saying “Positive Psychology”

Positive psychology is so insanely relevant to the work I’m doing right now but I quickly realized that saying “positive psychology” wasn’t helpful. People are interested in specific ideas. Be able to talk, in detail, about things like flow, factors related to employee engagement, leadership, development, and anything else that you’ve learned in your classes. It’s almost all useful if you’re able to translate it from academic-speak and into the situations that businesses actually care about. The occasional academic reference can be useful but only if you can talk about the study in detail (nobody is going to give you props for author name + year — sorry).

Step 3: Grasp the Important But Non-Academic Topics

There’s a lot going on in the world of organizational design that you probably didn’t talk about in any of your classes. As a starting point, read everything you possibly can on design thinking, holacracy, teal organizations, self-organization, and complexity theory. Go read about Responsive Organizations (and join the public Slack), and watch the Spotify guilds system videos. There’s a lot of great stuff out there that is helping a lot of organizations that no academic has touched. From what I can tell academia is at least 5–10 years behind what is actually going on in real organizations right now.

Other than these topics, start educating yourself on stuff other than psychology or evaluation, too. If you can talk intelligently about business models, product design, major events in technological development (like AI), and/or marketing you will be in an even better situation. Knowing the psychology stuff is great but it’s borderline useless if you can’t tie it to what is actually going on in organizations today. What I’m not saying is that you need an MBA. You don’t. You just need to be curious and motivated to learn about something other than your narrow focus.

Step 4: Start Following Interesting Orgs and Folks

When I first stumbled across Undercurrent I immediately followed every single one of their employees on Twitter. Creepy or not, it helped me see the kinds of conversations that were happening among people who were doing the work I wanted to do. I could see the types of links they were sharing and finding interesting. It gave me a ton of ideas to write about (see Step 0) and it let me start building some light relationships with the folks who eventually hired me. Don’t underestimate the power of Twitter (and if I were to start from scratch today I’d probably include Medium as well). When you find some individuals and organizations you think are doing good work start following them and participating in the conversation.

There is a crazy awesome world of consulting happening right now that I didn’t know anything about a year ago. It’s incredibly easy to exist within the academia bubble while you’re in graduate school. If you want to be doing this type of work then I highly recommend that you figure out the minimum amount of effort you can exert to do well in your classes and then use all of your extra time and attention writing, learning, and making connections with people in this world. I’m not saying you should do shoddy work — just don’t go above and beyond in a class if it means you can’t do the other stuff that will help you get a great job at the end.

This is an extremely exciting time to be studying about how to make work better. I hope this helps you find the type of job you want and you can help me bring more positive psychology (and thus more well-being, meaning, and engagement) to folks who could really use it.

And, of course, please let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.