When Jeannine Tell, PsyD, was in grad school, a business career was not on her radar. The 2000 Wright State University graduate had a strong interest in trauma, crisis and grief work-a far cry from bottom lines and healthy corporate functioning.
But today, Tell uses that training to help companies deal with crises, including acts of workplace violence. In fact, she and her husband, psychologist and former mortgage broker Charles "Chip" Tell, PhD, recently founded their own business consulting firm, where as part of their work they head up a range of applications for Matrix Integrated Psychological Services, a national consulting company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Chip leads Matrix's efforts in a service called Snapshot, which evaluates companies' top performers to make future hiring decisions, and Jeannine helps companies avoid and weather crises.
Indeed, grounding yourself in the business culture and speaking the language of business so your clients feel you understand them and their needs will help you give companies the best psychology has to offer: tools for more effective individual, team and organizational functioning, and more lucrative returns as a result.
A FOOT IN THE DOOR
As the Tells attest, many roads lead to the business world. While having an industrial and organizational (I/O) degree or degrees in both psychology and business will certainly give you a leg up when looking for jobs, you can gain entry by a number of other means.
First, see if the business world even grabs you by learning about its culture. Read publications like the Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal and organizational and consulting psychology journals and newsletters to familiarize yourself with the issues in the field.
If you like what you're gleaning, seek practical experiences while you're still in school. Take relevant courses or look for specialized internships, practica or postdocs in business settings. For example, the University of Colorado has an internship program that places "bench" cognitive psychology students in business settings. And the relatively new National Center for Organization Development at the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), founded and directed by psychologist Sue Dyrenforth, PhD, teaches postdocs organizational assessment and development to serve the VHA's 200,000-plus clinical and administrative staff-skills transferable to any business setting, notes Amy Katz, PhD, the center's director of training.
Another way is to take part-time jobs in business. Social psychologist Jodie Steele, PhD, a 1999 State University of New York at Stony Brook graduate, realized partway through her program that she was more interested in a corporate career than an academic one.
"To get experience, I found a couple of part-time summer jobs while I was in grad school, one at an advertising firm and one at a marketing research firm," says Steele, who recounts her experiences in a chapter in "Life after Graduate School in Psychology: Insider's Advice from New Psychologists" (Taylor & Francis, 2005). "A lot of it was grunt work, but it exposed me to the business world, to the things they do, how they do it, and even the lingo they use." She now conducts client satisfaction and "voice of the customer" research at a major financial services firm in Manhattan, applying her research training to help determine what customers want-information that helps the bank conduct daily operations and meet clients' needs.
Even if your first job out of school isn't in a business setting, start building business-related skills wherever you are-be it a counseling center, hospital, school, military setting or mental health clinic, adds Steve Gravenkemper, PhD, president of APA's Div. 13 (Society of Consulting Psychology) and a consulting psychologist at Plante & Moran, an accounting and management consulting firm with offices in the Midwest.
"Focus on building your skills," he advises, "so that regardless of what setting you go into, you're gaining tools that would appeal to business and industry," such as conflict management, team building and communication skills. Likewise, volunteering to assist not-for-profit organizations can offer good opportunities to practice these skills without taking huge risks, he notes.
The most effective strategy you can use, however, is networking, many agree. Attend conferences held by the business-related APA divisions. Div. 13 attracts psychologists from a variety of backgrounds-including industrial and organizational, clinical, counseling, social and educational psychology-who practice in a broad array of settings. Div. 14 (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology) includes many members who have received specific training in I/O psychology and who most often work in business and industry. Many are members of both (see box for links to more organizations).
"Linking into local professional networks-that's where the jobs will come from," emphasizes Geffrey Marczyk, JD, PhD, who directs Widener University's new Center for Leadership and Organizational Development and four business-related dual-degree psychology programs there. Psychological business consulting "really is about who you know."
FINDING A NICHE
Indeed, by such efforts not only can you land positions in traditional business areas such as personnel assessment, selection and retention, but in growing ones such as executive coaching, succession planning and legacy coaching (see sidebar, page 29). Other applications include program development, team-building and systems interventions as well as creating your own business applications.
Many psychologists blend a number of these services in a single job, and indeed, it is wise to learn a range of skills to stay competitive, advises Jane Kasserman, PhD, a corporate psychologist at RHR International, a world leader in the field of executive and organizational development. Kasserman, for example, does executive coaching, leadership development, assessment for selection and facilitation of organizational change-skills she accrued both in academia and on-the-job training.
In one long-term project, she is helping a team of senior leaders at a large multinational company implement a new global supply chain division. In one component of that work, she is helping them align their leadership behaviors with their business strategy by, for instance, encouraging them to use a unified voice in employee communications. Before intervening, she notes, she first had to assess the company's culture-in this case a stable, family-run company used to making only incremental changes.
"We spend a lot of time up front understanding the needs and culture of a business before we start to work with them," says Kasserman. "Applying this understanding to the design of a client intervention is part of the fun and challenge of this work."
WEARING TWO HATS
Key to your success is putting a business twist to your already substantial clinical or research knowledge, say experts.
At the VHA's National Center for Organization Development, for example, postdocs tap their clinical skills from a new angle, says Katz.
"Now they're thinking about systems and groups as much as about individuals," she says.
Likewise, on the level of individual or team counseling, "you can't bring your couch with you," emphasizes Widener University graduate Rosanna Ventrone, PsyD, who received her dual degree in psychology and business last year and now works at the Manhattan office of BeamPines, a national human resources consulting firm. "You have to let the client know, 'We understand the culture you live in and we can help you without taking you out of your comfort zone.' If you do that, the fact that you're a psychologist will only be a positive."
Psychologists working in business also note the work's growth orientation rather than pathology focus-a big draw for many.
Gravenkemper, for example, worked for many years in the field of health psychology, helping to rehabilitate patients with brain injuries. While the work was meaningful and rewarding, it could also be highly challenging, he says: Some struggled to return to even baseline functioning such as walking independently or driving a car.
In consulting with companies and organizations, however, "you work with talented and gifted people to help them take their skills to a higher level," he says. "It's more of an enhancement model that builds on strengths rather than a rehabilitation or medical model."