Matters to a Degree
As psychology graduate students, it is very easy to underestimate your skills. You might even fall prey to impostor syndrome, in which your self-doubt leaves you unable to recognize your successes and accomplishments. But, while some psychology graduate students perceive marketing and self-promotion as bad words, they are necessary to launch yourself into success. I want you to recognize your many strengths and achievements as you look for a job. You were good enough to get accepted to graduate school, and you're good enough to succeed when you graduate. It's essential that you include all of your activities (publications, awards and honors, unique training, public service, volunteering) in promoting yourself and communicating your strengths.
Here are some tips to do that:
Take a hard look at yourself. Spend some time thinking about your strengths and skills. What is unique about your education and training? What might make you stand out in a crowd of applicants? What have faculty and supervisors noticed about your work? Think broadly about your experiences. Have you developed a novel class? Have you held an innovative workshop for teachers? Have you mentored minority students into research careers? If your list seems short, ask a close friend, colleague or mentor to help you honestly appraise yourself, focusing on your strengths.
Highlight your strengths in your materials. Once you've identified your strengths, include them in both your cover letter and your vita. Keep in mind that the folks who read your application have already seen dozens of vitas, and may not examine each one carefully. If you want them to know something specific about you, highlight it in your cover letter. For example, my unique strength is that I am bilingual (English-Spanish). I have "Languages" on the first page of my vita, after my education, and I always mention my bilingual clinical work experiences in my cover letters.
Make your vita strong. Your vita is a representation of you, so how it looks is very important. Look at the vitas of successful colleagues and mentors, and model their format. And proofread it. I can't tell you how often I've seen vitas with typos or other errors, such as leaving "track changes" on.
Ask your references to highlight your strengths. I think it is appropriate to ask your references to mention your best skills, particularly if they have supervised you. For example, if you want to draw attention to your aptitude in hierarchical linear modeling, it is reasonable to ask your research advisers to mention those skills in their reference letters.
Practice talking about yourself. Once you've made it to the interview stage, you may be asked about your strengths. That's why it's worthwhile to practice talking about them ahead of time. This might involve describing a clinical case, or a particular pedagogical approach, or a unique methodological strategy that exemplifies your strengths. Here again, you may want feedback from a trusted colleague who can help you gauge how well you are communicating your experience and abilities, and whether your examples effectively demonstrate your skills.
The article, "Remember the big picture" in this issue of gradPSYCH, points out the importance of making a map to get you through the training wilderness to the mountain summit of your dream job. As you make that trek, remember to promote yourself so that you are well outfitted for the terrain.