Career Options - Psychology

  • Career Options - Psychology

Psychology Graduate Destinations

A survey of graduates 6 months after graduation reveals that Queen’s graduates from these programmes have recently gone to work in roles such as:

Support Worker (Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health), Employment Adviser (Ingeus), Councillor (Omagh District Council), Support Worker (Praxis), Assistant Clinical Psychologist (SL Volunteers), Assistant Psychologist (Western Health & Social Care Trust), Assistant Manager (Marks and Spencer), Civil Servant (Civil Service), Graduate Intern (Centre for Effective Services), Graduate Intern (Health and Social Care Trust), Support Worker (Autism Initiatives), Activity Therapist (Valley Nursing Home)

Some have gone on to further study in areas such as:

Doctorate in Educational, Child & Adolescent Psychology, MSc Atypical Child Development, MSc Applied Psychology, MSc Health Psychology, MSc Neuroscience, MSc Legal Science, MSc Foundations in Clinical Psychology and Health Studies, MSc Performance Enhancement in Sport and Health, PGCE Primary and PhD in Psychology.

 As with all programmes at all universities, some graduates have not gone into graduate level work. Recent roles have included: Sales Assistant, Administrator, Bar Staff, Customer Adviser, Teaching Assistant.

There can be many reasons to explain this. For Psychology graduates it is often due to saving for further study or gaining relevant experience for professional Psychology work. Sometimes, however, it is due to a lack of career planning prior to graduating. Reviewing these careers resources and taking advantage of opportunities to Go Further will help to ensure that you fulfil your career potential. If you wish to book an appointment to discuss your options and plan your career you can do this through MyFuture.

The National picture: What do graduates do? is an annual report showing the national picture of graduate destinations.

Some typical career areas:

Professional Psychology

Around 15-20% of Psychology graduates go on to become professional psychologists in fields such as Clinical, Counselling, Educational, Forensic, Health, Neuropsychology, Occupational and Sport & Exercise. The following links provide information on these routes:

Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner/Low Intensity Therapist

Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners provide high volume, low intensity interventions with clients. The opportunities mainly exist in England. You can find more information on the NHS Careers website. The NHS and some charitable organisations provide some trainee posts for graduates but these are scarce. Employers typically look for a BACP accredited Counselling qualification in addition to your degree.  It is recommended that interested students undertake voluntary work with vulnerable people in a support/befriending role – employers will look for evidence of how you have utilised the learning from your degree within these roles.

Consumer-related fields: Advertising, Marketing, Market Research plus PR and Communications

You can make use of the insight you have gained into human behaviour and motivations through working in areas of business such as Advertising, Marketing, PR and Communications.  Prospects has some job profiles for these areas which include case studies and typical employers.

Advertising - the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) and Creative Skillset have lots of useful information about the advertising industry and careers within it. The Advertising Association has a guide to finding a job in the advertising industry

Marketing - Getin2Marketing - a useful resource with job profiles and event listings

Market Research - find career information on the MRS (Market Research Society) website. There are a number of large Market Research organisations who recruit through graduate recruitment programmes every year e.g. IPSOS Mori, GfK, plus a number of smaller organisations who have regular graduate opportunities in this area.

PR and Communications - the CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) have some career information on their website. This is a very competitive area to get into. Some of the large Communications agencies run graduate recruitment programmes e.g. Ketchum, Chime Communications and Edelman

Many companies advertise student internships in the areas of Marketing (see our Internships page). Fewer opportunities are advertised for students in the other areas mentioned above, so you may need to look beyond the main internships websites and look directly at relevant company websites or make speculative applications.

Professional Services e.g. Accountancy, Consultancy

Professional Services firms are some of the UK’s biggest graduate recruiters.  For most of their roles they’ll hire graduates from any degree discipline and train them in a specific area of their business e.g. Accountancy, Consultancy.  These employers look for transferable skills such as communication and problem solving, combined with attributes such as drive.  Relevant experience and subject knowledge – although useful - isn’t necessary, but a certain amount of commercial awareness and understanding of their business will be required. 

Some of these employers offer insight programmes to level 1 students in addition to placements and summer internships to level 2 students. See "What can I do to Go Further?" for more information. Any opportunities to develop your business/commercial awareness such as Insight into Management would be beneficial

Human Resources

You can find useful background information about this type of work via the CIPD careers website and Prospects (Human Resources Officer, Training and Development Officer).  

As HR roles exist in all types of organisations, any kind of work experience is useful. Many large organisations run graduate schemes through which graduates undertake CIPD-accredited HR qualifications.  These same organisations also typically offer student internships and placement opportunities in HR, so one of the best places to find student and graduate opportunities is through . 


Community Development and Youth Work

These roles involve working directly with people within a particular community to bring about social change and improve quality of life. You can find more information via these job profiles (Community Development Worker, Youth Worker). It is usually expected that candidates for these jobs will have significant voluntary experience and, often, a relevant postgraduate qualification. The Social Work qualification (mentioned below) would likely be accepted but there are also specific qualifications in Youth Work and Community Development Work. The job profile links above will help you to identify a suitable course should you be interested in these areas.

Social Work

Social workers work with vulnerable people in a variety of settings including charities, hospices, residential homes as well as local authority social service departments. You can find out more about the job via this profile (Social Worker).  A qualification in Social Work is a gateway to Probation work and Education Welfare Officer roles. The DHSSPS offers an Incentive Scheme to attract people to study Social Work in Northern Ireland and there is a fast-track  2-year degree option for graduates with relevant degrees.

In England there are currently two alternatives to the standard training route: Frontline and Think Ahead are practice-based, rather than university-based, fast-track schemes for graduates.

It is recommended that you undertake voluntary or paid work with vulnerable people which can give you some related experience and enable you to understand the network of support services available to these people. You can find voluntary opportunities via Volunteer Now and paid support work opportunities via Community NI

Other roles within the Third Sector

You can find more options and more information on Social care and guidance types of jobs and Charity and development sector overview. Looking through some of the job adverts on Community NI can reveal other options (e.g. project worker roles) which are often quite specific to the nature of the project and not covered through other general careers information. These roles sometimes do not require an additional qualification to your degree. Also, this research - Career Pathways for graduates into the voluntary/community sector (pdf)- outlines some of the key roles within the voluntary sector, and provides advice on how to access these roles.  


Employers of counsellors tend to look for a qualification that is accredited by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and you can find a list of their accredited programmes on their website.  In most cases you would be expected to fund this qualification yourself and you are also likely to be expected to undergo counselling yourself while undertaking the training. As a result this can be a costly profession to enter and many people choose to do it part-time while working, or choose it as a 2nd career after having first saved-up some money. It is recommended that you would initially undertake some kind of introductory course in counselling – perhaps through a local college. This would give you an understanding of the field without the commitment of as much time and money as a full accredited programme. It would also demonstrate your interest in the area which would add to your application for a full accredited programme. It is worth looking at this job profile (Counsellor) to find out more about what the work involves, entry requirements, typical employers and some related job options.  It is also recommended that you undertake voluntary or paid support work with vulnerable people

Government and Public Sector bodies

Psychology graduates may be drawn to roles within Government and public sector bodies as they offer opportunities to shape and make a direct contribution to society. There are a number of popular graduate programmes and interesting roles within these organisations e.g. Civil Service Fast Stream, the NI Civil Service, the NGDP (graduate programme for local government) and the NHS Graduate Management Programme. The recruiters of these programmes tend to look for evidence of a commitment to contributing to the community (which can be gained through voluntary work), and strong transferable skills such as communication and problem solving, rather than degree subject or level.

There are a number of social research opportunities within both local and national government. Careers in local government research is a guide to these kinds of opportunities. The Government Social Research Service recruits through the Civil Service Fast Stream


Criminal Justice

There are a variety of roles in organisations such as NIACRO, Victim Support Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Prison Service and the Youth Justice Agency. Voluntary experience of working with vulnerable people and strong administration skills (often gained through vacation work) can help to get graduates a first step on the ladder in these organisations. A qualification in Social Work will be required for some roles.

Science Communication

Translating scientific and technical information into a style that is easy for others to understand requires specialist knowledge and strong communication skills. This job profile (Science Writer) has more details about the work, including case studies, entry requirements and typical employers. There is useful information on the website of the Association of British Science Writers, the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) and

With a first degree in Psychology, a qualification in journalism can be helpful to make the move to writing. See the NCTJ for accredited courses. You may find some advertised volunteering opportunities in journalism and PR, and some opportunities through The Gown.  It is also worth making proactive, speculative approaches to relevant magazines and newspapers. It is important to start building a portfolio of written articles as soon as you can. 

Allied Health

There are a number of allied health professions which may be of particular interest to Psychology students. Examples include: DietitianOccupational TherapistPhysiotherapistSpeech and Language Therapist. These require further study, but each has an accelerated graduate entry route.

User-centred design

There has been a growth in jobs in this area over the last decade and this is likely to continue to grow as the principles of user-centred design are applied beyond technology and products to services. A degree in Psychology can provide a particularly useful insight into this type of work especially if combined with a postgraduate degree in the area of User-Centred design, Human Computer Interaction, or Service Design and/or relevant experience. Look for jobs such as UX (user experience) Researcher or Analyst.


In Schools: A recognised teaching qualification is essential to find work in this area. The Department of Education Northern Ireland has general details about Initial Teacher Education (which includes the PGCE). The Universities and Colleges offering the training also have information on their websites which include how to apply and the closing dates e.g. Queen’s Initial Teacher Education (PGCE) information. See Applying for PGCE Teacher Training to find out about applying in other parts of the UK and in Ireland.

PGCE courses are very competitive to get into so interested students are recommended to:

    • Gain experience of working with young people of the age group you hope to teach – usually gained through voluntary work.
    • Get an insight into what work as a teacher is like by trying to arrange to speak to a teacher to ask them about their job, and/or try to get some classroom observation experience. Many students find it easiest to arrange this through personal contacts or with schools where you were once a pupil. It may be possible to arrange with a local school via a speculative application.
    • Keep up-to-date with what’s happening in Education via the Times Education Supplement and the Guardian’s Education section.
    • Apply early.
    • These interview tips are useful when preparing for the course interview.

The JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme is an official and prestigious Japanese government scheme that sends graduates to Japan in order to promote international understanding at grass-roots level and to improve foreign language teaching in schools. Although participants teach English to school pupils, applicants for the programme can come from any degree discipline providing they hold a full UK passport.  It is a tough application process that begins in the October preceding the departure the following summer.

The TET (Teach English in Thailand) programme offers students and recent graduates a 9 week placement opportunity as a Teaching Assistant in Thailand.  

In Colleges: Further Education Colleges will sometimes hire people to teach without them having teaching qualifications. These teachers will often be expected to work towards a teaching qualification and will be expected to have other relevant (vocational) qualifications and experience to offer. Colleges list job vacancies on their own websites. You can find a list of colleges on the Department of Education Northern Ireland website.

In Higher Education: University lecturers will normally be expected to have or be working towards a PhD. An Academic Career provides more information about this career route. Jobs and some PhD studentships can be found on More PhD opportunities can be found on

Other Graduate Options

Approximately 50% of graduate vacancies are open graduates of any subject. Some may require some additional, specialist, post-graduate training but some do not. The list is extensive but includes fields as diverse as IT, housing management and recruitment consultancy.  You can get an idea of the variety of opportunities plus find year-long and summer work opportunities by looking on the graduate scheme websites.

How do I make a decision?

There isn’t one right way to make a career decision, but there are a few things worth doing and worth considering in order to make an informed choice:

  1. Don’t think you have to choose just one option – instead a shortlist of preferred options can be a useful strategy. Transferable skills can be gained from any type of work experience, so even if your work experience relates to one area, that won’t restrict you from moving into a different area.
  2. Think about what is important to you and look for evidence of those things when exploring your options e.g. if it is a priority for you to stay in Northern Ireland, look at the Relevant Job Websites for career areas that interest you to see how many job adverts you can find for that type of work here.
  3. The above are just a few of the options related to your degree area. It isn’t a comprehensive list.  Spend some time exploring the Relevant Job Websites to find other job titles and areas.
  4. Look at LinkedIn’s alumni tool (Topic 5 on the LinkedIn for students website) to see the career paths of alumni on LinkedIn.
  5. Speak to company representatives at on campus events (including fairs and employer presentations). Keep an eye on MyFuture for these opportunities.
  6. Need more information – approach any contacts you have, or speculatively approach companies, to set-up an information interview.
  7. If you’ve managed to successfully make use of an information interview, you could ask for a brief period of  work-shadowing, i.e. observing someone while they work.  As little as a few hours of work-shadowing can give you a real insight into a job and company, and it is often easier for a company to agree to this than it would be to agree to a period of work experience.
  8. Still can’t decide? Sometimes you can only truly get a feel for whether a certain job is for you by trying it out.  Short-term work experience for students is a great method for trying-out different jobs and companies - see "What can I do to Go Further?" to find relevant opportunities.  If you are a graduate, remember, even a permanent job isn’t necessarily a job for life!

If you’d like to discuss any of this with a Careers Consultant please book an appointment through MyFuture.