The Life Cycle of the Grad School Graduate’s job hunt for something in the mental health field

Even the father of psychoanalysis had to go to job interviews (photo credit to Nicolas C. Grey – http://www.nicolascgrey.com/sigmund-fried)

I was walking out of the stadium, clad in a cap and gown, when my father yelled “GET A JOB!” from the stands. While my dad was only kidding (here’s hoping anyway), it illustrated the pressure and necessity of getting a job as soon as possible after graduation. Maybe you’re taking a summer position or working at your part-time job you had in graduate school. Or maybe you were lucky enough to land a full-time, paid position at your internship and be the envy of everyone in your graduating class. Or maybe you decided, “hey, writing a dissertation sounds fun, maybe I’ll spend my next 5-7 years in a Ph.D/Psy.D program!” (If I wasn’t so burnt out from school, I’d envy you all). Or perhaps you were smart and started applying for jobs in February and got one before you graduated. In any case, this life cycle is primarily intended for those of us who are not currently in school or employed full-time.

Stage one: procrastination/anxiety. This stage usually begins after you are finished your exams, final papers, and have a week left before you graduate. You have to prepare! But not for job searching. Between family visits, graduation ceremonies, social gatherings, returning rented textbooks, picking up your cap and gown, and other various errands, you have no time to breathe, let alone search for a job. The anxiety comes in when you realize your relatives, family friends, friend’s parents, and professors are all going to ask you, “so, what’s next?” or “what are you planning to do now?”

Stage two: relaxation/denial. Your family has gone home, graduation ceremonies are over, and for the first time in years, you have more free time than you know what to do with. Sleep until noon? You betcha! After all, you just graduated. You’ll find a job soon. Right? RIGHT? This stage sometimes does not occur, but when it does, it’s usually short-lived and ends when your loans are very close to running out.

Stage three: unrealistic expectations. Time to find a job. Salary requirements? Somewhere around $50,000 or higher to start – after all, you have a master’s degree! Full benefits with generous paid time off. And a supervisor with the credentials you need to get your hours needed for licensure. Maybe somewhere with student loan reimbursements? Ideally somewhere walking distance to your apartment, but you can take the subway if you really need to. But you’ll need your employer to give you transit checks. You’re not doing research either – after all, you just graduated from a counseling program and should be counseling people! And definitely opportunities to grow within the company – you’re looking for a supervisory position within the next year, and you’ll get one because you’ve worked so hard for it!

Stage four: much more realistic expectations. It’s been a few weeks, and you’ve seen your fair share of rejection emails. Maybe someone from HR contacted you for an interview, and you were told the starting salary would be $35,000. You’ll also have to obtain supervision elsewhere, because that agency does not have any qualified LPC supervisors. Time to start budgeting $75 a week towards supervision. But at least you still get decent paid time off, right? And the position is still accessible by public transit!

Stage five: panic, significantly lower standards, or PLEASE WON’T SOMEONE JUST HIRE ME?!?! It’s been a few weeks, and you still haven’t heard back from anyone. The interviewer who said they would contact you regardless of the outcome has not done so. You start applying to Bachelor’s level positions in hopes that you can manipulate starting salary based on your level of experience. Mobile therapy even though you don’t have a car? Sure! You’ll figure out the transit situation later. You need to be bilingual? Your Rosetta Stone is already in the mail. And the overnight shift? Sounds awesome!

Stage six: a glimmer of hope. Maybe you’ve been contacted for a second interview. Or you’ve heard from a few agencies in one week. You’ve sent in your paperwork to mental health recruiters that can place you in temporary assignments that can turn into full-time positions. The agencies seem great, and you’re so excited! You pull out a suit from the back of your closet, saunter outside in 90 degree heat, and know that you’re going to have the best interview of your life.

Stage seven: giving up. So…it wasn’t the best interview of your life. Your hands were clammy, your voice went up seven octaves, and you forgot the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II. You’re a stammering, blubbering fool, and you know you blew the interview. You consider going back to the job boards, but in reality, you’re sitting on your couch watching the Real Housewives of whatever all day. That is, until your cable goes out and you realize unemployment does not absolve you from bill payment.

Stage eight: acceptance. After all the applications, resumes/CVs, cover letters, and interviews, you finally land something in the field. Perhaps it wasn’t what you expected your first job to be, and your friends without advanced degrees are probably making more money than you. Maybe you’re working wacky hours and have to contract out for supervision. But it’s a job in your ideal career field, and you’re going to make it the best possible fresh-out-of-graduate school job ever. Either that or you’ve given up and sent in your application to join the circus (which still requires a specific set of skills, so good luck).

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99 thoughts on “The Life Cycle of the Grad School Graduate’s job hunt for something in the mental health field

  1. I’m about to graduate from Undergrad with the intent of going to graduate school in the mental health field, and reading this post was exactly what I expected life after graduation to be. Only I’m going to be married with the pressure of scrounging up half of our income with my degree. So. Excited. Haha! Thanks for this post.

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