Andi Brinley, Jaime Durley, & Corey Muoz
University of Georgia
Ahh, the lazy days of summernothing to do but pass the time sitting by the pool, reading
TIP, and sipping a cool beverageare we dreaming? Seriously, once in graduate school it seems like the work never slows long enough to relax, but we hope that you do take some time to recuperate and get ready for the upcoming academic year. Maybe you have just completed your degree, or maybe you just have some time to reflect more on your future; in either case, we hope that you are still thinking about what career path you want to pursue. In this issue we are considering the governmental path of I-O psychology.
Most I-O psychologists working in government consider themselves to be consultants in jobs very similar to internal consultants. The individuals we surveyed primarily reported responsibilities that involve developing, validating, and implementing selection and promotion systems. They also evaluate and analyze the skills of a given workforce. Some are also involved in executive coaching and leadership development. Other duties include monitoring productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee morale. Consultants working for the government also report research-oriented activities as part of their jobs. They may have a broad range of responsibilities in personnel research, which may encompass providing advice and recommendations on the design of studies, survey development, data collection, analysis and interpretation, and other psychometric issues. Finally, they report managing training, compensation, and labor relations for the organizations in which they work, as well as involvement in overall policy development.
One type of governmental career that does not fit the stereotypical consulting position is working for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Jobs in this organization may involve consulting and testifying in class-action employment discrimination suits. Consultants working here typically assist attorneys and investigators in developing documents for cases dealing with hiring, promotions, and terminations. They may provide their opinions on aspects of court cases, which may be based in part on their statistical analyses of data involved in the case (e.g., whether adverse impact or disparate treatment occurred in an organization). They may be asked to provide these opinions either in oral or written form, or during a deposition and/or actual trial. They may also assist with conciliation and settlement negotiations of discrimination suits before they even reach the courtroom.
Another type of governmental career involves working for the military, which consists of both enlisted and civilian positions. Although many of the duties in consulting for the military involve the same types of responsibilities as typical government consulting positions, working for the military also requires many unique tasks. The military consultants we contacted not only reported activities such as participating in the management and maintenance of personnel-selection instruments and providing analytical validity support for these instruments but also leading the planning and execution of promotion boards, creating detailed assessments of the current force, developing long-range plans and analyses in support of senior leader development, managing research programs and budgets, and composing briefings for upper administration.
The type of governmental position one holds determines the people with whom he/she interacts. Therefore, the consultants we contacted reported a wide range of individuals whom they consider close clients and colleagues. Such individuals include fellow psychologists (which include I-O psychologists as well as psychologists from other disciplines), internal HR staff, federal executives, managers and supervisors, department heads, union leaders, job incumbents, cops and police managers, attorneys, economists, and statisticians.
Overall, government consultants frequently report the ability to conduct research in their jobs. They seem to have some autonomy in the type of research that is conducted, although, not surprisingly, the research agenda is often influenced by the needs and interests of the organization for which they work.
Regarding licensure, we expected that working for the government would require I-O psychologists to be licensed. However, similar to previous careers we have highlighted in this column, none of the consultants we surveyed reported the need to be licensed to perform their current job duties. Many did explain that licensure may be important for promotions later in their careers, but they are currently judged more on their experience and educational background. There was no exception, even for the consultant working for the EEOC who routinely provided expert testimony. In military careers, consultants reported more interest in military credentials than in psychological licensure.
Consultants working for the government report many benefits to their careers. They are able to have a broad impact through their work for the government. They have the opportunity to influence the systems, processes, and laws of the nation both through their research and involvement in public policy. They report a lot of variety and challenge in their work. And, careers in the government typically offer a bit more job stability and security and require less travel than jobs in the private sector.
However, consultants working for the government also report the complex organizational processes of the government to be frustrating and time consuming. They say that the bureaucratic red tape delays the effective implementation of change, and sometimes politics dictates action more than the strategic plan. Financial issues are also a concern in the government. Some respondents reported insufficient clerical and administrative support as well as funding worries.
Careers in the military come with their own set of pros and cons. Advantages include early retirement and great benefits. Working for the military fulfills a sense of obligation and giving back to the country, and the work certainly is meaningful. The travel requirements of the military also offer the opportunity to practice ones skills in many different settings. Other perks of the military are training opportunities that come with the job, such as the chance to get military flight training from some of the best instructors in the world.
However, all of this comes at a price. There may be a service commitment of several years when taking a position as a military consultant, which may or may not involve deployment. Also, the military just isnt for everyone. There are standard restrictions on behavior imposed on members of the military and strict standards of decorum.
Developing the Student
One of our respondents informed us that the government is obsessed with doing things in a technically correct manner. Therefore, now is the time to beef up on some methods courses! Load up on classes such as statistics, research design, survey research methods, and personnel selection. Make sure that your I-O training teaches you how to actually do a job analysis. Other courses on the O side include organizational development and leadership. If your program doesnt offer more business-oriented classes, head over to the business department to take an organizational theory class or a public administration and policy course. Further, one should seek courses that would develop your proposal writing, contract monitoring, and project management.
What can you do outside of the classroom to help get a grasp on government jobs? Surfing the Web can aid you in finding out where I-O psychologists work and what roles they play in the government. Look at
www.firstgov.gov or www.opm.gov
and their links to USAJOBS to learn about the missions of the various federal agencies. You can also subscribe to a variety of online newsletters geared toward HR topics in the government. For instance, Division 19 of APA provides an official newsletter,
The Military Psychologist, that can be accessed online. Other online newsletters include
Government Executive magazine, Partnership for Public Service, and
Merit Systems Protection Board. Recommended offline publications include
Games People Play by Eric Berne, Company Commander by Charles MacDonald, and virtually anything written by General Colin Powell. Also recommended are the journals
Public Personnel Management, Personnel Psychology, Military Psychology, and, of course,
Journal of Applied Psychology.
Developing the Researcher
Aside from the skills that naturally develop within your graduate training, our respondents recommended specific strategies for enhancing your research skills. As a student, it is important to hone in on the focus of your research. Now is the time to keep abreast of the literature, develop your statistical tools and writing abilities, and network with other researchers to focus on the application of your research. Seek out training in item response theory (IRT), exploratory data analysis, SPSS applications, program evaluation, and measure development and validation. Also, applied experiences in conducting research are essential to gain experience in formulating and exploring research ideas. Be creative with your inquiries and designs. Further, get practice in communicating your findings. Being able to interpret your results and extract the practical relevance of your outcomes are research skills that are necessary for your career.
As usual, to heighten ones research skills as a student as well as in the field, you should take advantage of the multitude of conferences that are available to I-O psychologists. Many of these we have seen before along the academic and consulting paths, such as SIOP, Academy of Management, and Society for Human Resource Management. But our respondents did recommend a few additional ones. There are military psychology conferences and symposia, such as Division 19, Military Psychology during the APA conference. Also, although predominantly medical in focus, the Aerospace Medical Association conference does provide a great deal of aviation-specific research for I-O psychologists going into government/military research. Many of our panelists recommended the International Personnel Management Association Assessment Council (IPMAAC) as well as getting involved with your local Personnel Testing Council (PTC) to network with other military psychologists.
Developing the Practitioner
The good news is that there are several types of internships available for students who are interested in careers with the government or the military. Government internships can come in the form of federal, state, or city/local. Most of the internships related to I-O are at the city level and usually consist of work with police or fire departments. This work usually entails recruitment, selection, performance management, and promotion systems. In addition, several strategies were suggested by our professionals to obtain the ideal internship that fits not only your interests but also your preferred sector or branch of the military or government. Government internships are obviously the best preparation for this industry.
Another internship strategy could include working for an organization that has government contracts. This route would also help establish familiarity with I-O work in the government as well as with general government functioning. In addition, many government agencies have cooperative educational agreements with universities that allow students to work with them. However, you probably need to be willing to relocate, as most of these are located in the Washington D.C. area. Furthermore, try to intern with an agency in which you would be interested in working. This will allow you to specialize in that area as well as become knowledgeable about that specific sector of the government and/or military branch.
If there are no formal internship programs within a given agency, then another strategy would be to contact an I-O psychologist in that department and try to develop an internship. If there are simply no internship opportunities available, seek ways to volunteer for the department in which youre interested in working. Regardless of whether you are an intern or a volunteer, these experiences reinforce your education and give you hands-on experience. Be proactive in seeking these opportunities, yet be patient as you seek a position to match your skills, as the wheels of government grind slowly.
One cannot underestimate the benefits of networking and seeking out experience and advice of those I-O psychologists who currently work in the government and military arena. They can offer a first-hand account of the field. Making contact with I-O psychologists within an agency or department should always be the first step for you to land the internship that you want.
There are several recommendations for a government or military job search strategy. First, there are several Web sites and job postings that are extremely beneficial. For example, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or
www.USAJobs.opm.gov is a great resource for those searching out jobs in this industry. Almost all of the professionals that we surveyed mentioned this Web site. There are also individual agency Web sites that are linked to the OPM Web site and may be useful for those students who already have a good idea of the area in which they would like to work. In addition, as for many I-O related positions, SIOPs Jobnet at
www.siop.org is an outstanding resource for obtaining a job. Once again, the professionals that we surveyed stressed the importance of getting in contact with specific I-O psychologists with whom you would like to work. These professionals should match your research interests as well as the government sector in which you would like to work. This helps get your foot in the door as well as make available your services as an I-O psychologist. A final job-search strategy recommendation that we cannot emphasize enough is to customize your resume to each individual position for which you are applying.
As in previous columns, we would again like to highlight the challenges of switching career paths within I-O psychology. For I-O psychologists in government or military positions, the transition into a consulting role seems to not be that great of a challenge according to the professionals that we surveyed. Many of our respondents stated that their roles in the government very closely resemble those of internal consultants, therefore making the transition between these two paths fairly easy. However, these professionals did stress that staying current with what is going on in the civilian world is key for this transition to be straightforward. Another potential obstacle for those I-O psychologists transitioning out of a military or a government position is dealing with civilian language versus military language. Most of our respondents stated that a challenge of working in this type of industry is getting familiar with the government or military language; therefore, a challenge in leaving military culture can lie in getting reacquainted with civilian language.
Similarly, our respondents were fairly unanimous that transitioning from their roles in government or the military to that of an external consultant is also fairly easy. In contrast, transitioning into academia was seen as much more of a challenge to our professionals. The main reason they provided for seeing this transition as being more of an obstacle is the challenge of maintaining a research program while working. To continue publishing while working in nonacademic settings is often difficultas it is in other applied fieldsbecause publishing is usually done above and beyond the regular job responsibilities. With that being said, there may be more flexibility with regard to research for those working in military or government positions as opposed to consulting in the private sector, as many of our respondents did mention research as part of their job duties.
Finally, our respondents acknowledge the fact that government employees often get a bad rap. The stereotype is that individuals working for the government are lazy and dont use their time efficiently. However, dont believe this stereotype. Government employees are no different than private sector or academic employeesthe distribution of ability is the same. Government employees work hard, earn their pay, are good performers, and deserve public trust and respect. As with all stereotypes, these perceptions of government employees are not only unrealistic but also unfair.
Thanks again for our outstanding group of professionals who provided valuable information for this column. These respondents include:
Cassie B. Barlow (United States Air Force), Greg Beatty (Immigration Service/Department of Homeland Security),
Doug Cederblom (Washington State Patrol), Murray J. Mack (Department of the Army),
Ernest M. Paskey (U.S. Office of Personnel Management), Henry L. Phillips
(Naval Aerospace Medical Institute), Jerry Solamon (City of Altanta),
Melba Stetz (United States Army), and Hilary Weiner (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). If you would like any more information on any of these topics or have an idea for an issue that you would like to see addressed in a future column, please feel free to contact us: Jaime Durley
(firstname.lastname@example.org), Corey Muoz (email@example.com), Andi Brinley
Berne, E. (1964). Games People Play. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
MacDonald, C. B. (1999). Company Commander. Short Hills, NJ: Buford Books, Inc.
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