If you had told me 20 years ago that I would one day work at the American Psychological Association, I would have laughed and said, “No way!” I was committed to one day working in a hospital as a pediatric psychologist. But after 8 years as Associate Executive Director of APAGS, I can say that this is a job that I have relished. Who knew?
How did I get to APA as a staff member? Primarily, it was because I got involved. I served 4 years on the APAGS Committee as Member at Large and Chair of the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns. I also was the student representative on the Ethics Code Task Force, revising the APA Ethics Code. After 4 years as a student leader, I took some time off from APA while I started my dream job in a department of pediatrics at a county hospital. I returned to APA leadership a few years later as a founding member of the Committee on Early Career Psychologists, followed by a term on the Board of Professional Affairs. It was halfway through my term on BPA that the AED position opened up at APAGS. My leadership experience at APA and other organizations (primarily Ohio Psychological Association and the Society of Pediatric Psychology) opened up the doors.
I decided to apply for this current position because I loved volunteering for APA, and I was passionate about the field of psychology. Working for APA has allowed me to combine my interests in advocacy, education, diversity, and psychology in ways I had never imagined. I love mentoring students into becoming great leaders. Advocating on important issues like the internship crisis, student debt, and the lack of tenure track positions is very fulfilling. I never thought I would be on an editorial board of a journal, but working at APA allowed me to help found a journal as well as serve on its editorial board!
Working at an association is a great career option for psychologists. Associations can advocate for businesses, as a trade association like the American Petroleum Institute. Professional associations offer members the ability to connect with peers in a profession; APA is a professional association. Finally, there are philanthropic and charitable associations, which focus on a particular cause, like Autism Speaks. Associations allow psychologists to use a variety of skills, including research, marketing, writing, speaking, and project management. Also, the pay is pretty good!
If you want to work at an association, I would advise the following steps:
Volunteer! Get involved in any association that interests you. Volunteer for a committee or task force, or run for an office. And once there, do a good job. Don’t overcommit to more than what you can do. These kind of experiences will help demonstrate your interest in associations.
Think about skills. Completing a dissertation may not be compelling to someone hiring in an association. However, conducting a multiyear project that required developing a study, analyzing data, coordinating volunteer research assistants, and writing up the study for publication (or whatever else you did for your dissertation) is much more appealing to someone in an association. Describe your work in skills rather than job titles.
Write a resume. Unlike academic jobs, associations do not want a full vita. They will want a resume, 2 pages maximum. Start highlighting your skills and experiences as broadly as possible in your resume. Think about marketing, communications, project management, research as skills to promote.
Check out ASAE’s Association Career HQ. Here you can find ads for different positions. You won’t find many ads for a psychologist, but ads on research, education, diversity and inclusion, and program directors might be excellent starting points for an early career psychologist.
After 8 years in association management, it is clear to me that my career is going to stay in associations. I use psychology every day, just not directly helping individual clients. I like thinking strategically to help my organization achieve its goals. And just last year, I was accepted into the Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) at ASAE: The Center for Association Leadership. This has connected me to a network of like-minded individuals who are also passionate about helping associations.
Working at an association is a great way to apply psychology to organizations. If you’re thinking about a career outside of the ivory tower or health care, I encourage you to think about associations.
Editor’s Note: Also, check out Christine Berry’s post, My Path to a Career in UX Research.