Forensic Psychology is a field of psychology that is focused on either helping people or testifying for the court regarding people that have become engaged in the criminal justice system. Due to the populations they work with, these specialists need to demonstrate more than educational credentials to make a strong impression on potential employers.
Whether you are still in the planning stages of your career, seeking your first job in the field, or looking to make a mid-career shift to this vocation, here are 5 areas to help you prepare to impress:
1. Personal Attributes
Forensic psychologists work with some of the most vulnerable people in society. They often work directly with criminals or their victims and they regularly deal with the effects of violence and trauma. In addition, the working conditions can include stressful places such as prisons, courts, drug rehabilitation centers, and homes for children wards of the state.
As such, the mental and emotional stressors of the job can take a toll. There is a high burnout rate in this field as a result. Be prepared to discuss with an interviewer the personal attributes that you have which will serve you to be resilient to the long-term effects of stress, pressure, conflict, and trauma that you will face in this job.
Interviewers may try to assess this by asking the following types of questions:
- What personal qualities do you have that you think make you suited for this kind of work?
- What do you do to relieve stress?
- Describe an extremely stressful situation that you were in, and how you dealt with it.
2. Soft Skills
Soft skills are those life skills that we all need at certain times. Forensic psychologists need to demonstrate that they have a specific set of soft skills, such as:
- Communication and listening skills
- The ability to establish relationships
- A systematic approach to work
- Teamwork skills
- Leadership skills
- Motivation and commitment
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-awareness, especially in high-security settings
- Non-discriminatory and non-judgmental approach
- Personal resilience
3. Life Experience
In your work as a forensic psychologist, chances are you will be coming into contact with convicted criminals and/or victims who have had to face difficult life circumstances on a regular basis. While your education will prepare you to some extent, there is no substitute for life experience.
Life experience, either helping others with life’s challenges or enduring your own hardships, is an important way to develop a deeper understanding of the patients or clients you will be serving in your role as a forensic psychologist.
There are two places where you can highlight your life experience during the application process for prospective jobs in this field.
Cover Letter: This document is your general introduction to any employer. It should include a brief overview of your reasons for being interested in that specific job, along with a highlight of your strongest qualifications. If you have life experiences that you think are relevant to giving you important insight into the people you will be working with, this is one place to include that information.
See WorkBloom’s Cover Letter Center for more tips on how to write your cover letter.
Job Interview: It is not uncommon for interviewers to enquire specifically about the life experiences that you have which may translate to better performance on the job or resilience to certain stressors that come with working with at risk populations. Be prepared with a few answers to this kind of question, and, if you think your life experience will give you an edge, by all means, raise the issue on your own during the interview.
See WorkBloom’s Job Interview Center for more insights.
4. Membership in Professional Organizations
Psychology is a field of study and work that never stands still. Research brings new visions, ideas and theories, all very much in line with how society changes over the years. All psychologists who practice professionally are expected to stay up to date with new developments in their fields and belong to one or more professional bodies.
Formal training, courses and qualifications specific to forensic psychology and related subjects are covered in detail in the guide How to Become a Forensic Psychologist.
Active membership in professional organizations in your field is also tremendously important when it comes to face-to-face networking. Attending annual conferences is one of the best ways to meet people in your field. These real connections can translate into important references, collaboration on academic projects, or valuable inside information on upcoming job openings.
Hopefully, you have already been an active member of one or more of these top professional societies:
- American Academy of Forensic Psychology
- Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology
- American Psychological Association
Be sure that your resume and/or application materials make reference to your participation in professional societies that are directly related to forensic psychology. If you have presented papers, taken on a service roll, or participated in editing publications, for example, these activities demonstrate your commitment to furthering your education and contributing to the overall health of the discipline.
5. Forensic Psychology Internships
Internships offer the opportunity to get a stronger sense of the day to day work of any vocation. They can give you valuable experience, help you decide on which specialty best suits your talents and passions, as well as be a source of valuable professional references.
If you have already participated in an internship related to your area of specialty within Forensic Psychology, then make sure to include this information in your application materials.
In addition, be prepared to answer interview questions along the lines of:
- What was the most challenging aspect of your internship, and why?
- What aspect of the internship did you find the most personally fulfilling, and why?
- Did you identify weak areas during your internship? If so, what have you done since to address them?
Because of the high rates of stress and exposure to trauma that many in the field of Forensic Psychology face on a daily basis, highlighting your educational achievements won’t be enough to impress a potential employer.
Prepare to show that you are committed to ongoing professional development by demonstrating participation in professional societies. In addition, be prepared to answer questions about your personal attributes and life experiences that have prepared you to be resilient in the face of the considerable on the job stressors.