This article was written by Deena Camps, an Assistant Psychologist (AP) in the NHS. You can find Deena on LinkedIN here.
I frequently get asked questions from psychology graduates asking me how to secure an AP post, so I thought it would be helpful to try to address this in one place.
Disclaimer: These considerations will not guarantee you an interview. There are numerous reasons for unsuccessful applications (which I won’t be covering here).
To increase your chances of securing an interview for an AP post, you will need experience in the field (of mental health or ‘providing care’ / support to a vulnerable group of people). Graduating with a BSc/MSc in psychology is not a golden ticket to an AP post (despite us being led to believe this).
Relevant experience involves working with vulnerable and/or minority groups (e.g. individuals with physical and mental health issues, learning disabilities or special needs, members of the LGBTQ+ community, survivors of abuse, those affected by homelessness and poverty, etc). This will enable you to develop your knowledge and skill set. There are hundreds of skills that are transferable (e.g. team working, adaptability, interpersonal skills, problem-solving, risk assessment etc).
There are many opportunities available to develop those skills mentioned. Typical positions include:
· Support worker
· Support Time Recovery Worker
· Healthcare assistant
· Care assistant
· Therapy assistant
· Teaching assistant
· Project worker
· Honorary Assistant Psychologist
· Other voluntary roles (E.g. supporting helplines and centres, befriending, mentoring)
· Research assistant
· Community engagement support
Throughout my interview journey (for AP jobs), I have come to learn that employers aren’t exactly looking for a lengthy amount of experience but are interested in your ability to reflect on your experiences.
Writing applications for AP posts is tricky. I can’t say for sure what interviewers are looking for as I have had my fair share of rejections. However, I believe that when writing applications, it is helpful to:
· Have a standard template that you can tweak for different posts. This is effective for time-saving purposes. You can amend a standard template according to the post.
· Read the job description and person specification carefully. Highlight skills and experiences that are relevant to the role and area. The person specification provides indicators of what the interviewers are looking for.
· Be reflective. Don’t just list your knowledge and skill-set – draw upon those experiences.
What is it that you’ve learned?
What might you do differently?
What psychological models and theories might be relevant?
· Sell yourself. What makes you stand out from the other 100’s of other applicants?
· Showcase your interest and enthusiasm for the post and the client population you would be working with. I’ve heard that interviewers want to see a genuine passion!
· Make sure that your application is structured clearly and concisely.
You’re nearly there when you secure an interview for an AP post. Remind yourself of how big of an achievement it is to be selected (considering the competitive and limited nature of the vacancies). Even if you do not succeed in an interview first time, it is genuinely good experience! The more interviews attended, the more familiar you’ll become with the types of questions asked and the processes of written and group exercises. Some places offer constructive feedback too, which I have found particularly useful moving forwards.
It’s important to note that it can become draining and devaluing when you have found yourself attending interview after interview and have yet to secure that ‘dream post’. Please do take care of yourself and try not to let it define your self-worth. Your time will come. You may not realise it, but the journey itself will build your resiliency!
So, here are my tips for attending an interview:
· Prepare for it!
I suggest that you:
· Research into the company/ NHS trust (i.e. what they have to offer and their values)
· Revise relevant psychological theories and models
· Recap on basic research methods
· Have a research paper/article in mind that you have recently read and what you’ve learned from it
· Research policies and key legislation that are relevant to the client group
· Prepare a couple of scenarios that illustrate certain skills (E.g. problem-solving, team-working, communication etc).
· Prepare a list of questions that you would like to ask the interviewers at the end of the interview
· Be yourself! It is ok to be nervous. Remember… Nobody is expecting perfection.
· Show a willingness to learn and improve on any areas that you fall short with.
Remember, obtaining an AP job is tough so take your time and be kind to yourself!