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Aoife works as an Occupational Psychologist for the Public Appointments Service and is based in Dublin. After completing her primary degree, she completed her Masters in Occupational Psychology in the University of Manchester. She is directly involved in the selecting and designing of aptitude tests for various roles in the Civil Service, and in interpreting the results of these.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
I think my most important career decision was to do my Masters Degree in Occupational Psychology straight after my undergraduate psychology degree. It is very difficult to work as a psychologist without having a post-graduate qualification, so that opened a lot of doors for me. Many of the Occupational Psychology Masters courses require significant work experience before you are accepted onto the course. An Internship that I had completed in the Training Department of a major Pharmaceutical company during my undergraduate degree was a great help in being accepted onto my Masters course.
My first job was a big milestone. I was very lucky and started my first job directly after finishing college. I worked in consultancy which meant I got to experience working with a range of different organisations; Public and Private sector. This meant that when I was looking for a job I was very aware of the opportunities that we out there and could make an informed choice. While it wasn't strictly a career decision, taking a year out to travel and work in Australia was a great step for me and I would thoroughly recommend it!
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My dad was definitely one of my main influences. He is a Secondary school teacher but is also very involved in counselling and it was from this that I first developed an interest in psychology. I found it quite challenging to decide what to do towards the end of my undergraduate degree. I spoke to the only Occupational Psychologist in my home town, Castlebar, who described her job and career and that really helped me to decide on Occupational Psychology. My career guidance advisor in college advised me against going straight into a Masters Degree. However, I felt that I was well enough informed to follow that path and thankfully it has worked out really well for me. Since starting work, I have been very influenced by my managers and colleagues; you get a great buzz from working with people who are committed and dedicated to their work, and this has always been very important to me.
How did you go about getting your current job?
I made contact with the Public Appointments Service when I returned from Australia and submitted my CV to the Senior Psychologist. There was a temporary position available and I was successfully interviewed for this post. As I had gained a lot of directly relevant experience in my previous job, no tests were used. My contract was subsequently extended.
Describe a typical day?
The best thing about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day. While most of my work is directly related to recruitment and selection, your tasks on Monday might be completely different to what you are doing on Wednesday. You have to balance the areas that demand your immediate attention, such as competition support with the longer term projects such as research. In any day you will consult with your colleagues, speak to assessors and candidates, carry out data analysis or design a new assessment tool. I find the training element of my job very rewarding. It is great working with a group for a day or two and seeing them get excited about the topic and develop the necessary skills. I also love the test design element. It is incredible to see candidates presenting on a scenario or situation that you helped design. It is also rewarding to work very closely with colleagues across the Public Appointments Service to deliver on a project or process.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
There is a range of activities and responsibilities associated with my role. At a very broad level, I am employed to bring the principles of psychology into the recruitment and selection service that the Public Appointments Service offers.
Some of the areas that I am involved in include selecting or designing aptitude tests for a range of roles, analysis and scoring of aptitude tests, training of Board members or assessors, carrying out research on previous selection campaigns or on areas of interest in the HR field, giving talks on recruitment and selection to various groups, job analysis of different posts - the list is endless!
We work as a consultancy service within the Office and work with different people at different times, depending on the competitions that are live and the projects that are ongoing.
What are the main challenges?
A key challenge is working on several projects together and managing your time effectively. It can also be quite challenging working with very senior managers so your influencing and negotiation skills are important, as well as having confidence in yourself. Some of my projects last a week, others can last months or years so you have to keep on track of things and stay motivated.
It is important that we keep up to date with developments in Occupational Psychology and it is an area where things are constantly changing. We get a range of Journals in the Office and attend a number of conferences each year. For example, this year I was lucky enough to attend the Society of Industrial and Organisational Psychology (SIOP) conference in San Francisco. We also present at a number of conferences and seminars.
I think the range of my work is quite cool. I love the fact that I can immerse myself in different jobs and learn all about them and then move onto another project. It is very cool to work with people who are passionate about their jobs, extremely professional, brilliant at what they do and dedicated to the Public Service.
What's not so cool?
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
As the job is so broad, you have to bring a range of skills to be able to perform. Some of the skills that I feel are important include excellent interpersonal skills, the ability to deliver solutions to the problems that you encounter, a willingness to get involved and take ownership of particular projects, communication skills, flexibility across all elements of work and, while it is not really a skill, a genuine interest in the area.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
For my Leaving Certificate I did the standard subjects and German, Geography, Biology and Business Studies. I knew quite early on that I didn't want to do Accountancy or anything that would require more than one science subject so I was able to study the subjects that I liked. There really isn't anything that I would have done differently.
What is your education to date?
After my Leaving Cert, I completed a degree in Occupational Psychology in the University of Ulster, Magee College. The degree has changed since I completed it, but at the time it was the only University that offered this specialism so that is why I went there. It was a three year degree, but I took a leave of absence for a year after my second year and went to the States to study Business Administration as part of the Business Education Initiative, sponsored by the British, Irish and American Governments.
On completion of my degree I did a Masters in Occupational Psychology in the University of Manchester (UMIST). I am a member of both the British Psychological Society and the Psychological Society of Ireland, so Continuous Professional Development is very important and I try to consistently update my skills. I have completed a diploma in Employment Law, courses in Item Response Theory and other Statistical techniques, as well as attending a number of conferences and presenting at several others.
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
I was very lucky in that my Degree and Masters were both very relevant to the work that I do now. If I had not done my Masters, I would not have been able to practice as a psychologist. In particular the modules that I did on recruitment and selection have been very valuable. I always enjoyed subjects where there was a practical element, for example where you had to carry out research projects. The skills that I learned I use on a daily basis.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
There are a number of campaigns that I have been very involved in that I am very proud of. Probably my most rewarding campaign was a while ago but it was the recruitment of the Ombudsman for Children. The process involved 60 children and young people and was really innovative. I found it quite challenging as children can be a tough audience, but the process was wonderful. I am also very proud of the work that we do to accommodate candidates with disabilities. We have carried out significant research in this area and I believe we are leaders in the field.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I think a very important quality is flexibility/openness. This includes openness to new ways of doing things, openness to learning from others/feedback and a willingness to listen to people. If you don't have this quality, it is impossible to learn and develop as a psychologist. It is also important that you are committed to delivering work of a high standard. When there are a number of tight deadlines, you really need to maintain your focus on getting things right.
What is your dream job?
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
I am very lucky in my job as it allows me to have the lifestyle that I want. That being said, we do work very hard in our job and there are occasional early mornings, late evenings and some work over the weekend. However, we have a flexi-time system, which means there is flexibility about your start and finish times. The Civil Service is wonderful in terms of family friendly policies, so if your circumstances change, there are a number of options such as work sharing, term time or flexible working, for example working a 3 day week.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
Psychology is a very broad area and I would encourage people to reflect on the field that would suit them best. If you study pharmacy, you will graduate as a pharmacist. It is different in psychology. The role of a Clinical Psychologist differs significantly from the role of an Educational Psychologist, a Forensic Psychologist or a Sports Psychologist. A post graduate qualification will be required to practice in any of these fields. Regardless of the area of psychology that interests you, respect for and an interest in people is a key value that is required. Once you have qualifications, networks and professional bodies are a good way to meet prospective employers.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
What is your favourite music?
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
My first job was as a Consultant Occupational Psychologist, and as part of that job I did a number of courses that were required to do my job, including courses on Occupational Testing, the use of Personality Questionnaires, Job Analysis, Consultancy Skills and many others. As previously mentioned, to meet the Continuous Professional Development (CPD) requirements set out for psychologists, I have to continuously update my skills. For example, I recently completed a course on Facilitation Skills delivered in house. The Public Appointments Service is very supportive of our training so I hope to keep upskilling while I work here.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
There are not too many Occupational Psychologists working in Ireland. Experience in the area of Human Resources can be very useful and provides a good grounding for people wishing to work in Occupational Psychology. Some Occupational Psychologists work in consultancies with a range of clients and while there is a steep learning curve, for me, this experience was invaluable.