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Our popular regular event discussing Business Psychology Careers took place recently in Manchester, with contributions from Dr Jodi O’Dell, Julia Norman, Anna Whitehead, Robin Hills and Wendy Kendall. Our thanks are extended to all for so generously giving up their time.

Dr. Jodi O’Dell

Dr O’Dell has built up a niche business in Coaching Psychology and through hard work, dedication and attention to evidence based activity, she has a loyal and increasing client base.   However, on her own admission, success has been achieved the hard way and through an unorthodox route.

Following her first degree in French and Anthropology, she took an MSc in Occupational Psychology and a few year later after developing some work experience embarked upon her PhD.

After her MSc she worked as a freelancer and built up a business with two colleagues.  Her coaching practice increased and after attending networking events with EMCC and Association for Coaching, she became increasingly aware of the lack of evidence based coaching research being carried out.  This prompted her to undertake her PhD to increase the robustness of her work and to accelerate her career where her skills would be more differentiated.

During her PhD juggling homelife and bringing up a family with a regular client project in the Far East was not without its challenges.  Hard work and dedication proved to be worthwhile as she graduated with her PhD in Coaching Psychology. Following on from her PhD research, over the past 10 years she has developed a diagnostic (Engage) which measures ‘mindset’ and ‘change readiness’.  Her business has evolved from a consultancy led practice to include a product which facilitates change and business performance using a more rigorous evidence based approach.     A career which started with profiling in assessment centres has progressed to the point where she is now being approached by large multinationals to pilot her product.

What has she learned from her approach to work?

  • Working on your own provides the opportunity to respond to real life opportunities, giving autonomy and flexibility, however, it is not for everyone and being able to deal with uncertainty is essential
  • Working on assessment centres is a good way to ‘learn the ropes’ and develop profiling skills
  • Developing a freelance business relies heavily on your ability to network and promote yourself, as much as it is about offering a quality service as a psychologist
  • If you want to work towards chartership, it can be extremely helpful to work within a larger consultancy to get varied exposure to different aspects of psychology work
  • Within coaching work, purchasers are becoming increasing discerning often requiring coaching qualifications, however, developing a log of ‘coaching hours’ is essential
  • Be mindful of increasing reliance on the use of technology.  Over 20 years the amount of travelling has decreased with Skype and similar platforms becoming popular for use in coaching sessions.  It is important to know the limitations of technology when identifying desired outcomes.
  • Most important of all, use every networking opportunity at your disposal

Julia Norman

Julia works primarily in Assessment Centres.  She works on back of house programmes involving Recruitment, Selection, Develop and Retention.  She has to devise role-plays, psychometric assessments and reports. However, the work inevitably involves related areas: these involve Competency Framework design, 360 feedback interview guides, in house coaching, along with associated in house management training.

How did she get into this work?

After completing an engineering degree she preferred being around people and chose commercial work.  She sold consumer products for several years, being promoted to manager of a team of salespeople.

A career change took her along the MSc route to a psychology degree after which she joined SHL, a large profiling and psychometric testing organisation.  Realising that a “Stamp of Approval” was required for undertaking certain kinds of work, especially in the public sector she went through the process of BPS Chartership.  After several years she turned independent and most of her work is now obtained through her Associate work or through referrals.  Only 20% is as a result of direct contact with clients.  While she does a lot of training, it does not pay well and it is important to have an additional USP to bolt on to the training, which in her case is the assessment work.  This also helps to identify the real client need and fine tune the training which the organisation requires.

Building your own business requires getting oneself known and determination.  Julie’s top nine tips are:

  1.  Maintain networks
  2.  Get Chartered
  3.  Get involved
  4.  Be Good, Reliable Flexible
  5.  Get some corporate experience and ask for referrals
  6.  Become an Expert
  7.  Build Network when you have credibility: have your launch pad when pitching for new work.
  8.  Speak at events
  9.  Use Social Media

Anna Whitehead

Anna has developed a career along a different route. With a psychology degree she decided to go into the Public Sector.   Most psychology jobs are in the Public Sector so this presentation was of particular interest.  Curiously however, unless you work in Clinical Psychology, the kind of Organisational Development (OD) type roles on offer are also open to graduates of other relevant disciplines.

For Anna, in her work, her priorities are:

  • Maintaining a healthy work/life balance.
  • Deciding and then being ” how we want to be” at work
  • What are our values at work and do these sit comfortably with the values of the organisation

Roles she has undertaken include:

  • Service redesign and change management
  • Facilitating analysis of population Health and Social Care needs to inform decision-making
  • Challenging assumptions and methodologies, having introduced Chartermark and ISO 9001 into processes

Being analytical and resourceful, she has shaped new roles within a local government framework, mainly in improvement and performance.  Much of the work involves change management, systems thinking and service improvement.

Anna finds herself constantly challenging methods and assumptions.   She looks at evidence, then ways to improve performance.  A simple example might be repairing potholes: it is not just about filling the pothole as it is also about the planning, scheduling, and final inspection of work all of which have cost and operational implications.   Crucially it is about meeting local needs and ensuring ratepayer satisfaction.

Anna states that much of the role is about communication.  There could be a range of complex information from a large number of sources, but the challenge is explaining the main issues to commissioners so that local needs can be translated into strategic approaches.

Having worked as an internal consultant Anna identified the difference between internal and external consultancy.  Working internally involves being part of a team.   It is a more secure and collaborative environment and it is easier to figure out dynamics, and effect gradual change without disruption.   However, working externally means you are outside the hierarchy and can allow you to walk away more easily.

Anna feels that the main upside of her employment has been the enjoyment gained working as part of a team.  However she wanted more autonomy so in February she decided to leave and embark on new challenges as a freelancer with a portfolio career.   Having gained the internal consultant skills and experienced the dynamics of working in a large public sector organisation, she will have much to offer in her future career.

Robin Hills

Unlike the other speakers Robin Hills has focused more on Emotional Intelligence in his career.  Just as we are witnessing growth in areas such as Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality, EI is now maturing into an accepted area of psychology.

Ten years ago, no one had heard of Emotional Intelligence, but even though it is relatively new it is now almost mainstream.  A concept which was always an issue yet not formally acknowledged has now been formalised and buyers of consulting services identify it as a need.

Robin also developed a career in psychology by switching after a spell in a commercial career.   When he left University he became a Medical Sales Representative.  He found that when visiting London Teaching Hospitals he could influence, persuade and even change behaviour by spending time with the medical professionals.  He concluded that he was using emotions to influence and was in fact using the new and developing activity called emotional intelligence.

After redundancy, he looked at a career in clinical research but found that there was a growing need for Resilience training and a shortage of products for trainers to use.   Organisations needed to train people to bounce back and be more resilient as part of their personal development programmes, so he set about to develop these programmes.

In order to gain credibility, he identified the need to have published material, so he wrote and had published a couple of books, on resilience and emotional intelligence.  He coupled this with online training and, promoting the books and training material online, he now has an international business which has clients in over 100 countries.  What he found surprising was the extent to which the published material opened doors.  He is now in constant demand as a speaker and he has sold more than 31000 courses on line which are use in areas as diverse as MBA apprenticeships programmes and the NHS and many private sector organisations. He is now training in:

  • Developing emotional intelligence in teams
  • Collaboration and EI
  • EI Leadership
  • Conflict Management and Emotional Intelligence

Alongside using networking to promote yourself and building your brand he recommends that you

  • Get competent in Social Media
  • Develop skills in emerging technologies – videography, sound engineering. and Animation to fully utilise the social media skills.

Robin’s  take-home message: “Don’t be afraid of trying something new and keep persevering”.

Wendy Kendall

Wendy Kendall has had a portfolio career, weaving new careers for herself: likening each progression as a result of a “Rope Thread” wound round and bundling together a rich set of life experiences.  Following an accredited Masters degree at Cranfield University College of Aeronautics, she received her Chartership after working as a psychologist for the Ministry of Defence.   Her Masters Thesis at Cranfield was carried out jointly with the School of Management and was based on developing a model of organisational and individual behaviour in the civil aviation system.

After joining the Ministry of Defence, her qualifications enabled her to set to work on the psychology of decision making in virtual environments by infantry on the battlefield.  Alongside this, she was Lead Scientist on the first Tri-Service Review in 1998 for women to be serve in the Combat Arms, something which was ultimatelyintroduced as a policy change by the MoD in 2018. On promotion to Senior Psychologist, she led a team of 5 psychologists,and Chef d’Equipe for the Army’s Aviation Human Factors specialists, and ultimately for creating the British Army’s first People Analytics team for the Director of Army Personnel Strategy.

Having decided there was no possibility of further promotion in the MoD beyond senior psychologist, she left to establish her own business in South West France, when her husband’s career moved him there.

Recognising that the use of behavioural science in HR strategy and management was lagging significantly in the area of global leadership development, she explored how people might benefit from a different approach and built a reputation by helping organisations in the HR function and specifically talent mobility, developing the mission statement:

“Our mission is to help successful leaders create measurable value on global assignments and minimise risk of companies losing their best global talents on assignment or when they return’.

She also advertises herself as the Psychology Practice Accelerator, as she also mentors and coaches other psychologists in developing their practices.  Use of technology enables practitioners to develop their own approach to their businesses and them from having to follow others.  Done in the right way, the complex process of bringing a programme to market is now much streamlined.

Although she and her family have now moved back to the UK, she still has a house in SW France which is used for hosting “Retreats” for psychologists where ideas for new ventures are discussed.

What has Wendy learned from her career?

  • Always aim to develop professional and personal value from your career.  This enables you to continue to develop it.
  • Psychology is a hugely important subject and many more organisations can benefit from using psychologists.  Psychology is an underused and sometimes underrated discipline.
  • There will always be opportunities for those operating in “Externally Disruptive Roles”, such as psychology to challenge how businesses and people operate.
  • The idea of having a global talent management team is not clearly understood by most organisations.  It is often confused with “Global Mobility”.  But moving people can be expensive and doesn’t always produce clearly defined results.  At best it is disruptive for individuals and their families and at worst is can stall the careers of highly talented people.
  • Having a difficult set of roles early on in your career can be hugely beneficial and build Resilience enabling you to take a calm and measured approach to serious matters.
  • As has had already been said, network and use every opportunity.
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