Psychologist’s role is just the job for young people

Dr Chintha Dissanayake

Dr Chintha Dissanayake

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by

She may be a talent spotter, but Dr Chintha Dissanayake has nothing in common with Simon Cowell.

The founder of Oxford Psychometrics needs no glitzy X Factor-style smoke and mirrors when helping youngsters on to the right career path.

Since the occupational psychologist started her consultancy business 17 years ago, clients have included the United Nations, the Cabinet Office, the Civil Aviation Authority and Barclays Bank.

Before that, she was a prison psychologist for the Home Office, working with young offenders.

Dealing with both employers and potential recruits puts her in the position of seeing both sides of the equation.

She said: “In all my years of working with young people, I don’t think I have ever come across someone who is talentless, but what they often lack is belief in their talent and the chance to try it out.”

Parents regularly deliver hoodie-wearing teenagers to her workshops, before “running out of the door”, she says.

“Some youngsters say ‘I want to be a millionaire’ and my reply is ‘Okay we’ll see what we can do’.

“Once in conversation, you discover that so many people have given up on them and you start unravelling what their true talents and dreams are.

“When they say they want to be a millionaire, what they actually mean is they want to make an impact in life.”

Born in Sri Lanka, she and her family came to England in 1973, when she was eight.

She spoke hardly any English and recalled: “School was not the highlight of my life. I was not the life and soul of the class.

“I did want to learn, but shifting from mother tongue to a completely different language was tough.”

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Fortunately, both her parents were fluent in English and helped her adjust.

After taking three science A-Levels, she went to King’s College in London to study for a biology degree, but after the first year it became clear that was not where her passion lay.

She took to sitting in on psychology lectures aimed at medical students and took as many modules in the subject as possible.

After finishing university with what she describes as a “non-descript” degree, which was a hybrid between biology and psychology, a lecturer suggested she do a one-year conversion course in psychology.

From there, it was on to do an MSc and PhD in psychology, topped off more recently with an MA in law and employment relations.

The mother-of-two, who lives in Stadhampton, believes more can be done to encourage and help young people articulate their skills to potential employers.

She added: “Every single person has a natural skill but it is not something that is necessarily drawn out in school.

“Young people are often unable to sell themselves because they do not know what their value is.

“I focus on what they can, rather than can’t, do.”

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