Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

There are numerous career opportunities for a Industrial-Organizational Psychologist many lead fascinating, multi-faceted professions.

Industrial-Organizational psychologists (also known as I/O psychologists) essentially apply their expertise to the workplace. They do so in many ways, from analyzing performance to developing marketing strategies.

Industrial/organizational psychologists are not just high in demand—they also lead fulfilling careers. “I-O psychologists are working to ensure that all people are treated fairly, that the right people are hired, paid fairly, and promoted,” said Valerie Sessa, an Industrial Organizational Psychology Professor profiled by SIOP (Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology, Inc). “They ensure the organization has the structure, leadership, and groups/teams it needs. It’s a great field. I still love it.”

“Industrial/organizational psychologists are not just high in demand—they also lead fulfilling careers.”

Career & Job Description

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Career At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: Generally a doctoral degree, but in some cases those with a master’s degree can work as an industrial-organizational psychologist
  • Certification/Licensure Requirements: Varies by jurisdiction and career function [see Licensing section below]
  • Specializations: There are many specializations from diversity training and leadership styles to employee satisfaction and performance.
  • Median Annual Salaries: $68,640 *
  • Job Outlook: 22% growth from 2010 to 2020 **

Generally speaking, a psychologist in any field requires a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.). However in some cases, I-O psychologists may be hired on with a master’s degree. There are also numerous careers related to industrial/organizational psychology that you can pursue with an undergraduate or Master’s degree.

Job Description

Although the field of industrial psychology focuses on the workplace, it is a diverse discipline in terms of career opportunities. “I-O psychologists are scientist–practitioners specializing in understanding people in organizations,” states SIOP, Division 14 of the American Psychological Association (APA). “This means they must be both scientific and practical. As an I-O psychologist, you are likely to either be a teacher, researcher, consultant, or manager. In fact, many I-O psychologists will engage in all four of these roles during their career.”

I/O Psychologists may work for a variety of employers, including consulting firms, recruiting agencies, private companies, leadership centers, universities, colleges and other educational institutions, military departments, government agencies, private practices, research organizations, etc.

Here are some examples of the functions an industrial/organizational psychologist may perform throughout his/her career:

  • Work as either an internal consultant (for one business or industry group) or as an external consultant (for various business or industry groups).
  • Design and select tests or interview formats to guide employers in who they should hire and for what positions.
  • Develop and facilitate performance evaluations/assessment packages to assess individual employees, as well as the organization as a whole.
  • Provide relevant training to managers, supervisors and human resource professionals.
  • Determine needs of new and existing employees and develop/evaluate related training programs (i.e. technical or diversity training, orientation or preparing for a promotion).
  • Advise a company or organization’s attorneys (such as when faced with litigation cases concerning employees).
  • Analyze a company or organization’s job positions to determine if employees are treated fairly and legally.
  • Serve as an expert witness in workplace-related cases.
  • Research and study specialized areas of industrial/organizational psychology, such as morale, absenteeism, motivation, turnover and characteristics associated with workers of differing generations.
  • Design, evaluate or advise on systems that promote employee satisfaction, organizational performance and fill employee needs, such as incentives and rewards, onsite childcare, fulfilling job tasks, and more.
  • Assist organizations assess their successes, to determine when changes need to be made, and to come up with productive solutions.
  • Facilitate conflict resolution.
  • As a professor, teach and supervise students (while possibly conducting research at the same time).
  • Evaluate customer satisfaction.
  • Assess and advise on marketing/advertising programs.

“As an I-O psychologist, you are likely to either be a teacher, researcher, consultant, or manager. In fact, many I-O psychologists will engage in all four of these roles during their career.” ~ SIOP

Specializations & Concentrations

Since there are many elements associated with the workplace (be it how individuals interact with their place of work or how the organization functions as a whole), there are naturally a number of I-O psychology specialties. Examples of areas an industrial/organizational psychologist may focus on include:

  • A particular industry (such as the technology, manufacturing, food or pharmaceutical industry)
  • Employee turnover
  • An assessment strategy (such as 360˚interviews, simulations, surveys, psychological tests—like personality, ability or vocational interest tests—etc).
  • The aging workforce and differences between generations
  • Career planning
  • Motivation
  • Team dynamics
  • Focus/attention at work
  • Employee selection
  • Job training
  • Emotional experiences/affect, morale or satisfaction in the workplace
  • Leadership styles
  • Original development strategies, such as music, truth-telling or spirituality in the workplace (see Career Spotlight – Michael J. Vandermark)
  • Competency modeling
  • Downsizing
  • How personality traits are linked to job function and performance
  • Gender and the workplace
  • Work-life balance
  • Human Resource Analytics
  • Executive coaching
  • Diversity training
  • ROI (return on investment)
  • And More!

The Educational Journey

Generally speaking, to become a recognized psychologist (a “Doctor”), you need to complete a doctoral degree. There are cases, however, when “graduates with a master’s degree in psychology can work as industrial-organizational psychologists,” states the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers/jurisdictions who accept Masters-level industrial-organizational psychologists may still prefer candidates with doctoral degrees; and those with a Ph.D. or Psy.D. will be able to fill higher roles. In any case, you’ll notice that there are careers related to industrial-organizational psychology at every step of your educational journey.

Bachelor’s Degree

Bachelor’s Degree: Numerous schools offer either a Bachelor of Psychology degree with an I/O psychology concentration, or specifically a Bachelor of Industrial and Organizational Psychology degree. If you are taking a general psychology degree, try to select relevant courses such as research methods, experimental psychology labs, social psychology, statistics, intro to I/O psychology, personnel and industrial psychology, personality psychology, organizational psychology and/or related topics. Depending on your career goals, you may want to complete electives in human resources, business administration, marketing, etc.

Relevant Careers

Relevant careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: Human Resource Assistant, Personnel Assistant, Employee Relations Specialist, Research Assistant, Recruitment Specialist, Talent Management Associate, HR Assessment Analyst, Administrative Coordinator, Organizational Development Analyst, etc. (Note that some positions may require related on-the-job experience).

Master’s Degree

Master’s Degree: Some relevant programs include a Master of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, a Master of Counseling and Organizational Psychology, a Master of Organizational Behavior, a joint MBA-Master in I-O Psychology program, and a Master of Organizational Development.

Relevant Careers

Careers with a Master’s Degree: Organizational Development Manager, Diversity Data Analyst, Human Resources Consultant, HR Data Analytics Specialist, Manager of Organizational Effectiveness, Talent Solutions Director, Organizational Development Specialist, Manager of Training and Development, Director of Personnel, etc. (Note that some positions may require related on-the-job experience). Furthermore, some Master degree holders are hired on as I/O psychologists (i.e. as research psychologists), but doctoral degrees still may be preferred.

Master’s Degree

Doctoral Degree: There are more Ph.D. programs (compared to Psy.D.) for those aspiring to become an I-O psychologist, such as a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Clinical and I-O Psychology, a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Consulting Psychology and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior. However, some universities offer relevant Psy.D. programs, such as a Psy.D. in Organizational Development or a Psy.D. in Business Psychology with an I/O Track.

Certification & Licensing Requirements

Licensure of psychologists is most commonly required of those who serve as practitioners—those that provide direct psychological services, i.e. health care psychologists.

However, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)—which outlines licensure requirements by state and province—includes certain functions practiced by I-O psychologists as potentially licensable, such as providing psychological services to organizations or evaluating characteristics such as personality or intelligence.

“SIOP recognizes that some states require that certain areas of I/O practice be licensed,” states SIOP’s “Policy on Licensure” page. “SIOP members should be allowed to be licensed in these states if they desire, and SIOP should provide guidance to state licensing boards on how to evaluate the education and training of an I/O psychologist.” SIOP’s guidelines for the licensure of I-O psychologists include a doctoral degree (that represents coursework and research relevant to vocational competencies outlined by SIOP) as well as supervised practice.

Check out the ASPPB for the licensure requirements of your jurisdiction, the guidelines outlined by SIOP, and the requirements described by future employers; additionally, talk to professors and mentors in a similar field that you are pursuing to find out about licensure for I-O psychologists.

Those industrial organizational psychologists who would like to become certified through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) can pursue the Organizational & Business Consulting Psychology specialty certification.

  • References:
  • * May 2010 (for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • ** May 2010 (for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • † Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS