How to Become an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist


Industrial/Organizational psychology, also called I-O psychology or work psychology, is concerned with how individuals function in the workplace and how the workplace affects them. Industrial-organizational psychologists (I-O) are concerned with motivation, management- worker interactions, team interactions, workplace safety, organizational change, productivity, and job satisfaction.

An I-O psychologist applies psychological theories, principles, and concepts to variety of business-related areas, such as: employee relations, employee training, marketing and sales, human resources, life coaching, and organizational development. The primary goals of an I-O psychologist is to improve employee productivity and quality metrics, help business executives select employees that best fit their company, and develop and/or conduct product/service tests.

Why Do We Need Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Industrial-Organizational psychology is the study of people in the working environment, psychologists in this field work with companies to develop business-place strategies. They usually work in close partnership with a company’s human resources (HR) department.

The aim of their involvement is usually to analyze organizational structure and dynamics within the workplace to increase staff and organizational effectiveness. The role focuses on the use of scientific-based research to achieve these aims. As a result, psychologists in this area of psychology tend to be very involved with statistics.

The benefits of their involvement to businesses can be in several areas:

  • Guidance with staff training – usually at the level of developing training and assessment of the effectiveness of training. This means that businesses can be sure they have effective training in place.
  • Can help companies as they transition through change – at what can be a particularly challenging time for business and their staff, psychologists in this area can provide assistance in techniques to keep motivation high within the workforce. This directly benefits both the company and the individuals themselves.
  • Helping HR departments develop successful hiring processes – through the use of scientific research they can help to ensure that people with the correct skills and personality traits are placed in appropriate roles. With more roles filled by people most suitable for them, there is satisfaction for the individual and, consequently, benefit to the business.
  • Improving employee behavior and attitude towards to workplace – usually with the objective of increasing productivity, this can involve analyzing factors such as how management styles impact motivation of staff. With potential for development intervention at all levels, a more positive workforce should be a more productive workforce.

Where Does an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Work?

I-O psychologists typically work in a business environment, in order to analyze workplace behaviors (i.e. attitudes, practices, quality control, and productivity).

Most I-O psychologists work in business, education, and/or research industries. Common I-O specialty areas include: human factors, human development, and human-computer interactions. Lastly, it is not uncommon for I-O psychologists to seek employment as consultants in computer-tech companies or multinational organizations.

What are the Education Requirements to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

To become an I/O psychologist a high school graduate first needs to choose an undergraduate school where he or she will work toward a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Baccalaureate degrees in general require about 120 semester hours and can be completed in eight semesters or four years of full time study. Most programs require the student to pass about 90 units of general education, made up of English, history, political science, humanities, natural science, mathematics, and foreign language. Approximately 30 units are required in psychology.

  • Fairleigh-Dickinson University: Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey has an innovative program that allows students to earn a BA and Master of Arts (MA) in I/O psychology in a combined 5 year program. A 32 unit undergraduate psychology core includes basic psychology courses such as beginning psychology and abnormal psychology, and one course in industrial psychology. Graduate level courses include psychometrics, group dynamics and team leadership, organizational psychology, research design in I/O psycholgy, personnel selection, methods in I/O psycholgy, human resources development, I/O internship, and lifestyle and career counseling.
  • Concordia University: Concordia University in Irvine, CA offers offers a bachelor’s degree in organizational psychology. To apply for entrance students must first complete two years of basic academics at another institution such as a community college. Concordia’s baccalaureate degree in organizational psychology is designed to be completed in 2 academic years. Subjects studied include human resources, business ethics, organizational and social psychology, research, statistics and measurements, consulting, dealing with employees, and training and development in organizations.
  • Barry University:Barry University in Miami, Florida, offers studies leading to the Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a specialization in I/O. In addition to core psychology courses I/O specialists are required to pass courses in experimental and social psychology, industrial psychology, organizational behavior and management, human resources management, conflict negotiation, and leadership.
  • Ohio State University: Ohio State University in Athens, Ohio, also offers a BA in I/O psychology. In addition to core psychology studies, students are offered courses in organizational psychology, motivation, social psychology, justice, and personnel psychology.

Graduate Programs

Students can also earn baccalaureate degrees in basic psychology in a wide variety of universities and plan to specialize in I/O in graduate school. Future psychologists of all specialties need to earn doctoral degrees to be called psychologists. Some graduate schools offer master’s degrees which can lead to acceptance into doctoral programs. Other graduates go directly from earning their bachelors’ degrees to Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs. When selecting candidates for doctoral programs graduate schools look at undergraduate grades and teacher recommendations. Some require the Graduate Records Examination (GRE).

Over fourty universities have graduate programs in I/O psychology. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc., ranks the top ten, listed in order, as Michigan State University, University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, University of Maryland, Bowling Green State University (tied with University of Maryland for 4th place), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of South Florida, University of Akron, George Mason University (tied with University of Akron for 8th place), and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Graduate schools provide future psychologists with the opportunity to perform original research. Students choose faculty advisors and committees to guide them in choosing a research project, designing and carrying out a study, interpreting results, and coming to a conclusion. Research papers, or dissertations, are presented before students’ graduate committees, who decide whether their authors are worthy of being granted doctoral status. Dissertations should be acceptable for publication in professional journals.

What are the Licensing Requirements?

Once a psychologist has earned his or her doctorate, he or she will need to obtain a license. Licensing is the function of the individual states, territories, and provinces, and applicants for licensure need to contact the psychology board where they intend to practice to learn what its requirements are. Once licensed, psychologists generally need to continue their education to maintain their license.

What High School Courses are Related to I-O Psychology?

Individuals interested in becoming an industrial-organizational psychologist can actually start their training in high school. There are many courses within and outside of psychology that may prepare students for more advanced studies in undergraduate and graduate programs. These courses include:

  • General psychology – This course is the foundation upon which all psychological studies are based. Students in general psychology courses are introduced to basic theories of human behavior, personality development, sensation, perception, memory, and statistics, all of which are an essential component of studying industrial-organizational psychology.
  • Probability and statistics – Whether taken as a separate course or as part of another math class, such as algebra, trigonometry, or calculus, prospective industrial-organizational psychology students must have an excellent understanding of statistics such as mean, median, mode, and standard deviation, to name a few. High school math courses are also beneficial for learning how to conduct multivariate analyses, such as ANOVAS.
  • Science – Typical high school courses in science, such as biology and chemistry, are important for developing the skills needed to conduct scientific inquiries. Although industrial-organizational psychologists may not work specifically with biology or chemistry topics, the development of scientific skills, such as hypothesis formation, data collection and analysis, and experimental methods, are invaluable to the study of industrial-organizational psychology.
  • Sociology – Because industrial-organizational psychologists often work to improve the intergroup relations of people in a business or industry, having an understanding of group behavior and group dynamics is beneficial. High school sociology courses provide an introduction into the ways in which groups behave, and also give students insight into social, cultural, religious, and economic factors that influence the manner in which people behave.
  • Business and economics – Even though industrial-organizational psychologists don’t manage the business details of the companies for which they work, having an understanding of basic business-related topics is helpful for facilitating the goals of companies, developing human resources policies, implementing employee training programs, and other common duties of workers in this field. Understanding economic principles of profit, supply and demand, and scarcity further help industrial-organizational psychologists perform the duties of their job to maximize employee productivity and job satisfaction.

What Skills and Qualities are Required for an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

There are certain skills and qualities that are required of an individual in order to be a successful industrial-organizational psychologist that go well beyond the classroom. In fact, while these traits may not guarantee success in the form of monetary rewards, they may guarantee success in personal fulfillment and a career match. There are certain traits which may allow individuals to not only succeed in this field, but enjoy it immensely as well.

Emotional Intelligence

Individuals who pursue a career in industrial-organizational psychology should possess a high level of emotional intelligence. Quite simply, emotional intelligence is the idea of being able to identify and monitor not only your own emotions, but the emotions of others as well. An industrial-organizational psychologist may be faced with complex issues such as employee management or training. If an industrial-organizational psychologist possess a great deal of emotional intelligence, they may be better able to provide solutions to these multifaceted and complex issues. Without a high degree of emotional intelligence, individuals may find a career in this field to be challenging to say the least.

Detail Orientated

In addition, industrial-organizational psychologists should also be detail orientated. Often, an industrial-organizational psychologist may be dealing with issues such as organizational development and outlook, an area that takes a great deal of expertise, insight, and careful analysis. An industrial-organizational psychologist must be able to develop intricate solutions to complicated situations and issues. In addition, an industrial-organizational psychologist may have to deal with record keeping as well, which will also require an attention to detail.

Effective Communication

Along with an attention to detail, industrial-organizational psychologists must also be effective communicators. If an industrial-organizational psychologist is not able to clearly express themselves, they may be facing an uphill battle in this field. It is crucial for those pursuing a career within this field of psychology that they are able to effectively communicate with others. By working in an organization alongside departments such as HR and even top level management, an industrial-organizational psychologist must be adept at expressing themselves and their ideas clearly.

Going to Work

Once licensed, I/O psychologists are ready to go to work for industry. Large corporations with personnel offices are good places to start looking for career opportunities.

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