How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist – Career & Schooling Guide [2024]

Last Updated: May 22, 2024

What is Industrial Organizational Psychology?

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.

What Does an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Do?

Individuals working in the field of industrial-organizational psychology wear many different hats. Workers with a bachelor’s degree typically work in human resources-related positions, such as collecting and analyzing data to improve hiring practices, employee training, and workplace safety.

Some bachelor’s degree holders may also work as test and measurement specialists, who seek to determine the specific types of skills required for an employee to successfully complete his or her job.

With a master’s degree, the job duties increase in both breadth and depth. Some industrial-organizational psychologists examine worker performance, intelligence tests, and personality tests in order to complete behavioral analyses.

Other psychologists at this level in this field specialize in designing, implementing, and evaluating worker retention and reward programs. Still others focus on improving workplace productivity, worker job satisfaction, and recruitment of new talent.

At the Ph.D. level, the job duties of an industrial-organizational psychologist shift somewhat into more of a research-based role. Many psychologists at this level are research analysts, who engage in an examination of quantitative data in order to inform decisions regarding organizational projects, initiatives, and programs.

In this capacity, industrial-organizational psychologists might organize focus groups to get a feel for public opinion about a company or a company’s products. They might also organize project teams to outline specific goals, or work with groups of employees to gain insight about their perspective on how the organization can improve.

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Some industrial-organizational psychologists work independently as consultants. Psychologists working in this realm typically offer a wide variety of services to businesses and industries, from training members of management to resolving labor issues, to evaluating employees to recruiting new talent.

There are also specializations in the realm of increasing diversity, both among the general workforce and among management. Some industrial-organizational psychologists consult with businesses on implementing multicultural awareness and anti-discrimination programs as well.

In organizational management positions, I/O psychologists tend to figure out the processes by which restructuring should occur in a work environment. In organizational management, they help implement new approaches and methodologies to lay the groundwork for new procedures.

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 Requirements to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

To become an industrial-organizational psychologist, you generally need to fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete your bachelor’s degree
  • Obtain a master’s degree in I-O psychology
  • Obtain a doctoral degree in I-O psychology
  • Complete internships
  • Fulfill supervised work experience requirement
  • Pass EPPP and state exams
  • Complete background checks
  • Apply for your licensure

Bachelor’s Degree

Individuals that seek to work as an industrial-organizational psychologist should first pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology. This degree may prepare students for entry-level work in which they will be able to apply their knowledge of human behavior and get real-world experience that will be beneficial for later employment opportunities.

Most undergraduate psychology programs are generalist in nature; however, more and more colleges are offering specialized bachelor’s degrees in industrial-organizational psychology.

Master’s Degree

Graduate programs in industrial-organizational psychology narrow the depth and breadth of training to focus on essential job-related skills in the industrial-organizational field. Some graduate programs are industry focused, that is, coursework prepares students to work more with individual workers, such as counseling unhappy employees.

Other graduate programs focus on the organizational side, such as working with management to improve overall productivity of their employees. Regardless of focus, master’s degree programs in industrial-organizational psychology typically involve coursework in consumer psychology, workplace diversity, consulting, process improvement, and organizational effectiveness.

Master’s level psychology professionals generally find entry-level employment opportunities. In order to reap the greatest benefits of employment as an industrial-organizational psychologist, one must obtain a doctorate and licensure.

Doctoral Degree

Doctoral programs narrow the focus of studies even further to allow students to not only be consumers of information but creators of new knowledge as well. Most doctoral programs in industrial-organizational psychology have a scientist-practitioner focus, meaning, students’ training includes both scientific research as well as opportunities to develop clinical skills.

Doctoral programs usually last from 3-5 years, with the first several years focused on completing required coursework, and the final two years generally focused on individual research.

What are the Licensing Requirements?

In most states, licensure is required to use the title “psychologist”. Requirements for licensure generally include (but not limited to) a doctoral degree in psychology, supervised experience under a licensed psychologist, and passing licensure examination (some states may have additional 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.

How Much Does an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Earn?

According to the BLS, industrial-organizational psychologists working in the scientific research and development field make by far the highest annual salary, topping out at over $54.48 per hour or $144,610 per year, as of May 2023.

Individuals employed as an industrial-organizational psychologist by Local Government have the highest average income in the field, at $77.01 per hour or $160,180 annually.

Working in ‘Scientific Research and Development Services’ brings in, on average, $122,660 per year. Industrial-organizational psychologists who work for State or Federal government agencies can expect to make around of $91,950, per year.

What is the Employment Outlook for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), through 2030, industrial-organizational psychology is expected to grow by 6 percent.

The number of new jobs expected in the industrial-organizational psychology field depends heavily on geography. New York, Virginia, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania also have a strong presence of industrial-organizational psychology jobs and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

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