What are the Requirements to Start a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?


Industrial-organization psychology, also known as I/O psychology, not only concentrates on organizations and their employees; it also focuses on the workplace environment. In other words, this branch of psychology centers on two closely linked areas: industries and organizations. Although some professionals believe that the two areas can be studied and practiced separately, in reality one cannot exist without the other.

The industrial side of industrial-organizational psychology focuses on you, as an employee and your feelings towards your workplace environment. This area may include how you feel about your safety, job function, place in the organization, job training, job performance metrics (productivity and quality) and the hiring and promotion system.

The organizational side of industrial-organizational psychology concentrates on the organization as whole. This area may include ways to boost productivity and quality, maximize performance and raise revenue for the organization.

Related Reading: What Can You Do With An Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree

For instance, organizations that include industrial-organizational psychology into their workplace practices examine employee behaviors and how the organization contributes to those behaviors. The industrial-organizational psychologist may conduct studies on relationships within the workplace, organizational policies and practices and the workplace environment as whole.

Industrial-Organization Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologists are behavioral mental health professionals, who specialize in workplace attitudes and behaviors. These psychologists study individuals and groups within the organization. Their main duties consist of examining workplace behaviors, attitudes, practices and policies, providing feedback to the organization and offering suggestions on how to improve the organization. Industrial-organizational psychologists typically work as consultants for a variety of organizations (labor, manufacturing, private, public, educational, social services and health).

Industrial-organizational psychologists may also participate in the hiring process, organizational development, training and development and performance evaluations. They also may develop and administer employee assessments to improve employee satisfaction and boost productivity. Most industrial-organizational psychology programs adhere to the “scientist-practitioner model.” This model teaches students how to effectively research, which is an essential element in industrial-organizational psychology.  Moreover, most programs require internships before graduation.

Educational Requirements

A degree in industrial-organizational psychology requires several years of schooling. First you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in general psychology or a related field. Many colleges and universities in the United States offer bachelor’s programs in this field.

It is important to note that job opportunities in industrial-organizational psychology are limited; therefore you may want to consider earning an advanced degree (master’s degree and/or doctorate). In order to become an industrial-organizational psychologist you will need to earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and if possible a doctoral degree.

Undergraduate School Requirements

You can earn a degree in industrial-organization degree by completing the following steps:

Maintain a high grade point average: In order to be considered for the best graduate industrial-organizational psychology programs, you will need to maintain a 3.0 or above grade point average in your undergraduate program.

Complete the required coursework: You will be required to take courses in general psychology, ethical/legal issues for psychologists, social psychology, cognitive psychology, personality, diversity and cross-cultural issues in organizations, abnormal psychology, psychology of creativity and innovation, psychological tests and measurements, personnel training and development, a psychological perspective, work & family and/or psychology of working in groups and teams.

Earn a bachelor’s degree: Your first step will be to major in general psychology or a related field. A general psychology major will provide you with a solid foundation for a master’s program in industrial-organizational psychology. If you decide to major in a related field, it is important that you take introductory courses in behavioral statistics and psychology. Complete your undergraduate program requirements and graduate with a bachelor’s of science in psychology.

Take the Graduate Record Examination, also known as the GRE: Once you have graduated from your undergraduate psychology program, it will be time to take the GRE exam. In order to enroll in a graduate industrial-organizational psychology program, you will need to know the program’s GRE score requirements in the areas of verbal communication, analytical writing and quantitative reasoning.

Graduate School Enrollment

Collect recommendation letters: Most colleges and universities require recommendation letters from previous professors and/or current supervisors who have observed your academic skills and work abilities.

Complete a writing sample: As part of the application process, many graduate industrial-organizational psychology programs require a writing sample. You may be asked to elaborate on a case study or you may be instructed to list your strengths and explain how your strengths helped resolve academic or workplace issues. Once you have completed the required paperwork (application, GRE scores, writing samples, letters of recommendation, etc.) submit those items to the programs of your choice.

Graduate School Requirements

Complete the required coursework: You will be required to take courses in statistics, personnel issues, industrial psychology, organizational development, and leadership styles, measurement theory, organizational psychology, cross-cultural industrial/organizational psychology, psychological research methods I, psychological research methods II, psychological research design, succession planning and leadership development, competency modeling and criterion development, workforce training and development and practicum and skills development.

You should be able to finish your graduate program within 24 months, but it may take as long as 72 months to complete your program, depending on how many credit hours you take. Most graduate industrial-organizational programs give you five years to earn your master’s degree.

Finish your master’s thesis: Throughout your graduate degree program you may be required to work on a master’s thesis (research paper) based on issues in the industrial-organizational psychology field. At the beginning of your program, a faculty member will be selected as your mentor to help guide you through the thesis process.

Your mentor will help you demonstrate your knowledge of industrial-organizational psychology and craft your paper. Once you have finished your thesis paper and it has been approved by a committee in your field, then you will be ready to take a comprehensive exam in industrial-organizational psychology.

Pass the comprehensive examination:  In order to graduate with a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology you may need to successfully pass the program’s comprehensive exam. This test covers a variety of industrial-organizational psychology topics. You can purchase study guides for this exam at your local bookstore.

Doctoral Requirements

Apply to a doctoral program in industrial-organizational psychology: Once you have fulfilled your graduate program requirements, completed your thesis, passed your comprehensive exam and graduated with a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology, you will be ready to apply for a doctoral degree in the field, if you so choose.

This is especially important if you plan to work as a college instructor, practitioner and/or a researcher. As a doctoral student you will be required to complete 30 – 40 credit hours in industrial-organizational psychology.

Complete the required coursework: You will be required to take courses in psychometrics, personnel selection, psychological testing, performance management, employee motivation, work attitudes and emotions, diversity, work-life balance, cultural issues, teams, training, and leadership.

Fulfill doctoral program requirements: After you have been admitted to the doctoral industrial-organizational psychology program of your choice, you will be required to complete the program’s requirements (coursework, internships, a dissertation (an extensive research paper) and oral and comprehensive exams). Once you have successfully completed all of your doctoral program requirements, you will be granted a Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology.

References and Further Reading

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