Industrial and organizational psychology guide
What is industrial and organizational psychology?
An I-O psychologist applies the science of human behavior to the work environment. The aim is to improve workflow, employee morale, and the overall running of an organization. This makes I-O psychology a bit of an outlier in the field of psychology, as it treats both the person and the business.
The recognition of this fact, along with the importance of the employee attachment to the success of an organization, has led to a predicted 3% rise of I-O psychologists over the next 10 years.
I-O psychology is not the most well-known branch of psychology, but the demand for professionals in this field is growing fast. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American spends 8.5 hours at work each day. The recognition of this fact, along with the importance of the employee attachment to the success of an organization, has led to a predicted 3% rise of I-O psychologists over the next 10 years.
What does an I-O psychologist do?
Although job descriptions vary depending on the place of work, the role of an I-O psychologist typically involves:
- employee selection – finding staff with the skills and experience that match the job description and who can fit in an existing team within the organization
- maximizing performance – identifying blocks that reduce performance and implementing solutions to promote organizational success
- organizational development – often this refers to profit increases, product design, and company restructure
- performance management – assessing how well employees are doing their jobs, commonly through interviews, assessments, and surveys
- training and development – identifying skills gaps within the company and introducing training programs to close these gaps
- employee satisfaction – evaluating the overall happiness and satisfaction of employees in relation to their performance; followed by recommendations for training, team building, and other programs that improve satisfaction in the workplace
Is I-O psychology right for you?
If you are interested in data analysis, the application of psychological research, and working directly with people, then I-O psychology can be excellent choice. Even if you later decide against a career in the field, training in I-O equips you with a range of knowledge and transferable skills that are required in a variety of job settings.
Industrial psychology began to take shape during WWI. The U.S. army needed to test and place millions of recruits, so psychologists created a group administered intelligence test called the Army Alpha.
Educational requirements to become an I-O psychologist
The first step to becoming an I-O psychologist is a 4-year bachelor’s degree, albeit this needn’t be in psychology. Graduate programs often welcome applicants who have majored in finance, business, education, or another field that is relevant to understanding the culture of organizations and industries.
Due to the rise in popularity of I-O psychology, some schools now offer undergraduate programs in this specialization. However, for the moment, most schools continue to offer a psychology program with concentrations in I-O.
Example programs include:
Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in psychology with a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology
Introduces the general discipline of psychology and the subfield of I-O psychology. Being a humanities-based degree, the focus of the program is human behaviors; the why, what, and how individuals respond to different stimuli in different environments.
Specific courses may include:
- introduction to psychology
- history of psychology
- social psychology
- personnel and industrial psychology
- human resources
- group dynamics
- psychological testing and measurement
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in psychology with a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology
Students take psychology introduction courses before focusing on different areas of industrial and organizational psychology, such as the influence that salary levels have on productivity.
The courses that make up this degree may include:
- introduction to psychology
- history of psychology
- organizational psychology
- motivation and work attitudes
- industrial and organizational training and development
- wage and salary administration
- personnel selection and placement
Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in industrial and organizational psychology
Students learn about psychology in the workplace. Topics may include leadership, motivation, and balance between work and home life.
The courses in this program may include:
- introduction to statistics
- cognitive psychology
- introduction to group dynamics
- training and development
- personnel assessment and selection
- attitudes and motivation in the workplace
- managerial and organizational behavior
Even at undergraduate level, many colleges encourage students to take part in work experience programs and internships to facilitate their understanding of the area. Typically, these take place at healthcare facilities, businesses, and government facilities.
Job options with a bachelor’s degree
Some of the options available to those entering the workforce after completing an undergraduate degree in I-O psychology are:
Human resource specialist
Companies employ human resource specialists to screen and recruit new employees and to monitor their transition into new positions. They arrange training sessions, oversee employee relations, and are knowledgeable about all types of benefits and compensation payments. Typically, their work takes place within the companies they work for. This could be an office, health facility, or government agency.
A management analyst assesses and makes recommendations on how organizations and companies can be more efficient. They guide company managers in finding approaches to increase profits, or design new protocols and procedures to improve the efficacy of the organization. Management analysts work in the finance industry and government departments.
Training and development specialists
These specialists oversee employees and evaluate whether they have the skills to do the jobs for which they are employed. They assess current skill-sets and implement training and education programs to improve or develop new skills, as required. A training and development specialist works within large companies, administrative and support services, finance and insurance companies, and educational services.
I-O psychologists are sometimes expert witnesses in pay discrimination cases—when an employee believes a colleague is getting more money for doing the same work.
To study I-O psychology at master’s level, you need to first complete a bachelor’s degree. General requisites to apply are academic transcripts from your undergraduate degree, letters of recommendation from your professors and supervisors, and a personal statement. Most colleges will require a minimum 3.0 GPA, with many schools also asking for good GRE scores.
As this is a very specific area of psychology, different concentrations are uncommon.
A master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology is offered as a 2-year, full-time program with the option of studying on campus, online, or as a hybrid combination. As this is a very specific area of psychology, different concentrations are uncommon. Within industrial and organizational psychology, graduate degrees tend to be either a Master of Arts (M.A.) in industrial and organizational psychology or Master of Science (M.S.) in industrial and organizational psychology.
If you have already decided that your career goals will entail doctorate level study, consider a combined master’s and doctoral program. This involves earning your master’s degree as part of your doctorate. A joint graduate program takes 4-5 years and can save you money on tuition as it is possible to combine credits.
In addition to the required coursework in your master’s program, some schools provide the option of specializing in subjects that are of interest to you.
An M.A. program looks at the human side of I-O psychology and how your acquired knowledge can be applied to people within a company. This master’s option may be preferable if you plan to earn a Psy.D. and work in human resources at an organization; dealing with recruiting, team building, and general company morale.
Below are courses typically included in the M.A. program.
The course looks at workplace dynamics, conflict resolution techniques, in addition to training and motivational strategies targeting the morale and smooth running of companies.
Job analysis and employee selection
Students learn about the important skills needed to choose team members for a company. Further, the coursework investigates the importance of job descriptions in recruitment processes, the assessment of resumes, and the selection of candidates to be interviewed.
This course focuses on the behavior of management and other leadership positions within companies, including how their behavior affects employees.
Students learn methods related to designing and implementing surveys, including how to study and interpret the results.
If your goal is to complete a Ph.D., an M.S. can lead you to careers based on the collection and analysis of research data for a company, with the long-term goal of improving productivity.
The M.S. is heavily research focused and can include the coursework listed below.
Organizational change and developments
Students learn the theories behind organizational changes, planned and unplanned. In addition, how to reform an undesirable culture within an organization, which may include ethical considerations, is covered.
Psychological testing, measurement, and scientific survey methods
Students learn psychological testing and measurement. They develop key skills and techniques needed to analyze, interpret, and report on test results.
Applied research study
This course teaches students how to solve practical problems through psychological research, with specific attention to issues that arise within the workplace.
Some colleges offer classes and certificates in additional topics, like conflict resolution. While not compulsory, these can add to your professional development and prepare you for scenarios that you may come across as an I-O psychologist.
Practical experience is often a requirement for a master’s program in I-O. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) advertises different internships in healthcare facilities, businesses, and sometimes government facilities.
Job options with a master’s degree
There are some interesting career options available if you hold a master’s degree in this field including:
Human resource manager
This position involves the management of the human resources team in an organization. Tasks include strategic planning with other managers, recruiting, and hiring new staff. An HR manager is also responsible for mediating between executives and other members of staff, and therefore demands strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills.
Training and development manager
In companies and organizations, training and development managers are responsible for providing training to new and existing employees to improve their skills. They research, often through surveys, the training needs of staff and then plan and deliver that training accordingly. This career can appeal to professionals who enjoy working with people and can easily explain the data they have collected.
A 2020 SIOP salary survey revealed that the average annual salary for someone with a Ph.D. in I-O psychology was $125,000, and for a master’s level I-O psychologist it was $88,900.
This is the highest level of study for I-O psychologists and career options with a doctorate typically come with greater responsibility and pay. While a doctoral degree is optional, some employers may seek this qualification in prospective employees.
Psy.D. and Ph.D. degrees are available in I-O psychology and your choice of degree is determined by your interests and career goals. To apply to either program, schools typically require a minimum GPA of 3.0, letter(s) of recommendation, personal essay, academic transcripts, minimum of a bachelor’s degree, preferably with psychology major. A master’s degree is not always required as some doctoral programs cover both master’s and Ph.D. programs. Applicants to this combined program may need to have majored in psychology in their undergraduate studies.
A Ph.D. is recommended for graduates interested in working in healthcare settings or teaching at colleges and universities.
A Ph.D. is recommended for graduates interested in working in healthcare settings or teaching at colleges and universities. It offers a broader range of job opportunities and can be completed in 5-7 years. The program is research-based, and students are required to write, present, and defend a thesis at the end of the course. Research psychologists and professors of I-O psychology often select this course of study due to the research and analysis involved in study and future careers.
Ph.D. coursework typically includes:
- psychometric theory
- research methods in industrial-organizational psychology
- organizational development and leadership
- statistical methods and data analysis
- individual assessment
Although not all industrial-organizational psychology Ph.D. programs require internships, it is recommended that students take any available opportunity to gain practical skills within the field.
A Psy.D. focuses on clinical practice and prepares graduates for a more applied workplace, like government or private industry. It can be completed within the same timeframe as a Ph.D. A Psy.D. program may a good choice if you would like to work with people. Many I-O psychologists work within companies and act as go-betweens between upper management and employees, so great diplomacy and people skills are a must.
Students enrolled in a Psy.D. course participate in supervised practical training; this prepares them for future employment in human resources, for example.
Core Psy.D. coursework commonly includes:
- attitude theory, measurement, and change
- ethics, diversity and international issues
- human performance
- work motivation
- research methods
Most Psy.D. industrial-organizational psychology programs require practicums, internships, or supervision from a licensed psychologist as part of the degree program.
Accreditation and licensure
To have your degree recognized by many employers or academic institutions, it needs to be from an accredited program and university. This can be checked on the school or faculty website.
Licenses for I-O psychologists are not compulsory in many states, although this can also depend on the job specification. To find out more about specific state requirements, visit the website of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP), who also provide licensure.
But if you are working in a clinical environment or using psychologist in your job title then you do require a license.
An article on the APA website explains that “licensure is designed to protect the public from harm, but in many cases, the clients of I-O psychologists are organizations, not individuals, so the opportunity to inflict harm on an individual is somewhat limited.”
From this, it seems that licensure is not needed if you plan to work as a consultant to a company, as opposed to working directly with individual clients. But if you are working in a clinical environment or using psychologist in your job title then you do require a license. The specifics differ by state, but license requirements often include:
- Ph.D. or Psy.D. from an accredited university
- a period of supervision by a licensed psychologist
- passing the EPPP (Exam for Professional Practice in Psychology) with a qualifying score
- passing a state board oral exam (this is no longer required for California)
For more information on licensure, visit SIOP Licensure Policy.
Job options with a doctoral degree
Obtaining a doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology can lead to a number of careers, such as:
Individual assessment and psychometrics specialistMedian salary: $83K
These specialists are tasked with conducting assessments and evaluations of employee skills to ensure individuals are correctly matched with jobs. They also assess the attitudes of employees toward management and the working environment. The job scope includes collecting data by developing tests, compiling assessment instructions, reviewing findings, and measuring statistics related to the workforce.
College professorMedian salary: $65K
Much like research, a good percentage of doctoral candidates in I-O psychology pursue careers in academia. This could include teaching, management, or administration. Most industrial-organizational professors have worked in positions outside of academia before pursuing the academic route.
The American Psychological Association (APA) only recognized I-O psychology as a specialization in 1996.
Paying for your education
Financial support is available to eligible students through federal financial aid programs, scholarships, grants, and loans. The website for Federal Student Aid can provide information about these options. Support is available for all degree levels. Remember that graduate students are independent, meaning their financial status is assessed without taking into account family income.
A doctoral program is an expensive and timely commitment that often does not allow the flexibility for paid employment opportunities. To offset the financial burden, some universities offer doctoral students paid teaching or research assistantships – often including a stipend, tuition, and health insurance. Applicants are advised to visit the financial office at their chosen school to research the support available.
The leading organization for industrial-organizational psychologists and students. SIOP features internship and job opportunities and keeps professionals up to date with developments in the field.
Although not specific to industrial-organizational psychology, the site does have resources valuable to the field.
SPIM is a society of students, researchers, and psychologists that encourages camaraderie and collaboration. The site gives access to career development, mentoring services, and networking opportunities.
HFES is an industrial-organizational psychology society that accepts students and professionals. The society focuses on providing the best possible experience for employees in the workplace.