Observing, analyzing and interpreting human behavior in a professional environment is the domain of industrial organizational psychologists, commonly referred to as I-O psychologists.
These professionals focus on individual and group performance, satisfaction, safety, health and well-being through a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods.
By studying worker attitudes and behaviors, I-O psychologists are able to recommend or create improved hiring practices, training programs, feedback systems and management techniques to boost company performance. Their knowledge and skills are applicable to almost any organization, including corporations, factories, nonprofits, government agencies and the military.
On this page, we are going to take a more in-depth look at the typical day of an I-O psychologist and what it takes to excel in the field.
Typically an I-O psychologist will work as a consultant, contracted by companies to reform their business practices; though some may be hired as full-time, salaried employees to oversee an organization’s human resources department. Regardless of where they work, a good I-O psychologist will possess the following skills and competencies:
Skills & Competencies
- Complex Decision Making and Sound Judgement
- Critical Thinking
- Systems Analysis and Evaluation
- Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
- Problem Sensitivity
- Fluency of Ideas
- Data Analysis
When consulting, an I-O psychologist investigates several factors, such as employee happiness, company culture, training gaps, group dynamics, job assessments and ergonomics to provide expert opinions on how to best implement reform.
We have broken down four primary specializations of consultants to provide a clearer picture of their professional responsibilities.
Areas of Expertise in the I-O Psychology Field
Talent Development and Training
Identifying the skills needed to excel in a position and developing programs to cultivate those skills is the domain of specialists in talent development.
Examples of Company Issues Addressed
- Disparate training strategies
- Lack of motivation or direction
- Inaccurate job assessment techniques
Using their expertise, consultants form a skills review for a position based on their own value and competency frameworks. With this overview, they can easily identify the gaps in employee education and develop an effective strategy to overcome them.
Common Job Titles
- Talent Manager
- Workforce Insight Specialist
- Professional Development Leader
Hiring and Recruitment
Professionals in this area specialize in determining not only the type of person best for a role, but how to locate and hire them.
Examples of Company Issues Addressed
- High employee turnover
- Recruitment difficulties
- Low employee satisfaction
Similar to consultants in talent development, these individuals identify the skills needed for a position through a job analysis. Once the necessary competencies are assessed, they design pre-employment screenings and create a unique interview process designed to attract the perfect candidate for the job.
Common Job Titles
- HR Practice Leader
- Talent Management Specialist
- Employment Testing Professional
Performance Assessment and Recognition
Performance management involves developing and implementing employee assessment techniques.
Examples of Company Struggles
- Employee apathy
- Inaccurate employee evaluation metrics
- Company underperformance
An I-O psychologist consulting in this area will determine critical position skills, establish company goals through internal interviews and then develop a review and commendation process reflecting their findings.
Common Job Titles
- HR Organizational Development Specialist
- Testing Programs Supervisor
- Behavioral Analyst
Organizational Development and Management
This field is the most all encompassing of the four listed here and professionals consulting in this arena apply their skills to determine if a company is efficient, productive and profitable.
Issues Consultants Help With
- Major mergers
- Problematic corporate culture
- Rapid expansion
The tools of an organizational development specialist are vast, but they will frequently use mediation, competency models and candidate assessment to identify and resolve a company's issues.
Common Job Titles
- Industrial Relations Specialist
- Organization Effectiveness Consultant
- Optimization Advisor
I-O Psychology by the Numbers
As the fastest growing career in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market for I-O psychologists is booming. It’s estimated that from 2012 to 2022 demands for I-O psychologists will grow by 53.4%, resulting in at least 900 new jobs.
Annual Mean Wage of I-O Psychologists, By State, May 2014
|State||Employment||Employment per Thousand Jobs||Location Quotient||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
Source: Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, June 2015
The path to success in industrial organizational psychology is steeped in education. Though some schools offer a bachelor’s in I-O psychology, the minimum recommended degree to enter the field is a master’s. To be competitive at the top levels, a PhD is often required. Internships are common among students and highly recommended to gain practical experience while pursuing a degree.
We’ve outlined the path you need to follow in order to enter the I-O field.
Declare as a psychology major.
You'll likely take a mixture of the following courses:
- Intro to Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Social Psychology
- Psychology Seminar
- Behavioral Psychology
- Biological Psychology
- Statistical Methods
Consider a specialty.
- Choose a focus. If you know you want to pursue I-O psychology, start looking for a niche in the field.
- See if any professors in your school are working in you area of interest and meet with them. Your grad school will be impressed if you already have an idea of your thesis topic.
Take the GRE.
- Check to see if your school has minimum scores for admittance.
- Take several practice tests.
- If your scores are too low, consider paying for a GRE course.
- Register for a test date: be sure to give yourself enough time to take the test again, in case you're not satisfied with your results.
Get reference letters.
- Remain friendly with several of your professors: go to office hours, ask questions in class and be sure to distinguish yourself. These are important contacts come application time and can often make or break admission.
- If you've been out of school for some time, or are not close with your professors, don't hesitate to approach them. They will often just ask to chat about your interests, your goals and what you're doing to accomplish them.
Choose a graduate school.
- Use our psychology database to search the top graduate I/O Psychology programs. Your school of choice will directly affect your chances of employment after school. You need to pick a school well-known for I/O Psychology and with a strong alumni network for job hunting.
Come up with a thesis.
- Now is when you frame your early career. Hopefully you already have an idea of your research subject, but if not, you need to identify your topic quickly.
- Speak with professors to help bring a general idea into a more specific, actionable hypothesis.
Find an internship.
- Don't wait until you graduate to apply for an internship, you should be working while you're in school. A good internship can often lead to a job directly after graduation, as well as provide further networking opportunities and add strength to your resume.
Network with professors and professionals in the field.
- This can't be stressed enough. Networking is at the core of the job search process.
- Work with your school's career center to develop your interview skills. These skills are invaluable in networking and will serve you well come application time.
Refine your resume and keep it current.
- Make sure that your resume looks professional and provides interesting, relevant information.
- Have several people you trust look over your resume for both proofreading and suggestions.
- Your resume should be a living document, be sure to tailor it to the different positions to which you apply.
Start sending out job applications.
- Don't hesitate, this can be a long and arduous process. You will be rewarded if you're consistent and methodical.
- Develop customized cover letters for each position to which you apply.
- Use LinkedIn to look for contacts within each organization. Reach out to these people, it can often give the edge you need to land an interview.
Prepare for interviews.
- Have friends perform a mock interview with you.
- Research the company for which you are interviewing. You should be able to easily describe what they do in a few sentences.
- Dress appropriately, bring copies of your resume/cover letter and conduct yourself professionally.
You're now an I-O Psychologist.
- Congratulate yourself! Ideally, if you have followed the above steps, you will have landed your first job in the industry.
- Career building doesn't stop here. Stay current on the latest research, as there will always be opportunities to further your education and increase your income.
To help guide you through the school selection process, we have compiled a database of the top I-O Psychology programs. Set the filters to fit your needs and browse the best schools in the U.S.
Dr. Peter Seely
I/O Psychology draws from the foundation of basic psychological principles and applies this knowledge to making people happier and more effective at their jobs.
To give an inside perspective of industrial organizational psychology, we sat down with I-O psychologist Dr. Peter Seely to get his view on the ins-and-outs of the field.
Skip to Question
- What's your area of specialty?
Industrial/Organizational (I-O) Psychology. In particular, I was trained in the area of team effectiveness. I’ve also done research in areas like leadership, team identity and technology in the workplace.
- Where do you currently work?
During graduate school, I worked as a research assistant in the lab for Developing Effective Teams, Leaders and Alliances (DELTA). I begin a position as a Human Capital Consultant at Federal Management Partners in June 2015.
- What's your favorite part of the job?
I enjoy using scientifically based techniques and methods to help people become happier and more effective at their jobs.
- What's your educational background?
I received my B.A. in Psychology from Emory University, with a minor in Spanish. I then completed my master’s and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Georgia Tech.
- Is there anything you don't like about the work?
I believe there needs to be a closer connection between scientific and practical work in I-O psych. Oftentimes, the scientific work does not result in tangible products or services. Likewise, many practical interventions are not sufficiently validated by scientific support. We, as a field, need to do a better job of bridging this science/practitioner divide.
- What's the most interesting case you've come across?
I just finished up my degree, so I’m just now getting my feet wet in the applied world. However, I’d have to say working on a training project for the Army was quite fascinating. Being able to apply my research-based skills to improve an organization that is so important to American life was incredibly insightful and rewarding.
- What's your favorite industry to work with?
Thus far, the majority of my applied work (through internships and contract work) has been with private organizations that work with federal clients. I’ve worked with a variety of federal organizations, from research foundations to military clients to public health organizations. As a whole, federal organizations bring their own unique problem space and place their own value on the contributions of industrial/organizational psychologists. That's not to say the same isn’t true in the private sector, but the pace and scope of the work can differ.
- Do you recommend doing anything in undergrad/grad school to better set yourself up for success?
Industrial/Organizational Psychology is a very small but growing field. As such, many universities may not even have an introductory I-O classes. If that's the case, I would reach out to any nearby schools to see if they offer any related classes or research experiences. I’d also recommend reaching out to any consulting firms that work in the areas of human capital, talent management or corporate psychology to see if they have any internship or shadowing opportunities. Aside from those points, you’ll want to pursue a major in general psychology, seek out any psychology-related research opportunities and take the GRE.
- Who do you think makes the best I-O candidates?
I-O Psychology draws from the foundation of basic psychological principles and applies this knowledge to making people happier and more effective at their jobs. Therefore, people who enjoy applying scientific knowledge to solving real world problems will be best suited for the field. In addition, given that the field is relatively small, it’s important to be a self-starter in that you’ll have to be ready to seek out opportunities for education and subsequent employment.
- Why did you choose this path?
I started out as a psychology major at Emory University simply because I found the subject to be interesting. I also had an interest in business, and took some classes in the business school. Emory does not have an I-O department, nor does it offer any classes in the area, so it wasn’t until my junior year that I discovered the field. During this time, I met an alum from Emory who eventually pursued a career in I-O. The field seemed to be the perfect marriage for my interests, so I immediately started taking the necessary steps to ensure that I could pursue I-O as a career.
In terms of educational path, you can be successful as an I-O Psychologist by completing either your master’s (2 years) or PhD (5 years, approx.). Most individuals pursue their degree immediately after undergraduate or a year or two after. These programs do not typically require work experience beyond an internship, so it’s to your benefit to enroll early.
- What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in this field right now? Who is doing the most exciting research?
From my perspective, working in the realm of teams and team effectiveness, there are currently some major advances in how we investigate and study teams (and individuals). I-O Psychologists have begun incorporating perspectives and methods from other disciplines (sociology, communications, management), which has really enhanced our ability to collect and analyze data. For instance, many researchers have begun incorporating and using social network analysis to examine how people interact in organizations. In addition, we’ve also begun leveraging the capabilities of technology to better understand how to improve work effectiveness. Many researchers are now using interaction logs gleaned from these tools to better understand how and why people interact, and are using this information to better capture workplace functioning.
- How did you choose your program?
I chose Georgia Tech because it provides a strong foundation in research methodology and statistics, in addition to providing training from some of the most accomplished I-O Psychologists in the field.
- What's the best "must-read" book for this field?
A great introductory, popular-press read relevant to the study of teams and team effectiveness is “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni. The book provides a great story-based intro to the importance of teamwork in organizations.
- Any other advice for those looking to go into the field?
My main advice is to be very proactive in seeking out exposure to the field, whether that be through taking classes, doing research, or internships. It’s a young field that has a lot to offer in terms of career growth and potential, but you’ve got to seek it out.
Dr. Seely's I-O Psychology Pros and Cons
- Fast-growing field
- Strong salary base
- Gratifying to help people become happier and more effective in the workplace
- A lot of flexibility and variety in the kinds of work you can do
- Most relevant positions require at least a master’s degree
- The field is small, so finding open positions may take some time, particularly if you are wedded to a specific geographic location
These resources, personally selected by our editorial staff, capture the organizations, journals and conferences spearheading I-O psychology today. If you feel a crucial resource is absent from our collection, please don’t hesitate to direct us to it by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Academy of Management
- Alliance for Organizational Psychology
- American Society for Training and Development
- Association of Test Publishers
- Canadian Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology
- Human Factors and Ergonomic Society
- Institute for Credentialing Excellence
- Social Psychology Network
- Society for Human Resource Management
- Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
- Society for Occupational Health Psychology
- Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
- Atlanta Society of Applied Psychology
- Bay Area Applied Psychologists
- Chicago I-O Psychologists
- Dallas Area I-O Psychologists
- Erie Canal Applied Psychology Network
- Gateway I-O Psychologists
- Houston Area Industrial and Organizational Psychologists
- Kansas City Applied Psychology Society
- Michigan Association of I-O Psychologists
- Metropolitan Association of I-O Psychologists
- Minnesota Professionals for Psychology Applied to Work
- North Carolina Industrial and Organizational Psychologists
- New York State Psychological Association's Organizational, Consulting And Work Psychology Division
- Portland Industrial & Organizational Psychology Association
- Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management
- Annual River Cities I-O Psychology Conference
- Congress of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology
- Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology Annual Conference
- Applied Psychology: An International Review
- European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology
- Human Performance
- Journal of Career Assessment
- Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology
- Journal of Organizational Behavior Management
- Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health
- Organizational Behavior and Human Performance
- The Psychologist-Manager Journal
- Work & Stress