How to Become an Industrial Organizational Psychologist


Updated July 11, 2023

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Industrial organizational (IO) psychology focuses on the examination of individual and group behavior, and the overall function, within the workplace. This speciality applies psychological theory to organizations via research, assessment, and evaluation to enhance workplaces' employee satisfaction and productivity, communication, worker selection processes, leadership, and problem-solving capabilities.

IO psychologists require a minimum of a master's degree to perform duties like creating tests and training materials for workplace improvement. Find out the details of IO psychologists' qualifications, responsibilities, and salary expectations.

What Is Industrial Organizational Psychology?

Industrial organizational psychology is a specialized area of psychological practice and applied research that addresses workplace issues at the individual and organizational levels. IO psychology provides organizations with scientifically based ideas for improving workplace environments and productivity, decision-making, ethics, and effectiveness.

Practitioners who work in or closely with human resources may focus on improving overall efficiency for organizations through job recruitment and monitoring job performance. IO psychologists may also focus on learning and development to improve organizational structures by reviewing motivation and job satisfaction through surveys or experiments.

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What Does an Industrial Organizational Psychologist Do?

IO psychologists study human behavior in workplace settings to identify solutions to problems that can affect an organization's bottom line or lead to an improved work environment. IO psychology careers often coincide with human resource duties unless an organization has enough resources to create a separate learning and development department.

IO psychologists commonly perform the following duties and responsibilities:

  • Interpret and assess human behavior within workplace environments
  • Determine and enhance levels of workers' fulfillment within their jobs
  • Establish exams and educational courses to improve workplaces
  • Increase employers' abilities to appoint optimal workers for open positions

Internal IO psychologists may need to hold meetings with management and senior executives. External IO psychologists often work more closely with management and senior executives, as these individuals hire IO psychologists to solve a particular issue.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), IO psychologists work within academic, government, and research settings. Specifically, these roles can include management or professor positions within academia, investigating and analyzing best practices within companies, and even working from their computer in a remote position.

Skills and Competencies

The best IO psychologists possess a high degree of emotional intelligence. They can pinpoint their own emotions or biases, as well as those of others, and respond to them effectively. IO psychologists must also engage in critical thinking to uncover issues within an organization. Other necessary career skills include resourcefulness, creativity, and organization.

In fact, IO psychologists benefit from adaptability as this field is highly dynamic. Even when contracted for a specific concern, practitioners often uncover other issues that require additional attention. External practitioners also need to adapt easily since contracted services last for a limited amount of time.

IO psychologists should demonstrate strong data analysis skills since success is measured by improvements within an organization. Additionally, IO psychologists must possess excellent communication abilities to present findings in a way that clients can understand and use.

How Do I Become an Industrial Organizational Psychologist?

Aspiring IO psychologists begin their educational pathway by earning a bachelor's in psychology. Graduates often begin working entry-level positions to gain experience. While working, students often go on to earn a master's degree in IO psychology. Applicants should find out if their desired programs require GRE scores. Online programs often do not require this exam.

Students who already hold a bachelor's degree in a field other than psychology may also apply to graduate programs. Note that some programs may require prerequisite coursework.

Some graduate programs require applied experiences or practicums. For instance, students may engage in a social justice practicum, which can require over 200 hours of experience in different settings.

While a master's in IO psychology is considered a terminal degree, students might go on to earn a doctor of philosophy in psychology (Ph.D.) or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). Students interested in academia or making advances in the field through scientific research should consider earning a Ph.D. Those interested in offering psychological services to organizations or individuals should complete a Psy.D.

Licensure for Industrial Organizational Psychologists

States often require a license to practice as an IO psychologist. However, students should confirm requirements as they vary by state. The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) acknowledges that practitioners often work in multiple states that require a license. IO psychologists typically can work in another state for around 60 days per year without needing to have a license in that state.

IO psychologists who work in several states more than two months per year need SIOP permission. SIOP provides guidance on how to evaluate applicants' training when practitioners seek reciprocity.

Students may also access a list of state licensing boards on the SIOP website. Graduates who need to earn a license must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Board Certification for Industrial Organizational Psychologists

IO psychologists can get board certification from the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP), a member of the American Board of Professional Psychology.

The ABOBCP certifies professionals who apply their knowledge of psychology in organizational entities with an emphasis on business settings. Common areas of practice include organizational training and development, assessment, placement and performance measurement in companies, and human performance in complex person-machine systems.

Applicants need a doctorate from a program accredited by the American Psychology Association or the Canadian Psychological Association. ABOBCP certification requires an oral exam, covering assessment, selection, placement, and performance. Other categories include training and development, organizational psychology, organizational development, and consumer psychology.

Candidates receive results within 30 days of completing the exam.

PreProfessional Experience for Industrial Organizational Psychologists

IO psychology programs may require a practicum, which provides students with an opportunity to work alongside practitioners in the field. However, programs often do not include any applied experiences, which means students may need to seek their own opportunities.

Students may want to explore organizations that provide networking and internship opportunities. For instance, Psi Chi is an international honor society for psychology professionals and offers multiple resources.

When selecting internships, students should consider if they plan to work as a consultant or for an organization in-house. Internal internships consist of working with one or more IO psychologists in a human resources department. External internships may require interns to engage with many clients, working on projects that explore different areas of the field.

Industrial Organizational Psychology Salaries

IO psychologist salaries can range from $63,750-$168,300, with a median annual salary of $105,310 and a median hourly salary of $50.63. Several factors can influence these salaries, including length of field experience, education or degrees, and job demand or employment opportunities in various areas.

Compared to similar occupations, IO psychologists top the list for median annual wages. As of May 2021, psychologists in general earned an annual median salary of $102,900, whereas clinical, counseling, and school psychologists fall around $20,000 below that range.

Industrial Organizational Psychology Salaries
Median Annual Salary Median Hourly Salary Salary Range Projected Employment Growth
$105,310 $50.63 $63,750-$168,300 4% (2021-2031)

Source: BLS, 2021

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Frequently Asked Questions About Industrial Organizational Psychologists

Where do industrial organizational psychologists work?

IO psychologists provide services that benefit all organizations. While practitioners may choose to work directly for one company, IO psychologists often consult, working for multiple organizations for an agreed amount of time.

When did the discipline of industrial organizational psychology emerge?

IO psychology has existed for well over 100 years. However, the field began to expand rapidly after World War I.

Is industrial organizational psychology in demand?

BLS data reports a 4% employment increase for IO psychologists, projected from 2021-2031. Psychologists in general may expect to see a 6% projected increase during the same time frame.

How long does it take to become an IO psychologist?

To work in the field of IO psychology, individuals must earn a bachelor's degree and then a master's degree. This process may take an average of 6-7 years. Further, in the case of earning a doctorate, individuals can anticipate an additional 4-6 years of education.

Industrial Organizational Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

Page last reviewed January 11, 2023

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