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How to Become an I-O Psychologist

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is a subfield of psychology that focuses on how to improve workplace conditions. A bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree in I-O psychology can open doors to a stimulating career in a vocational or clinical setting. A master’s or doctorate in the field also prepares graduates for academic posts in colleges and universities.

Graduates from an industrial-organizational psychology program can look forward to strong salaries. As of May 2021, PayScale reported an average annual salary of $80,490 for I-O psychologists. Total salary packages, including bonuses and profit shares, range from $49,000-$146,000 for all industrial-organizational psychology jobs.

This page offers detailed descriptions of an I-O psychologist’s typical responsibilities and areas of expertise. We also cover how to become an industrial-organizational psychologist, available licensure and certifications for I-O psychologists, and the basics of the I-O psychologist job hunt.

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Skills | Steps | Requirements | FAQs

What Is an I-O Psychologist?

Earning a college or graduate degree in industrial-organizational psychology qualifies learners for jobs in a diverse vocational field. Most graduates work in public or private organizations, where they help improve the work environment. Others work as counselors in clinical or vocational settings. Still others hold teaching or research positions at institutions of higher education.

I-O psychologists employed in organizational settings apply psychological principles and research methods to improve workplace communication and employee productivity and satisfaction. I-O psychologists who hold academic positions in postsecondary institutions commonly teach classes in the discipline, perform administrative duties, and conduct scientific research in the field.

Industrial-organizational psychology differs from clinical psychology. Clinical psychologists focus on addressing individual problems and mental illness in clinical settings, while I-O psychologists use observational and evaluative methods to apply best practices in the workplace to optimize performance and resolve conflicts.

The link below provides further details about pursuing a career in industrial-organizational psychology.

Explore I-O Psychology as a Career

Required Skills for I-O Psychologists

Individuals who suit careers in industrial-organizational psychology tend to possess specific hard and soft skills. Hard skills are quantitative and often job-specific. Soft skills, by contrast, are more transferable character or personality traits such as leadership, patience, and business communication.

Hard skills that most recruiters expect I-O psychologists to possess include analytical and research skills, problem-solving, and administrative skills. Soft skills that I-O psychology employers tend to require include interpersonal skills, communication, conflict management, and teamwork.

Below, we provide further details about the hard and soft skills that industrial and organizational psychology careers typically require.

Hard Skills

  • Analytical Skills: Analytical skills enable an individual to gather, interpret, and present data. This skill set is pivotal to industrial-organizational psychology, as virtually all careers in the field require collecting, processing, and interpreting data.
  • Problem-Solving Abilities: Problem-solving abilities enable an individual to analyze problems, identify patterns, and find solutions. This skill set is critical to I-O psychologists interested in pursuing a career in human resources (HR), consulting, or coaching.
  • Research Skills: Research skills enable a person to formulate a scientific hypothesis, design an experiment to test the hypothesis, run the experiment, and draw conclusions based on statistical analyses. This skill set is particularly valuable to I-O psychologists aiming to secure a research position in a corporation or postsecondary institution.
  • Administrative Skills: Administrative skills enable a person to perform administrative tasks with ease, such as recruiting and training employees, evaluating the progress of projects, and assessing the productivity of the workforce. This skill set is critical to I-O psychologists interested in pursuing administrative careers in HR departments.

Soft Skills

  • Interpersonal Skills: Interpersonal skills entail being a good listener, having empathy for others, and exhibiting sensitivities to individual differences. Interpersonal skills are pivotal to industrial-organizational psychology, as virtually all careers in the field require frequent interaction with other people.
  • Conflict Management: Conflict management skills enable a person to mediate and resolve conflicts, provide constructive feedback, and calm agitated individuals. This skill set is particularly valuable to prospective students interested in pursuing industrial-organizational careers that require resolution of employee disputes.
  • Communication Skills: Communication skills enable a psychologist to understand, process, and share information in accessible and engaging ways. This skill set is critical to industrial-organizational psychology, as all careers in the field require good communication.
  • Teamwork Abilities: Teamwork abilities enable a person to work well in groups. Team players are comfortable with taking the lead and following the lead of others. This skill set is especially important for individuals interested in pursuing industrial-organizational psychology careers in HR or R&D departments.

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How Do I Become an I-O Psychologist?

Students interested in industrial-organizational psychology may pursue a master’s or Ph.D. in the field. Earning a master’s in this discipline typically requires 30-60 graduate credits and takes 1-2 years of full-time study.

To obtain a doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology, learners need to earn around 75 graduate credits, including the 20 credits reserved for dissertation research. Most industrial and organizational psychology programs allow degree-seekers to transfer 30 credits of prior psychology graduate credits.

A typical Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology takes around five years of full-time study to complete. However, students with a prior master’s in this discipline may be able to finish in 3-4 years of full-time study.

Some programs for industrial-organizational psychology provide online and hybrid degree options, sometimes combined with an in-person practicum, internship, or assistantship in a laboratory or clinic.

Steps to Becoming an I-O Psychologist

  1. The first step to becoming an I-O psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
  2. After earning a bachelor’s degree, prospective graduate students must typically prepare for and take the GRE. Some programs for industrial-organizational psychology waive the GRE for U.S. citizens, permanent residents (i.e., green card holders), and DACA recipients.
  3. After receiving their GRE scores, degree-seekers should then examine which graduate programs for industrial-organizational psychology best suit their individual learning style and personal preferences.
  4. To be admitted into a graduate program for industrial-organizational psychology, applicants must submit an online application. Typical application materials include a CV, letters of recommendation, transcripts, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, a writing sample, and a nonrefundable application fee.
  5. Once admitted into a graduate program, learners must complete core, concentration, and elective courses and a thesis, practicum, or dissertation.
  6. To obtain licensure and certification in the field or the equivalent job qualifications, graduates must then obtain the necessary work experience through the completion of an internship.
  7. After obtaining the required licensure (if any), certification, and work experience, graduates can then begin the job application process.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Education Requirements

A bachelor’s degree or even a high school diploma may suffice for industrial psychology job candidates with several years of relevant work experience. Still, most corporations require a master’s or doctoral degree in the field, plus industry-specific certification.

A teaching position in industrial-organizational psychology at a two-year college also requires a master’s degree in the discipline. To qualify for an academic position at a four-year college or university, however, candidates must obtain a Ph.D.

To practice as a psychologist in a clinical setting or secure an industrial psychology job with the term “psychology” in the title, candidates must obtain a license from the relevant state or provincial board. Industry-specific certification provides proof of competency in industrial-organizational psychology and can make graduates more competitive on the job market.

Master’s and Ph.D. programs for industrial-organizational psychology typically require prospective students to hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related area from an accredited postsecondary institution or the College Board. However, some graduate programs for industrial-organizational psychology may accept applicants with a bachelor’s in any field.

Required Experience for I-O Psychologists

Industrial psychology jobs in HR do not require a bachelor’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology. But most employers only hire candidates without a bachelor’s degree in the field if they possess 3-7 years of HR-related work experience and industry-specific certification.

Even with a bachelor’s or graduate degree in hand, most hires in industrial psychology jobs in HR departments have 1-4 years of HR-related work experience.

Managerial, coaching, and consulting positions in industrial-organizational psychology tend to require a master’s or doctoral degree in the field, plus at least two years of supervised work experience. A practicum, postdoctoral program, or internship can count toward this work experience.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Internship Opportunities

Master’s students often choose between a practicum and a thesis, both of which take around 6-12 months to complete. A master’s thesis addresses a theoretical or practical problem and is conducted under the supervision of a faculty member.

During a practicum, learners assist a seasoned professional with consulting, coaching, or assessment activities, such as organizational coaching or the design and administration of vocational surveys.

Ph.D. students must complete a dissertation, which usually takes two years of full-time research and writing. A dissertation is substantially longer than a thesis and typically requires conducting original experimental or clinical research.

Graduate students do not typically receive any payment for completing their practicum, thesis, or dissertation. However, most doctoral programs and some master’s programs offer teaching and research assistantships, which come with a tuition waiver and a graduate stipend.

Doctoral programs for industrial-organizational psychology may offer a paid internship or postdoc to qualified graduates. Paid internships are also available in many public and private organizations.

Internships and Practicums

Licensing for I-O Psychologists

The requirements for obtaining licensure in professional psychology vary across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) makes the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) — a standardized test for licensure in psychology — available to all state and provincial boards.

Most industrial psychology jobs do not require licensure. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia require individuals practicing psychology in clinical settings or using the term “psychologist” in their job title to obtain licensure from the relevant state or provincial board. By contrast, job titles like consultant, coach, therapist, and counselor remain unregulated.

Graduates who aspire to become licensed I-O counselors can obtain licensure as a licensed professional counselor or licensed mental health counselor. Both require 60 credits from a graduate program with accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

The requirements for licensure as a psychologist vary across state and provincial psychology boards. To be eligible to sit for the EPPP exam, psychology boards typically require a master’s or doctorate in psychology from an APA-accredited program and 1-2 years of postgraduate experience under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Some boards also require passing a state jurisprudence exam. Licenses must typically be renewed every 2-3 years.

Certifications for I-O Psychologists

Psychology licensure differs from certification as an I-O psychologist. Whereas a license enables graduates to practice psychology in clinical settings or use the term psychology in their job title, certification provides proof of competence in particular specialties within psychology.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP) — a member board of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) — both provide certification in industrial-organizational psychology.

Certification as an organizational and business consulting psychologist from ABOBCP requires either a certificate of professional qualification in psychology or a Ph.D. from a program in professional psychology with accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA), the Canadian Psychological Association, or an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

To obtain ABOBCP-certification, the doctoral degree must furthermore satisfy the requirements listed in the ABPP general doctoral program eligibility requirements. In addition, the candidate must have completed two years of work experience in at least three professional areas of practice. Senior psychologists with more than 15 years of consulting experience may hold experience in only two professional practice areas.

ABOBCP recognizes 11 professional areas of practice for certification as an organizational and business consulting psychologist. Practice areas include consumer psychology, coaching, and performance management.

SHRM provides two types of certifications: SHRM certified professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM senior certified professional (SHRM-SCP). Eligibility to sit for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP exams depends on prior education level. SHRM’s requirements are listed in the table below.

Less than a bachelor’s degree Less than a bachelor’s degree A bachelor’s degree A bachelor’s degree A graduate degree A graduate degree
Credential HR-related program Non-HR program HR-related program Non-HR program HR-related program Non-HR program
SHRM-CP Three years in HR role Four years in HR role One year in HR role Two years in HR role Currently in HR role One year in HR role
SHRM-SCP Six years in HR role Seven years in HR role Four years in HR role Five years in HR role Three years in HR role Four years in HR role

Source: SHRM

The I-O Psychologist Job Hunt

To maximize their chances of landing a lucrative and challenging job in industrial-organizational psychology, students should participate in networking events as early on in their careers as possible. Many graduate programs for industrial-organizational psychology feature speaker colloquia that allow learners to interact with seasoned professionals in the field.

Attending the annual convention of the APA also provides an excellent opportunity to network with top names in the profession. To obtain the maximum value for the cost of attending this meeting, aspiring I-O psychologists should prepare to attend relevant program talks and formal receptions and visit the hotel bar, which many participants frequent before and after their private dinners.

Below, we provide the details of four online platforms that post jobs in industrial-organizational psychology.

  • USAJOBS USAJobs presents a great resource for applicants looking for jobs in civil service in government agencies. Federal agencies post job openings on the platform, and the site helps match qualified applicants to available jobs.
  • APA's Online Career Center APA's online career center provides job listings for psychologists or people with similar educational backgrounds. The site also provides up-to-date advice on how to land a psychology job.
  • Glassdoor Glassdoor allows current and former employees to anonymously review organizations they used to work for and report the salaries they made. Job applicants can also search for and apply for specific jobs on this platform.
  • Indeed Indeed is a subsidiary of Recruit Holdings, the company that runs Glassdoor. The Indeed platform allows job seekers to search job listings, apply for jobs, and upload application materials for potential employers to review. The website also publishes articles about how to improve your chances on the job market, including free downloadable resume and cover letter templates.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What degree do you need to be an industrial-organizational psychologist?

    A bachelor’s degree may qualify graduates with many years of HR experience for industrial psychology jobs. To qualify for managerial, consulting, or counseling careers in I-O psychology, you must obtain a master’s or a Ph.D. in the field.

  • How long does it take to become an industrial-organizational psychologist?

    The time involved in becoming an industrial-organizational psychologist depends on the career path you pursue. Some industrial psychology jobs require up to seven years of work experience but no job-specific education. Others require a bachelor’s or graduate degree in the field and a few years of work experience. Thus, it takes about 7-11 years to become an I-O psychologist, including postsecondary education and work experience.

  • What qualifications do you need to be an industrial-organizational psychologist?

    To become an industrial-organizational psychologist, you may need a graduate degree in the field, two years of supervised job-specific experience, licensure as a psychologist, and certification in I-O psychology.

  • What is an industrial-organizational psychologist's income?

    PayScale reports an average annual base salary of $80,490 for I-O psychologists as of April 2021. The total average salary package — including bonuses and profit sharing — ranges from $49,000-$146,000.

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