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How to Become an I-O Psychologist

Written by Rachel Schneider

What is Industrial Organizational Psychology?

Commonly referred to as I-O psychologists, industrial organizational psychologists observe, analyze, and interpret human behavior in professional environments. I-O psychologists use a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods to study individual and group performance, satisfaction, safety, health and well-being.

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 apply to almost any organization, including corporations, factories, nonprofits, government agencies, and the military.

This page takes an in-depth look at an I-O psychologist's typical day and what it takes to excel in the field.

What Does Industrial Organizational Psychologist Do?

Typically, I-O psychologists work as consultants who are contracted by companies to reform their business practices. Some may be hired on as full-time, salaried employees to oversee an organization's human resources department. Regardless of where they work, a good I-O psychologist possesses the following skills and competencies:

Skills and Competencies

  • Complex Decision Making and Sound Judgement
  • Critical Thinking
  • Systems Analysis and Evaluation
  • Deductive and Inductive Reasoning
  • Problem Sensitivity
  • Fluency of Ideas
  • Research Data Analysis

A consulting I-O psychologist investigates multiple factors, such as employee happiness, company culture, training gaps, group dynamics, job assessments and ergonomics to determine the best way of implementing reform.

We have broken down consultants' four primary specializations to provide a clearer picture of their professional responsibilities.

Areas of Expertise in the Industrial Organizational Psychology Field

1. 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

2. 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

3. 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

4. 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
  • Downsizing

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

Industrial Organizational Psychology By the Numbers

In general, psychologists enjoy median annual salaries of $79,010 and an above-average projected job growth rate of 14%. While clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earn an annual median salary of $76,990, I-O psychologists bring in an annual median wage of $97,260.

The government offers the highest salary opportunities for psychologists across disciplines. Other lucrative industries include hospitals, ambulatory healthcare services, and elementary and secondary schools.

With the growing demand for psychological services in schools, mental health centers, and hospitals, employment rates for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are expected to increase. Additionally, many organizations are turning to I-O psychologists to help improve efficiency and organizational productivity, cultivating a steady job growth rate for the occupation.

How Do I Become Industrial Organizational Psychologist?

The path to success in I-O psychology begins with education. While some schools offer a bachelor's in I-O psychology, a master's degree is the minimum recommended credential to enter the field. A PhD is often necessary to remain competitive at higher employment levels. 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.

I'm an Undergraduate or Have Completed My Undergraduate

  • 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.

I'm Pursuing a Graduate Degree

  • 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.

I Have a Master's or PhD

  • 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.

Licensure for Industrial Organizational Psychologists

To qualify for the Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential, candidates must meet all National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) standards. These requirements include completion of a school psychology program comprising at least 60 credits, along with a supervised internship experience.

The internship component should include at least 1,200 hours in school psychology with at least 600 hours completed in a school setting. Once NCSP candidates satisfy the educational criteria, they must complete and pass the Praxis School Psychology Test demonstrating their competencies in the field.

Active NCSPs enjoy a multitude of benefits including increased job flexibility and mobility, more demonstrated credibility for potential employers, national recognition for their skills and knowledge, and the potential for better employment benefits and salary opportunities. Currently, 33 states in the nation accept, acknowledge, or recognize the NCSP credential as meeting the requirements for school psychologists.

Psychology Internship Opportunities

Many psychology programs require students to participate in an internship or practicum. These opportunities allow learners to connect the concepts and skills developed in the classroom to real-life experiences. While internships and practicums feature similar frameworks, the scope of work between the two experiences differ.

Students participating in practicums work closely with psychology professionals, watching them counsel their patients and recommend treatments. Internships involve more independent work, with interns reporting to supervisors, but conducting much of their work without direct supervision.

Since internships and practicums focus on providing students with practical experience, students can complete their field experience in the setting related to their career goals. Candidates can find opportunities in substance abuse facilities, private practices, correctional facilities, and rehabilitation facilities.

The length of the internship or practicum and the specific requirements involved varies by program, but learners typically complete more than 1,000 hours during their experience. Internships are most often unpaid and are instead rewarded in academic credits, which also vary by institution. Readers can review this page to learn more about the resources and specific internship opportunities available to them in the psychology discipline.

Find a Industrial Organizational Psychology Degree Program Near Me

Industrial-organizational psychology degree opportunities differ according to degree level, location, and delivery type. Learners can use the following database to explore the specific opportunities available to them, adding in the factors that matter most to them to yield search results that align with their needs.

School Degree Levels State