How to Become an Industrial Organizational Psychologist

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Updated May 15, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Industrial-organizational psychologists help companies run smoothly. Read on to learn how to become an industrial-organizational psychologist.

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The dynamic field of industrial-organizational psychology (I-O psychology) examines the way people behave within workplaces and other structured organizations. I-O psychologists apply behavioral science to professional practice, helping organizations optimize their human resources.

This guide profiles the role industrial-organizational psychologists play in contemporary business and employment landscapes. It also covers education, training, licensure, and job outlook data to help you plan your future.

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What Is an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?

The American Psychological Association (APA) describes I-O psychologists as specialists in managing the human aspects of organizational dynamics. Their major duties include:

  • Analyzing employees' professional development needs and building programs to meet them
  • Creating and implementing employee and organizational performance standards
  • Working with management and executives to better understand customer needs and preferences
  • Cooperating with employees to maximize their potential

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses have also become far more aware of the value of building a positive employee experience. To this end, industrial-organizational psychologists have also become engaged with efforts to develop healthy and rewarding workplace cultures.

Unique traits of industrial-organizational psychology include a dual focus on applied scientific practice, alongside managerial, consulting, and organizational development duties. I-O psychologists may work with consultancies or as independent professionals. Some also function as permanent employees, often within human resources departments.

How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

It can take 6-8 years or more to become an I-O psychologist. Working professionals typically possess an advanced degree in industrial-organizational psychology, plus on-the-job experience.

Many states require I-O psychologists to hold licenses to practice under the "psychologist" title. Licensing standards vary by state, and the nuances are complex. You can learn more by consulting this professional resource from the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

Your professional journey will typically involve these steps:

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Begin by earning your bachelor's degree. Many accredited schools specifically offer undergraduate programs in industrial-organizational psychology. You can alternately pursue a bachelor's in psychology or in a business-related field with a human resources concentration.

  2. 2

    Earn a Master's Degree

    Since academic programs become more specialized at the graduate level, you can readily earn a master's degree in I-O psychology. Schools commonly offer fully online options. This makes it easier to gain entry-level work experience using your bachelor's credentials while you pursue advanced education.

  3. 3

    Gain Professional Experience

    As the APA notes, I-O psychologists draw heavily on specialized knowledge that combines applied behavioral psychology with human resource management. Employers often look beyond academic credentials for practical experience in this area.

    You can gain experience through degree programs that offer internships or practicums, which are common at the master's level. You can also work in the psychology field while you study online.

  4. 4

    Consider a Doctoral Degree

    A master's in industrial-organizational psychology is generally considered a professional degree in the field. However, some learners prefer to earn a doctorate.

    Here's why:

    • You need a Psy.D. or a Ph.D. in psychology to qualify for psychologist licensure.
    • Doctoral degrees qualify professionals for roles in research and academia, enhancing career options.
    • A doctorate can help you stand out from other job candidates, potentially offering competitive advantages in the employment market.
  5. 5

    Consider Joining a Professional Association

    SIOP membership offers many benefits. You can connect with extensive professional resources, attend exclusive events, network with other members, and source work through specialized job boards.

    Other professional associations of potential interest to I-O psychologists include:

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Licensure

Licensing is a complex topic in industrial-organizational psychology. Many I-O psychology professionals work under alternate job titles, such as:

  • Business development consultant
  • Executive coach
  • Human resources manager
  • Workforce insights analyst

Professionals who do not use "psychologist" in their job title do not generally need a license. However, you must have a license if you plan to work or market yourself as a psychologist.

To obtain a psychologist's license, you'll need a doctoral degree (Psy.D. or Ph.D.) along with a specified level of supervised experience. Supervised experience requirements vary by state, but the APA reports that they fall in the range of 1,500-6,000 hours.

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Outlook and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects labor market demand for industrial-organizational psychologists to rise at faster-than-average rates from 2022-2032.

In May 2023, the BLS cited a median average pay of $147,420 per year for I-O psychologists. The following table offers a more detailed salary range breakdown:

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Salary Breakdown
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $45,860
25% $90,100
Median (50%) $147,420
75% $219,410
90% $219,810
Source: BLS, 2023

As a growth path, I-O psychologists sometimes ascend into roles as human resources managers. According to BLS data from May 2023, top-earning human resource managers make almost $240,000 per year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Industrial-Organizational Psychology Careers

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

How long it takes to become an industrial-organizational psychologist depends on the level of education you plan to pursue. If you enter the field with a master's degree, your journey will likely take at least six years. Professionals who earn doctorates need about eight years or more to complete all their credentialing.

What can I do with a degree in industrial-organizational psychology?

An industrial-organizational psychology degree may qualify you for permanent roles in human resources or business development departments. Among other areas, you can also work in public relations, market research, or as an independent or firm-affiliated consultant.

Are industrial-organizational psychology professionals in demand?

The BLS projects above-average job growth for I-O psychologists from 2022-2032. Industrial-organizational psychology professionals work in multiple settings, including private enterprise, government, academia, and consulting. This profile offers I-O psychology professionals a generally strong employment outlook.

Do industrial-organizational psychology careers make good money?

BLS data from 2023 indicates median salaries of $147,420 per year for I-O psychologists. The BLS lists an annual wage of $45,860 for I-O psychologists earning in the bottom 10% and $219,810 for those in the top 90%.

Page last reviewed on March 20, 2024

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