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What is Industrial/Organizational Psychology?

What is this field about? What are the career possibilities?

Many people, including students from all over the world, ask me about the Psychology specialty of Industrial/Organizational (or I/O) Psychology. Here is a post that lays out the field, the employment possibilities, and education and training in preparation for a career in I/O Psychology. Spoiler alert: I/O Psychology is the highest-paying area of psychology with the best employment prospects.

Simply put, I/O Psychology studies human behavior in work settings. Like Clinical Psychology, I/O Psychology has both an “academic,” or research, mission and an “applied” or practice perspective. Some I/O psychologists conduct research to better understand behavior at work, others are practitioners who help select employees, train them, assist organizations to change and innovate, and are involved in a number of programs designed to enhance work performance and the work environment. I/O psychologists can work as consultants to organizations, or can serve in-house in a variety of jobs. A common path is for I/O psychologists to work in Human Resources departments, but I/O psychologists can be found in nearly every large organization in all sorts of roles. Some job titles held by I/O psychologists include: Vice President for Employee Development, Director or Organizational Development, Quality Performance Manager, Staff Industrial Psychologist, and Testing Specialist.

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Training and Careers in I/O Psychology

The usual professional degree is the doctorate (Ph.D., sometimes Psy.D.), but there are a growing number of universities that offer masters degrees, and an MA or MS degree in I/O psychology can qualify as a “professional” degree in many areas. Because many I/O psychologists are employed in the private sector in high-level positions, the salary prospects and employment possibilities are quite good – the best among all areas of Psychology.

For students (or psychologists looking to “retool”), here are some steps to take and some resources for exploring graduate training and careers in this rapidly growing field:

• Take a course in I/O Psychology (or buy a used textbook to study the field yourself)

• Talk to a Psychology advisor at your university

• The professional organization for I/O psychologists in the US is The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. (SIOP). Go to their website (www.siop.org) to find out more. The European counterpart is EAWOP (European Association for Work and Organizational Psychology)

• Arrange a short “information interview” with an I/O psychologist in your area.

• Go to your university’s Career Center to explore the basics of the field, or you can go to the US Department of Labor’s O*NET site for basic information (www.onetcenter.org)

Here's a recent listing of the best I/O Psychology graduate programs.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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