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Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Careers in Industrial/Organizational Psychology

I/O Psychology offers many exciting career opportunities.

Key points

  • I/O psychology helps companies and organizations go beyond financial issues to help manage the workforce.
  • Those with an interest in I/O psychology on the academic side can be hired as a faculty member in various university departments.
  • The field of I/O psychology is growing and the salary levels are generally high.

When I (Jonathan) was in college, I can honestly say that I do not recall a single classmate of mine talking about pursuing a career in Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology. In fact, the term I/O was barely even mentioned. Today, however, “I/O” is an abbreviation talked about all of the time by students and others. The field was described by APA as showing increases over the next few years, and career opportunities can be found in the US and internationally. Let’s discuss I/O Psychology, both in terms of various careers in I/O Psychology and some ways of entering this up-and-coming career path.

I/O Psychology is the psychology of where people work.
Source: Hillyne/Pixabay

To begin, I/O Psychology can be defined as the psychology of where people work. This leads to many I/O psychologists applying their research knowledge to companies, all levels of government, labor unions, large non-profit organizations, or hospitals. Keep in mind that you might work directly for one of the previous organizations (e.g., in Human Resources), be employed by a leadership center, or be self-employed and work as a consultant who is called to solve specific problems. Two major areas of specialization are typically mentioned within I/O Psychology:

  • Organizational Issues - How an organization is structured and operates. Included here might be how individuals interact in the workplace and the impact of organizational policies on workers.
  • Personnel Issues - Fit between an organization and the people in that organization, including the hiring of employees.

Thus, I/O Psychology helps companies and organizations go beyond financial issues to consider the people who are in the workplace (i.e., manage the workforce). This starts with the hiring of employees and then continues with how these employees interact.

Specific job domains include selection and placement (e.g., optimizing placement of personnel, diversity), training and development (e.g., implementing technical training, sexual harassment training), organizational development (e.g., facilitating organizational change), performance measurement (e.g., evaluating organizational effectiveness), and quality of work (e.g., identifying factors associated with job satisfaction, work-life balance, reducing absenteeism).

Given all of the ways I/O psychologists can help a company or organization, it should be clear why these psychologists are in such demand. Adding to this is the fact that in today’s world, with the recession of 2008 still in people’s minds old, it is critical that companies and organizations find ways to do more with less.

If your interest in I/O Psychology is more on the research side, you might choose to go into academics. You can be hired as a faculty member in various departments: Psychology, Management, Organizational Behavior, or Industrial Relations. Your research can be focused on either applied questions (i.e., scientific solutions to human problems at work) or basic questions (i.e., increasing the scientific knowledge base).

It’s great to know that there are many different career paths within I/O Psychology, that the field is growing, and that the salary levels in this field are generally high. However, we must be clear that actually entering the field of I/O Psychology typically requires a graduate degree. With an undergraduate Psychology degree, there are some job possibilities (e.g., Human Resources), but not that many. Part of this is due to the fact that undergraduate degree programs typically do not have an I/O track. Students interested in an I/O Psychology degree may finish their undergraduate degree, take some time off to gain real-world experience and then go back to college to earn an advanced degree. We will add that as an undergraduate one way to facilitate your career is take courses related to I/O Psychology (e.g., Business Psychology, I/O Psychology and Personality), get involved in I/O Psychology research, and do an I/O-related internship.

The field of I/O psychology typically requires a graduate degree.
Source: StartupStockPhotos/Pixabay

If you decide to go to graduate school in I/O Psychology you must understand that the vast majority of graduate programs emphasize research training. It usually requires two years of graduate school to complete a master's thesis and typically you must pay tuition. A Master's degree tends to offer greater job opportunities and a greater salary than a Bachelor’s degree, and typically allows you to be licensed by a state to do certain activities (e.g., testing). A Master’s degree can be a terminal degree (you finish the degree and do not continue working on your Ph.D.) or non-terminal (you continue working toward your Ph.D.).

The overall time it takes to earn your Ph.D. will be, on average about 5 or 6 years. At many schools, you do not pay tuition while working toward your Ph.D. and you receive a stipend, a form of salary for serving as a Teaching Assistant (TA) or Research Assistant (RA). A Ph.D. offers greater job opportunities and a greater salary than a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. In addition, a Ph.D. also allows you to be licensed by most states to do certain activities.

We hope this post helps you think about a career in I/O Psychology. If you need more information there are a lot of useful websites including the Society for I/O Psychology here.

Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.

About the Author
Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, PhD

Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky. Anne Lippert, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky.