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Everything You Need to Know in Pursuing a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

March 20, 2021 | Staff Writers

Industrial Organizational Psychology
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While psychology is a broad and diverse field that encompasses a wide range of subfields and specialty areas, it can essentially be described as the study of the relationship between human thought and behavior. 

Psychologists examine how biological influences, social pressures, and environmental factors influence the ways people think, feel, and act. As you may suspect, individuals that possess a formal background in psychology can be extremely valuable assets to employers across a wide range of industries.  

Given that psychology is such a varied field with so many opportunities for specialization, you can find psychologists applying their skills and specialized industrial knowledge in just about every type of workplace imaginable. While psychologists work everywhere, from schools to government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations, one branch of psychology is particularly well suited for studying human behavior in the workplace – industrial and organizational psychology.

What is Covered Under Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Simply put, a business psychologist specializing in industrial and organizational psychology focuses on the behavior of employees in the workplace. Industrial and organizational psychologists apply psychological principles and research methods to solve problems in workplaces and find ways to improve the work environment for every employee.

An industrial and organizational or I/O psychologist uses their psychological training to collaborate with management and help the business become more successful. They do this in many ways and are involved in many aspects of business, from hiring and training employees to working with the marketing department to figure out how to make an impact with the target audience.

Unlike other psychology specializations, an industrial and organizational psychology specialty involves studying individuals, groups, and organizations within a workplace environment and applying psychological principles and knowledge to find solutions to problems at that particular company or organization. 

Specialized Knowledge of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists

Since industrial and organizational psychologists study human behavior in workplace environments, they need an in-depth understanding of organizational development, job satisfaction, career development, and decision theory. This field also relies on how human thinking can impact performance, task completion, consumer behavior, small group theory, criterion theory and development, task analysis, and much more.

There are also plenty of ethical factors that industrial and organizational psychologists have to take into consideration. For example, often those being studied are not seeking out a psychological assessment individually. An I/O psychologist needs to have a thorough understanding of their boundaries so as not to make employees feel uncomfortable.

In many ways, industrial and organizational psychology is one of the most unique subcategories of psychology. Practitioners study groups and have to use their knowledge to solve problems that will improve the group’s ability to perform properly. Unlike most types of psychology, which work towards improving conditions for the individual, industrial, and organizational psychology is usually focused on helping businesses and other organizations succeed.

What Types of Problems do Industrial and Organizational Psychologists Address?

Industrial and organizational psychologists work to address a host of issues that can arise in a typical workplace. How employees interpret and react to various situations has significant ramifications for how well the overall business or organization performs. From this perspective, the expertise of industrial and organizational psychologists can be extremely valuable. 

Industrial and organizational psychologists can help keep an organization running smoothly by applying their skills and knowledge in the following ways:

  • Assisting in recruitment by determining if applicants possess the right personality traits to make them successful, long-term employees
  • Helping with employee placement by determining where individuals are best suited to work
  • Developing effective training techniques that will help employees learn new skills and behaviors 
  • Creating and introducing effective workplace motivation and reward systems
  • Increasing productivity by improving the quality of life while employees are at work
  • Studying and explaining consumer behavior so that marketing departments can advertise products more effectively
  • Developing evaluation protocols so that employers can more accurately measure employee performance  

There are many more ways that industrial and organizational psychologists can apply their skills and knowledge in the workplace. Each workplace will have unique issues and problems, so industrial and organizational psychologists are often adaptable individuals that have the flexibility required to face and overcome new challenges.

Necessary Skills:

As mentioned, industrial and organizational psychologists need a strong foundation in the key concepts of psychology. They must also possess the unique skills and expertise required to use their understanding of psychology in a workplace environment.  

Simply put, they need to have the skills to apply psychology to help address human and organizational problems in the context of organized work, which means that industrial and organizational psychologists must know how to: 

  • Identify the training and development needs of the employee; as well as notice when current training techniques are failing 
  • Create and implement new training programs that will be more successful. They must also have the observational skills to assess and evaluate the effectiveness of any new training programs.
  • Design and optimize jobs so that employees enjoy their work and are more motivated to perform their jobs well
  • Know how to coach and motivate employees
  • Develop the criteria required to evaluate employee performance and know how to communicate that information to management
  • Understand human behavior within the context of consumerism. Industrial and organizational psychologists will often be tasked with assessing customer satisfaction and developing more effective marketing strategies 
  • Understand how to best introduce new groups to one another without the process causing conflict and resentment, which is particularly relevant in corporate merger situations

Essentially, any industrial and organizational psychologist must possess the skills required to study workplace productivity. They will use their understanding of human psychology to get a feel for the overall morale of employees in the workplace and come up with ways to improve it.

They will study how employees work and how they are trained and managed, which will allow them to develop new strategies that can improve the current situation. They must also know how to collaborate with management so that their psychological interpretations can be used to plan policies, hire new employees, retrain existing workers, and develop a plan that will help the organization succeed in the future.

Benefits of a Degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Obtaining a degree in industrial and organizational psychology will open many doors for a person. Not only are there plenty of job opportunities, pursuing a career in industrial and organizational psychology can be exciting and rewarding. 

An Impressive Job Growth Rate:

As businesses operating in just about every industry continue to see the value of hiring industrial and organizational psychologists, the demand for qualified individuals grows. Job opportunities are everywhere, which means industrial and organizational psychology graduates rarely struggle to find work. Once they are hired, there are also plenty of opportunities for career advancement, especially for those that are willing to seize new opportunities and embrace new challenges.

The United States Department of Labor projects at least a 29 percent annual growth increase in employment opportunities for industrial and organizational psychologists in 2021. The projected job growth rate for industrial and organizational psychologists is much higher than the overall average growth rate for jobs in the field of psychology. Jobs in the field of psychology are expected to grow by about 12 percent in the next ten years, which is an average growth rate for all types of occupations, but job opportunities for industrial and organizational psychologists will grow much faster.  

Simply put, unspecialized psychologists will have an average number of job opportunities, while specialist psychologists, such as geropsychologists, neuropsychologists, and industrial and organizational psychologists will see employment opportunities in their fields grow at a much higher rate.

Right now, the demand for industrial and organizational psychologists seems to be outpacing the supply. This is excellent news for anyone entering the field because it means they will have a much easier time landing a job and securing a competitive salary.

A Wide and Diverse Range of Career Opportunities: 

Given that businesses and non-profit organizations operating in just about every industry imaginable now see the value of hiring industrial and organizational psychologists, it is no wonder that there is an incredibly diverse range of career opportunities out there for qualified individuals.

Not only can industrial and organizational psychologists work in just about every industry, but business owners have also come up with unique ways to make use of the skills industrial and organizational psychologists possess, so positions within those industries vary.

Some of the more common career opportunities for industrial and organizational psychologists are as follows:

  • Human Resources Specialist
    Careers in human resources management are great for industrial and organizational psychologists that enjoy using their psychology background to study individuals. They will interact with existing and prospective employees throughout the day, and their responsibilities can range from recruitment to mediating internal workplace conflicts. Overall, they are trusted with improving the overall organizational culture of the company they work for.
  • Workforce Insights Analyst
    Unlike people-facing human resources positions, workforce insights analysts have much more data-driven roles within the companies they work for. These positions require the industrial and organizational psychologists to use their knowledge of quantitative research and evaluation methods to analyze employee performance and suggest potential ways to improve it.
  • Professional Business Development Consultant
    Industrial and organizational psychologists who use their skills to become professional business development consultants will take up a leadership role in the companies that hire them. They will often run workshops that train employees on how they can work more effectively. They will use their understanding of psychology to help employees behave more productively. These roles can exist within a company on a full-time basis, or the individual can outsource their skills and act as a freelance consultant for various companies.
  • Employee Training and Coaching Specialist
    Industrial and organizational psychologists that work as training specialists will use their understanding of psychology to help coach individuals and teams to improve their workplace performance. There are also opportunities for sub-specialization in this field, such as becoming a new hire trainer, management training specialist, or even an executive coach. No matter where they work or who they work with, the individual uses their industrial and organizational psychology skills to analyze the conditions of the workplace and determine the best ways to communicate what they effectively learn to others.
  • Talent Acquisition and Recruitment Specialist 
    In every industry, it is essential to know how to recruit and train the right employees. Staffing and recruiting specialists are often responsible for all hiring and training processes, which means they are incredibly important to the companies that hire them. These individuals will apply their industrial and organizational psychology methods to ensure the right applicants are chosen. In many situations, they also monitor the behavior of newly hired employees and determine if hiring them was the right decision. 
  • Internal Behavioral Analyst 
    These positions involve evaluating the behavioral and social issues employees face within the workplace. They use their understanding of the core concepts of psychology to observe and quantify employee behavior as well as develop strategies that will resolve unwanted behavior within that workplace. They will study environmental and biological influences to understand workplace behavior and determine the best way to push it towards the company’s particular vision. These positions are much more research-based than other roles for industrial and organizational psychologists.
  • Consumer Behavior Analyst
    Consumer behavioral analysts with a background in industrial and organizational psychology combine their understanding of human psychology with marketing to figure out how to appeal to the target market. They analyze the thoughts and behaviors of consumers to help. the company reaches sales goals and increases its share of the market. It is an excellent option for psychologists with an interest in marketing and enjoys analyzing data and statistics to solve problems and discover trends. While most will work within an office setting, some go out and interact with the public in person.

Importance of Industrial-Organizational Psychology

With widespread economic decline occurring globally, companies of all descriptions seek new ways to give themselves a competitive advantage. Given that there are countless advantages to introducing psychology into the workplace, industrial and organizational psychologists are gaining respect and influence across a wide variety of industries.

More than ever before, companies understand that talent resources and employee productivity are just as important as financial resources when it comes to achieving success and growth. Industrial and organizational psychology specialists can help companies find the right people, re-train existing employees, and develop strategies that improve productivity, without damaging employee morale.

Industrial and organizational psychologists are now heading human resource departments at major companies, while others are using their understanding of human psychology to develop effective employee training and development programs. Employees that are happy and satisfied in the workplace tend to be much more productive and live healthier lives outside of work. 

Not only are industrial and organizational psychologists valuable assets to their employers, but they are also able to use their understanding of human psychology to improve conditions for employees and management alike. Specialization in industrial and organizational psychology can open the door to a wide variety of lucrative career options. It will also allow that individual to make a real impact in the lives of those they work with.

Why is Industrial and Organizational Psychology a Rewarding Field?

Aside from the fact that it is a lucrative field with growing job opportunities, there are numerous reasons why a career in industrial and organizational psychology could be right for you.

The Fusing of Several Fields:

One of the main advantages of pursuing a career in industrial and organizational psychology is combining several academic disciplines and practicing them in the real world. 

You will get to practice human psychology, which allows you to interact with people while studying their behavior and thought processes. You will also employ your knowledge of the fields of business and marketing to make sure your understanding of human psychology is relevant in a business environment. 

In many ways, practicing industrial and organizational psychology gives you the best of both worlds. You will work closely with business professionals and use your understanding of psychology to help increase productivity and workplace efficiency. 

Evolving Challenges and the Ability to Continue Learning:

Some fields can become rather stale and boring over time, but industrial and organizational psychology is such a diverse field that it can remain fascinating throughout an entire career. Industrial and organizational psychologists can transition into new industries and learn new business and psychology concepts as they practice.

Many industrial and organizational psychologists will attend both business and psychology seminars to advance their knowledge and skills in both fields. As an industrial and organizational psychologist, you have the option to focus on one particular industry or role and become a recognized specialist or diversify your skills by moving into new roles and industries as your career progresses. 

Job Fulfillment and the Value of the Position:

Because industrial and organizational psychologists are recognized professionals with valuable and specialized skills, they tend to be highly valued by their employers and coworkers. 

Due to their ability to improve efficiency and increase overall growth, industrial and organizational psychologists are critical to the overall success of the companies they work for. This recognition means that many industrial and organizational psychologists derive a great sense of fulfillment from their jobs. They also have the satisfaction of seeing their professional recommendations make a real-time difference in the workplaces where they are introduced. 

How Does One Become an Industrial and Organizational Psychologist?

As with most psychology specializations, a career in the field of industrial and organizational psychology involves an extensive education with many years of study.

Education Requirements

Bachelor’s Degree:

For starters, any individual that is interested in a career as an industrial and organizational psychologist will need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology from a recognized college or university. 

A bachelor’s degree in psychology will almost always take four years to complete. In those years, you will gain a foundation of knowledge about the field of psychology, including general theories and basic research methods. You will take classes in cognitive, behavioral, and social psychology while simultaneously completing coursework in related fields, such as history, political science, and sociology.

While it is encouraged that you major in psychology during your undergraduate studies, it is not completely necessary. It is still possible to gain acceptance into a psychology graduate program without majoring in psychology, as long as you have completed the necessary prerequisite courses in psychology, statistics, research methods, and more.

Obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another field will allow you to apply for a master’s program, which is a requirement for those planning to practice industrial and organizational psychology. 

Master’s Degree:

As mentioned, most schools that offer master’s degrees in psychology will only accept applicants with a bachelor’s degree and a background in psychology and statistics. That said, priority is given to students who have majored in psychology. It is recommended for those that have aspirations to become industrial and organizational psychologists.

Master’s degree programs in industrial and organizational psychology tend to have a heavy emphasis on research, so a strong grasp of statistics and proficiency with computers are extremely valuable assets. Course work will involve studying ethics, personality-related psychology, and how psychology can be applied in the workplace.

Once you have completed a master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology, you should be able to find entry-level positions that will allow you to get your career in the field started. However, those who go on to obtain a doctoral degree will have far more employment opportunities.

Doctoral Degree:

Each school’s graduate program will have its entrance requirements for those seeking a doctorate in psychology

While a master’s degree in psychology is necessary, it is not always enough. To enter a doctoral program, the applicant also needs to have graduated from their master’s program with high grades and a background in the field of psychology they are seeking a doctoral degree in.

Most doctoral programs take between five and seven years to complete, so it is not a pursuit that should be taken lightly. If the candidate completes their required coursework, comprehensive exams, and successfully defends their dissertation, they will obtain a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology. 

A doctorate would present many career opportunities and allow you to practice clinical psychology, but it is not required to start working in the field. Many working in the field of industrial and organizational psychology only took their education to the master’s level.

Top Industrial-Organizational Psychology Programs

As the demand for qualified individuals grows and more students discover the benefits of this specialization, more colleges and universities will begin offering master’s degrees that make it easier for you to meet your industrial-organizational goals.

As long as you have a bachelor’s degree from a reputable college or university and you have completed the correct prerequisite courses, you should not encounter any difficulties applying to a master’s program at a school of your choosing.

However, it is worth noting that the following schools offer some of the most recognized industrial and organizational psychology programs:

The University of Nebraska – Omaha, Nebraska 

The University of Nebraska offers both MA and Ph.D. programs in industrial and organizational psychology. All courses are offered on campus and both programs are recognized for giving students mentorship opportunities.

University of Nebraska MA – Industrial/Organizational Psychology

Salem State University – Salem, Massachusetts

This MA program combines classes from the Bertolon School of Business and the university’s prestigious psychology department to give students a rounded education and all of the skills required to pursue a career or further studies in the field of industrial and organizational psychology.

Salem State University Master of Science in Industrial and Organizational Psychology 

Texas A&M University – College Station, Texas 

Texas A&M University offers an accelerated master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology that balances scientific concepts with professional practices. The program uses faculty that have experience working in the field, so students will know what to expect when they start their careers.

Texas A&M Master of Science in Psychological Sciences (Concentration in I/O Psychology)

University of Albany SUNY – Albany, New York

The University of Albany offers a top master’s program in industrial and organizational psychology. Students in this program will benefit from a low student to faculty ratio, as well as a comprehensive curriculum that covers all relevant subjects. The program also encourages students to take on internships and practicums, so they gain real-world experience in the field. 

U of A SUNY – Industrial and Organizational Psychology Master’s Program

Summary

Entering any of these programs will help you take your career to the next level. Check the application requirements closely and ask about scholarships to help defer the cost if needed. 

Industrial-organizational psychology is an exciting and versatile field worth exploring. This specialty is one of the most lucrative in psychology and qualifies you to do all sorts of things. There are many exciting careers you’ll be qualified for once you finish your education and get some relevant experience under your belt.

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