Industrial-Organizational Psychology Careers

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I-O psychologists apply psychological principles to workplace issues.. Image: David Wall / (CC BY 2.0)

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is concerned with the study of workplace behavior. People who work in this areas apply psychological principles to areas such as human resources, employee training, marketing and sales, and organizational development.

I-O psychologists often apply research to increasing workplace productivity, selecting employees best suited for particular jobs, and product testing.

If you are interested a career in this emerging field, continue reading to learn more about what I-O psychologists do, how much they earn, the kind of training they need, and what the job outlook is like for the coming years.

What Do Industrial-Organizational Psychologists Do?

I-O psychology is a diverse field with opportunities in several different areas. Many I-O psychologists work in the business sector in positions dealing with worker productivity, employee training, assessment, and human resources. Other I-O psychologists work in research or academic positions. Other specialty areas in I-O psychology include human-computer interaction and human factors. Consulting opportunities are also available for experienced I-O psychologists.

Specific duties depend largely on where professionals work and the type of organization where they are employed. For example, an I-O psychologist might work for a specific business to help select and train the best employees for specific positions.

In other situations, an I-O psychologist might assess company policies and practices in order to maximize efficiency and productivity.

How Much Do Industrial-Organizational Psychologists Typically Earn?

Typical salaries for I-O psychologists vary considerably depending upon such factors as the type of degree held and type of employer.

According to the Society for Industrial (SIOP) and Organizational Psychology:

  • Starting salary for Master’s graduate - $64,000
  • Starting median salary for Ph.D graduate - $78,000
  • University professors - $103,000
  • Private sector - $100,000
  • Highest earners - Top 5% of SIOP members earn from $250,000 to several million each year.

The Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the U.S. Department of Labor reports that as of May 2015 the median annual salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $77,350. The lowest 10-percent of earners made $52,270 while the top ten-percent made more than $158,990.

What Type of Degree Is Needed

There are a number of university programs that offer bachelor’s degrees in industrial-organizational psychology. People with a bachelor's degree typically work in human resources although there are some opportunities in other areas. Those looking for greater job opportunities and higher pay may want to consider continuing their education at the master's level.

There are many opportunities for job candidates with master’s degree's in I-O psychology.

These psychologists often work in human resources, consulting, government, and positions in the private sector. The growing demand for I-O psychologists had led to an increase in the number of universities offering master's degrees in I-O psychology. Those with doctorate degrees in I-O psychology have the highest amount of opportunity and pay.

Where Do I-O Psychologists Work?

I-O psychologists work in a variety of areas and industries including private businesses and government agencies. In 2015, the Occupational Outlook Handbook reported that the largest area of employment was in scientific research and development services. The highest paying area within the industry was in architectural, engineering, and related services with a mean annual wage of $105,270. 

Management of companies and enterprises made up the second largest area of employment. Other industries that employ I-O psychologists include scientific and development services, offices of health practitioners, state governments, and educational institutions.

What Is the Job Outlook for Industrial-Organizational Psychologists?

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook states that:

"Industrial-organizational psychologists will be in demand to help to boost worker productivity and retention rates in a wide range of businesses. I-O psychologists will help companies deal with issues such as workplace diversity and anti-discrimination policies. Companies also will use psychologists' expertise in survey design, analysis and research to develop tools for marketing evaluation and statistical analysis."

I-O Psychology Listed as the Fastest Growing Occupation of the Next Decade

It turns out that if you are looking for a psychology career with a strong job outlook, then I-O psychology just might be the ticket.. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, industrial-organizational psychology is predicted to be the fastest growing occupation of the next decade. The U.S. Labor Department reports that this field will grow by a whopping 53 percent over the next ten years.

"The public is becoming more aware of something those of us in the field have known for a long time and that is I-O psychology is a highly rewarding profession that provides the opportunity to do meaningful work," explained Tammy Allen, president of the 8,000-member Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), in a press release.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that there are rigorous qualifications to become an industrial-organizational psychology. Professionals in the area are usually expected to have at least a master's degree, but a doctoral degree is often preferred.

Why is I-O psychology expected to be such a "hot job" now and in the upcoming years?

"Businesses and other larger organizations are quickly realizing the competitive advantages that can be gained by managing their talent using practices that have a basis in evidence and science--and that's at the heart of what I-O psychologists do," suggested Doug Reynolds, former president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in a SIOP press release.

A strong job outlook and competitive pay are just a few of the reasons students might be attracted to this career.

"Students embarking on a career in psychology quickly realize the vast career opportunities available within I-O Psychology," explained Tracy Kantrowitz, vice president of research and development for the consulting firm SHL. "As indicated by the SIOP careers study of individuals with advanced degrees in I-O Psychology, professionals can hold jobs as diverse as external consultant, chief human resources officer, research scientist, vice president of talent management, or university professor. Diverse career paths combined with a substantial median starting salary for new PhDs ($78,000 as reported in the 2013 SIOP salary survey report) make the field attractive to those charting career options."

Is a Career in I-O Psychology Right for You?

Before you decide on a career in I-O psychology, there are a few factors you should consider. Do you enjoy research? Are you comfortable with statistics? If not, I-O psychology might not be the best choice for you. Those working in business, government and academic positions often spend considerable time conducting research. If you prefer working one-on-one with people, you might find that clinical or counseling psychology is a better match for you.

One of the great things about I-O psychology is that many positions encompass topics and skills from many different areas of psychology. Personality psychology, social psychology, experimental psychology, and statistics are just a few of the subjects that I-O psychologists might deal with on a regular basis. If you enjoy finding practical applications for psychological research, industrial-organizational psychology might be a good match for you.

What Are the Pros and Cons of a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Pros of a Career in I-O Psychology

  • Fair number of career opportunities with a Master’s-level degree
  • Diverse career paths (i.e. private sector, consulting, government, education)
  • Opportunities for self-employment

Cons of a Career in I-O Psychology

  • Clients and projects change often
  • Research can often be tedious and burnout can occur
  • Many positions require doctoral degrees

Sources:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Psychologists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm

Khanna, C., Medsker, G. J., & Ginter, R. (2012). 2012 Income and Employment Survey Results for the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. SIOP. Retrieved from http://www.siop.org/2012SIOPIncomeSurvey.pdf

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