Industrial-Organizational Psychology Careers

business office
I-O psychologists apply psychological principles to workplace issues.

David Wall / (CC BY 2.0)

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology is concerned with the study of workplace behavior. People who work in these 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 in 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 on factors such as the type of degree held and type of employer. According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), the average salaries for I-O psychologists in 2015 were:

  • Starting salary for master’s graduate - $84,500
  • Starting median salary for doctoral graduate - $118,818
  • Academic - $101,000
  • Practitioner - $113,000

The U.S. Department of Labor reports that as of May 2018, the median annual salary for industrial-organizational psychologists was $97,260. The lowest 10% of earners made less than $51,350 while the top 10% made more than $192,150.

Type of Degree 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 a 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 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that the largest area of employment was in scientific research and development services. The highest paying area within the industry was also in scientific research and development services with a mean annual wage of $149,780. 

Consulting services made up the second largest area of employment. Other industries that employ I-O psychologists include corporate management, state governments, and educational institutions.

Job Outlook

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

"Industrial–organizational psychologists are expected to face competition for positions because of the large number of qualified applicants. Industrial–organizational psychologists with extensive training in quantitative research methods may have a competitive edge."

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 one of the fastest-growing psychology fields between 2018 and 2028. The U.S. Labor Department reports that this field will grow by 13% during that time.

"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, former president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), in a 2014 press release.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that there are rigorous qualifications to become 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, another former president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology in a 2014 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.

Pros and Cons of a Career in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Pros

  • A fair number of career opportunities with a masters-level degree
  • Diverse career paths (i.e. private sector, consulting, government, education)
  • Opportunities for self-employment

Cons

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