3 Keys to Becoming an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist


Illustration: Take three crucial steps toward becoming an industrial/organizational psychologist, including earning a master's degree.

Believe it or not, employers really want their workers to be happy. A happy team is an effective team. But that doesn’t happen by magic. Many companies call in industrial/organizational psychologists to help achieve that goal.

The field of I/O psychology is still relatively small, but it’s expanding exponentially as more businesses see the value in creating a workplace culture where everyone thrives. In the last decade, jobs for industrial/organizational psychologists have grown by more than 50%. Meanwhile, the mean wage tops $100,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Note that this typically includes those who have earned a Ph.D. in the subject.)

So, how do you get started on this challenging, fulfilling—and booming—career path?

Step 1: Study Psychology as an Undergraduate

Few colleges offer industrial/organizational psychology as an undergraduate major, so most students major in psychology. Even if you don’t major in psychology, you’ll want to at least take foundational classes in psychological principles, statistics, social psychology and research methodology.

Aside from classes, your undergraduate years are the time to meet with professors or business mentors who can offer advice, share their experiences and serve as a guide as you learn the broad strokes of the field.

So take advantage of every opportunity to learn: Join a psychology-related study group, shadow a professional, get involved in research or complete an internship. Remember, build your foundation here and you will reap the benefits later.

Step 2: Pinpoint Your Career Interests

At some point, you’ll need to start thinking about your long-term plans. Maybe this occurs as you’re completing your bachelor’s degree—or, even after you’ve entered the workforce.

First, ask yourself: Where are my specific interests? What am I passionate about?

After all, I/O psychologists work in a variety of settings, from the military and government agencies to large corporations, factories and nonprofits. It’s a career for people who enjoy challenges and love finding new ways to solve old problems.

Specifically, I/O psychologists mine existing research, conduct surveys and observe employees in action. Those findings aid them in:

  • Developing hiring practices
  • Rewriting company policy
  • Designing effective training modules
  • Maintaining a healthy workplace culture

If that mix of working on individual relationships within the context of a larger work setting appeals to you, then give industrial/organizational psychology a deeper look.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree

In almost all situations, the minimum degree required is a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology. Today, many universities offer evening and part-time programs for students who need flexibility.

Master’s programs focus on research design and methodology, laying the foundation for a career in I/O psychology. Your master’s program should provide opportunities to develop the kind of skills you’ll need in your future workplace: solving staffing problems, performing leadership training, designing interventions and improving communication.

Meanwhile, this is also the time to network with classmates and professors and dive into an internship or two. How you do during your graduate coursework can help frame the first few years of your career.

Bonus Step: Consider a Ph.D.

It’s not for everyone, but industrial/organizational psychologists who earn a doctorate have a broader range of career options open to them and increase their earning power. It’s a time commitment, though—usually three to five years, including coursework, research and writing and defending a dissertation. In addition, a practicum may be required.

Looking at that schooling all at once can be a little overwhelming. Don’t worry. Assess where you are and where you want to be, and then take the first step to get there. In the long run, a rewarding career is your ultimate goal.

Learn How to Become an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist

Elmhurst University’s M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology can take your education and career to the next level. Plus, our two-year, part-time program is designed to fit your schedule and goals. At Elmhurst, you’re not an anonymous student. You will work directly with your program director and tap into a vast professional network.

Request more information about our program today!

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Posted April 14, 2020

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