how to become an industrial organizational psychologist

Individuals interested in a job where they can help employees work in healthy, stable environments may wish to become an industrial psychologist. Industrial psychologists, also known as industrial/organizational (I/O) psychologists, study and analyze employee behavior. Industrial psychology is an applied branch that utilizes psychological theories to resolve occupational issues. I/O psychologists are scientist-practitioners who research actionable strategies to promote positive organizational change. I/O psychologists utilize their empirical-based findings to recommend ways businesses can improve their workplace. Creating an empowering, equitable work climate where employees feel engaged and appreciated is the goal. Industrial psychologists implement interventions to crush poor corporate practices and boost human performance at work. Here is an overview of what industrial psychologists do and how long it takes to become one.

What Industrial Psychologists Do

An industrial psychologist’s job duties vary depending on where they’re employed. Some I/O psychologists work in academia to teach or do in-depth organizational behavior research. Others work on-site in corporate offices and human resources departments. An increasing number of I/O psychologists work as self-employed consultants and travel to client businesses. Industrial psychologists can aid any organization with a workforce of 10 to 10,000. I/O psychology jobs are prevalent in diverse sectors, such as manufacturing, medicine, finance, advertising, and construction. Whatever the industry, their main goals are to boost employee performance. Industrial psychologists do this by observing human behaviors in work settings. They customize corporate programs to meet the needs of a company’s unique employees. Industrial psychologists can specialize in the following areas:

  • Talent development and training
  • Hiring selection and recruitment
  • Labor relations and negotiation
  • Job analysis and performance assessment
  • Equal opportunity and workplace diversity
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Compensation and benefits
  • Organizational behavior and development
  • Industrial management consulting

As a result, industrial psychologists juggle often have varying job descriptions. I/O psychologists may create training workshops to combat workplace issues, such as sexual harassment or bullying. I/O psychologists can develop better interviewing procedures to hire suitable job applicants. Industrial psychologists might mediate difficult workforce conflicts amicably. I/O psychologists could lead equal opportunity initiatives to thwart workplace discrimination. I/O psychologists may develop employee motivation strategies to retain top talent. Industrial psychologists can organize team-building trips and retreats to better employee engagement. I/O psychologists might recommend changes for executives to prioritize worker mental health. Industrial psychologists could create workforce analytics systems to gather data insights on employee productivity. Unlike clinical psychology, I/O psychology doesn’t confine practitioners to the traditional couch therapy sessions. Industrial psychologists play pivotal roles in addressing real-life workplace situations that impair employee well-being.

Skills Every Industrial Psychologist Must Possess

how to become an industrial organizational psychologist

Wondering how to become an industrial-organizational psychologist? First, prospective I/O psychology majors should do an honest assessment of their skills. Not everyone is suited to enter the U.S. News & World Report‘s 20th best STEM job. Industrial psychologists must be strong communicators with the ability to properly convey their thoughts in public speeches. Shy introverts may struggle with giving board room presentations of their recommendations. That said, introverts are good listeners who are often more observant of human behaviors at work. I/O psychologists must be able to read people’s body language and facial expressions. Studying the social interactions between coworkers or managers and staff is par for the course. Industrial psychologists need negotiation skills to talk down escalated workplace dramas.

Those becoming industrial psychologists must have refined problem-solving skills to see effective solutions to workplace issues. I/O psychologists must know research methods to perform experiments, surveys, focus groups, performance assessments, and more. Analytical skills help I/O psychologists draw the right conclusions from their organizational studies. Basic math and computer skills are important to run research data statistics correctly. I/O psychologists in faculty positions need to possess teaching skills to develop and deliver a quality course curriculum. I/O psychologists in organizational counseling need marketing skills to sell their own talents in proposal pitches. Industrial psychologists in HR departments need strong business acumen and an understanding of employment law. All I/O psychologists must have the utmost integrity to handle confidential employee or research subject information.

How Long It Takes to Become an Industrial Psychologist

How to become an industrial-organizational psychologist begins with a bachelor’s degree. Enrolling in four-year undergraduate programs happens after a high school diploma or GED. Most colleges admit freshmen based on their academic grades, SAT/ACT scores, extra-curricular activities, and community service. Universities also accept transfers who maintain a qualifying GPA during previous college-level credits. Associate degree 2+2 transfer paths at community colleges can future I/O psychologists can save thousands on tuition. Once admitted, undergrads declare a bachelor’s major. Most prepare for I/O careers with a psychology, human resources, social work, business, or management degree. Bachelor’s degrees have a 120-credit curriculum that lasts at least 48 months. Fill undergrad electives with I/O psychology courses like Organizational Behavior and Employment Staffing. Some colleges, such as San Diego State, Eastern Kentucky, and Embry-Riddle, have formal I/O psychology bachelor’s options.

If graduates wish to work as industrial psychologists, they will need to complete a master’s degree next. I/O psychology is a professional-level career that demands at least a Master of Arts or Master of Science. Most master’s programs require at least 18 to 24 months. With the four years of a bachelor’s degree and two years of a master’s degree, the minimum time to become an industrial psychologist is six years. Earning an M.A./M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology necessitates 30-48 credits of tougher 500-level and higher courses. Post-grads must fulfill prerequisite courses in statistics, research methods, and abnormal psychology first. Master’s I/O psychology concentrations then bring together advanced field courses, such as Conflict Resolution and Talent Management. I/O psychology master’s degrees are available on campuses or online with flexible 24/7 digital access. Search the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) directory for graduate training.

Do master’s degrees always take one to two years? The M.A./M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology timeline can be extended to three or four years part-time. Graduate schools let professionals take master’s courses in evening or weekend formats over longer periods. Master’s curricula almost always ends with a capstone feature. Completing internships, consulting projects, or thesis research in university laboratories can require added study hours. Industrial-organizational psychology majors could also pursue growing dual degree options. Dual degrees are post-grad avenues where students tackle two curricula at once. Dual programs may waive certain credits to make the degrees faster and cheaper than when separated. Nonetheless, dual M.A./M.S. tracks demand at least 36 months full-time. Content and capstone requirements are frequently doubled for a 50 percent longer timeframe. Here are some optional dual degrees available for future industrial/organizational psychologists.

  • Master of Business Administration
  • Master of Science in Management
  • Master of Science in Human Resources Management
  • Master of Public Administration
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership
  • Master of Education in Training and Development
  • Master of Industrial and Labor Relations
  • Juris Doctor in Labor and Employment Law

Industrial psychologists who are interested in university teaching or scientific research must complete a doctorate. There are two main I/O psychology doctoral degree types: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). The first is research-based and scientific, whereas the second has an applied practice-oriented approach. Some universities offer a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Industrial/Organizational Psychology to emphasize teaching and employee training skills. Others provide a Doctor of Business Administration (D.B.A.) to focus on managerial leadership abilities. All doctorates will add significant time to your career prep. Doctorates take at least 3-4 years after a master’s degree. Combining the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees equals a whopping 10-year minimum. Even worse, CBS News reports the average doctoral completion time is 8.2 years itself. Doctorates entail seminars, graduate assistantships, qualifying exams, fieldwork, and a dissertation.

Licensing Requirements to Work in Industrial Psychology

The length of time it takes to become an industrial psychologist depends on how far a student wants to advance his or her education. Six years, or 72 months, is the minimum to practice I/O psychology. Several U.S. states won’t require education beyond a master’s degree. However, many states mandate that anyone using the title “psychologist” needs licensure. Licensing is a post-graduation process run by state regulatory boards to ensure practitioners’ competence. What does getting licensed involve? Licensed industrial-organizational psychologists must hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree. Graduating from a university accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) is necessary. I/O psychology candidates need to verify about 1-2 years of supervised field experience. Doctorates with built-in, year-long internships would satisfy. Companies with great I/O psychology internships include Procter & Gamble, Ford Motors, Lockheed Martin, Google, Anheuser-Busch, and Tesla. Even the National Security Agency (NSA) has a 12-week paid internship to build experience.

What’s the next licensing step for I/O psychologists? Taking the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This licensing exam is required for all psychologists in the United States and Canada. Industrial-organizational psychologists will submit an application and a $600 exam fee. Once accepted, individuals must take the EPPP within a 90-day window at a Pearson VUE center. As of June 2020, the EPPP is a two-part exam that evaluates knowledge then skills. Of the 225 multiple-choice questions, 175 questions count toward the EPPP score. Each testing appointment lasts four hours and 15 minutes for marking answers on computers. Afterward, I/O psychologists receive their licensing exam scores in 10 days. Scoring below 500 on the 200-800 exam range will require a retake. A maximum of four retakes are acceptable for a 12-month span. Many states require continuing education units (CEUs) for psychologists to stay licensed long-term.

For 50+ years, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) has also awarded specialty certification for I/O psychologists to become trusted corporate consultants. The Organizational & Business Psychology certification unsurprisingly comes with another exam. Industrial psychologists need qualifying academic coursework and doctoral-level experience. Supervised fieldwork hours must total 4,000 or two years full-time. Most test takers are actively engaging in APA Division 13, which is the Society for Consulting Psychology. Candidates presently pay a $125 application fee, $250 practice sample review fee, and $450 exam fee. Unlike the computer-based EPPP, this exam is oral like a job interview. Industrial-organizational psychologists must display competence in nine key areas, including Executive Coaching, Job Selection, Performance Appraisal, and Organizational Surveys. Certified individuals can reapply in 15 years to receive the coveted “Senior Option.”

Current Career Outlook for Industrial Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychology is a small, yet mighty field specialty with fast-growing job opportunities. The U.S. Department of Labor predicts that the employment of I/O psychologists will increase 13 percent this decade. By 2028, the number of industrial psychologists will surpass 1,600. In comparison, the hiring of clinical and counseling psychologists will rise 15 percent for 23,800 new jobs. All other psychologists will see 10-year growth of 12 percent for 2,100 specialized positions. Industrial-organizational psychologists will be needed to help businesses boost productivity and workplace morale. Which industries are hiring I/O psychologists the most? The demand for I/O psychologists in management consulting services will soar 21.5 percent. Industrial psychologists will see 12 percent more jobs in research and development. Colleges and universities will also need 13 percent more I/O psychologists on staff. An estimated 42.2 percent of I/O psychologists will be self-employed by 2028.

In May 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that industrial-organizational psychologists had a mean annual wage of $111,150. The 630 I/O psychologists received average hourly pay of $53.44. The top 10 percent of I/O psychologists brought home a median income of $197,700. The bottom 10 percent of industrial psychologists had median earnings of $51,080. Most I/O psychologists fell between the $61,380 and $148,170 salary mark. Hourly wages ranged from $24.56 to $95.05. In-house I/O psychologists at private corporations made $101,600 on average. I/O psychologists in management consulting reaped mean profits of $96,000. Government agencies paid the least with a $72,100 median salary. Scientific R&D firms provided the highest average annual income of $162,590. California was the top-paying state with mean I/O psychologist compensation of $145,410. For metropolitans, Washington DC had the best paid industrial-organizational psychology jobs worth a median $170,420.

Pros and Cons of Choosing I/O Psychology Careers

Is how long it takes to become an industrial psychologist worth it? It’s important to be sure about I/O psychology before spending 10+ years preparing for the career. First, let’s start off with the potential bad news about industrial psychology. I/O psychologists wear many hats in dealing with wide-ranging organizational issues. Industrial psychologists have a challenging task of rooting out systemic issues for a better work climate. I/O psychologists will encounter many people who are resistant to change and question their ideas. Industrial psychologists need to spend a significant amount of time and money to enter the career. The National Center for Education Statistics priced average annual graduate tuition at $16,435. Getting into I/O psychology programs is extremely competitive since cohorts are usually only 5-15 students. Industrial psychologists sometimes struggle to maintain a work-life balance. It’s common for I/O psychologists to clock in for 50+ hours per week and take job stress home.

On the flip side, becoming an industrial-organizational psychologist is emotionally and financially rewarding. I/O psychologists can immediately claim a big six-figure salary after their doctorate. Industrial psychologists gain personal satisfaction from designing workplace policies that benefit employees. I/O psychologists have the flexibility to pick diverse sectors and specializations. Job security is strong for I/O psychologists with a super-low unemployment rate of 0.5 percent. Industrial-organizational psychologists work in comfortable office settings and interact with top company exercises. I/O psychologists generally spend more time talking to and observing people than looking at computer screens. Every I/O psychologist flexes their mental muscles to solve complex workplace issues. Unlike clinical psychologists, I/O psychologists can complete their master’s and sometimes doctoral degrees online. Industrial-organizational psychologists may enjoy being independent contractors and telecommuting from home. I/O psychologists get the best of two worlds by fusing business and human resources with behavioral health.

Scholarships to Help Become an Industrial Psychologist

how to become an industrial organizational psychologist

Questioning if you can afford how to become an industrial-organizational psychologist? There’s financial aid to reduce tuition for the four bachelor’s, two master’s, and four or more doctoral years. For example, the APA Division 14 has a June 30th deadline for its $3,000 Irwin L. Goldstein Scholarship that assists minority doctoral I/O psychology majors. The SIOP awards the $3,000 George C. Thornton Graduate Scholarship for I/O psychology master’s graduates seeking their doctorate. The Lee Hakel Graduate Student Scholarship gifts $3,500 to top-ranking industrial psychology students who submit a 12-page dissertation proposal. Since 2010, Centennial Mental Health Center has offered the $2,000 Future Professional Scholarship to undergrads in psychology bachelor’s programs. The Hogan Award for Personality & Work Performance has a $1,500 prize for doctoral I/O psychologists who author-related papers. Let’s list some other scholarships and grants that support industrial psychologists.

  • Joyce and Thayer I/O Psychology Graduate Fellowship
  • Mary L. Tenopyr Graduate Student Scholarship
  • Harry and Miriam Levinson Psychology Scholarship
  • M. Scott Myers Award for Applied Workplace Research
  • Roy Scrivner Memorial LGBTQ Research Grant
  • Psi Chi Honor Society Graduate Scholarship
  • Bill Bendiner and Doug Morgenson Scholarship
  • David Pilon Scholarship for Training in Professional Psychology
  • Ruth G. and Joseph D. Matarazzo Scholarship
  • Beatrice Ragen Edelman Memorial Scholarship
  • Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Scholars Program
  • Frank D. Payne Memorial Psychology Scholarship
  • Charles and Carol Spielberger Scholarship

Scholarships aren’t the only way to fund the long academic journey to I/O psychology jobs. Incoming industrial-organizational psychology majors should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This tax-based form determines one’s eligibility for government assistance. For example, the Federal Pell Grant could give up to $6,345 each year to bachelor’s psychology students. The Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) has a 2020 maximum of $4,000 to cover undergrad expenses. I/O psychology majors can carefully take out Graduate PLUS loans with a current interest rate of 7.08 percent. Borrowed funds up to $17,500 could be waived with programs like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Always file for the $2,000 Lifetime Learning Credit on tax returns. Apply for I/O psychology jobs at companies with tuition assistance. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 50 percent of employers will pay graduate tuition. Graduate assistantships also give stipends in exchange for part-time teaching or research work.

Overall, industrial-organizational psychology is one of today’s hottest careers. I/O psychologists have been following in Hugo Munsterberg’s and Walter Dill Scott’s footsteps since 1903. It’s been 110 years since the first I/O psychology book titled Psychology and Industrial Efficiency was printed. College students entering I/O psychology programs can carry the torch and develop new advancements to revolutionize business. Industrial psychologists have the power to change entire organizational structures to enhance employee well-being. Getting into I/O psychology jobs takes considerable effort though. Be prepared to spend at least six years in higher education. Top-level I/O psychologists commit 10-15 years to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral schooling. Industrial psychologists are in high demand, eligible for big pay plus bonuses, and often personally gratified though. Start searching for accredited colleges that can guide you through how long it takes to become an industrial psychologist.

Related Resources: