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11 Careers for I-O Ph.D. Grads

Top Careers for People with Industrial and Organizational Psychology Doctorates

Top Careers for People with Industrial and Organizational Psychology DoctoratesIndustrial-organizational psychology is a bit unique in that there are some positions that only require a bachelor’s degree. In fact, you might have had one of these entry-level jobs as you pursued your master’s and doctoral degrees.

Related resource: Top 25 Campus-Based Industrial-Organizational Psychology Master’s Degree Programs

But as with so many careers, the more education you have, the more variety you are likely to have in terms of job types, places of employment, and compensation. Getting your Ph.D. in I-O psychology certainly opens up your career prospects on all three of these measures.

If you’ve taken the time to get a Ph.D. in industrial-organizational psychology, then you know that there are a wealth of career options for you. As a doctoral-level psychologist, you might qualify for jobs in the business and marketing field, human resources, coaching, and research, to name but a few.

While the specific duties of your job will depend on your job title and place of employment, there are some basic responsibilities you can expect to have in any I-O-related career.

On a primary level, all I-O psychologists apply their knowledge and understanding of psychology to the workplace. Whether you’re working to improve employer-employee relations, design an intake assessment for new employees, or striving for increased productivity among employees, you will lean on your years of education and experience in psychology to do so.

This application of psychology to the workplace setting can take many different forms. You might:

  • Train new hires
  • Improve the organizational structure of a  business
  • Oversee hiring practices
  • Consult with human resources
  • Conduct psychological research
  • Improve the workplace environment
  • Research consumer behavior
  • Assess employee job performance
  • Assist with company transitions, like mergers and takeovers

Again, some of these tasks are more common than others, and depending on your specific place of work, you may or may not be involved in all of them.

Let’s explore some of the most popular I-O careers for Ph.D. graduates.

Individual Assessment and Psychometrics Specialist

In some companies, industrial-organizational psychologists are tasked primarily with conducting assessments. Though the type of assessments will vary from position to position, the role of a psychometrist is to evaluate employees, usually in order to place them in a job that best fits their skills.

For example, if you work for a manufacturing company, one of the assessments you give to prospective employees might be a hand-eye coordination test. This test could be highly informative as to whether or not a potential employee has the basic physical skills to keep up with a fast-paced assembly line.

As another example, you might be in charge of evaluating current employees. You might use interest inventories to see if there is a different job that fits their interests better. Likewise, you might conduct employee evaluations to see what their attitudes are like regarding management and the work environment.

Yet another aspect of this type of industrial-organizational job is to develop bespoke assessments for your employer. So, for example, you might create an employee screening test that looks for desirable skills that would benefit the company’s bottom-line.

Not only would you develop the measure but you might also be in charge of analyzing test items, calculating norms, conducting statistical analyses, and writing assessment instructions, among other tasks. 

Engineering Psychologist

Unlike I-O careers like human resources that focus on the human side of the workplace, engineering psychologists focus on the physical aspects of the work environment as well as on how people interact with technology.

As an engineering psychologist, you might be asked to evaluate the safety of the workplace and identify potential areas where employee safety might be at risk. After this evaluation, you would make recommendations regarding how to reorganize the workplace to make it a safer environment for employees.

As another example, you might be hired by a company to analyze how consumers interact with a new product. You might oversee various trials in which volunteers use a product and report on their user experience. Your job would be to collect that data, interpret it, and use it to make recommendations on how the product can be improved for a better consumer experience.

Research Psychologist

A notable percentage of individuals with a doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology pursue careers in research. Research is pursued in a number of different settings, including colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies (including the military), and large business enterprises or corporations.

For example, you might develop a longitudinal study that examines the relationship between paid leave and job satisfaction at a private company. This kind of research would seek to answer the question, “Does more paid leave result in higher job satisfaction?” In conducting this kind of research, you could help business leaders determine the right amount of paid leave to offer employees that enhance their satisfaction with the job, but that doesn’t negatively impact production or the company’s bottom line.

Think of a job in I-O research as looking at the big picture. You might study individual workers’ behaviors. You might examine small groups within a business or organization. Or you might evaluate the entire ecosystem of an organization. But at the end of the day, the research you do is intended to identify problems in the workplace and mitigate those problems through research-based methods.

College Professor

College Professor is a Top Careers for People with Industrial and Organizational Psychology DoctoratesAnother rather significant percentage of people who obtain a doctorate in industrial-organizational psychology pursue careers in academia.

Some of these individuals teach. Others do research as referenced a moment ago more broadly. Still other people who earn a Ph.D. in this arena focus on both teaching and writing.

Typically, a career in academics comes only after working in the “real world” in industrial-organizational psychology. This is to say that college professors usually have experience in the field, and can draw on that experience to further their capabilities as a professor, researcher, or both.

In fact, the vast majority of psychology professors at colleges and universities have held positions outside of academics first. So, as a hopeful college professor, you will need to gain some on-the-job experience in I-O psychology first, and then begin your career in academia later on. This doesn’t mean you need to work for 30 years in the field, but certainly having 5-10 years of job experience in I-O psychology will help.

Behavior Analyst

Industrial-organizational Ph.D. graduates can use their knowledge and training in human behavior to become a behavior analyst.

As a behavior analyst, you might be asked to analyze the behavior of a company’s employees as they work on the floor of a manufacturing plant. Your goal would be to examine how environmental factors in the workplace affect employee behavior and on-the-job performance.

Furthermore, you might be tasked with considering how to change the workday to improve productivity. For example, if a company has noticed a downturn in employee productivity, you might be asked to explore what the cause of that lack of productivity might be. 

As you dive into the problem, you might find that a recent change in the work schedule is the culprit, and make recommendations to create a new schedule that better adheres to the times of greatest employee productivity.

As a behavior analyst, you aren’t just looking to identify problem behaviors and correct them. Instead, you want to be able to describe a person’s behavior, develop an understanding of it, identify the circumstances in which certain behaviors occur, and devise ways to change behaviors for the benefit of the person (and the company, too, of course).

Human Resources

A significant cohort of women and men who earn a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology work in the field of human resources. They do so in a number of different ways. 

For example, these professionals might work in human resources departments of larger business and governmental agencies. In this capacity, you might expect to have responsibilities that include:

  • Interviewing and hiring new employees
  • Training employees
  • Mediating workplace conflicts
  • Assessing and evaluating employees

In some cases, you might be asked to represent individual workers in the company. For example, if an employee is facing termination, you might be asked to advocate on their behalf.

Ultimately, the goal of a human resources position is to ensure that the overall culture within the business or organization is one of teamwork and respect for all employees.

Staffing and Recruiting Manager

A related career path to human resources is to become a staffing and recruiting manager.

As the job title indicates, this position focuses solely on recruiting new talent and helping fill vacant positions within a company. You would oversee all hiring processes. You would likely also be responsible for developing employee training programs.

Being able to identify a person’s potential requires you to lean heavily on your knowledge of psychology. You’ll need to utilize skills related to interviewing, assessment, predicting behavior, and analyzing behavior as well. What’s more, understanding what motivates people is hugely important. This position often requires you to direct efforts to retain employees, so leveraging your understanding of what employees find motivating can help you keep the best employees around for the long-term.

Executive Coach

Even the leaders of Fortune 500 companies don’t have all the answers when it comes to the ideal direction for their company. That’s where executive coaches come in.

As an executive coach, you will consult with high-level company executives to develop organizational and managerial skills that will help the company move forward in a positive direction.

In some cases, you might work directly with a single company executive. In others, you might be responsible for coaching the entire executive staff. Additionally, some executive coaches work with mid-management and lower-tier employees, usually in the capacity of encouraging ownership of the company vision and getting buy-in for company-wide changes.

Regardless of who you’re working with, your job as a coach involves a heavy dose of assessing people, developing professional development plans for them, creating strategies for achieving goals, and effectively improving their job performance.

Organizational Culture Specialist

Another area in which a person with a doctorate in industrial and organizational psychology works is as an organizational culture specialist.

A career in this field involves researching and analyzing the values, understandings, beliefs, knowledge, and other intangibles of an organization. This research has the objective of translating these intangibles into a shared, cohesive sense of organization among employees of a business, members of an organization, and so forth.

For example, you might help develop an organizational mission statement that rallies employees behind a common cause. As another example, you might make recommendations about a corporate structure such that a culture of inclusivity is fostered between employers and employees, and within the different departments within a business as well.

Organizational Effectiveness Consultant

Another possible career for a Ph.D. graduate in industrial-organizational psychology is an organizational effectiveness consultant.

A consultant in this capacity usually works hand-in-hand with executives and upper management to establish a clear set of goals for the organization. You might define management processes, help establish long-term goals for the company, and assist company leadership in developing a roadmap for achieving the company’s goals.

In some cases, companies might have their own in-house organizational effectiveness consultant. More commonly, though, you would be an independent consultant that’s brought in to get the company headed in the right direction. You would then repeat the process with another client, and then another, and so on.

Public Relations

Public Relations is a Top Career for People with Industrial and Organizational Psychology DoctoratesYour understanding of human behavior can come in very handy in a career in public relations.

As a public relations specialist, your focus is on understanding what customers want, reaching target markets, and helping companies foster and maintain a positive public image.

This position isn’t just about branding and building consumer trust, though. Public relations is also about identifying consumer needs, evaluating public opinions, and helping craft marketing messages that resonate with consumers.

Of course, another dimension of public relations is helping mitigate negative press. Understanding how to create a narrative – and control that narrative – is paramount in order to focus the public’s attention on what you want them to hear.

Which Career Path is Right for You?

As noted in the introduction, a Ph.D. in this field opens up many different career paths for you. The most difficult part is likely deciding which of these paths best aligns with your interests and skill set.

Fortunately, this is a rapidly growing field with a lot of potential for job growth. Though there aren’t many industrial-organizational psychologists in the United States (only about 780, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), demand for I-O services is expected to grow in the coming years.

This field of psychology also pays quite well. With a mean annual wage of nearly $113,000, industrial-organizational psychologist graduates like yourself will likely have high demand and high wages awaiting you upon graduation.

Sean Jackson

B.A. Social Studies Education | University of Wyoming

M.S. Counseling | University of Wyoming

B.S. Information Technology | University of Massachusetts