Industrial Organizational Psychologists: What they are and how to become one

Industrial/organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to business and organizational issues. They may do everything from determine suitability for hiring or leadership roles to recommend organizational changes. They may help the organization enhance workforce performance, improve morale, or meet overall objectives.

Organizational psychologists (or I/O psychologists) use psychological methods to research organizational issues and develop surveys, assessments, and other measurement tools. Some conduct assessments. They may also be charged with staying on top of general psychological research that would be relevant to the goals of the organization.

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The American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology lists the following among the typical practice areas:

  • Training and development
  • Compensation and reward systems
  • Organizational change and development

Industrial/ occupational psychologists may work in an employee capacity for a single organization or serve as consultants. Some develop expertise in relatively narrow branches of the field. The Social Psychology Network lists professional associations and resources for I/O specialist in different practice areas (

Requirements for Becoming an I/O Psychologist

Requirements vary. Some jurisdictions license I/O psychologists while many specifically exclude them from license requirements. In some cases, it depends on what the I/O psychologist actually does on the job; licensure may not be necessary for a consultant or indirect role. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) maintains a list of links to state licensing agencies (

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

In many jurisdictions, it is possible to enter the field with a master’s degree. Programs are offered at both the master’s and doctoral levels. Professor Paul Spector notes that doctoral programs are more competitive ( Many doctoral programs are looking for students who have maintained ‘A’ averages (at least during their junior and senior years). It can be a good idea to pursue an undergraduate degree in psychology, but it is not required. Undergraduates are advised to take plenty of coursework in research methodology and statistics; social and cognitive psychology are also recommended.

Division 14 of the American Psychological Association, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), is a resource for pre-professionals and professionals. SIOP recommends that graduate students select programs that meet the standards set forth in “Guidelines for Education and Training at the Master’s (Doctoral) Level in Industrial/ Organizational Psychology” ( Candidates who will be seeking licensure need to be especially cognizant of how their programs match up to state standards.

Programs may allow students to specialize in areas of interest, for example, ‘workplace diversity’ or ‘psychology of conflict management’.

Board Certification

Board certification is an optional way for psychologists to show that they are highly qualified. I/O certification is available through the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP), under the banner of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). This option is only available to psychologists who have education at the doctoral level and who have training appropriate to the discipline (

The first step toward certification is a review of credentials, including applicable training. There are some modifications in the process for senior psychologists (professionals with at least 15 years of postdoctoral experience)

Salary and Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a mean annual income of $102,570 for industrial/ organizational psychologists in 2012. The middle 50% earn between $62,900 and $121,780. Spector notes that salaries are typically higher for I/O psychologists who hold doctoral degrees.

The BLS has predicted 35% growth in the field during the years 2010 to 2020. Percentage-wise, this is the highest growth in any branch of psychology. However, the BLS notes that industrial organizational psychology represents a small portion of the psychology workforce. The BLS predicts greater competition for jobs at the master’s level.