How to Become an Industrial Psychologist

How to Become an Industrial Psychologist

​Psychology is a vast field that spreads out in many directions. When most of us think of psychologists, we tend to think of clinical psychologists who help patients with emotional and mental issues. While many of these psychologists are of this type, there are also other types of psychologists, and their role is equally important.

Industrial-Organizational (I/O) Psychologists are the perfect example. If you’ve ever been part of the workforce, you may understand the need for changes to make it a better place to work. I/O Psychologists play a big role in this change and in making the workplace better for everyone. Learn how to become an I/O psychologist here.

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

Industrial organizational psychology is the sub-field of psychology focused on helping businesses:

  • Build teamwork
  • Create better products
  • Improve business processes to increase efficiency
  • Promote management structures that enable better communication and discipline.

More generally, industrial organizational psychology studies workplace behavior with the intention of developing new strategies for management, manufacturing, product design, marketing, and organizing that make peoples’ jobs both more pleasant and more productive.

To have easy access to the people, processes and products they are working to improve, Industrial Organizational Psychology professionals most often work in:

  • Business offices
  • Manufacturing facilities
  • The business or agency they are working for
  • Human Resource offices.

What is an I-O Psychologist?

An I/O psychologist is almost what its name implies. The I/O psychologist studies businesses, the employees, and the workplace in general. This branch of study focuses on two closely related areas:

  • Industrial side of I/O psychology – This area focuses on an employee and that employee’s relationship to the business or workplace. This focus might include, employee training, employment safety, job description, job performance, and employee hiring practices.
  • Organizational side of I/O psychology – This area focuses on the business or workplace. It might look at how the business’s work environment can affect not just the employee’s attitude but also his productivity.

An I/O psychologist works with an entire organization to try to find a common ground where the company and the employee can be productive and happy with the workplace environment. While I/O psychologists may not provide treatment in the same way as a clinical psychologist, they do provide education and training to the employees and the organization’s management so they can work together to make the workplace a pleasant, healthy, and productive place. The main things they do include:

  • Improve the quality of the workplace
  • Create better ways to screen new employee applicants
  • Increase the workplace’s productivity
  • Counsel unhappy or depressed workers on their work and personal matters
  • Help the organization create new policies that will benefit employees and employers.

Required Skills for I/O Psychologists

In addition to the education and training it requires to become an I/O psychologist, the candidate must also possess other important skills to be successful on the job.

  • Communication skills – Most of the I/O psychologist’s time is spent talking and listening to others so they must have good communication skills.
  • Problem-solving skills – There are various problems that can arise in the workplace, and the psychologist must have the ability to solve these problems in a way that benefits everyone involved.
  • Analytical skills – After observing and communicating with employees and management, the I/O psychologist must have the ability to analyze what it all means and draw a good conclusion.
  • Integrity – To be successful on the job, I/O psychologists must be trustworthy, so their patients feel safe enough to be honest with the psychologist.
  • Observational skills – I/O psychologists must not only talk to patients but also be able to observe their actions and determine what they could mean.
  • Interpersonal skills – The I/O psychologist works with many individuals throughout the course of a workday, and he or she must have the ability to work well with everyone.
  • Patience – Because conducting research, doing investigations, and treating the patients can take a while, the I/O psychologist must be a patient person.


Candidates pursuing a career as an I/O psychologist first must earn a bachelor’s degree. As part of this degree problem, students will have some of these courses.

  • I/O Psychology
  • Attitudes and Motivation in the Workplace
  • Training and Development
  • Employment and Staffing
  • Wage and Salary Administration
  • Selection and Assessment in Organizations
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Managerial and Organizational Behavior
  • Social Psychology

After completing the bachelor’s degree program, the aspiring I/O psychologist will generally pursue a master’s degree in psychology with a concentration in industrial-organizational psychology. Courses in this program may include the following.

  • Consultation Psychology
  • Theories of Personality
  • Principles of Industrial/Organizational Psychology
  • I/O Psychology Practices in Human Resource Management
  • Motivation in the Workplace
  • Organizational Consultant
  • Survey of Research Methods
  • Psychology of Leadership

Online Programs

According to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, I/O psychology is one of the fastest-growing fields today and also one of the most popular jobs. It’s a career that many individuals are eager to join. Organizational psychology is offered in many colleges and universities.

Many colleges also offer it as an online program. This is a very popular option for many individuals because it gives them the opportunity to continue working while earning a degree. Online I/O psychology programs are particularly beneficial for students who are working at an organization where they may wish to work as an I/O psychologist.

It gives them experience with the organization and prepares them for an internship, which is a requirement of the program. Some of the online I/O psychology programs are 100 percent online, and others are hybrid programs. Hybrid programs have some courses online and some on campus. Some of the programs can be completed in as little as 15 months. Online students learn through various learning platforms, including streaming media, ZOOM, and a virtual classroom.

Some colleges also offer an accelerated master’s degree program that allows the student to earn the bachelor’s degree plus the master’s degree but in a much shorter time than if taken individually. In addition to completing the coursework for the I/O psychology program, students are often required to complete an internship to obtain hands-on training in the field.

How to Become an I/O Psychologist – Steps to Take

Like all other psychologists, becoming an I/O Psychologist requires a lot of time, commitment, and education. There are specific steps you must take to pursue this career.

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree – The bachelor’s degree doesn’t have to be in psychology, but it can be more helpful if it is. This generally takes about four years to complete.
  2. Take the GRE – This improves your chances of being accepted into the master’s degree program.
  3. Earn a master’s degree – The master’s degree program is usually a master’s in psychology with a specialization in industrial/organizational psychology. This program generally takes two to three years unless you’re completing it online.
  4. Find an internship – Most graduate programs require the student to complete an internship in the final semester. Some students complete an internship while completing the bachelor’s degree program and the master’s degree program.
  5. Consider licensing – Although I/O psychologists are not required to be licensed, you may choose to obtain licensure as a clinical psychologist. This also can only enhance your career opportunities.

Although it may not be a requirement, some candidates choose to pursue a doctoral degree in industrial/organizational psychology. The doctoral degree is generally for individuals who want to work in research or academia, but having a doctoral can only improve employment opportunities and wage potential.

Salary and Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts job growth of four percent for psychologists in general, and this includes I/O psychologists. The increasing demand for psychologists in the workplace has the demand for I/O psychologists growing as well.

Based on the projected growth, there should be about 3000 new I/O psychologist jobs created by 2031. As of May 2022, California was the state with the highest number of I/O psychologists employed with 490 employed.

I/O psychologists have the potential to earn very good wages. Factors like education, training, certifications, experience, employer, and geographical location can also play an important role in determining the wages for an I/O psychologist.

The average annual wage nationwide for I/O psychologists was $139,280 as of May 2022. The wages range from $72,490 to $210,030. These figures are based on the lowest ten percent and the highest 90 percent. The five top-paying states for I/O psychologists are:

  • California – $125,270
  • Ohio – $108,320
  • Oregon – $99,780
  • Massachusetts – $79,810
  • North Carolina – $73,260

Graduates of an Industrial-Organizational Psychology program may find work in many positions. Here are a few job titles for these professionals.

  • Behavior Analyst
  • Industrial-Organizational Consultant
  • Senior Research Consultant
  • HR Organizational Development Specialist
  • Talent Management Specialist


Q: Does an I/O psychologist need a doctoral degree like a clinical psychologist?

A: Clinical psychologists generally need a doctoral degree because they prescribe medication and work in a clinical setting. I/O psychologists need a master’s degree but can choose to pursue a doctoral degree.

Q: I have never heard of I/O psychologists before now. Are they new to the world of psychology?

A: I/O psychologists became known as far back as the 1920s and 1930s. The increasing workforce, employee-based lawsuits, and mental health issues have made I/O psychology more well known. I/O psychologists can now be found in many industries and organizations.

Q: Is there a particular type of organization where an I/O psychologist might have to work?

A: No! I/O psychologists can work in various types of industries and in different areas and departments.

Q: Are I/O psychologists helpful in a non-profit organization?

A: I/O psychology can be beneficial in any work setting that employs people. I/O psychologists have proven to be very helpful in improving workplace morale and increasing productivity and job satisfaction.

Getting Started

If you have a bachelor’s degree in industrial organizational psychology, you will find that there are a number of entry-level positions open to you, particularly in human resources offices.  However, more positions will be available to you if you are able to obtain a master’s degree or doctorate in industrial organizational psychology.

Some jobs in this area are also available to people with degrees in related areas such as counseling or social work.