Open Search
Open Navigation

How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

woman talking in group meeting
Reviewed By
Published on: 11/20/2023
Last Updated: 11/20/2023
9 minute read

If you love both commerce and psychology, it can be hard to choose between the two when deciding on a career path. Both fields can offer diverse opportunities and fulfillment but generally require a refined focus and specialized education to enter. 

If you can’t choose between the two, however, then you might consider becoming an industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologist. What is industrial-organizational psychology? Professionals under this field apply psychological principles in commercial settings to help businesses structure and optimize their operations.

Becoming an I-O psychologist can be long, so it’s best to start as soon as possible. From education to experience and certification, this guide will outline everything there is to know about how to become an industrial-organizational psychologist.

Learn More

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

I-O psychology focuses on the study of human behavior in organizations and workplaces. The specialty aims to understand how individuals and groups act in organizational settings and develop principles to solve work-related problems. 

I-O psychology addresses a variety of organizational issues, including those related to:1

  • Recruitment
  • Selection and placement
  • Training and development
  • Performance measurement
  • Workplace motivation and reward systems
  • Quality of work life
  • Structure of work and human factors
  • Organizational development and consumer behavior

Along with studying and addressing various issues within organizations, I-O psychologists also work in various fields. Some of the main sectors where they can secure employment include:2

  • Business and industry
  • Labor unions
  • Public and non-profit
  • Academia
  • Community and healthcare

I-O psychologists possess multifaceted skills that can render their services in demand across these diverse industries. Generally, businesses will employ I-O psychologists to:3

  • Evaluate organizational shortcomings and suggest how to address them
  • Formulate training and development programs to meet organizational goals
  • Mentor employees and organization leaders 
  • Optimize quality of life in the workplace
  • Analyze consumer preferences, client satisfaction, and marketing strategies
  • Develop criteria to gauge the performance of team members, groups, and organizations such as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other metrics

With so many duties across various industries, I-O psychologists can be indispensable members of leadership teams. Their specified psychological and organizational knowledge can boost the efficiency of workplaces and help employees feel a greater deal of satisfaction with their jobs. This speaks to the importance of change management, which helps organizations acclimate to changes in work culture.

Educational Pathways to I-O Psychology

I-O psychologists, like those in other branches of psychology, generally require a robust formal education. The field can be quite study-intensive and theoretical, so prospective students should prepare for a syllabus of reading scholarly articles and drafting research papers. 

Nonetheless, I-O psychology is also rooted in practical application, so experiential training may be part of the curriculum.

Assuming you’ve already completed high school or finished your Graduate Records Examination (GRE), the first step towards becoming an I-O psychologist is obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Generally speaking, individuals with dreams of becoming an I-O psychologist can study any subject for their undergraduate—more specific education will be required for your graduate studies.

If you’re set on pursuing a career in I-O psychology, however, getting your undergraduate degree in psychology may:

  • Give you a taste of the field to help you see if it’s the right fit
  • Provide a base of foundational knowledge to build upon in your future studies
  • Help you hone the research and writing skills necessary to complete a master’s or PhD in I-O psychology

After your undergraduate degree, you’ll likely have to pursue further studies before working as an I-O psychologist. At this point, many students will enroll in a master’s degree in organizational psychology (MAOP) program.

These one or two-year programs can teach students the necessary knowledge to help companies and organizations improve their structures and operations. Some examples of key concepts you may learn throughout an MAOP program include:

  • The ethical and legal principles that govern psychological work
  • How to collect, analyze, and distribute data using modern research methods
  • Tactics for fostering non-judgemental and inclusive attitudes towards different cultures and identities

After obtaining an MAOP, many students will use their new degree as a launching pad for further education by pursuing a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology. However, other students may opt to enter the workforce at this point to pursue roles such as:4

  • Human Resources (HR) manager
  • Business development consultant
  • Organizational effectiveness manager

Some may work in such roles before returning to academia to pursue a PhD. Others may choose to work full-time while attending a flexible program. Regardless of which path you take, if you decide to pursue a PhD in industrial and organizational psychology, you’ll likely attend classes focused on:5

  • Change management
  • Organizational design and process improvement
  • Ethics
  • Diversity and inclusion
  • Motivation
  • Innovation and change
  • Business strategy and operations
  • Social and organizational psychology
  • Consulting skills
  • Professional practice sequences 
  • Diagnostic methods for organizational consulting
  • People analytics
  • Advanced statistics
  • Research methods 
  • Talent recruitment assessment

Upon completion of a PhD, I-O psychologists will have achieved the highest level of education for the discipline. At this point, they will be equipped with the essential skills and qualities necessary to seek out work in the field.

Key Skills and Qualities of I-O Psychologists

I-O psychology is a diverse field, and its practitioners are adept in many important skills that can help optimize organizational operations. Some of the most essential abilities that companies and organizations may be looking for in an I-O psychologist include:

  • Analytical skills – I-O psychologists are often called upon to assess consumer satisfaction, gauge the viability of marketing strategies, and establish criteria to judge organizational performance.6 These and other duties often necessitate analyzing large swathes of data and then developing and applying insights to improve different aspects of an organization.
  • Communication abilities – Coaching employees and organizational leaders can be a large part of many I-O psychologists’ jobs.7 Thus, they should be able to simplify and communicate the complex psychological concepts they’ve studied in a way that colleagues can understand and utilize in their work.
  • Ethics – Organizational practices must be fair, inclusive, and legally defensible. Organizations rely on I-O psychologists to help uphold ethics in hiring, training, compensation, promotion, and other related operations. To maintain competency with contemporary ethical guidelines, I-O psychologists follow the American Psychological Association's (APA) latest Ethics Code.8

Learn More

Gaining Practical Experience

Alongside a robust education and a sharply-honed repertoire of critical skills, I-O psychologists can gain practical experience to help broaden their personal and professional horizons. Some key ways to accrue such real-world experience include:

  • Internships and practical training – Upon completing your education in I-O psychology, internships are a viable way to get your foot in the door of the business world and begin building experience. Before you even enter the real world, however, it’s important to consider a degree that melds experiential training into its curriculum to have a more refined idea of how to work in an organizational setting.
  • Research opportunities – As mentioned, many I-O psychologists choose to pursue a PhD in their discipline. PhDs can be highly research-intensive and demanding of students—meaning most candidates are committed to a regimen of study. If continued psychological inquiry piques your curiosity, you may consider enquiring about open research positions at your university or other institutions during the final semesters of your PhD.
  • Networking – As with many other fields, making friends with fellow students while you study (or colleagues while you work) can be a key way to learn about available opportunities and secure new positions. 

Licensing and Certification

Although not every role will require it, some I-O psychologists may consider pursuing licensure or certification for personal ambitions or a specific opportunity. Certification for I-O psychologists is granted by the American Board of Organizational and Business Consulting Psychology (ABOBCP), a member of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).9

To apply for ABOBCP licensure, candidates must already have completed a PhD in I-O psychology.10 The test itself is broken down into two parts: oral and written. Be sure to study these subjects thoroughly, as they’re likely to pop up during the exam:11 

  • Industrial and personnel psychology
  • The psychology of groups, teams, and leadership 
  • Organizational psychology and organizational development
  • Consulting psychology 
  • Occupational health psychology
  • Coaching psychology
  • National security, intelligence, and military psychology 
  • Managerial, leadership, and administrative psychology

Once you obtain ABOBCP licensure, you’ll have reached the peak of education and certification in the field. You’ll be able to prove your competence in a variety of I-O psychology-related subjects and bolster your preeminence amongst your peers.

Career Opportunities and Specializations

I-O psychologists work in a variety of different organizations, including those in:12

  • The private sector 
  • Private practice
  • The public sector 
  • The government
  • The military
  • Education

Furthermore, I-O psychologists can have different roles across these sectors. Some popular specialized positions for I-O psychologists to pursue include:13,14

  • Human Resources (HR) manager
  • Business development consultant
  • Organizational effectiveness manager
  • Leadership development expert
  • Staffing specialist 
  • Management roles
  • Team lead
  • Compensation consulting
  • Workplace safety analyst
  • Diversity and inclusion officer

Your Future as an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist Begins at Alliant

If you want to become an I-O psychologist, Alliant International University can help you take your first step toward entering the field. Alliant offers a flexible master’s in organizational psychology (MAOP) that allows you to complete your degree at your own pace. 

Students with time for two courses per semester can graduate in as little as one year. Alternatively, those seeking to balance their current professional and personal obligations can take up to two years to complete the program.

Similarly, Alliant’s PhD in industrial and organizational psychology offers both hybrid classes in Los Angeles and a fully online program you can take wherever you are. Either will help you learn the exciting skills and competencies you need to break into the field of I-O psychology.

Learn more about Alliant’s programs to take the first step toward a unique and fulfilling career in I-O psychology. 


Sources: 

  1. “Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial. Accessed October 22, 2023. 
  2. “Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial. Accessed October 22, 2023. 
  3. “Industrial and Organizational Psychology Provides Workplace Solutions.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/organizational. Accessed October 22, 2023.
  4. Perry, Christin. “How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.” Forbes, May 17, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/become-an-industrial-organizat…. Accessed October 22, 2023. 
  5. “PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” Alliant International University. https://www.alliant.edu/psychology/organizational-psychology/phd#toc-De…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  6. “Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  7. “Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/industrial. Accessed October 22, 2023. 
  8. “Ethical, Legal, Diversity, and International Issues .” The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, August 28, 2018. https://www.siop.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=1RW9mHQItMQ%3d&porta…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  9. Perry, Christin. “How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.” Forbes, May 17, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/become-an-industrial-organizat…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  10. Perry, Christin. “How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.” Forbes, May 17, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/become-an-industrial-organizat…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  11. “Organizational & Business.” The American Board of Professional Psychology. https://abpp.org/application-information/learn-about-specialty-boards/o…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  12. “Organizational & Business.” The American Board of Professional Psychology. https://abpp.org/application-information/learn-about-specialty-boards/o…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  13. Perry, Christin. “How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.” Forbes, May 17, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/education/become-an-industrial-organizat…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 
  14. “Pursuing a Career in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.” American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/organizational/edu…. Accessed October 23, 2023. 

You might also like

Back to Blog
Learn More
Sohee Jun

Lifting Up the Next Generation of Female Leaders

“I'm of most value and in service when I use my superpowers of understanding the challenges that women face in the workplace.” Dr...

Learn More
couple in therapy

What to Do When a Client Shuts Down in Therapy

If dialogue is the bedrock of quality therapy, what can a therapist do when their client turns reticent or even silent in a...

Learn More
therapist talking to a couple

What is an LMFT? (Licensed Marriage Family Therapist)

Licensed Marriage Family Therapists (LMFTs) offer expert guidance to individuals, couples, and families experiencing complex...

Request Information

  • 1
    Current Select Interests
  • 2
    Provide Information