Career Preparations in Industrial and Organizational Psychology

Industrial and Organizational Psychology or I/O is a varied field of study filled with many career opportunities.

Because of the varied fields in which I/O psychology may be applied, the educational level necessary to obtain a job in this field also varies. Things have changed drastically in the last decade concerning the educational level required to perform specific duties in any given specialty of the field. Depending on which path you take you may or may not need to go to the highest degree level, in fact you may already have the background required to enter a job related to I/O.

Do you need a graduate degree for I/O?

While jobs still remain in this field that requires only an undergraduate degree, most have moved to higher expectations. It is possible to find entry level positions that seek individuals at the undergraduate level, however, if you want to move into a specialized, higher earning area, then you will, at some point, have to seek an advanced degree. If you desire to be an I/O "psychologist" then you must earn a master's degree and, in some cases, even a PhD in the field.

However, if you are not sure what specialty you desire or would like to learn more about the field while getting "hands-on" experience before making the huge commitment to graduate studies there are some options. It is possible to "scope out" the field by taking a position closely related to it and in this manner discover if I/O psychology is something you would like to pursue further. There are also many companies who will provide tuition reimbursement to those seeking to advance their studies. These are fantastic opportunities as they allow you to work within the area of interest while earning your degree part-time. After your degree is earned it is likely that you will be offered a position in I/O within the company you have been working for.

Some possibilities for undergraduates include retail management, human resource management, organizational development, industrial relations, ergonomics, personnel analysis, and marketing research. Generally speaking a master's degree will provide more I/O opportunities upon graduation then will a bachelor's degree.

Best undergraduate degree for I/O

The best bachelor's degree to have before pursuing a master's degree in I/O would be Psychology, of course! However, Psychology is not the only game in town, those with undergraduate degrees in English, Communication, Business, Computer Science, and even Education are all possibilities. Certainly it will be slightly more difficult for those who did not earn their undergraduate degree in psychology to move to the graduate level of study in psychology, however, with a strong inclination and a little hard work they can do just as well at the master's level as their psychology degreed counterparts. If you are now, or will soon be, a student earning your undergraduate degree it is highly suggested that you either switch your major to psychology or at the very least take several elective courses in that major if you have decided that I/O is the field you want to enter.
Preparing for graduate studies
Many students find that the leap from high school to college is quite a bit harder than expected, similarly, so is the shift from undergraduate to graduate student. While in some aspects things may be easier as you are focusing on your particular filed of interest, the work load is much heavier and much more difficult. The expectations of what you are able to produce in the form of papers and research on your own are much higher.

You can expect a master's degree in Organizational Psychology to take two to three full years if attending school full-time, three to five if you are attending part-time. If you have not learned how to organize yourself efficiently and have found this to be a problem for you during your B.A. or B.S. studies you should take a course on proper organizational techniques before beginning your studies. By all means speak with those who are already enrolled in graduate studies for I/O at your college of choice and get a good understanding from the school staff of what will be expected of you during the application process.

Just as you did for your bachelor's degree, you will want to research various universities and colleges to find the curriculum that best suits your current needs and future goals. As most spots in excellent I/O programs are limited you must be sure to keep your GPA as high as possible and prepare well for your Graduate Record Exam. To get into the best programs a GPA of 3.5 or higher for your junior and senior years is required. Graduate schools do not take freshman and sophomore GPA scores into consideration, so if you slacked in your first two years, there is still hope for you to reach your goals of attending a good to excellent I/O program!

There are many fine courses available for GRE test preparation and you should begin looking into them by your junior year of college. Consult your student advisor to get the best information for you in regard to the best universities for your needs.

Below is a checklist for I/O graduate school preparation and application
  • Great to excellent Junior and Senior GPA, 3.5 and above is ideal.
  • GRE score of 1030 or better.
  • Very good to excellent Math Skills and grades.
  • Proficiency with Computer Technology.
  • Letters of recommendation from at least three professors at your current school.
  • Excellent organizational skills.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.


If you desire a high earning position in Industrial and Organizational Psychology then you must earn a master's degree in the field. Whether or not to pursue a PhD is a choice you will have to make as you advance in your educational or working career. PhDs on the whole earn more money; however, jobs for such highly educated individuals are fewer and more competitive. If you plan on entering the field of academic research then a PhD would be your best choice; for the private sector, however, a master's will serve you quite well.

Be sure to prepare well for your graduate studies well before you take that step. Preparation should come in the form of keeping your GPA as high as possible and by earning a score of at least a 1030 on your GREs. It would also aid you considerably to take a course or read several books on organizing yourself and maintaining your schedule to increase your chances of making it through graduate school successfully.
Specializations in Organizational Psychology

The exciting part about a career in I/O Psychology is the varied specializations one may pursue. If you enjoy working with people then training, coaching, and leadership selection may be the right choices for you. If you prefer to work on the statistical end or to work more independently, then psychometrics, employment law, and organizational design are all good choices. In this lesson we will be covering the most popular specializations within the field of I/O and what each entails. At the master's level of your education it would be wise to take as many courses as possible that are related to your desired specialization. However, once you have earned your degree you may decide to venture into more than one area of interest. The beauty of this field is being able to explore multiple options within the field. Most importantly, keep your mind and your options open, and go with your own personal strengths as you learn more about specializing in the following varied areas of I/O.

Learn It

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Organizational Psychology course?


Psychometricians who work in the field of Industrial and Organizational Psychology are primarily concerned with the administration of various tests to evaluate employees' aptitudes for specific jobs and their personality traits as they relate to their jobs. Psychometricians are also called upon to evaluate a candidate's ability to advance to management positions. While many are employed as Human Resource specialists others act as consultants for various organizations and provide onsite advice, testing, administration, and evaluation as needed. There are very few universities that offer a PhD in Psychometrics at this writing, thus the competition for spots in programs are very high. All I/O psychologists, at some point, will have studied psychometrics and many will employ the use of this type of testing in their careers. However, a concentration in this area would require a high aptitude for mathematics and statistics.

Employment Law

The I/O psychologists who focus their careers on employment lawmost commonly work in the human resource department of an organization. Psychologists in this field are concerned with the legal issues inside a company or organization such as: being sure the company that they work for is abiding by wage and hour laws, enforcing and setting practices and policy, implementing or improving family and medical leaves, preventing discrimination, investigating possible discriminatory practices and complaints, handling firing and hiring, and consulting with the legal department, or retaining an outside attorney when necessary.

The main responsibility of an I/O psychologist who specializes in employment law is to avoid legal problems within an organization by implementing the proper policies and practices and intervening and settling disputes when required. They must stay current on new governmental and legal policies that effect employers and employees and suggest changes in policy when necessary.


Employee training and development is a very rewarding specialization within the I/O field. The I/O psychologists in this area are directly involved with planning the supplemental, or introductory organization, or job specific education of all types of employees from all positions and at all levels. They are also responsible for evaluating employees periodically to establish what the needs of the organization are with regard to training and with measuring the success of current training programs.

Training specialists usually implement a variety of programs to meet the needs of busy workers some of which include: distance learning, eLearning, CBTs (computer based CD ROM training), technology and software classes held off-site or on-site by training companies, enrollment in management courses, and traditional college or university classes.

Training specialists will often utilize companywide surveys to find out where the training is needed within the organization. They may also administer psychometric testing or hire a psychometric consultant to apply tests to employees to find areas that need improvement.
The I/O psychologists employed as training specialists need to be very comfortable working with people. They must understand the importance of proper training for new hires and continual learning for current employees as well as how these practices increase productivity and job satisfaction as a whole.

Leadership Selection

Increasingly, organizations are turning to I/O psychologists to handle the evaluation of potential leaders. Whether advancing from within or selecting a candidate to fill an upper management position, I/O psychologists use a variety of tools for finding the right person for the job. Cognitive, personality, and skills tests are often administered along with extensive personal interviewing and executive simulations. It is vital that the leadership selector take into account not only the needs of the organization and their board of directors but also those of the candidate.

Recently there has been a trend of identifying potential leaders from the current employee pool by using close observations, by using surveys, and applying psychometric devices. In this manner the I/O psychologist may develop the executive resources from within, which has been shown to lead to later organizational success. Often those who are seen as good leaders will be groomed for a future executive position.

Coaching and Development

Coaching and development is nothing new in the business world. In the past it has been called grooming or pre-management identification. Now, I/O psychologists take the role of developing potential and current executives and coaching them on various business practices and leadership qualities. Coaches take the role of mentor by providing guidance, support, and feedback to executives and potential executives.

Many times a candidate, either found within the company or recruited from the outside, may have numerous qualities that will make them well suited to executive level positions, however, they may be lacking in certain areas which need improvement. This is where coaching and development comes in. Many companies are realizing the power of this process, just as professional athletes have realized it for years. The aid of an objective coach can help people reach their highest goals and make the most of their innate talents.

This area of I/O offers great opportunities in freelance consulting positions which allows for flexibility and a varied clientele list. If you enjoy working with people, like making your own schedule, and have a flair for motivating others to meet their potential, then coaching and development may be the specialization for you.

Organizational Design

Organizational design, or OD, is a fascinating, exciting, and a very large area of I/O psychology. It is often touted as the O in I/O. This OD is a process of many steps that helps organizations to integrate their employees, information, and technology into a smoothly functioning whole. This process has been shown to improve the chances of success for any company or organization.

This OD may be implemented upon the establishment of a new business or after a company has been in business for some time. As with coaching and development, organizational design is often a consulting position where the designer acts as an outside facilitator to aid in the guided change of a new or existing company. The consultant helps build a design plan and then implements it to insure that executives, managers, and employees stay on track.

Since many who specialize in this particular branch of I/O, act as consultants to multiple organizations they are able to gather experience about what methods of design work best for specific companies and what they do over time. An experienced organizational designer is considered to be a very valuable asset to corporations both large and small as these services save companies thousands, if not millions of dollars over the long term.


This lesson outlines only some of the many specializations that an I/O psychologist can become involved in. As was mentioned previously, it is feasible to start in one area and to change or expand into others. Many I/O psychologists wear different hats and perform multiple duties within their field. For instance, a leadership selection specialist may also serve as a coaching and development consultant and vice versa.

Whichever area you choose to focus on it is wise to take as many courses as you can during your graduate studies that will provide information on your desired area of specialization. Learn as much as you can about the different areas and what they will entail over the long haul.
If you prefer working with people then training, coaching, and leadership selection may be good choices for you. For those who like being behind the scenes and enjoy the Organization part of I/O, psychometrics, employment law, and organizational design are all good choices to consider. Remember to go with your strengths, which is the way to ensure your success in the field of I/O.