What is industrial/organizational I/O psychology?

I/O psychology is one of the major applied branches of the psychology field. It is concerned with people's attitudes, behavior, cognitions, emotions, and personality at work. I/O psychologists are involved in both research on employees and application of psychological principles from that research to the workplace. About two thirds of I/O psychologists work in applied settings applying psychological findings and principles to problems of the workplace. The other third are professors who teach and conduct research.

What does it take to become an I/O psychologist?

This varies somewhat from country to country. In the U.S. you must have a graduate degree in the field (master's or Ph.D.) to be an I/O psychologist. To be a professor generally requires the Ph.D., but for applied work an MA is often sufficient. However, salaries and career opportunities are far better with the Ph.D., and most American I/O psychologists have this degree. In some countries (e.g., Holland), the MA is the applied degree whereas the Ph.D. is for those who teach and do research.

How can I find out more about the field?

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is a good place to start. Their website is at You might also read a college textbook on the topic. There are many available, in addition to the one I've written myself. You should be able to find one in a college or university library. Many universities offer an I/O course, and if they don't you might be able to take one by correspondence (see my document Pursuing An I/O Career for more information.)

What is SIOP?

SIOP is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. It is the I/O division of the American Psychological Association. About a third of members are professors and the remaining members work in various applied and research settings. Although most members are American, psychologists from many countries have also joined. The association maintains a website that contains valuable information for both I/O psychologists, students, and others interested in the field. It has a directory of members, links to many of the U.S. graduate program websites, information about most of those programs, links to I/O resources, the program for the most recent convention, the entire text of The Industrial/Organizational Psychologist, or TIP, the association publication, job listings, and some miscellaneous documents, such as the SIOP salary survey.

What are salaries for I/O psychologists like?

I/O salaries vary widely according to the type of job and organization. The most recent U. S. survey, conducted by Burnfield and Medsker (1999) notes that in 1997 the median salary for SIOP members was $80,000. Professors made about $70,000 on average, whereas salaries in the private sector (corporations and consulting firms) was $100,000. Starting salaries in 1998 averaged $55,000 for new Ph.D.s and $38,750 for new Master's degree recipients. Top salaries ranged from $250,000 to several $million for the upper 5% of I/O psychologists, most of whom owned their own companies.

What are I/O jobs like?

There are many different jobs/settings in which we find I/O psychologists, giving us wide latitude to pursue interesting work. As noted, many I/O psychologists are professors who conduct research and teach. The majority work for private companies and consulting firms that are hired by private companies. In the U.S. the most common tasks done in these applied settings include development of tests and systems to select new employees (decide who to hire), designing training programs for employees, designing systems to assess employee job performance, analyzing the tasks involved in jobs and the attributes people need to do them, and conducting surveys of employee attitudes about their jobs. I/O psychologists often get involved in issues of civil rights for minorities and the disabled, as they devise methods to combat discrimination in hiring. There are many other settings and tasks, however, and you can find I/O psychologists working for government at all levels, as well as the military.

Which graduate programs should I consider; which are the best?

As of this writing there are about 100 I/O graduate programs in the U.S., about 60 Ph.D., and 40 MA only. Most industrialized countries also have programs, as their number has been expanding rapidly throughout the world. It is tough to say which programs are best. U.S. News listed their top ten in terms of reputation, but this is not an indication of educational quality. There are advantages to going to one of the established top programs, but a fine education can be had at many programs that are not on anyone's top ten list. (See my document Pursuing An I/O Career for more advice about selecting a program.)

What is the I/O job market like; will it be tough to find a job?

The I/O job market has traditionally been strong, and as of this writing it is perhaps the best it has ever been in both the academic and applied areas. In the academic realm, many universities have been starting or expanding their graduate programs, and an academic job can be found for individuals with reasonably strong records (for a new Ph.D. this means a few publications and some teaching experience). In the applied area jobs are plentiful, and I've heard complaints from employers that it is hard to find good people. However, there can be spot shortages in applied jobs, especially in places that have I/O programs turning out people who compete with one another. Also, applied jobs are found mainly in large cities, so it can be difficult to have an I/O career in a small town (an exception is an academic job in a college town). Layoffs do sometimes occur, but I've heard of no one leaving the field because he or she was unable to find an I/O job, and those I've seen lose jobs typically find new ones rapidly. The future for the field looks bright, although during economic slowdowns jobs become more difficult to find. It does not seem that the existing programs will turn out too many I/O psychologists, so the job market should remain good in the foreseeable future.

Copyright Paul E. Spector, all rights reserved, Last modified January 24, 2001.