A day in the Life of an Industrial Organizational Psychologist

On my annual family camping trip, I was out on the lake fishing with two of my brothers. We were making small talk as we were getting our lines ready to throw in the water.

“How’s work?”
“Good. Busy.”
“You? How’s work?”
“Same, busy.”

Then my brother asked a question that seemed almost comical, “Amanda, what do you do, anyway?” My other brother piped in curiously, “Yeah, what do you do??” The question came after I had been in my current position for a couple years, and I had been working as an I/O Psychology practitioner my whole career. Yet, neither of my brothers knew what I did every day. Work in I/O Psychology is gaining popularity, but it isn’t an easily recognized career like a doctor, lawyer, or police officer. There are a wide variety of potential careers that someone with an education in I/O Psychology could work in, such as working on selection or hiring systems, performance evaluations, training and development, data analytics, and many other areas. Most I/O Psychology work is going to coincide with the Human Resources function. In my job, I work in talent management and organizational development. I work with leaders at my organization to identify up and coming talent and then determine the development they need to progress in their careers. I also help with organization-wide initiatives to increase our effectiveness while pursuing our strategic objectives. Examples of these initiatives include: succession planning, leadership development programs, change management, and organizational structuring. Much like other careers, there is not a “typical day” as an I/O Practitioner. However, there are several activities that take place regularly.


The work done by an I/O practitioner is not possible without the input from others. Since I/O Psychology is the study of jobs and the people in those jobs, it is important to tap into those resources. In order to work as and I/O Practitioner, you have to be willing and able to build relationships with people at all levels of the organization. You cannot do your job without connecting with and learning from others.

Much of your day is spent emailing, talking on the phone, and meeting with subject matter experts in person. These meetings will range from meeting with front line workers to meeting with executives; and can discuss everything from specific skill needs to the strategic direction of the company. Your role in meetings will also vary. You may need to gather information, so you will primarily ask questions and listen, or you may be facilitating or presenting at the meeting. For this reason, I/O Practitioners need to be comfortable speaking in public to groups of various sizes.

Project Work or Maintenance:

The information you learn from communicating with key subject matter experts is used to inform your work. Much of your day is spent working on projects, or maintaining ongoing initiatives. What you do in I/O Psychology will determine what you spend your time doing. For example, if you work in selection you might study a specific job to identify the skills a new hire needs coming into the role to be used in the job description. If you work in training and development, you might create and deliver training for skills employees need to learn to perform their job. A project I have been working on is to launch a training program for the managers of our front line staff. In order to complete this project, I created a training plan with the topics and timeline based on a training needs assessment conducted with the stakeholders, defined metrics to measure results, followed a high touch communication plan throughout the implementation, and developed and delivered various training courses. Following a set amount of time, I will report on the results of the training program using the defined metrics as a measure of training impact.

Keeping abreast of Research:

In order to stay current and incorporate effective practices, it is important to keep an eye on new research. These findings allow you to make research-driven decisions when it comes to the systems and processes that are put in place at your organization. It is important to regularly read up on new studies and use this information to drive your decisions. When I am faced with a new organizational problem to solve, the first thing I do is read up on all the research I can find on the topic. I use what I learn to guide the information gathering conversations I have with subject matter experts and to inform decision making. Working as a practitioner is a balance between following what is learned in research and what is practical and possible in an applied setting.

Still hoping to get a break down of a typical day?

Here’s an example of my day today:

8:00 – 8:30: Get into work, touch base with coworkers, and review task list for the day
8:30 – 9:00: Check and respond to email. Incorporate necessary tasks into to-do list and adjust plan for the day.
9:00 – 10:00: Conduct webinar training for managers in the field.
10:00 – 11:30: Analyze and review data from manager training program. Communicate with points of contact on program status, identifying successes and areas of concern.
11:30 – 12:30: Check and respond to email.
12:30 – 1:30: Lunch
1:30 – 2:00: Meet with leader to discuss training needs of his emerging leaders.
2:00 – 3:00: Plan for content of new leader orientation event.
3:00 – 3:30: Meet with vendor over the phone to discuss new contract.
3:30 – 4:30: Research potential leadership development initiatives geared towards emerging leaders.
4:30 – 5:00: Check and respond to email.
5:00 – 5:30: Touch base with boss. Ask questions, get direction, and give updates.
5:30 – 5:45: Create task list for next day.

Fishing with my brothers didn’t result in catching too many fish that night, but it did result in my brothers learning a little bit more what I do at work every day. I hope that this post gave you a little extra insight into the work of an I/O Practitioner. Working in I/O Psychology is a rewarding career option that gives you a unique opportunity to impact people lives where they spend a lot of their time: at work.

About the Author

Amanda Woller works as the Director of Talent and Organizational Development for entities affiliated with Community Health Systems. Community Health Systems is one of the nation’s leading operators of general acute care hospitals (www.chs.net). She is responsible for succession planning, leadership development, and coordinating training across the organization. Amanda holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Middle Tennessee State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Society of Human Resources Management – Certified Professional (SHRM – CP).

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