How Do I Discover My Dream Job in Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology?

Industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists use theories and principles from psychology to scientifically study working populations and improve the effectiveness of organizations. However, for aspiring I-O psychologists, it may not be clear what path to follow to land their dream job. In this post from APA’s Division 14, or the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology’s (SIOP)  Visibility Committee, we point students towards some helpful resources as they start to think about choosing and preparing for a career in I-O!

What jobs can I have as an I-O psychologist?

There are many different (and often ambiguous) job titles held by I-O psychologists who typically work in academia, applied settings (i.e., private industry, consulting firms, or government), or both. They might be professors, research scientists, principle consultants, program leaders, area directors, senior vice presidents, CEOs, and the list goes on! Given the numerous positions an I-O psychologist can take on, it’s often tricky for prospective undergraduates and I-O graduate students to understand what is involved in each type of role. See here for just one example of a typical day in the life of an I-O psychologist working in industry.

Here are some additional useful resources to get you started exploring I-O career paths:

1. Visit the Occupational Information Network (O*NET) to learn more generally about the job of an I-O psychologist, what credentials are needed, potential wages, and growth of the field

2. Investigate more specific I-O career paths and potential job titles on the SIOP website

3. Take a look at current I-O job postings to get a feel for typical job requirements for a given position

4. Watch archived student webinars on this topic featuring current I-O psychologists

5. Visit the American Psychological Association’s “Science in Action” careers page to learn more about I-O and how it’s applied as well as additional resources for students.

How do I get my dream job in I-O psychology?

I-O psychologists tend to have varied life and educational experiences that led them to the field and their particular position. As such, there’s no one right way to prepare for a job in the I-O field, but the more information gathering you can do early on, the better! Below are some tips for how to set yourself up for identifying that dream job and strategies for getting it.

1. Be proactive and talk (honestly) with your advisor about what you want in a career and how you can get there

2. Contact alumni from your program and ask if they would be willing to chat with you about their job

3. Attend academic conferences, like the annual Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology meeting, don’t skip out on networking events, and look for conference sessions targeting students interested in learning more about career options (there’s always a couple!)

4. Don’t miss guest I-O speakers that visit your school and join your local I-O group to connect with professionals in the nearby area

5. Create a good LinkedIn profile where you can connect with individuals in the field and hear about job opportunities

6. Lastly, while it may seem obvious, the most important thing you can do to set yourself up for a future job in I-O is to work hard and build your resume with the skills, experiences, and accomplishments that will make you competitive for the job you really want

Is there anything else I can do? Yes, check out SIOP’s new Conversation Series, starting 7/26!

If you are curious to learn more about what I-O Psychologists really do and how they got their job, SIOP, Division 14 of the American Psychological Association, is launching a live Conversation Series for prospective and current I-Os to meet the minds shaping how we think about work. Join us for a live conference call with Dr. Adam Grant on July 26th at 10:30AM Eastern to kick off the new series. Dr. Grant will be chatting with us (and hopefully you!) about his career path, what he loves about I-O psychology, and some of his recent projects.

For more details and to register for this FREE event, click here.

About the Author

Tori is an assistant professor in the Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Program at Colorado State University. She recently received her doctorate in applied psychology from Portland State University, with a major in industrial-organizational psychology and a minor in occupational health psychology. Prior to that, Tori completed her BA in psychology at Whitworth University. Her research interests include the work-family interface, sleep and fatigue in relation to the workplace, and occupational stress interventions.
Kelly is a Vice President and Market Leader for CMA, an Industrial-Organizational Psychology consulting firm. She received her masters and doctoral degree in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from Saint Louis University. Prior to that, Kelly completed her BA in Psychology from Truman State University. Her consulting and research interests include personnel selection, leadership development and coaching, and workplace culture.
  • Chris Roman

    The problem with the field is that it is very hard to get started in an entry-level capacity. This makes it extremely difficult to break into the field, unless you have a really good network. This is unfortunate as many people who have MBA’s, JD’s, and other degrees are taking these types of jobs simply because they know the right people. You shouldn’t have to go through extensive training just to be at the mercy of your network to get started in your career at entry-level. Other professions, such as computer engineering, do not require this and requires less extensive training (and also pay more). The fact that you have to rely on a network tells you the state of the market in a good economy for the profession. I/O has become like a liberal arts major and that is an issue. Please don’t confuse my observations for negativity. We all as a profession need to see the truth and work together to advance the profession in a meaningful way by first offering realistic requirements for I/O grads looking to break out into the field. The very fact that this article was written tells me that a lot of people have asked “What can I even do with I/O?”

    • Kelly Reed

      Chris, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on this post! We agree that discovering an I/O dream job and making the dream job a reality are two totally different things. The job search process can be challenging, especially when trying to break into a new field. Recent polls conducted by LinkedIn and ABC News suggest that anywhere from 70-85% of jobs today are acquired through networking (with many jobs not publicly posted), and careers in I/O Psychology are no exception. Many employers have formal or informal relationships with I/O graduate programs to source candidates for their I/O internships and entry-level roles without publicly posting the positions. When I/O jobs are publicly posted, advanced degrees in I/O Psychology are usually a minimum requirement rather than a competitive differentiator for applicants, even for entry-level positions. I/Os often have the best luck finding post-graduate careers in industry when they start to build their networks in graduate school before they begin a full-time job search. Tapping into the networks and resources offered by their I/O graduate program (e.g., advisor, faculty, alumni) and SIOP local affiliate chapter while in graduate school can be a good place to start. When evaluating potential graduate programs in I/O Psychology, prospective students may wish to gather information such as: job placement rates for graduates, organizations/universities where alumni currently work, what internships current students have, and what assistance the graduate program and graduate advisors provide for student internship and job searches. There is a wide array of opportunities available to I/Os, though the process of making the dream job a reality can be a job unto itself.