Industrial and Organizational Psychology is often shortened to just I-O Psychology. It is one of 15 psychological specialties that is recognized by the American Psychological Association (2017).

While in the United States we know the field as I-O Psychology, the rest of the world calls it differently. For example, in the United Kingdom it is known as Occupational Psychology and is one of nine protected titles within the practitioner psychology profession (Health Care Professions Council, 2017). In Australia it is called Organisational Psychology and it is one of nine psychological specialist areas (Psychology Board of Australia, 2017). And in Europe is called Work and Organizational Psychology being one of four areas of practice (EuroPsy, 2017).

When people think of psychology they most likely think of clinical psychology – mental health professionals who provide treatment to individuals and families. They think of psychopathology and emotional, social, and behavioral maladjustment. I-O psychology is not this. I-O Psychologists do NOT practice clinical psychology in a work setting. They are not qualified nor are they licensed to do so. In fact, clinical psychology is only a small part of the field of psychology. Granted the overall number of clinical and counseling psychologists is large and most psychologists do practice this type of psychology. However, if you consider subject areas and topics, clinical psychology is only one, and the field is much broader.

Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology is both the study of behavior in organizational and work settings and the application of the methods, facts, and principles of psychology to individuals and groups in organizational and work settings. I/O psychologists are versatile behavioral scientists specializing in human behavior in the workplace. (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 2017).

I-O Psychology is based on something called the scientist-practitioner model. The science side deals with the how and why things work. It deals with theories and psychological underpinnings of behavior in organizations. The practitioner side on the other hand, applies scientific findings to problems encountered in organizations. The practitioner is much less concerned with the how and the why. He or she is more concerned with data-driven solutions and concerned with the successful application of the knowledge gained through science. The practitioner after all, answers to employers who are paying them to fix a problem. The “why” something works is much less in important than the results.

As the name implies, Industrial-Organizational, there are two sides of the field. There is the industrial side and the organizational side. The industrial side has it history in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It grew out of industrial engineering and the application of psychology to solve real world problems, such as the selection of trolley car operators and how to assess military recruits during World War I. In contrast, the organizational side started just slightly later with the recognition of the human, social, and organizational aspects of work. For example, early research explored how informal work groups and social norms can affect work production.

Being such a small and specialized field would naturally lead one to think that I-O Psychology is narrow. Instead the field is actually quite broad. This is because just about anything can be studied in a work or organizational setting. Thus, most I-O Psychologist often focus on more narrow subfields. The table below shows some areas that I-O Psychologists are often involved with. Note that this is not a complete list and that the line between the I-side and the O-side of the field can be blurry.

Industrial Psychology Organizational Psychology

Competency Analysis
Human-Machine Interaction
Human Factors/Ergometrics
Employee Selection
Employment Law
Job Analysis
Performance Appraisal
Statistics and Psychometrics
Surveys and Research Methods
Training and Development
Utility Analysis
Work Design

Cross Cultural Issues
Job Satisfaction
Occupational Health and Well-Being
Occupational Stress
Organizational Culture
Organizational Development
Organizational Justice
Organizational Politics
Sexual Harassment
Teamwork and Groups
Workplace Bullying, Aggression, and Violence

Rather than focusing on somewhat abstract fields, let’s consider some questions and problems that I-O Psychologists might face.

Has employee job satisfaction changed over the past year?
Who are the best candidates to hire for a job?
What motivates my employees?
Are employees stressed out?
Which employees are most likely to quit?
What is the best leadership style in this situation?
What is the return on investment for a human resource practice?
How does shift work and lack of sleep affect employee performance?
What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to successfully perform a job?
How much money do we need to pay to attract qualified candidates?
Are the controls on this dashboard user friendly?
How can management work together better?

There can be a lot of overlap between other fields and I-O Psychology. For example, I-O Psychologists, economists, and geriatric researchers all study retirement. I-O Psychologists and human resource specialists are both concerned with employee selection. I-O Psychologists and organizational development specialists are interested in informal social networks found in organizations. I-O Psychologists and management researchers are involved with leadership. And I-O Psychologists and training and development specialists are both concerned with the evaluation of training programs.

What sets I-O Psychology apartment for most of these other fields is its emphasis on the scientific-practitioner model. The field of I-O Psychology is not only concerned with the practical application of knowledge, but it is intently focused on scientific inquiry. The field stresses scientific theory, methodological rigor, and sophisticated statistical analyses. Other fields often do not place such a heavy emphasis on these concerns. I-O Psychology, though, has been and continues to be criticized for placing too much attention on the technical minutiae at the expense of more practical concerns (Ones, Kaiser, Chamorro-Premuzic, Svensson, 2017).

If I-O Psychology doesn’t sound too bad right now there is a downside. Fortune columnist and bestselling author Stanley Bing considers I-O Psychology to be one of the “50 Bullsh*t Jobs” (Bing, 2007).

Myself, being an I-O Psychologist, I don’t put any credence in what Bing writes. I don’t “turn perfectly serviceable workers into drooling zombies.” Quite the opposite. I became I-O psychologists to make a difference and perhaps prevent some work situations that I personally experienced (and unfortunately continue to experience). I sincerely try to do what is best for workers and organizations together (or at least not make things worse for either group). However, I am actively fighting becoming Bing’s stereotypical I-O Psychologist, which is “a skinny, tweedy old fart with hair everywhere but on your head.” I fear that this might be a losing battle and be more accurate than not.

In response to the concerns about I-O Psychology being in league with management to exploit workers the field has responded. There has been recent attention placed on something called humanitarian work psychology. This doesn’t deal with providing aid to earthquake victims. Instead it aims to use the resources, knowledge, and skills of I-O Psychologists in socially responsible ways promoting social justice, self-determination, respect for diversity, and the empowerment of marginalized groups (Global Organization for Humanitarian Work Psychology, 2017). Work is a huge part of everyone’s life. We can’t survive without it. I-O Psychology should not just endeavor to enrich the lives of the owners or shareholders. I-O Psychology should work to improve the lives of all simply because it is the right thing to do.

Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology

Undoubtedly the most important organization for the field is the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology or SIOP as everyone calls it. SIOP’s mission is to “to enhance human well-being and performance in organizational and work settings by promoting the science, practice, and teaching of industrial-organizational psychology” (SIOP, 2017b).

SIOP is a member division of the American Psychological Association (APA, 2017) and it is an affiliate organization of the Association for Psychological Science. Even though it has these two important relationships, it is an independent organization with its own governance.

SIOP officially came about when it incorporated as the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Inc. a Division of the American Psychological Association. However, its roots and predecessor organizations go back further to the 1920s.

SIOP does a lot of things, but one of the most important is holding the Annual Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. This conference began in 1982. It is a great place to meet and mingle with other I-O Psychologists. Also, given that the timeline for scholarly publishing can be quite long you can learn about cutting edge research as researchers tend to first present at a conference and then later craft and prepare an article for publication. The conference also has plenty of educational and training sessions available. The conference is generally held in the middle to end of April.

SIOP publishes two journals and books that are of interest to I-O Psychologists. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, or TIP as it is almost always called, is another great place to start learning about the field. TIP provides news, reports, and information related to the practice, science, and teaching of I-O Psychology. It is the chief venue for communication with SIOP members and nearly all SIOP members read it quarterly. It generally does not include technical or statistical information so it is very accessible to those who are interested in entering the field and do not have graduate education.

The second journal SIOP publishes is Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice This journal contains interactive exchanges on important I-O topics. The journal first has a focal article that presents new ideas or different takes on existing ideas that stimulate discussion. The focal article is then followed by a number of comment articles that debating the focal article’s position.

In terms of books, SIOP published a number of books and book series. These range from highly technical cutting edge research for the academic community to professional practice books that are oriented HR professionals and managers who are interested in applying I-O knowledge to their work.

Finally, SIOP regularly surveys it members about their earnings and benefits. Then they publish the information in a salary survey. Farther below the findings of the latest salary survey is presented.

Educational Requirements

To work in the field of I-O Psychology you will need to go to graduate school. You will need to obtain a Master’s degree or a Doctorate degree.

The field of I-O Psychology follows a scientist-practitioner model of education. This dual emphasis on theory and practice is required regardless if the program is focused on students who will be academic researchers or applied practitioners.

Generally, Master's-level students will have a narrower breadth and shallower depth of training compared to doctoral students. The reason for this is because of the simple fact that fewer credit hours are required for the master's degree. For example, Master's students are expected to acquire basic-level competencies, but be exposed to higher-level concepts. Thus, a doctoral student may take several courses in statistical analysis and the Master's student may have just one or two courses.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) is the main professional association for I-O Psychologists. The SIOP Guidelines for Education and Training in Industrial and Organizational Psychology describe 26 competencies that should be included in I-O graduate programs (SIOP, 2017a).

The competencies are organized into three groups. The first six competencies reflect the general knowledge and skills required by I-O Psychologists. The second group consists of 18 competencies reflecting the core content of the field of I-O psychology. The third group has two additional competencies related to the field and may be included or excluded for specific I-O programs.

General Knowledge and Skills
1. Ethical, Legal, Diversity, and International Issues
2. Fields of Psychology
3. History and Systems of Psychology
4. Professional Skills (Communication, Consulting, and Project Management)
5. Research Methods
6. Statistical Methods and Data Analysis
Core Content
7. Attitude Theory, Measurement, and Change
8. Career Development
9. Criterion Theory and Development
10. Groups and Teams
11. Human Performance
12. Individual Assessment
13. Individual Differences
14. Job Evaluation and Compensation
15. Job Analysis, Competency Modeling, and Classification
16. Judgment and Decision-Making
17. Leadership and Management
18. Occupational Health and Safety
19. Organizational Development
20. Organizational Theory
21. Performance Appraisal/Management
22. Personnel Recruitment, Selection, and Placement
23. Training
24. Work Motivation
Related Areas of Competence
25. Consumer Behavior
26. Human Factors


There isn’t a single career path for I-O Psychologists. The number of possible careers for an I-O Psychologist is quite large. This is because the rigorous research methods and statistical approaches that are used in I-O opens the door to variety of financially and intrinsically rewarding job opportunities.

At the most basic level there are two directions an I-O Psychologist can head – an academic/research career or an applied/practitioner career. These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, the line between the two can be fuzzy at times, and people can move between both and work in both at the same time. For example, researchers often work as organizational consultants providing advice and guidance to companies and practitioners often work as adjunct professors teaching classes.

Academic or research oriented I-O Psychologists tend to work in a university or educational setting. Here they not only teach classes, but they perform research and serve on university committees. Academic I-O Psychologists are not just limited to working within a psychology department. About half of the academic I-O Psychologists work in business or management departments.

Research oriented I-O Psychologists do not have to work at university and college. They can also work for governmental and non-profit research institutes. Here the work is varied. Some positions are quite similar to applied practitioners who provide consulting services. However, other jobs do actual research on many different organizational and psychological topics.

Applied practitioners can work in a lot of different settings. They can be an in-house employee most often working in an organization’s human resource department. However, they can also be found in other areas, such as organizational development, training and development, or market research. Furthermore, in-house I-O Psychologists can work in any industry imaginable, anywhere from healthcare to manufacturing to banking. They could also work within government doing much the same thing that they do in private industry.

Another common work setting for applied practitioners is within a consulting organization. Here they consult with companies on many different topics and issues. For example, a consultant could work with a company to analyze the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for successful job performance and then develop a selection test to hire employees. They could conduct an organizational climate survey. Or they could advise on methods and approaches to reduce employee burnout and turnover.

As they advance in their career many I-O Psychologists take jobs as supervisors, managers, or executives. In the academic world they could enter administration becoming a program chair, department chair, dean, etc. In these positions, their work is much less I-O related and they focus more on the managerial concerns of planning, organizing, commanding, coordinating, and controlling.

Remember that a career in management isn’t for everyone. Too often individuals are either lured or pushed in to supervisory or managerial positions as they gain experience and knowledge. However, their skills and interests might be better applied in a different manner. Supervisory and managerial work is tough. It takes a person with the interest, skills, and personality to successfully perform in these positions. The wrong person can have a large impact not only on an organization’s bottom line, but on the emotional well-being of workers. Furthermore, work-family spillover research shows that it can even effect those outside of work.

One more career path that warrants discussion is self-employment. Self-employed I-O Psychologists can be a single individual providing consulting services to organizations. Or they can be entrepreneurs starting I-O related business, such as test development organizations that end up hire many other I-O Psychologists. In this career path the opportunities and rewards can be vast. However, as characteristic of most entrepreneurial endeavors the risks can be great as well.

While the total number of I-O Psychologists is restively small compared to other occupations, the field is expected to grow substantially over the next 10 years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field will grow “much faster than average” increasing the number of jobs by more than 40% (O*Net, 2017) over the next 10 years and it has been recognized by many organizations as a hot career field.

To see the types of jobs available to I-O Psychologists you can go to the SIOP job website.


SIOP regularly surveys its membership. This is a great benefit because not only does it help understand salary trends over time, it empowers members in their own salary negotiations. And it can also help inform potential I-O psychologists if the cost and time of graduate school is balanced out by the potential reward in salary. The last survey was conducted in 2015 with the final report released in 2016 and can be found here (SIOP, 2017c). 

The bottom line upfront. Overall, I-O Psychologists are paid well as shown in the historical pay table below. Salary does, however, depend on a number of factors. The most important being the level of education. There is a substantial difference in pay for Ph.D. and Master’s degrees. In 2015 the median salary for doctorate I-O Psychologists was $118,818 and at the Master’s level $84,500.

Year Doctorate Master’s
1982 $42,850 $43,000
1988 $60,000 $51,000
1994 $71,000 $59,000
1997 $80,000 $55,000
1999 $83,000 $58,000
2000 $90,000 $67,000
2002 $83,750 $60,000
2003 $87,714 $65,000
2005 $92,000 $68,000
2006 $98,500 $72,000
2008 $102,000 $72,000
2009 $105,000 $74,500
2011 $110,000 $75,000
2012 $113,200 $80,750
2014 $112,000 $76,650
2015 $118,818 $84,500

Unfortunately, like in nearly professions there is a salary gender gap with women typically earning 89.7% of what men earn (SIOP, 2017c). This is better than the pay gap reported by the Bureau of Labor statistics which is at 82.5% (BLS, 2014). The BLS does report that the pay gap varies by occupation, however. Interestingly, though, more professional occupations like legal, management, and finance tend to have wider pay gaps. In fact, in legal occupations women only earn 56.7% of what men earn. I-O Psychology then appears to do fairly well in terms of pay differences, but there clearly is still a gap that can be closed.

Age and years of experience both have a large impact on salary. For example, the median salary for those individuals under 35 years of age with a doctorate was $90,000 while individuals with over 55 with a doctorate was $150,000.

The type of industry one works in is another factor that greatly influence the salary that one makes. The median salary for self-employed (doctorate) consultants was $200,000 while at the other end not-for-profit consultants and researchers only had a median salary of $100,000. Those working in a university setting (most likely) professors had a median salary of $103,000. Federal government employed I-O Psychologists had a median salary of $119,000 and I-O Psychologists employed in manufacturing industry had a median salary of $140,000. Therefore, where you choose to work can have a big impact on your ultimate salary.

There are special considerations for academic I-O Psychologists who work in a university setting. First years of experience tied to your academic rank has a large impact on pay just as it would anywhere else. However, there is one additional consideration for I-O Psychologists and that is the department you work in. I-O Psychologists are equally likely to work in a psychology department or a business/management department, but there are big pay differences. The median income for full professors in a psychology department was $109,428. Those in business/management departments earn a lot more with the median salary for a full professor being $162,683.

Finally, it is important to note that I-O Psychologists can earn supplemental income in various ways. For example, it is common for practitioners to teach college courses as an adjunct (part-time) instructor. However, it is even more common for academics to supplement their income in a variety of ways. First they can perform outside consulting, they can write books, they can get paid for lectures, they can obtain research grants, and finally, they can teach additional (overload) courses for which universities will pay them beyond the salary.

All in all, you can earn a decent living being an I-O Psychologist.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 19% job growth between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than average. While I-O Psychology is a relatively small niche occupation there should be plenty of job openings. Also, I-O Psychology is one of those fields where you don’t necessarily have to do “pure” I-O work. With its emphasis on human behavior, management, work, research, and statistics I-O Psychologists can be employed in a variety of occupations and work settings.


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