Expert Contributor

Dr. Andrea Gould
Dr. Andrea Gould

Dr. Andrea Gould is a board certified psychologist, seminar leader and community organizer. She maintains a public practice as President of Lucid Learning Systems, LLC and a private practice geared toward the management of personal change and transition along the lifespan. Dr. Gould was trained in clinical and community psychology at New York’s Hofstra University, where she received her doctorate.

Industrial psychology, or organizational psychology as it is sometimes called, is a branch of psychology that studies and applies psychological theories to workplace environments, organizations and employees. Professionals in the field focus on increasing workplace productivity by improving the physical and mental health of employees. Workplace settings of every size and industry can benefit from the assistance of an industrial psychologist. By studying employee’s attitudes and behaviors in the context of their companies, these professionals are able to identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes through new products, procedures and leadership training.

In addition to a wide variety of entry-level and advanced positions in consulting firms, government agencies and academic institutions, human resource departments in public and private sectors also offer many opportunities. Job titles and levels of responsibility vary depending on levels of education and experience.

Psychology is an expansive professional scientific field focusing on the study of human behavior. Psychologists and mental health professionals work in a number of specialty areas, including the following:

Starting an Industrial Psychology Career

According to Projections Central, employment of industrial psychologists is expected to grow by roughly 21 percent by 2016 as companies seek to improve retention rates and diversity. Although many industrial psychologists earn general psychology degrees, increasing demand in the field has pushed colleges to begin offering master’s degrees in industrial psychology. As with many fields, earning a degree at the doctoral level provides the most advanced positions and highest salaries.

What Industrial Psychologists Do

Industrial psychologists apply theories and principles honed through research to improve workplace dynamics. They identify training and development needs in areas such as productivity, management and employee working styles, and help companies address problems by coaching employees, developing performance evaluation criteria and assessing market strategies. Professionals in this field must have knowledge of ethical considerations, administrative regulations and case law relating to workplace activities.

Interview with a Psychologist

Dr. Andrea Gould discusses her career as an industrial psychologist.

What attracted to you to the profession?

Industrial organizational psychology may be one of the most widely diverse and inclusive variations of applied psychology. What attracted me to this field was the opportunity to utilize a variety of skills that I enjoy, including quantitative and qualitative research, understanding human behavior, people skills, innovation, and creativity. Most exciting is the opportunity to observe and diagnose what works for employees, with the goal of helping the organization thrive, fulfill its mission, and maintain a positive work environment for its employee community.

What is a typical day?

I’d have to say that there is no typical day in I/O psychology, unless one has a job as specific as human resources or researcher. This fact might be something to consider if you have a need for predictability. My particular desire for novelty is a good match and my work as a consultant to educational and healthcare organizations is generally determined by the goals or priorities confronting leaders within an organization at a certain time. There is usually a specific challenge that has the attention of management and requires consultation. I/O psychologists listen deeply to leaders and managers, help design and develop research tools, and implement solutions or innovations that address the issues at hand.

Projects range from something as complex as developing a comprehensive plan to restructure an entire company to something as simple as ferreting out reasons why one division or another is lagging in productivity compared to previous years.

Some routine aspects of I/O psychology involve personnel testing for hiring and sustaining employees. An I/O psychologist draws upon myriad individual differences or assessment instruments, ranging from intelligence testing to abilities testing as well as more subtle assessments of learning, personality and cognitive information processing styles.

Most I/O psychologists are expected to be familiar with sophisticated research methods. Depending on the size and scope of the organization, they may have access to such resources within a company’s research department.

What are the most challenging aspects?

As I/O psychology encompasses such a broad range of skills, resources, applications and needs, the biggest challenge is for the psychologist to be clear and ethical about matching their talents to the issue at hand. Researchers may not possess the clinical skills needed to effectively address sticky human relations issues such as workplace aggression, bullying or grounds for handling complaints. It’s important to be able to communicate one’s gifts and limitations in the process of evaluating whether the organization will be best able to utilize their skills and resources.

What gives you greatest satisfaction?

The design and development of training programs to address priorities with an organization is a particular pleasure for me. Discerning the variables for improving a team’s performance involves a fascinating balance of getting to know and understand the available talents among staff members and knowing how best to combine their gifts to meet objectives.

My greatest satisfaction in working with organizations is assisting with the overall restructuring or remodeling after a change of administration or a shift in mission. This is commonly referred to as change management and has its own protocol that is applied to the identification, unfolding and transformation of an organization with interdependent facets.

When an organization or group is undergoing a change or transition, there is uncertainty and discord, sometimes chaos. Being able to make an assessment and design clean strategies for meeting the various needs while continuing to produce the expected results is a challenge of huge proportions, as many people are affected in critical ways. A job well executed and completed with an outcome pleasing to all sides is a major achievement.

The fact that changes affecting small and large organizations continue to occur from the impact of finance and politics makes the field of psychology, and I/O psychology in particular, an ever-advancing science and practice.

Becoming an Industrial Psychologist

Step 1Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The first step in becoming an industrial psychologist is to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field from a fully accredited program. Some schools offer a bachelor’s degree in industrial psychology while others provide an industrial psychology specialization as part of a general psychology degree. Related programs include sociology, education and business management. For students electing to complete a degree outside psychology, they should undertake foundational courses in psychological principles, research methodology, statistics, and social psychology, and take part in academic research. Although it is possible to find jobs in marketing, business management or human resources with a bachelor’s degree, most students choose to continue their education.

Step 2Complete a Master’s Degree Program

A master’s degree is usually necessary to practice industrial psychology in the private sector. Coursework focuses on the psychology of leadership and organizational structuring while teaching students how to apply these frameworks to the workplace. Students also spend time honing their skills in research techniques and statistical analysis. Many programs require student to write a thesis based on original research in the field, although some mandate a comprehensive exam instead. With a master’s degree, graduates can conduct research and provide consulting services for public and private organizations, but to perform clinical work a PhD is usually required.

Step 3Obtain a Doctoral Degree

For students aspiring to higher-level careers in research, clinical practice or academia, a doctorate is usually necessary. Most PhD programs include two years of coursework focused on theories and principles grounded in scientific research. Students must research and write a dissertation, which can take one to three years to complete. Graduating industrial psychologists have met the standards set by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. SIOP is a professional organization and division of the American Psychological Association that promotes the “science, practice and teaching” of industrial and organizational psychology.

Step 4Consider Licensing

The majority of industrial psychologists do not need to obtain a state license to work because they are employed in areas of organizational development, employee relations and training and development. To work in a clinical setting or to use the title of psychologist, a state license may be required. Graduate candidates for licensure must complete a minimum amount of clinical hours and pass an exam, although each state sets its own requirements. Continuing education may be required for license renewal.

Industrial Psychologist Licensing Q&A

What is an industrial psychology license? Why is it necessary?

Most states and provinces require individuals to be licensed in order to call themselves psychologists or to practice psychology. Although there are exceptions, very few states exempt industrial psychology. In addition to increasing credibility with the public, a psychology license allows the psychologist to guarantee confidentiality under the law. It also allows psychologists to cite their license as an indicator of expertise.

Who handles licensure and certification of industrial psychologists?

There is a licensure board for each U.S. state and Canadian province. The Association of State and Provincial Licensing Boards administers the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Who is eligible?

To become licensed, a candidate must first be awarded a PhD or PsyD from an accredited university and be supervised by a licensed psychologist. The candidate must also obtain a qualifying score on the EPPP and pass an oral exam conducted by the state board (California no longer requires this step).

What is the licensing process?

After earning a doctoral degree, candidates for licensure must complete a minimum amount of clinical hours and pass an exam, although each state sets its own licensing requirements.

How do you apply?

Candidates must submit their official doctoral transcript, proof of 4000 hours of supervised experience, and a passing score on the EPPP to the board of the state where they wish to practice.

What is the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP)?

The EPPP is an exam administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to assist state boards in evaluating the qualifications of licensure and certification applicants. The exam covers eight content areas: biological bases of behavior; cognitive‐affective bases of behavior; social and cultural bases of behavior; growth and lifespan development; assessment and diagnosis; treatment, intervention, prevention and supervision; research methods and statistics; and ethical, legal, and professional issues.

Industrial Psychology Specialties

Human Resources Organizational Development Specialist

Human resource development specialists increase organizational effectiveness through employee training and instruction. Responsibilities include implementing personnel surveys, developing and implementing initiative and training programs, and meeting corporate objectives. This position does not require licensure and certification, but the HR Certification Institute offers the following certifications:

  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR)
  • Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)
  • Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)
Professor of Industrial Psychology

A professor of industrial psychology teaches undergraduate and graduate courses as well as general psychology classes, including intro to psychology, social psychology and statistics. This position usually requires a doctoral degree in industrial psychology and a psychology license from the state board. Research responsibilities are also a component of this position.

Organizational Psychology Research Scientist

A research scientist who specializes in organizational psychology creates plans and carries out experiments and investigations about issues pertaining to the workplace. Most research scientists have at least a master’s degree in their specialty, though doctoral degrees are becoming more prevalent.

Working in Industrial Psychology: Skills

An industrial psychologist must have a wide range of professional skills to be successful. Here are a few of the most important abilities and characteristics someone in the profession should have:

Active listening

In order to resolve workplace issues, industrial psychologists need to give full attention to what others say, taking time to understand the context and ask pertinent questions. They need to be able to “hear between the lines,” to understand what is really being said.

Critical thinking

Because industrial psychologists identify potential problems in organizations, they need to use logic and reasoning to identify alternative solutions and approaches.

Verbal

Jobs in industrial psychology require strong communication skills, including the ability to convey information effectively. Industrial psychologists need to be able to choose their words carefully and match their message to their audience while avoiding psychological jargon when communicating with others in the workplace.

Complex problem solving

Almost all jobs in the field demand the ability to identify complex problems by reviewing related information and implementing solutions based on evaluation.

How do specific skills in industrial psychology translate into higher salaries?

According to Payscale.com, industrial psychologists with strong verbal, analytical and organizational skills are the most successful and earn the highest salaries. Individuals with higher levels of education have more experience with statistics, research methods and literature selection, all of which are important skills within the field. Upward mobility and annual salaries are ultimately dependent on an individual’s blend of skills, education and experience.

Industrial Psychologist Salary

Industrial Psychology currently has the highest growth rate of any occupation according to the Bureau of Labor’s Occupational Handbook. At 53 percent, industrial psychology has the highest percentage of expected change amongst the top 20 fastest growing occupations for 2012 to 2022. Earnings in this field outpace the overall job market, especially for those who have a high level of education and experience.

Other factors influencing salaries include the economic sector, organization size and geographic location. While only a handful of states offer salary information on industrial psychologists, the states that are reporting information are showing interesting and promising trends. The chart below provides 2014 salary and 2012-2022 growth rate as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Industrial Psychology Related Careers

School and Career Counselors

(Master’s Degree in Counseling)

Salary: $53,610

Job growth: 12 percent

Postsecondary Teachers

(Master’s or PhD in Psychology)

Salary: $68,970

Job growth: 12 percent

Sociologists

(Master’s or PhD in Sociology)

Salary: $74,960

Job growth: 15 percent

Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselors

(High school diploma or equivalent plus certification)

Salary: $38,520

Job growth: 31 percent

Survey Researchers

(Master’s or PhD)

Salary: $45,050

Job growth: 18 percent

Social Workers

(Master’s in Licensed Social Work)

Salary: $44,200

Job growth: 19 percent

Market Research Analysts

(Bachelor’s in Marketing or equivalent)

Salary: $60,300

Job growth: 32 percent

Mental Health Counselors

(Master’s in counseling)

Salary: $41,500

Job growth: 29 percent

Industrial-Organizational Psychology Resources: