Industrial psychologists apply the principles of psychology to the workplace.
"Interestingly, I got into this field by having bad jobs," says Steve Kozlowski, former president of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology and a psychology professor at Michigan State University. He had dropped out of college and got a job on the assembly line at a factory. "I ran a machine. The work was monotonous, dangerous, didn't pay well, and it didn't have to be that bad.
When asked about his entry into the field, Mark Poteet, president of Organizational Research & Solutions Inc., says, "I've always found a natural interest in people – why do people do what they do – but I've also always had an interest in business, commerce
." He started asking himself questions like, "what makes employees more productive?" and "what makes leaders more effective?"
And these are just the questions that industrial psychology addresses. Poteet describes the profession as "a natural marriage between psychology and business."
From 2016 to 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that new jobs will shake out at a rate of nearly 6 percent, but because industrial psychology is such a small field, this growth rate will translate into just 100 jobs over the 10-year period.
What Type of Education Do Industrial Psychologists Need?
To enter the field of industrial psychology, a master's degree in industrial/organizational psychology, known as I/O or IOP, is required. According to Poteet, a master's degree gives you a somewhat narrow breadth of training in the field. A doctoral degree gives you a broader education and allows you access to academic, research and scientific jobs that aren't open to candidates with just a master's degree.
Average Americans work well into their 60s, so workers might as well have a job that’s enjoyable and a career that's fulfilling. A job with a low stress level, good work-life balance and solid prospects to improve, get promoted and earn a higher salary would make many employees happy. Here's how Industrial Psychologists job satisfaction is rated in terms of upward mobility, stress level and flexibility.
How to Get a Job as an Industrial Psychologist
To find a job, Poteet recommends completing internships to gain experience. Critical thinking skills and communication skills are very important to this career path. He also suggests joining the local and national associations so you can check out their job postings and network with other professionals. "Networking is really important in this field," Poteet says. "Much of my work comes from referrals – rarely is it a cold call."
Kozlowski says, "Strive for excellence in whatever you do. Get into the best school, take the best internship, then the best job.
What is the Job Like?
Industrial psychologists are employed in their own small businesses, as well as by consulting firms, big corporations, hospitals and the government. They are also employed by colleges and universities, where they both teach the next generation of practitioners and conduct research.
A typical day for one of these professionals might involve meeting with a client, getting a thorough understanding of their organization and the problems the organization faces, and then researching solutions to their problems. One example of a problem might be an underperforming workforce. An industrial psychologist would have to employ their understanding of human behavior and combine it with research methodology to understand why this might be happening and how it might be fixed. This research might include focus groups or surveys or other scientific means of gathering data. Writing is a big part of the job, as these professionals write proposals to their clients and publish their research.
"There are always big problems to be solved," Kozlowski says.