www.MyPsychMentor.com: For Psych Majors and Enthusiasts

Monday, January 25, 2010

Exciting Careers in Industrial/Organizational Psychology

There are so many fields of psychology in which one can specialize. One that many college students may be less familiar with is called Industrial/organizational psychology. This is a field in which the career opportunities are very diverse and the work very rewarding. Industrial/organizational psychologists tend to enjoy interesting and rewarding careers as well as a good salary *(see below).

So, what is exactly do Industrial/organizational Psychologists do?
According to the American Psychological Association, the profession can be described as follows:

"Industrial/organizational psychologists apply psychological principles and research methods to the work place in the interest of improving productivity and the quality of work life. Many serve as human resources specialists, helping organizations with staffing, training, and employee development. And others work as management consultants in such areas as strategic planning, quality management, and coping with organizational change."

This broad description provides just a glimpse at what some Industrial/organizational psychologists may do for a living. When I queried several psychologists working in different subdisciplines around the nation requesting personal narratives about their careers, among the largest and most enthusiastic response came from Industrial/organizations psychologists. Responses came from many individuals working in different organizations ranging from Google to JCPenney and governmental agencies. Several contributors also worked as Consultants to various companies.

Here is just one of the testimonials that was submitted to be included in the book to give you an idea of one professional's career in Industrial/organizational psychology.

A Career as a Psychometrician in Public and Private Agencies
Contributor: Tracy Montez, MA, PhD, Industrial Organizational Consultant

"When I began college, as an undergraduate at a small California State University, I was terribly anxious over the notion that I still did not know the answer to the infamous question “What did I want to be when I grew up?” It seemed that my closest high school friends knew exactly where to go to college and what classes to take for their declared majors that would eventually lead to their chosen career paths.

I, on the other hand, went to a local college because it was affordable and declared Business Administration as my major because Marketing sounded interesting. It took only one semester for me to know that business was not my calling. The classes offered to fulfill the business major only partially held my attention. Rather, it was the field of psychology that kept calling me.

Despite the intentions of well-meaning family members and friends warning me that listening to people’s problems all day would be tedious and stressful, I changed my major from business to psychology. I knew that the field of psychology must encompass more than clinical work. So, I scheduled an appointment with my undergraduate advisor.

When I met with him, I discussed my interests and my family’s concerns. With great patience and understanding, he described the many types of psychology. Within an hour, my limited and na├»ve scope of the field of psychology was broadened. And, after he elaborated on the discipline of industrial and organizational psychology, I knew that I had found my calling. Here was a discipline that not only “borrowed” concepts, theories, and research from the other disciplines in psychology, but also generated its own theories and scientific findings, applying this extensive knowledge to the world of work.

I entered graduate school knowing that I had identified a career path. My initial interest was to become a college professor. This decision was primarily based on the enthusiastic and knowledgeable professors that I had both at my undergraduate and master’s degree institutions. Regardless of whether or not the class was part of my major, the professors were energetic, experts in their field, well traveled giving them wonderful examples to illustrate the concepts in the assigned textbooks, and committed to teaching the students taking their respective classes.

The first six years of college truly had an enormous impact on my decision to pursue a doctorate. It was during my doctoral program at a Midwestern university that I determined research was not my strength. Although research is critical to the understanding and application of psychology, I knew that I did not possess the skills to complete research for publication purposes and hence secure a tenure-track professor position. Although my calling was still industrial and organizational psychology, I needed to identify a specialty in this vast field.

Upon graduation, I returned to California and began working for a small consulting firm. It is here where I found my specialty, developing selection tests. During my four-year tenure with this firm, I primarily developed, administered, and scored a variety of tests for all ranks of fire service and law enforcement for agencies located throughout the western United States. The process was challenging. That is, not the application of my selection and testing knowledge, skills, and abilities, but rather the process of working within male-dominated occupational fields. At the time, I was a young woman with an advanced graduate degree explaining to high-ranking, male, fire service or law enforcement chiefs the importance of following professional guidelines and technical standards when developing and administering promotional tests. I was often asked the question “How can you develop a test for a fire engineer when you have never driven a rig, pumped water, or fought a fire?” This is where I would elaborate on the value of “subject matter experts” and how psychometricians used that expertise to develop fair and defensible tests. During this time, I expanded my test development expertise as well as cultivated my ability to work with different groups of people which would greatly help me in my next career endeavor.

Deciding to take a break from traveling, I went to work for a California state agency. I started at staff level developing regulatory tests. I had to make a slight adjustment in my application of skills. That is, instead of developing tests to produce a list of rank–ordered individuals, I was developing tests to determine minimum acceptable competence. I thoroughly enjoyed working with a variety of professions and decided to accept a promotion within the agency. Eventually, I became the manager of the unit and the lead psychometrician for this state agency.

I supervised a staff of eighteen, many having advanced degrees in psychology or statistics. As a team, we developed or assisted in the development of regulatory examinations for over 50 occupations in the State of California, from psychologists to contractors. As a manager, my duties included working with regulatory boards to ensure that fair, valid, and legally defensible licensure examination programs were being implemented, reviewing and writing legislation pertaining to the regulation of these occupations, meeting with legislators and talking about the importance of adhering to professional testing guidelines and technical standards, addressing questions and issues raised by candidates for licensure, licensees, and stakeholders, and educating those associated with regulatory tests about the phases of examination validation.

I worked in state service for approximately ten years, took some time off to start a family, and subsequently returned to the profession by establishing my own consulting business. I continue to specialize in test development and licensure examination program evaluation.

I am grateful for my education and those involved in the development of my knowledge, experience, and expertise. I could not have completed my educational programs without the dedication of my professors and mentors. I should note that the state agency at which I was promoted to lead psychometrician was the same state agency that I held my first graduate assistantship and gained my first practical exposure to the field of testing.

Regardless of the discipline of psychology, it is my belief that graduate school provides an individual with the ability to think critically, analyze data and information, speak in public, write for a variety of contexts, and work with different groups of people and occupations. The chosen discipline of psychology then adds an advanced level of expertise that makes a person extremely marketable, especially if you truly enjoy the work you do as I do."

For more information about a career in Industrial/organizational psychology, visit the following sites:

Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology http://www.siop.org/
"Careers in Industrial/organizational psychology":
* this site discusses potential salaries in the field of Industrial/organizational psychology

Special Thanks to Tracy Montez for contributing to the "Insider's Guide to Psychology" by Rezec Wegenek and Buskist, APA Publishing 2010.


  1. You have a nice blog.I enjoy reading many of the books and papers on building a successful practice but “Change Therapy” by David Diana is one of the most unique yet. It is a collection of articles and stories that read like Levitt’s Freakonomics or Gladwell’s Outliers. The stories are fresh, unexpected and thought provoking. It’s a free download so take a look for yourself or share with your community. http://www.davidpdiana.com/about-2/change-therapy-e-book-download/

  2. Hi Steven

    Thanks so much for sharing this information! I will check it out and then see if it fits in with the mypsychmentor.com web site as well!

  3. The field of psychology is very much demanding, but fulfilling at the same time. Thanks for sharing this post.

    psychology graduate schoolsciences