What Can You Do with a Master’s of IO Psychology?

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Updated: February 15, 2024, Reading time: 15 minutes

IO Psychologist

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Adapt or die. That’s the mandate of many high-end organizations. As an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, your job is to act as an agent of such change.

But change is a complicated thing. And the role one plays in introducing change to an organization might appear complicated as well. So In this article, we explore the essential role of industrial-organizational psychology in the industry today, as well as the popular jobs and professional roles in play.

By clarifying one’s options, students can devote their education and intention toward areas of the job market that best suit their needs and interests.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

What is Industrial-Organizational Psychology?

When endeavoring towards a career in psychology, industrial-organizational (IO) psychology represents one of the most unique paths available.

Mostly because IO Psychology is inclusive of other industries and inductive of business practices, making it the field of psychology most similar to a business specialization. Whereas other branches of psychology might appear effectively separate from the business sector.

But while business may be in the DNA of industrial-organizational psychology, the field remains reliant on the fundamentals of the psychological sciences.

As such professionals in the field will take on responsibilities such as:

This is just a small portion of the IO Psychologist’s professional plate, however. The role offers flexibility such that one’s responsibility might differ from organization to organization, despite sharing a job title.

The role of the psychologist might be clearly outlined in many fields of psychology. But in the case of IO psychology professionals maintain a high level of freedom to pursue their desired type of work.

So let’s take a look at the educational requirements for IO Psychologists.

Why Earn a Master’s in Industrial Organizational Psychology?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics IO Psychology jobs won’t require too much education as a baseline. The good entry-level and mid-level jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher though. According to Washington University, graduates of an undergraduate IO program will find most job opportunities are located in human resources.

However, students wanting top-shelf jobs with more freedom of choice will need to earn a higher degree, a Master’s degree, or even a doctorate. High-end corporations will look to employ the most thoroughly trained professionals and the most lucrative positions involve management and oversight of several departments or teams.

For this reason, many students will want to consider earning at least a Master’s. So let’s take a look at the structure of a Master’s of Industrial-Organizational Psychology program.

What is the Graduate IO Psychology Curriculum?

A Master’s of Industrial-Organizational Psychology will introduce students to the fundamentals of IO Psychology couched in business practices and industry standards. Students will cover topics broken into several major areas:

While graduate programs differ in their approaches to curriculum, student choice plays a role too. However, the real freedom of choice is in which topic a student chooses to specialize in. As such these available options depend entirely on the program curriculum and the desired specialty of the student.

Additionally, some programs even allow students to create pathways to specific areas of study in the form of independent studies and research projects.

So with that in mind, here is a list of commonly chosen specializations and topics of study in graduate-level IO Psychology:

While the above list represents many of the most popular areas of study, students are free to explore many other topics as well. For instance, the topics of Health and Safety and Legal Issues represent broader topics that are often chosen as specializations.

Essentially, students determine the direction of their career by choosing to specialize in key subjects. With this in mind, graduate students will want to carefully consider their desired area of work before committing to a specialization.

Because career outcomes might be counterintuitive to a student’s first instincts, they benefit greatly from involving academic mentors and program advisors in this conversation. Additionally, internships in the area of a student’s desired specialization will provide clarity to the question of what topics are most relevant to it.

Can I Earn a Master’s of IO Psychology Online?

The short answer is yes. Students will find that many of the best IO Psychology programs offer options that can be completed completely online. This is even more true after graduate programs have been forced to adapt to the pandemic.

While the industry of higher education previously accepted online programs, now they are firmly positioned in both mainstream acceptance and popularity. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the best way to earn your Master’s of IO Psychology is to earn it online.

Doing so allows students to earn their degree online while maintaining residency in a location where they wish to work. Previously, however, students were often forced to pursue an education in one place, while pursuing work in another.

But today, IO graduate students can take advantage of online education to begin building professional connections and putting down roots in their job market of choice.

How Do I Gain Admission to a Master’s of IO Psychology Program?

Graduate-level psychology programs present a high level of competition, both before admission and after. So with this in mind, students should look for every advantage they can find.

The American Psychological Association states that earning a Bachelor’s of Psychology is the most crucial prerequisite for gaining admission to a Master’s of Psychology program. Undergraduate students interested in a Master’s of IO Psychology though will make themselves more desirable for admission by building experience in business-related topics as well.

But if you don’t hold a Bachelor’s of Psychology, don’t worry. Some Graduate IO programs won’t hold it against you. However, students who don’t hold a Bachelor’s and wish to gain admission into a top tier graduate IO program will need to enroll in missing prerequisites.

While the required undergraduate prerequisites will differ from program to program, they typically require courses such as the following:

Additionally, students seeking admission to a Graduate IO Program can sweeten their profiles by pursuing independent research. Specifically, admission officers at graduate psychology programs love to see initiative and follow through.

A good way to demonstrate this is to pursue independent research. While the subject matter of said research certainly plays a role, seeing the research project through to completion will impress admission officers.

Ideally, taking a research project to the point of publishing in a respected journal or presentation at a respected conference will set you far ahead of the pack in terms of earning admission.

Graduate IO Psychology Programs typically provide an opportunity for students to begin building specialization in a particular subject matter or area of the field.

Before choosing a specialization students will want to explore the rising trends in the job market and the wider IO Psychology industry. Doing so helps students to identify the needs and opportunities of future markets. So let’s take a look at some of the most promising trends in this context:

Data Science and Quantitative Methods

Like most other industries built on analytical science, big data offers immense opportunity. And IO Psychologists are beginning to rely more and more on data science and quantitative methods. Particularly for students interested in areas of performance and productivity, specializing in data science is becoming near-mandatory.

By mastering methods of data science, students gain a deeper understanding of the factors at play. This also allows students to present their findings in an objective manner which is favored by large organizations.

Data science is becoming so important to IO Psychology, that some Master’s of Data Science programs are designed for the role of the IO Psychologist. Conversely, some graduate IO Psychology programs offer data science specialization tracks.

Software and Information Technology

Along these same lines, information technology and related software accelerate the adoption of data science in IO Psychology. Researchers point out that information technology plays a key role in the job of the IO psychologist.

Specifically, by mastering the IT software of an organization IO Psychologists are able to monitor its health and behaviors. Even more importantly, IT software allows IO Psychologists to do their job more efficiently. Efficiency of work is a key element of success for IO Psychologists overseeing large national and multinational organizations.

Similarly, software developers have taken notice of the needs of the IO Psychology field. Apps and IT software are designed specifically to aid and even automate portions of the IO Psychologist’s daily tasks.

This means a savvy IO Psychologist who makes use of modern technology will have many more resources at their disposal. For this reason, organizations look with increasing favor to students who can effectively make use of such technology.

What Do IO Psychologists Make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), IO Psychologists make a pretty penny. The average annual salary of IO Psychologists is a whopping $144,610 (as of May 2022). This annual salary amounts to an hourly wage of $58.23.

As mentioned before however, IO Psychology is a field that heavily rewards seniority and expertise. According to the BLS, the top 10% of IO Psychologists pull in an average of $192,800. While the bottom 10% makes an average of $57,440.

While this broad range of compensation might worry students, work experience and level of education are primarily responsible. In other words, both variables are within the control of the student, meaning with the right work ethic anyone can access these seductive paychecks.

According to US News & World Report, the IO Psychologist job market experiences a very low unemployment rate of just 1.5%. Additionally, US News ranked IO Psychology as the third best ‘science job’ in the country.

5 Most Lucrative Jobs for IO Psychologists

Let’s face it. While choosing a rewarding profession can mean many different things, one’s salary is paramount. In the case of graduate IO students, the cost of the education leading to one’s degree makes a strong salary even more important.

With this in mind, let’s take a look at some of the most lucrative positions in the IO Psychology job market.

Human Resources Manager

Human Resources Managers oversee the HR department of an organization. In larger organizations, these professionals work in tandem with other HR managers. In smaller organizations, however, they often assume the responsibilities of the entire HR management themselves. Though their specific responsibilities depend entirely on the organization that they manage.

According to the BLS, Human Resource Managers make a whopping $130,000 per year (median rate). While the minimum required education is a bachelor’s degree, prospects need a minimum of 5 years of work experience. However, graduate IO students can offset this required work experience by pursuing internships and productive research projects.

Business Development Consultant

Business development consultants work for large investment firms, startup incubators, and in a variety of other settings. These professionals work to accelerate the growth and expansion of businesses. Additionally, they use any tool at their disposal to meet the needs of consulting organizations. In other words, the business development consultant is a role where experience and know-how are everything.

While the BLS does not track specific salary information for this job, we do have other occupational statistics. According to ZipRecruiter, experienced business development consultants will commonly find 6 figure contracts.

Executive Performance Coach

Executive performance coaches work closely with an organization’s top executives. These professional coaches work to help executives achieve their goals and improve their performance overall. This coaching role is reserved for only the most qualified IO professionals, however the compensation matches the exclusivity.

Specifically, Executive Performance Coaches make an average of somewhere between $81,342 and $137,247 according to salary.com. High-end coaches can make even more and will often see compensation packages that offer stock options of even profit share.

IO Psychology students interested in this job will want to build experience in coaching. Some IO programs offer coaching specializations, and a select few offer programs tailored specifically for executive coaching.

Team Development Manager

Team Development Managers work to manage the training and development of an organization’s employees. For example, a team development manager might coordinate a company team-building exercise or organize a corporate retreat. These professionals employ different strategies based on their goals and the organization they work with.

The BLS reports that Team Development Managers make a median salary of $115,640 per year. While a Bachelor’s degree is the suggested minimum level of education, a minimum of five years of work experience is required. Students can offset this experience requirement by earning a master’s or by landing a related internship.

Staffing and Recruiting Manager

A Staffing and Recruiting Manager takes responsibility for building an organization’s body of personnel. Specifically, these professionals work to track down the best professionals for open positions in an organization. These managers often oversee teams of recruitment officers in order to ensure performance metrics are met.

In other words, these recruitment managers focus less on the performance of the organization itself and look to provide a boost by bringing in outside talent. The BLS reports that the annual median salary of these managers is $115,640 per year.

Additionally, the BLS suggests that the job requires a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree with five years of job experience. Though students with successful graduate school records might sidestep this experience requirement.

What Industries Pay the Most to IO Psychologists?

While many factors contribute to job satisfaction, finding the right job often comes down to looking in the right place. Before we look at the best states for IO Psychology jobs, let’s take a look at which industries offer the most lucrative opportunities.

According to the BLS, the top-paying industries are as follows:

From the above information, we can tell that the industry of Scientific Research and Development Services pays their IO Psychologist considerably more than any other industry. In fact, the industry pays roughly 35% more than the next best paying industry.

With this in mind, prospective students will be well-served by pursuing jobs in this industry. Talk with your program advisor for tips on how to do this, but here’s a hint: look for internships in the research and development industry.

Where Should I Look for an IO Psychology Job?

Once you have settled on your target industry, the next big decision requires you to choose where you want to work.

While certainly a tricky decision, one can find clarity by focusing on the most important factors. While some cities pay their IO Psychologists really well, this can be totally countered by the inordinate cost of living.

On the other hand, less financially robust cities might over both fair pay coupled with a low cost of living which translates to more money in the bank for you. Another major factor to consider is the number of jobs in an area.

Fewer jobs mean greater competition, while a greater number of jobs might signal a saturated job market. It will be up to you to weigh the pros and cons, but with this in mind let’s take a look at the best cities to work in for IO Psychologists.

The Top-Paying States for IO Psychologists

While California offers nearly double the average salaries, students should expect nearly double the cost of living as well–at least near some of California’s more popular cities. Ohio on the other hand, seems to offer the best of both worlds.

In Ohio, students will find both fair salaries and affordable cost of living.

The Cities with the Most Jobs for IO Psychologists

The location quotients above refer to the concentration of IO Psychology jobs as compared to the national average. The national average would be represented by a ‘1’, and where more than 1 represents more than this average.

One major takeaway is that Virginia has double the concentration of IO Psychologists than the next most concentrated state and more than four times the national average. This could signal either a saturated job market or a robust and thriving one. More investigation will be needed.

Additionally, while Texas presents a concentration of IO Psychologists equal to roughly half of the national population, it is also one of the largest and most populous states. This could signal a job market in need of more professionals.

While the pay might not seem particularly seductive, it might function as an excellent job market for students approaching graduation or earlier in their academic careers.

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