Understanding industrial organizational psychology propels new career options

January 14, 2020

by Cody Cox

Soft and strong — studies consistently show the most promising careers now require “softer” relationship-oriented abilities paired with strong analytical skills.

For instance, the role of human resources manager landed in the 35th slot among 800 fastest growing occupational fields in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal. Yet the HR field is evolving as it grows.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology student in class

Businesses increasingly rely on metrics and statistics to make data-driven decisions. Organizations are investing in training their employees to think more analytically and become comfortable working with data. At the same time, a recent Deloitte survey indicated that “soft skills” for managing and leading others are increasingly important.

Situated at the nexus of these needs is the field of industrial and organizational psychology.

Raquel Recio, who graduated from the Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology program at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas, now works for the talent management team at Valero, the world’s largest independent petroleum refiner. Recio said industrial and organizational psychologists are uniquely suited to apply statistical techniques to organizational issues.

“Industrial and organizational psychologists are comfortable working with data and are typically seen as data subject matter experts,” Recio said. “My training has helped me tremendously to be successful in my role and has given me a competitive advantage.”

What is industrial and organizational psychology?

Industrial psychology and organizational psychology, collectively called I/O psychology, focus on using empirical methods and data analytics to understand workplace behavior, while also emphasizing team building, leadership and communication.

Depending on the company’s need, I/O psychologists can help organizations improve their hiring processes, motivate and manage employees, train and develop their workforce, and implement change strategies.

Cody Cox teaches class

The field yields a lucrative industrial organizational psychology salary range from $73,000 to $153,500 based on years of experience, according to a survey by the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP).

St. Mary’s University offers a cutting-edge Master of Science in Industrial/Organizational Psychology program that prepares students for this expanding field. The St. Mary’s program ranks in the top 9% of master’s programs affiliated with SIOP.

“People spend a majority of their lives working, so a desire to improve the workplace should be on everyone’s agenda,” said Amanda Mouton, who is earning her master’s at St. Mary’s while interning as a personnel research associate in the Strategic Research and Assessment Branch at Randolph Air Force Base.

Students in the St. Mary’s program begin with sophisticated statistical training in the lab, which they quickly apply to real-life projects with external agencies. At the same time, students develop interpersonal skills through team-based projects and a detailed assessment of their individual strengths and areas for development.

The St. Mary’s program also allows students to take their learning to a global scale. For instance, 12 students recently completed a cross-cultural I/O course in Italy, visited organizations there and attended the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology conference.

“Training in I/O psychology will transform the way you approach problems and consequently, develop solutions,” Mouton said. “It encourages you to question processes and view them as a lifecycle, where evaluation and improvement are ongoing. I recommend I/O psychology to anyone who enjoys learning about human behavior and wants to translate this knowledge into solutions to real-world issues.”

Mining data to drive success

Big businesses are looking for experts who can handle the delicate balance of data science and human interaction.

Industrial/Organizational Psychology student in class

Graduates of the St. Mary’s I/O psychology graduate program have gone on to work at companies including Google, USAA, Valero, Marathon Oil, H-E-B, CST Brands, Zachry Group, Operational Technologies, Booz Allen Hamilton, Southwest Research Institute and Zappos, among others.

Brittney Brinkley, another recent St. Mary’s graduate, working for the company pymetrics as an I/O psychology analyst. She applies her knowledge of analytics to developing hiring and selection instruments — requiring knowledge of data analytics, client management and the legal environment of selection.

“The client projects and work experience I gained in and outside of the classroom helped me gain necessary experience applying the science to real workplace issues, which is something I do every day as an internal and external consultant,” Brinkley said.

Tapping into the human side

Like Mouton, Andrew Deregla is interning with the U.S. Air Force while attending the St. Mary’s I/O graduate program. His role requires statistical analysis for which his coursework prepared him. For the Air Force, Deregla said he is working to validate the tests used for the selection and assessment of airmen.

“Using this information, we can develop predictive success models to ensure that we get the right airman into the right job,” he said.

Deregla emphasized the importance of learning interpersonal skills as well, saying, “Especially if you work in a management position, having a positive relationship with your subordinates is key to keeping them engaged.”

“Pursuing I/O gives you the opportunity to make an impact on a large number of workers’ lives,” Deregla said. “It is the perfect blend of psychological science and the business world. The skillset you develop makes you an extremely versatile candidate for any company.”

The next generation of I/O psychologists may play an important role in an increasingly quantified world.

“We are equipped to solve people problems like retention, motivation and engagement, which have a direct impact on ROI,” Brinkley said. “We also understand the importance of diversity and, depending on one’s research areas, may know best practices for maintaining a diverse and respectable workplace.”

Cody Cox, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior at St. Mary’s University.

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