Industrial Organizational Psychologists in Goverment

While the government is busy running the country, industrial organizational (I/O) psychologists are running the government. This rising field of applied psychology is an exciting profession that marries traditional psychology with logistical applications. Projected to grow 53% over the next decade with a 2012 median pay of $83,580, working behind-the-scenes to ensure the government’s efficacy at all levels is just one of the many tasks an I/O psychologist tackles each day.

The Washington Post succinctly ran-down the responsibilities of these professionals in a January 2014 profile of the field, writing, “They…help [government agencies] recruit and select job applicants, train and develop employees, build effective teams, measure individual, team, and organizational performance and identify and develop leaders.” In short, this isn’t your grandfather’s psychologist.

Working to secure compliance with federal standards, legal knowledge and ethical dilemmas incur as much work as standard morale-boosting in the workplace. For such a well-rounded field, one needs a well-rounded education. Thankfully, programs like The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Online M.A. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology offer comprehensive educations to ready the aspirant for this fantastic career.

To prepare for the demanding and rewarding career as an industrial psychologist, the aforementioned sample program runs the gamut of necessary skills taught: psychology, logistics, statistical programming, even in-depth looks at how to properly appraise performances and choose the right applicants for the job. The working world is increasingly becoming dependent on finding ways to run at maximum efficiency – there’s a reason the search engine adage goes that even a second too slow will cause somebody to switch engines.

This is a full-throttle society, and the government needs to not only keep up with, but also stay ahead of, any incoming problems that the various agencies might face. If this challenge sounds like one you’d love to undertake, following the necessary degrees and training, websites like GovLoop assist in linking potential candidates with their desired jobs in the government. Happily enough, the person sitting across from you in your future interview will probably be an I/O psychologist themselves!

Defined by the official organization for this profession, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP), industrial organizational psychology is “the scientific study of the workplace. Rigor and methods of psychology are applied to issues of critical relevance to business, including talent management, coaching, assessment, selection, training, organizational development, performance, and work-life balance.”

If your passion for government is only strengthened by a desire to apply the above criteria to streamlining federal agencies, then becoming an I/O psychologist is the next logical step. Through programs like The Chicago School’s online M.A., working for the government is but one step away. With this perfect combination of psychology and research analytics, maybe you’ll be the one to end Congressional inaction.

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Mark Hammer

Although officially classified as an “economist/statistician”, and trained as a developmental psychologist, I work in this field. Folks would be surprised at the number of areas/roles it occupies in government. The most obvious role is with respect to employment testing, and the development and validation of selection tools. But we occupy other roles as well, incuding staff/leadership development, developing development programs, just about any sort of employee or public surveying, harassment prevention and other “work climate amelioration” efforts, recruitment and retention initiatives, exit interviewing, program evaluation, usability/accessibility testing, human factors in work environments, and many others.

Being trained in a seemingly unrelated field, I never would have suspected a role for me here, but found it to be a surprisingly smooith transition with a great many opportunities for adding value. I mean, if you want to understand how people make retirement decisions, so you can anticipate future staffing needs, wouldn’t you want a psychologist on your team?

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to work on such things as employment-equity review of selection tools, design of cognitive ability tests, employee survey design and analysis, intergenerational knowledge transfer, student internship experiences in government and their role as recruitment levers, harassment, the psychology of staffing actions (including perceived fairness), and am currently working on a large project involving assessment of “value of work” for pay equity purposes. A former classmate works on lighting conditions and noise in the workplace, and another worked on early standards for HDTV. OPM and MSPB have many I/O types on staff, as do other agencies. And certainly a great deal of the current trend towards “nudge” policies involves applied social/organizational psychology.

Yep, if you’re working on anything that benefits from acumen in a) measurement, b) understanding how organizations work, c) understanding how people think about things, there is probably a useful place for an applied or I/O psychologist.