Important Steps to Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology Careers with a Graduate Degree in Psychology

Important Steps to a Career in Industrial/Organizational Psychology with a Graduate Degree in Psychology

Take the right courses, besides typical PSY courses (Intro, Research Methods, Stats)
  • Business Psychology
  • Industrial/Organizational Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Personality
  • Lab course in I/O, Personality or Cognitive Psychology
  • Seminar in I/O, Personality or Cognitive Psychology
  • Often graduate schools will also like to see that you took challenging courses (e.g., math and science courses).

It is critical to do well in your courses.

  • Overall GPA.
  • Psychology GPA minor (if you have one).
  • GPA last two years in college GPA.
  • Maintaining a high GPA from your freshman year on
  • If you do not get an A or B in a course you should probably repeat the course, especially if it was a Psychology course.

Get involved in research

  • It is important to get experience and to show you are motivated to conduct research.
  • The research experience you get does not have to be in the exact area as that which you hope to be involved in graduate school.
  • Get even more involved in research by doing a Senior Honors thesis or some other research where you can get your name on a conference presentation or journal publication. This kind of recognition is rare for an undergraduate and will really boost your standing when you apply to graduate school.
  • You can get involved in research as part of Independent study course and thus earn credit hours and possibly increase your GPA if it counts as a graded course or volunteer.
  • An advantage to working in a lab is that you get to know a faculty member who can write you a strong letter of recommendation when you are ready to apply to graduate school. Given you need more than one letter of recommendation, it is probably best to work in two different labs as an undergraduate.

Do an internship

  • By doing an internship you can again show your high level of motivation.
  • This internship can be with an on-campus company/organization or off-campus company/organization dealing with I/O Psychology.

Develop critical skills

  • There are a number of skills you can develop in addition to what you learn in classes and by conducting research-- computers, writing, and oral communication skills.

Get involved in extracurricular activities where you are working with others

  • Among others, you can volunteer at an organization that involves forensics (e.g., local police, the courts, rape crisis center, law firm).
  • This involvement demonstrates a high level of motivation and interest in forensics. Any involvement just adds to your overall record and makes you a more competitive applicant.

Be active in Psychology organizations

  • This can include Psi Chi (the National Honor Society In Psychology) or any Psychology club on campus.

  • Once again, this involvement demonstrates a high level of motivation and interest in Psychology. Any involvement just adds to your overall record and makes you a more competitive applicant.

Get work experience in an I/O context if you can

  • It is not critical that you are employed in an I/O context (such as those listed above) as an undergraduate, but if you can get such a job that is a real bonus.

Understand the importance of the Graduate Records Exam (GRE)

  • What is the GRE? If you are not clear about the GRE, you must understand that this is the standardized exam that almost everyone who applies to graduate school must take. It can be viewed as the “graduate SAT or ACT”. Because it is a standardized exam that means everyone across the country and even in the world takes the same exam in the same way on the computer.
  • Also, be aware that most schools will want you to take the “regular” GRE that includes a verbal component, a quantitative component, and an analytical component.
  • Some schools may want you to take a subject GRE exam in Psychology. Because of this, it is probably a good idea to keep your textbooks from your Psychology courses to help with your studying.
  • Your GRE scores are extremely important. Because the GREs are a standardized test, the argument is that this score allows each graduate school selection committee to compare your score in an equal fashion against all other applicants.
  • This gets even more important if you are going to a college that is perceived as less strong academically. For example, if you go to the University of Kentucky (U.S. News and World Report college ranking of 129) and get a GRE score of 2200 and a student going to Harvard (U.S. News and World Report college ranking of 2) gets a GRE score of 2000 your application will likely be viewed as quite strong.
  • Another way GRE scores can work for you is if you have only mediocre grades (e.g., a 3.20 overall GPA), but you score really high on the GREs your high score can, in effect, offset those modest grades.
  • As far as preparing for the GRE, some argue that you should begin preparing for the GRE by your sophomore year. This would involve using GRE practice books and software on a regular basis. One reason to use GRE software is that, because the GRE is only given on computer, you should familiarize yourself with this type of exam format.
  • With regard to the three specific parts of the GRE, let’s talk about each. First, there is math. If you are pretty good in math and plan on taking at least some Math courses in college, you are putting yourself in a good position as you begin to study. However, if you do not feel you are good in math and have no plans to take a Math course in college beyond a freshman Algebra course you probably need to rethink your plans and think about either taking more Math courses or get someone to tutor you on the math that will be covered in the GRE. Of course, doing a lot of studying will help, but having additional resources will serve you well.
  • Next, there is the analytical component. The same issues here apply as with math. There are courses you can take that will help you out with this section, like Logic. Strongly consider taking courses like this so you can be better prepared for the GRE.
  • Finally, the verbal component of the GRE requires you to have a strong background in English. You may think you know the language well, but the GRE asks some pretty tough questions ranging from word definitions to comprehension of stories. One piece of advice is to Read, Read, Read. Over the years we have seen many bright students suffer on their verbal GRE scores because they just are not exposed enough to verbal information. For example, one of the best ways you can learn new words is by reading these words in a news article or novel.

Interact with your Professors

  • It is very important that you start to interact with Professors right away. This can occur by making contributions in class or just going up to your Professors and having a conversation about issues in the field.
  • These interactions can lead to being able to work in a Professor’s research lab, hearing about job opening that may be available in the Psychology department, and letters of recommendations for graduate school.
  • Remember, if a faculty member does not really know you or had you in one class, there is a lower likelihood that the Professor will agree to write a letter for you or knows you well enough to write a letter.
  • There are two important things to keep in mind with regard to letters of recommendation. First, a short letter of recommendation from a faculty member who does not know you well can sometimes be worse than no letter at all. Second, It is almost always better to have a letter of recommendation from a full-time Professor than an Instructor. For better or worse, the latter simply has higher status than the latter.

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Click on the links below to read about another Industrial/Organizational Psychology career that requires a graduate degree:

Master's in Psychology

PhD in Psychology

Here is an article that discuss the above steps in greater detail: