I-O Psychology: “What the heck is that?”

In a recent article on ABC News, Alan Farnham highlights the ranking of the fastest-growing occupations provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). I was pleasantly, while not completely, surprised to see that Industrial-Organizational Psychologists made the top of the list. The article highlights two important facts about the small size of the field: a) with the field only including around 1,600 psychologists, a 53% increase doesn’t result in as many jobs as other fields and b) not many people know much about the field.

It was refreshing to read an accurate and positive description of the field in the media for once. I recently read an article describing us as occupational therapists, which is very inaccurate, but a step past my peers thinking I read minds in the work place for a living. Beyond being a mouthful to say, I am often given a blank stare and a “What the heck is that?” when I mention that I am an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.

Farnham describes I-O Psychologists as consultants that can be hired to improve the efficiency of an organization and that their contribution can be directly linked to improved business performance. This is a very important distinction because one of the most difficult jobs an I-O Psychologist faces is explaining what we do to non-I-O psychologists. Our job is very important in that we are not only seeking to improve the efficiency in an organization, but we must also remain agents of the court (keep companies from violating employment law). For the most part, this involves conducting rigorous research to find validation evidence to support our methods.

All of our R&D staff, as well as several of our consultants and coaches are I-O psychologists. As a Consultant on the R&D team at Hogan, I spend most of my time conducting selection research for domestic clients and multinational corporations. As Farnham mentioned, we are able to demonstrate causality between our contribution and business performance. Our assessments predict performance and we have the numbers to back it up. The hard part is putting this in a business language that can be used and understood by stakeholders in an organization. Companies that have dealt with I-O psychologists get it quickly. Companies new to the idea take longer to convince. Other scientists are often the most skeptical of psychologists calling themselves scientists. In the end, the numbers speak for themselves and our ability to provide return on investment (ROI) is valuable.