Career Options in Industrial-Organizational Psychology

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By: Dr. Jerry Palmer, EKU associate professor of psychology

I have always told classes that to truly understand some concept, do not look at its definition but rather at how it is measured. For example, knowing an intelligence test includes questions on math problems or word problems tells you more about how the test defines intelligence than the definition itself. Something similar might be said about the EKU Industrial-Organizational (I-O) Psychology Master of Science (M.S.) program. The jobs attained by the alums of this program tell us so much about the field of I-O in general, and this degree at EKU in particular.

Twice in the past I have attempted to catalog the jobs attained by the alums of the EKU I-O M.S. program. The first was an email survey in 2008 and included 37 alum job titles. Eighteen of the job titles included “HR” or “Human Resources.” Examples include HR Generalist, HR Coordinator, HR Assistant, HR Representative, HR Specialist, and HR Manager. Other job titles did not include HR but specified a location within that department, such as Curriculum Developer, and HR and Recruiting.

The alums are clearly applying their psychology training to workforce and employee issues. Other job titles were more specific: Career Consultant, Affirmative Action Coordinator, Compensation Analyst, Business Analyst in Operations Performance Management, Management Analyst, Job Developer II / Lead Instructor for Education and Training Resources, Personnel Psychologist, Project Manager, Senior Analyst for People Development, Retention Coordinator. From that we know they are involved in training, problem solving, finding new talent, and legal compliance issues. 

Many alums had attained senior level positions. The words Director, Coordinator, Manager, Vice President, and Senior appeared in 16 of the job titles. When one considers that the oldest of this alum sample had graduated just six years before the 2008 survey was conducted, it is especially impressive; our alums are promoted into jobs requiring leadership and high levels of responsibility.

For this sample 60% worked in the private sector, such as Toyota, Kentucky One Health and Yum! Foods. Nineteen percent worked in academia (e.g., EKU, University of Kentucky) and 17% worked in government (e.g., Department of Homeland Security).  Two worked for non-profits (e.g., Human Resources Director of the Lexington Humane Society).

The second data collection involved an examination of LinkedIn job titles from 2016, and included 79 alums; this is over 80% of all who had ever graduated from our program. Once again, job titles including “Human Resources” were most numerous. About half of the job titles involved leading and directing. This sample also included a range of very interesting job titles, such as Manager of Workforce Analytics, Corporate Wellness Director, Senior Manager of Talent Analytics and Diversity, Community Employment Specialist, Talent Acquisition Guru, and Director of Assessment, Data, and Operations, and Health and Safety Manager. For this second sample 84% worked in the private sector, 11% worked in academia, and 7% worked in government. Two alums worked for non-profits.

In sum, the graduates of the EKU I-O Psychology M.S. program attain jobs related to their degree, wherein they apply their knowledge of psychology and the skills learned in the program (problem solving, data analysis, consulting) toward organization and personnel issues in a variety of workplace settings. This is essentially the broad definition of I-O Psychology – the application of psychology to the workplace. Furthermore, a large percentage are promoted into leadership positions.  I-O Psychologists from EKU have very successful careers.

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