A master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology is among the top degrees for the highest-paying business careers. Industrial-organizational psychologists earn a median wage of $92,880 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Although this job offers a high salary, it remains a small occupation, and many of the opportunities available are not full-time in-house employee roles. Consulting is a big part of the field of industrial-organizational psychology. If you’re considering this career path, then you should be familiar with the different employment options and opportunities available, including self-employed consulting work, internal company management roles and employment in an external consulting firm.

Self-Employment and Consulting Among Industrial-organizational Psychologists

Industrial-organizational psychologist is a tiny occupation. The BLS reports that just 1,400 Americans work as industrial-organizational psychologists. Further, the BLS estimates that only 780 industrial-organizational psychologists are “employed” nationwide – excluding the nearly half of the profession that is self-employed.

While it’s surprising that more than 44 percent of industrial-organizational psychologists are self-employed, being your own boss is actually common in the field of psychology as a whole. Among all kinds of psychologists, 29 percent reported being self-employed – so many, in fact, that working for yourself is the most common employment arrangement in the occupation, according to the BLS. The next largest employing industry for psychologists of all kinds is elementary and secondary schools, which account for 24 percent of psychology jobs.

The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) identifies four main career paths in the field: consulting, industry, government and academia. In a consulting role in industrial-organizational psychology, you may work as a project consultant who assists clients – typically, companies interested in improving productivity and workplace culture – with optimizing their workforce. Some of the job titles you may hold include associate consultant, organizational consultant, senior consultant, principal consultant and executive consultant.

U.S. News & World Report recently ranked industrial-organizational psychologist as the second-best science jobs, as well as one of the best STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs and the 100 best jobs overall.

Is Industrial-organizational Psychology a Field Where I Am More Likely to Be Hired as a Consultant Rather Than as a Full-Time Employee

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Traditional Employment in Industrial-organizational Psychology

Among industrial-organizational psychologists who do work full-time for the organization they are working to improve, many are employed in the human resources department, the American Psychological Association reported. Other, more specialized departments or divisions that might hire an internal industrial-organizational psychologist include recruitment and talent acquisition, training and employee enhancement and organizational development. Your career options for internal roles usually revolve around either management or an expert role like chief scientist or principal research scientist, the SIOP reported.

The industry that is most likely to employ industrial-organizational psychologists is scientific research and development services. Almost 30 percent of industrial-organizational psychologists who work for someone else work in this industry, which happens to be the highest paying industry in the field. Industrial-organizational psychology roles in scientific research and development pay an average wage of $149,780 per year, the BLS reported.

Two industries, state governments and colleges and universities, each employ another 7 percent of the traditionally employed industrial-organizational psychologist workforce. Around 5 percent of industrial-organizational psychologists who aren’t self-employed work in management.

Students should realize that being an employee and a consultant aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. You can, for example, be hired as a full-time employee at a consulting firm or a leadership center. In fact, the management, scientific and technical consulting services industry employs 150 industrial-organizational psychologists, or 19 percent of the occupation.

This employment arrangement gives you the structure of traditional employment – and removes the demands of marketing and running your own business – while also allowing you the variety of work experiences consultants enjoy. Instead of working with a single company for a sustained time, you may work with more than one company simultaneously, or you may focus your efforts on one organization at a time without being locked into permanent employment there.

Over the course of your industrial-organizational psychology career, you may move between full-time in-house employment, full-time consulting employment and self-employment working arrangements. About 20 percent of internally hired industrial-organizational psychologists had prior experience working in an external consulting firm, according to the SIOP. Their external consulting experience offers benefits like exposure to many different workplace problems and solutions, the acquisition of more specialized skills they one typically gains in an industry role and familiarity with how to approach interpersonal discussions about work projects, SIOP reported.

There’s no one direction of mobility that is right for every industrial-organizational psychologist. Some professionals leave the full-time workforce for the flexibility of self-employment, while others switch to internal roles for a more regular routine.

Additional Resources

What Kind of People Become IO Psychologists?

Is It Easy to Work for Yourself as a Psychologist?

15 Degrees That Are Perfect for Becoming Your Own Boss