Jeromy Anglim's Blog: Psychology and Statistics

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tips for Undergraduates Interested in a Career in Organisational Psychology: Australian Perspective

Undergraduate psychology students often ask me about careers in organisational psychology. This post aims to provide a few links and resources to assist such students to learn about the profession and the career pathways. The post includes (a) a basic description of organisational psychology, (b) links to Australian educational and professional society resources, (c) discussion of PhD and academic options, and (d) additional resources to learn more about the profession.

Overview of Organisational Psychology

What is the profession called?

Before discussing the profession some consideration should be given to what to call it. 'Organisational psychology' goes by various names and abbreviations:

  • Organisational Psychology (Org Psych)
  • Industrial/Organisational Psychology (I/O or I/O Psych)
  • Work Psychology
  • Occupational Psychology

Different names imply both historical and present differences in focus. However, such terms are also often used interchangeably. See SIOP's 'What's in a Name?' article for an overview of various job titles.

Names vary by region. In the United States, "I/O" is preferred. In Australia, "Organisational Psychology" is arguably the more common term, consistent with the APS college name and many course names. Thus, I'll tend to use this term in this post.

What is organisational psychology?

Here are a few descriptions:

  • "Organisational Psychology is the science of people at work. Organisational psychologists specialise in analysing organisations and their people, and devising strategies to recruit, motivate, develop, change and inspire." - prize winning elevator pitch (APS COP)
  • Industrial / Organisational psychologists "Apply principles of psychology to personnel, administration, management, sales, and marketing problems. Activities may include policy planning; employee screening, training and development; and organizational development and analysis. May work with management to reorganize the work setting to improve worker productivity. - Industrial/Organisational Psychologist job description on O*N
  • "Industrial-organizational (I-O) 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." - SIOP: Student Section

The APS College of Organisational Psychology has a page that describes "What is an organisational psychologist" and "Areas of Specialisation".

Learning more about the profession:

A good strategy for learning more about the profession is to browse the various society pages:

Organisational Psychology in Australia


  • "Psychologist" is a regulated term in Australia. It is illegal to call yourself a psychologist, if you are not appropriately registered.
  • Pathways to registration are set out by the Psychology Board of Australia.
  • The traditional pathway for registration has involved first completing a four year accredited undergraduate psychology sequence, followed by either two years of supervised practice or the completion of an accredited post-graduate program (e.g., Masters, Doctorate, Masters / PhD). Over recent years, rules for registration have been changing. So, make sure you do your own research.
  • I should also mention that even if you can't call yourself a "psychologist", completing an undergraduate major in psychology, particularly one with honours in psychology (and perhaps also an undergraduate subject in organisational psychology) can open doors to many roles related to organisational psychology (e.g., HR, selection and recruitment, marketing research, etc.).

Finding organisational psychology university programs in Australia:

Groups and networking opportunities

The Australian Psychological Society: College of Organisational Psychologists is the main group representing organisational psychologists in Australia.
It is made up of various state branches.
The society sometimes runs sessions suited to students wanting to learn more (e.g., careers fairs).

A few informal online groups are also good places to learn more about the profession in Australia. Both welcome professionals and students:

Salary Surveys

There are many reasons to find a career in organisational psychology intellectually stimulating and meaningful. There has also often been financial reasons to find it attractive:

A career in academia

PhD on a topic related to organisational psychology or related area

  • Doing a PhD on a topic related to organisational psychology can create many opportunities. Such a PhD can open up doors to academic positions in a wide range of departments including, psychology, HRM, management, business, and so on. The solid background in statistics and research methods provides a particular advantage for an academic career. Of course, academic positions are competitive and generally require a good publication track record.
  • Choosing a good PhD supervisor is important. In addition to supervisors in departments that offer organisational psychology programs, it's possible to look at supervisors in departments and universities that don't offer such programs.
  • The skills learnt can also readily be applied in many social science research related roles in industry.

Examples of eminent organisational psychology academics

For those considering pursuing an academic career related to organisational psychology, the past SIOP award recipients, particularly in the categories Distinguished Scientific Contribution, and Distinguished Early Career Contribution, provide motivating examples of successful I/O psychology researchers.

Example academic websites

The following links point to examples of successful academics in I/O psychology.
I also selected these particular pages because each one provides PDFs for many of the respective academic's publications. This can give a flavour of the kind of work, focus, and specialisation that an academic in I/O might engage in.

Journals to read

Further understanding of the research done in organisational psychology and related disciplines can be gained from reading some of the core journals. A good starting point can be gained by perusing the following ranked list of journals generated by Michael Zickar and Scott Highhouse back in 2001 based on a survey of SIOP members:

  1. Journal of Applied Psychology
  2. Personnel Psychology
  3. Academy of Management Journal
  4. Academy of Management Review
  5. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
  6. Administrative Science Quarterly
  7. Journal of Management
  8. Journal of Organizational Behavior
  9. Organizational Research Methods
  10. Journal of Vocational Behavior

Additional Resources

  • Richard Landers has a series of posts providing advice on pursuing a career in I/O psychology from the U.S. perspective:
  • TIP is the official newsletter of SIOP. Current and back issues are available online and provide a good insight into the profession including the interface between professional practice and scientific research.