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Psychology at Work



What Do I-O Psychologists Really Do?

Sometimes one of the most difficult things for industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists to explain to non-I-O psychologists is what exactly it is that they do.

The field of I-O psychology is, in fact, a varied one, encompassing almost any aspect of the workplace and people within organizations. I-O psychologists’ job titles and employment environments can be even more varied—ranging from employment consultants in private firms to testing and assessment experts in government agencies to psychology and business professors in university or research settings. (For a PDF explaining potential job titles of I-O psychologists, read “What’s in a Name?” here. For informational brochures about I-O, click here.)

The following is part of the SIOP Psychology at Work series, a group of surveys of SIOP members meant to better explain the myriad career paths and research interests explored by SIOP members as well as the numerous contributions and innovations the field of I-O psychology has made to the workplace. For each profile, we delve into the job of a SIOP member to gain a greater depth of insight into what they do, who they work with, how their work affects others, and why they believe I-O psychology matters.

Continue reading for information on what it’s like to be an I-O psychologist for SIOP Member Carl Persing!

Name: Carl R. Persing, Ph.D.

Job Title/Company: Research and Solutions Advisor, Metrus Group

Job responsibilities: Client project management including design and delivery of organizational survey research and consulting on organizational development.

My specific I-O interests (research and/or practice): Beyond survey research and application of psychological principles to organizational development, I am interested in how personality and individual differences affect social cognition, emotion, and behavior in the workplace, especially as it pertains to occupational health and wellness and counterproductive workplace behaviors. I am also interested in occupational safety and the personality and cognitive predictors of unsafe workplace behaviors.

My career path/job history: I started my work life in steel fabrication, then excavating and road construction; I was an entrepreneur and owned several businesses. I’ve worked as a truck driver, welder, and I still maintain master certified auto and truck technician status. I went to college later in life, fell in love with psychology, went straight into grad school, worked as a professor for 7 years, and now I work on the applied side of psychology. A long and circuitous route that prepared me well for my present position.

How I became interested in I-O psychology: I was in business before I went to college--so when I took psych I immediately saw its usefulness for business! As is typical for me, I then told everyone I knew about the link I “discovered.” Then I found out that they had been applying psych to business for about 100 years by that time. Hey, great minds think alike, right?

A typical day at my job includes: There is no typical day—presenting results to clients on site, conducting a strategic planning session with senior leadership teams, creating scale items, discussing and conducting stats on data, etc.

What I like best about my job: Being able to use most of my skills almost every day and being challenged in the process!

Some of the challenges of my job: Making sure that I represent my company and my discipline well in every encounter.

Something others may find interesting about me: Besides my varied work history, the only thing is that I’ve sung and played guitar solo and in bands.

My other I-O and SIOP-related activities: I am the chair of the Visibility Committee for SIOP. I think what we do can cure so many workplace problems and have such enthusiasm for I-O. But I quickly realized that few people—including business leaders, have heard of I-O! I just can’t abide by that! So I told my I-O students that the first thing they have to do is educate everyone they talk to—every class I required them to write an elevator speech to explain I-O. Then I learned that SIOP had a Visibility Committee—I had to be part of that.

My advice to future I-O psychologists: You need business acumen as well as psychological, statistical, communication, and computer skills—doing I-O is like having two careers. I required the undergrad I-O students in my program to take 5 business classes along with extra stats and other specialty classes to gain the knowledge they needed to even decide that this was a career for them. Look at jobs that you think are interesting and see what the qualifications are, then get those qualifications while you are still in school. Do as many internships as possible to get valuable experiences—some of my students did 3--you don’t need your school’s blessing to do them non-credit. Also, students should join SIOP—you can learn a lot. And be responsible for your own education and career—don’t rely on a program or advisor, be engaged and proactive in your career from the start by reading, joining, and exposing yourself to learning opportunities in business and psychology. Never be afraid to ask questions or for an opportunity to work with a professor or a company—tell them what you know and why you would be valuable.

Why I-O psychology matters: Because it is an important means to changing workers lives for the better, creating more profit for companies, and enhancing the world economy.

Is there anything else you would like to add? You have to be able to understand and use the language of business. You must strive to be as sharp as those to whom you will consult—maybe even a little sharper. That’s what they’re paying you for, right?

To read archives of SIOP’s Psychology at Work series, click here!