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Working in occupational psychology

Occupational psychology: area of work

A graduate career in occupational psychology involves applying psychology to workplace issues such as recruitment and training.

Occupational psychologists apply psychological theory and practice to workplace issues, be that in recruitment, training, retention, ergonomics or the general health and wellbeing of staff. Large organisations may have in-house occupational psychologists, but more typically they will be part of specialist consultancies which advise organisations on a contract basis.

The profession aims to increase the effectiveness of the organisation and the individual, and as such has a broader scope than many other areas of psychology. The most obvious example is in the use of psychometric tests during interviews or assessment centres – they will have been designed by an occupational psychologist, aiming to assess and identify particular personality traits and ability levels. But it's not just psychometric testing that occupies the time of professionals in this area.

Graduate occupational psychologists will spend their time:

  • analysing job roles
  • testing working environments
  • drafting competency frameworks
  • answering questions from senior management
  • contributing to recruitment policies
  • developing talent management schemes

The highs of the role come from the fact that you can use your psychology training within a real business environment, making real beneficial changes to employees' lives. The downside is that you may have to bend to the will of the organisation against your better judgement.

What's required

You'll need to have strong analysis and decision making skills as well as effective interpersonal, communication and influencing skills. Project management skills will also be needed, along with good presentation and report writing skills.

A psychology degree will be required, and in many cases employers prefer candidates who also have an occupational psychology MSc. An HR qualification will also improve your chances of employment, and within the CIPD qualification you can focus on occupational psychology as your specialty.

If you have a psychology degree any experience within an HR environment would be hugely beneficial. If it’s the other way round, and you're coming from an HR qualification with no psychological background, then try to get work experience within an occupational psychology consultancy, or a large HR department.

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