Careers in Personnel Psychology

Today’s workplace is radically different from that of yesteryear’s. The concept of employees working together to serve clients has its roots in ancient times, but in the modern workplace, it has assumed a new form. With this new work setting come new challenges. Personnel psychologists help an organization manage the everyday challenges of growing and maintaining a happy, healthy workforce.

Personnel psychology, as its name suggests, deals with the psychological factors that drive and affect people in the workplace. This field, a sub-niche of industrial and organizational psychology, comprises the psychological aspects of employment, including recruitment, interviewing, hiring, reviewing, relationship management, and retention. Personnel psychologists work with management, including executives and senior managers, to help provide a socially, mentally, and emotionally healthy workplace for everyone at the organization.

Overview of Personnel Psychology ― What Is a Personnel Psychologist?

Personnel psychology encompasses workplace hiring and recruiting, human resources, communications, training, and job quality. Personnel psychologists assist organizations in establishing good morale, building and retaining a strong, close-knit staff, streamlining relationships between superiors and subordinates, and measuring the success of individuals, teams, and the workplace as a whole. Additionally, the psychologist helps ensure the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of everyone in the company.

Personnel psychologists are responsible for identifying the personality traits that indicate a particular candidate is suitable for the intended position, the candidate’s reliability, and the likelihood that the applicant will enjoy the work. Using the tools of psychology, personnel psychologists identify which types of individuals are a good fit for an organization. For instance, digital businesses typically attract a younger demographic, while professions such as law and medicine require seasoned, experienced hires. Additionally, personnel psychologists assist with the formation of teams to ensure that the members will be able to work together well and be productive.

Additionally, every day, personnel psychologists work to address minor issues that arise in an expedient, efficient manner. By doing so, small issues do not become larger problems that affect the workplace as a whole, leading to the dissatisfaction of a single individual, a team ― or even the entire staff.

Personnel Psychologist: What Does a Personnel Psychologist Do?

Personnel psychologists lend their expertise to a range of workplaces, from businesses to educational institutions to nonprofits and government institutions. Every personnel psychologist’s goal is to make the organization more comfortable and profitable through ensuring the correct fit between a company and its individuals, as well as among the employees of that company. To accomplish these myriad tasks, personnel psychologists require specialized knowledge and skills, including:

  • Broad overview of basic psychological principles
  • Niche understanding of the specific factors affecting different types of workplaces
  • Thorough grounding in company culture, compensation, and employee expectations
  • Strong research skills
  • Ability to gather and analyze data
  • Thorough understanding of the rewards and punishments peculiar to a particular industry (with an emphasis on rewards)
  • Positive working relationship with all company employees, from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy
  • Good “people skills” to relate to employees who are discussing work or personal matters
  • Record of excellence in addressing disputes, complaints, and other issues in the workplace
  • Mediation skills
  • Excellent communicator and leader
  • Determination of what constitutes appropriate salaries in the particular market in which the company is located

Personnel psychologists use these skills to ensure that employees are well compensated, that company incentives are working, and that all personnel are properly motivated. When necessary, personnel psychologists address problems, such as:

  • Poor employee‒organization fit
  • Reduced productivity or an increase in errors
  • Low workplace morale
  • Complaints against managers or executives
  • Sexual harassment
  • Mental and emotional struggles
  • Negative feedback about company culture or expectations
  • Poor training results
  • Repeated hires that don’t work out
  • Dissatisfaction with salary

Clearly, not every problem can be addressed, and not every worker is a good fit for a company. When an employee is not succeeding in his or her assigned role, the psychologist is sometimes called upon to advise executives or managers as to correct disciplinary procedures, including verbal and written warnings, trial periods, etc., which may or may not lead to the staff member losing the position. In many situations, a psychologist may be able to work with the individual to formulate a plan to help the employee get back on track and begin to hit established goals. Approaches depend on the company culture, the tenure of the individual in question, and the decisions of the affected team or department leaders.

Personnel Psychologist: Typical Work Environment & Industries Served

Personnel psychologists work in a variety of settings, including offices, factories, university campuses, schools, and more. Some personnel psychologists work on teams with colleagues in the general field of psychology, while others work with professionals in their specialty, such as members of a healthcare or educational team. Others work in government agencies, consulting firms, or research institutions.

Personnel psychologists also may work in private practice, with their own office where they see employees referred by an organization. They may travel to different employment settings to share their expertise. Many work in human resources departments.

Depending on the size of the company and its geographic location, a personnel psychologist’s salary varies, but typically, the work is enjoyable and pays well. However, the position can result in various challenges, some of which are stressful and demanding, including:

  • Increased pressure during transitions, such as moves to a new location or software upgrades
  • Long working hours during office moves or new product launches
  • Evening or weekend hours to accommodate shift-based employment settings
  • Workplace strife
  • Reprimanding, disciplining, or firing employees

Personnel Psychology Salary & Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in general, psychologists earn roughly $75,000 per year, or $36.17 an hour. They enjoy an excellent job outlook, with employment opportunities growing at a rate of 19 percent between 2014 and 2024 – much faster than average. According to other estimates, personnel psychologists may make considerably more than this figure.

As subspecialists in industrial and organizational psychology, personnel psychologists earn salaries equivalent to other professionals in their field. According to the American Psychological Association, industrial organizational psychologists with a master’s degree start at $65,000 annually, and $81,000 with a doctorate. Those who teach at the university level earn, on average, $70,000 annually, and those who go into private practice can make $100,000, with salaries ranging upwards to $250,000 a year.

The amount you earn also depends heavily on the type of workforce you serve. For instance, personnel psychologists who work with law enforcement personnel usually make a higher salary than those who work in a corporate office setting. According to one estimate, a police psychologist can make between $80,000 and $125,000 per year. That’s just one example, but it demonstrates the range in salaries.

Personnel Psychology Jobs & Job Description

A typical personnel psychologist works with the staff members at a specific organization. He or she sees multiple people every day, both potential hires and long-term employees; assigns and interprets aptitude tests; work with employees on remediation and goal-setting; discusses company objectives with management; and ensures the smooth functioning of the organization. A typical list of duties includes, but is not limited, to:

  • Identifying potential employees and recruiting candidates
  • Interviewing and evaluating candidates
  • Setting job performance criteria and standards for on-the-job behavior
  • Analyzing and measuring job performance
  • Measuring personality traits and matching individuals with careers
  • Relating job performance assessments to employees
  • Identifying employee goals and objectives
  • Defining and redefining job roles
  • Testing and training new staff
  • Assisting with the mental and emotional challenges of workplace life
  • Addressing ergonomic issues, such as keyboards and seating

Personnel Psychology Degrees & Education

To find work as personnel psychologist, a bachelor’s degree is sufficient. A number of schools offer undergraduate degree programs in industrial and organizational psychology, human resources, and other closely related fields. However, an undergrad degree means the psychologist is qualified to work only as part of a practicing, licensed psychologist’s team and cannot work one-on-one with clients or actually provide treatment. The personnel psychologist cannot find individual employment in an office setting or human resources department, but, must again work under others.

Those who want to work as practicing psychologists need, at minimum, a master’s degree. While a doctoral degree is not necessary, it means considerable more opportunity to work with patients and pursue career advancement. It also enables the psychologist to use the title “clinical psychologist” or “counseling psychologist.” Typically, this designation isn’t essential in finding employment in a workplace setting, but it may be. That said, the minimum degree to acquire a license is a master’s.

Licensing standards vary widely by state and jurisdiction, but the basic requirements are the same. The psychologist must prove that he or she understands the basics of the field, have sound ethics, and is qualified to work unsupervised with patients and clients. Before acquiring licensure, the applicant must also complete a qualified academic program, with training overseen by a practicing psychologist. Check with the local licensing board for more information about the licensing exam and its contents.

Certification is not necessary to become a practicing personnel psychologist, although coursework while in school should include a heavy organizational and industrial psychology focus. Over time, and to fulfill continuing education requirements, personnel psychologists can earn additional certifications to refine their expertise and add to their salary.