This is a pretty niche area of psychology. The clue is in the name: these psychologists operate in the world of work, concentrating on increasing job satisfaction, the productivity of workers and the effectiveness of the organisation. They are super interested in how people behave at work, how they perform and how people and organisations interact.
Due to the nature of the work, it’s a broader area of psychology and less formalised than others. Occupational psychologists might find themselves working with employees to improve leadership and communication skills, advising companies on various organisational developments, helping companies devise and assess their selection procedures (yes, you can blame the existence of psychometric tests and assessment centre exercises on these guys), or working within the field of health and safety.
There is no clear-cut career path for an occupational psychologist – it’s largely up to the individual to make their mark in this field. Occupational psychologists might be consultants or work in-house at a large organisation.
The Civil Service, in particular, is one of the largest employers of occupational psychologists, but they are also commonly employed within the private sector.
Salary & benefits
Salaries can vary hugely. An occupational psychologist might expect to command a starting salary of between £18,000 and £29,000 a year, rising to around £32,000 to £75,000 with experience.
The private sector tends to pay more than the public sector.
Occupational psychologists usually work a traditional working week. Weekend and evening work is pretty rare, although those employed in the private sector will usually have longer hours.
Quite a few occupational psychologists are self-employed or work on a freelance basis. However, they usually become self-employed after gaining a great deal of experience and building up a client base.
To become an occupational psychologist, you will need a degree in psychology which is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). Don’t fret if you’re already doing a different degree though – you can always do a conversion course!
Following your undergraduate degree, you will need an accredited Masters in Occupational Psychology or complete Stage 1 of the British Psychological Society’s Qualification in Occupational Psychology.
Next you’ll need to undertake two years supervised practice as part of Stage 2 of the Society’s Qualification in Occupational Psychology. After that, you’ll be able to register with the Health Professions Council (HPC) and practise as an occupational psychologist.
That being said, you don’t necessarily have to be a BPS member or chartered psychologist to become an occupational psychologist, but you will need equivalent qualifications, training and practical experience in order to register with the HPC.
Other than qualifications and practical work experience, what else do you need? Well, occupational psychologists must have good problem-solving skills, as well as being confident and pragmatic, with excellent communication and persuasive skills. In this line of psychology, commercial awareness is important as is the ability to be flexible and adaptable.
Training & progression
Check out the ‘Entry Routes & Requirements’ for details of training.
As for career development, there’s a range of options open for occupational psychologists. They might look to build up their own businesses, progress to senior or team leader positions in a large company, or expand their area of expertise by undertaking further qualifications and training.