Previous membership on the SIOP Professional Practice Committee: May 2010-May 2013.
Competencies and Experiences Critical for Entry-Level Success for Industrial–Organizational Psychologists
Article first published online: 20 FEB 2014
Copyright © 2014 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Volume 7, Issue 1, pages 65–71, March 2014
How to Cite
Zelin, A. I., Lider, M., Doverspike, D., Oliver, J. and Trusty, M. (2014), Competencies and Experiences Critical for Entry-Level Success for Industrial–Organizational Psychologists. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 7: 65–71. doi: 10.1111/iops.12108
- Issue published online: 20 FEB 2014
- Article first published online: 20 FEB 2014
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology's (SIOP) Professional Practice Committee is currently conducting a study that will provide data on the various questions posed in Byrne et al. (2014). Our purpose in this short reply to Byrne et al. is to offer some initial data-based conclusions; our intent is not to critique their views, nor to indicate agreement or disagreement, but simply to offer some preliminary data on the issues. Some of our results may be surprising, but at this point we do not wish to engage in too much interpretation as we are still in the process of finalizing the study. If the Byrne et al. article generates greater interest in the question of how best to prepare young professionals for careers in industrial–organizational (I–O) psychology then it has served a valuable purpose, but future revisions to the Education and Training Guidelines should be data-based.
As one of its recent goals, the Professional Practice Committee developed a study to evaluate the various competencies and experiences required for successful pursuit of a career in I–O psychology. In conducting such a study, we also sought to identify the critical experiences in one's career that lead to success, mobility, and competency development. The first of two steps involved a series of interviews with various professionals. The second step, which we will soon be undertaking, will be an online survey of the SIOP membership.
At this point, we have completed the first step involving the interviews. Although the data are still preliminary, we have decided that it would be appropriate to release some of the initial findings in response to the issues raised in the Byrne et al. commentary.
Design of the Interview Study
Preliminary data for the first step were collected by interviewing 55 subject matter experts (SMEs) across what were identified as the four most common professional sectors employing I–O psychologists: academia (11), government (12), industry (15), and consulting (17). In addition, we sampled individuals at various promotional levels identified as corresponding to individual contributor, expert individual contributor, manager, manager of managers, and executive levels (see Table 1 for sample job title classifications). In addition, a wide range of organizations were included, with some employing one or two I–O psychologists and others employing in excess of 100 I–O psychologists.
|Individual contributor||Assistant professor||Analyst||HR research specialist||Project assistant|
|Associate professor||Associate||Project assistant||Associate consultant|
|Expert individual contributor||Full professor||Expert||Chief scientist||Senior consultant|
|Principal research scientist||Senior professional|
|Managing research scientist|
|Manager||Department chair||Case team leader||Director of HR operations||Manager|
|Senior associate consultant||Team leader||Program manager|
|Project leader||Program leader||Director|
|Manager of managers||Dean||Senior manager||Area director of HR||Senior team leader|
|Senior team leader||Principal consultant|
|Principal consultant||Program director|
|Executive||Vice president||Executive||Vice president of HR||Director|
|Provost||Senior executive||Chief HR officer||Officer|
|President||Partner||Global HR officer||Executive consultant|
|Vice president||Director||Vice president|
|President||Executive consultant||Sr. vice president|
|Senior vice president||CEO|
Something to keep in mind, however, is that there are difficulties in discussing exactly which competencies and experiences are the most critical as there are a multitude of possible work roles. For example, an entry-level individual contributor working within a consulting organization that is client facing may be required to demonstrate different competencies and engage in unique experiences as compared to an entry-level individual contributor who is hired into a research and design role. Furthermore, within the government, consulting, and industry settings, someone in an entry-level individual contributor position could take two different tracks: a management track or an expert individual contributor track. Thus, critical competencies and experiences may differ for entry-level individual contributors depending on which track he/she is ultimately working toward. Within academia, I–O psychologists often move from assistant to associate to full professor throughout their careers, and although the option to take a management role (e.g., department chair, assistant dean) is available, it is not common. Furthermore, as mentioned by Byrne et al., differences exist between management and psychology departments.
Thus, the roles played by I–O psychologists are complex and diverse. For example, if we cross our sectors with our managerial promotional levels, we end up with a 4 × 4, or 16-cell matrix of possible roles, and that is without considering further divisions such as types of government, department, or those choosing to develop within the individual contributor role into higher levels of expertise. Such diversity is not unique to I–O psychology, as it has also been observed in other disciplines such as engineering.
The interviews were structured around the participant's current job position and the competencies and critical experiences necessary to successfully execute their job and become a candidate for promotion. In addition, all SMEs were asked about the necessary competencies and critical experiences at each job level that an I–O psychologist could hold within their current organization. Although we have found that some of the competencies and critical experiences are similar across the four professional sectors, we have also found sufficient differences and have presented the results here by sector. For purposes of our reply to Byrne et al., it should also be noted that we have chosen to restrict most of our comments to those competencies and critical experiences relevant at the individual contributor level, as this is the entry-level and thus most relevant to a discussion of educational guidelines.
On the basis of our interviews, Assistant Professors are evaluated according to their performance and participation in research, service, and teaching. However, the importance of each depends on individual departmental specifications and requirements. Some departments rarely require Assistant Professors to complete service in order to receive tenure, whereas others expect their Assistant Professors to participate in multiple service activities prior to tenure. Many Assistant Professors are expected to publish extensively within one area and become recognized within the I–O community as an expert in that particular field, although this will vary and is less critical in colleges with a teaching emphasis or community colleges. For Assistant Professors working with graduate students, it is essential that they can successfully manage the completion of theses and/or dissertations of their student advisees.
As indicated by Byrne et al., the evaluation of performance for promotion at research-oriented institutions often includes the pursuit of grants. Again, the importance and necessity of obtaining grant funding for promotion depends upon the particular department, as well as the type of institution.
Upon initial hire, Byrne et al. stated that entry-level individual contributors within the government should have the following competencies: “managing oneself, collaboration, networking, embracing diversity, managing one's own career, oral and written communication, psychological methods and research expertise, and avoiding counterproductive behavior” (p. 5). Our initial results indicate that most of these competencies are imperative to success as an entry-level individual contributor. The only competency not mentioned within the interviews was avoiding counterproductive behavior.
In addition to these competencies, our data indicate that entry-level individual contributors are expected to write technical reports using the correct jargon as well as give presentations to others within the organization. In addition, they are held responsible for following timelines and budgets on project work. This necessitates the use of a wide array of communication skills involving presenting, teamwork, influencing others, and conflict management. Any prior experience in handling many different projects at the same time was seen as having a positive impact on the hiring process.
In many of the government positions at the individual contributor level, employees are expected to have an understanding of psychological concepts and theory on testing, knowledge of various tests available for selection, knowledge of test validation, strong data analysis techniques, and knowledge of the federal guidelines on employee selection procedures. There is also government agency-specific knowledge that must be acquired after entry. Having strong information-gathering skills, high levels of reading ability, time-management skills, and a drive for results are also seen as critical within the entry-level individual contributor role. Furthermore, employees must also pay strong attention to detail and be flexible toward change.
Entry-level individual contributors are expected to display a wide array of communication skills, ranging from presentation skills, working in a team, networking, influencing, facilitation, and writing. In addition, individual contributors working in the industry sector are expected to display business acumen and have a background in finance. Critical thinking, strategic thinking, a drive for results, achievement orientation, innovation, and problem-solving skills are all seen as necessary competencies for success within an industry setting.
Individual contributors in industry are also expected to have a customer focus and to prioritize their assignments in a way that will effectively deliver results in both a timely and cost-effective manner. They must show leadership capabilities and be able to collaborate in a way that motivates everyone. Furthermore, practitioners are often expected to have a strong understanding of statistics and computer programs (e.g., IRT, SEM; SPSS, SAS) prior to beginning their job and must be skilled in data analysis. Utilizing their statistical background, individual contributors are expected to design new projects that suit organizational needs and recommend changes to projects based upon the data.
As mentioned in the Byrne et al. article, having a broad background in the field of I–O is also seen as critical, as entry-level individual contributors are often expected to contribute to or complete projects in many different areas (e.g., selection, training, and coaching) as well as work in various areas of HR (e.g., compensation, employee management). A workplace skill often overlooked, but highly regarded by the interview respondents, was the ability to acquire political acumen as quickly as possible.
Within the consulting sector, entry-level individual contributor competencies can be divided into three main areas: project management, communication/relationship building, and professional skills. Successful project management requires consultants to switch tasks effectively, track hours, maintain accurate documentation of projects, have a high tolerance for ambiguity, manage people, execute and drive for results, meet customer expectations, pay close attention to detail, and have high levels of problem solving, innovation, and critical thinking. In addition, individual contributors need to have a high degree of product knowledge and adhere closely to the policies and procedures of their organization.
With regard to communication, it is essential that individual contributors have well-developed writing skills, or the ability to communicate complicated ideas in a simple but concise fashion. They must also be able to work effectively in teams and build relationships with others while working on projects.
Customer service skills are important to individual contributors, as they are expected to build rapport with clients and effectively cope with the stress of working with difficult clients. Verbal communication skills are important as individual contributors may present innovative ideas and project plans to potential clients and spend a majority of their time communicating through phone calls. As discussed in Byrne et al., many of our interview respondents mentioned that being able to transfer technical jargon to business language when delivering reports to clients was an essential skill. Eventually, individual contributors are asked to manage small client accounts and will often build their own client base from successful project completion and communication with the client about other various services offered by their consulting organization.
Professional skills that are often looked for include conscientiousness, commitment, dedication, self-discipline, efficiency, integrity, trustworthiness, and producing high-quality work. In addition, individual contributors should have a solid understanding of statistics and computer programs, a high level of learning agility, and a broad background in I–O psychology that allows them to integrate material across numerous I–O disciplines. As new employees, and typically recent graduates, entry-level individual contributors are expected to have the most up-to-date training in statistics and should be able to conduct various analyses without supervision. All projects should be completed on time and within budget, and the employee is often expected to produce work that adds value to the company.
At this point we could only offer a brief summary of our preliminary results, given the constraints of the reply space limits. In order to do so, we have concentrated on the results for individual contributors, as those are most relevant to the design of educational programs, internships, and postdocs.
It is perhaps not surprising that communication skills, teamwork, and successful management of projects are integral to success within an I–O entry-level individual contributor role in all of the professional sectors. What is surprising, in view of our initial results, is that “soft skills” (e.g., teamwork) rather than field-specific knowledge appear to be associated with success and upward mobility. Of course, there is the possibility that this reflects self-report and an attributional bias, but the results were consistent across individuals and professional sectors.
Many of the critical experiences necessary for promotion are centered around completing projects with minimal supervision, managing straightforward projects, following set timelines and budgets, and collaborating with a multitude of people on large projects. What appears to be a common theme is that individuals must become comfortable in their current position within their specific organization in order to be successful. Thus, one of the problems with thinking about how to train someone for a specific job is that, although entry-level individual contributors can show they have mastered these skills previously, they still need to adjust to the expectations, culture, and climate of their current organization.
As we indicated in our introduction, these results are preliminary, and we will be conducting a follow-up survey. As such, all competencies and critical experiences indicated within this reply are a result of the interviews, and the included set is intentionally large, whereas our follow-up survey will assist us in identifying which of the competences are most important and critical. As per the request of the Education and Training Committee, the online survey will also have a section where respondents can indicate where each competency is best developed (e.g., graduate school, on-the-job, structured training).
Pursuant to the final identification of a smaller set of critical competencies, there are still a number of possible approaches that could be taken, including (a) training graduate students through coursework or field work in the specific competencies; (b) selecting graduate students for specific competencies; (c) allowing students to self-select, or be guided in the selection of, careers that best match their competency profile; or (d) leave it to employers to select those students with the best overall match to their unique demands. At this point, we do not believe it would be effective or possible to include coursework or field experience related to all possible critical competencies in the graduate curriculum. In addition, some competencies may not be amenable to the type of training or field work provided in graduate school (e.g., product knowledge, knowledge of specific local or state laws and regulations).
We believe this challenge is not limited to I–O psychology but is shared by other fields such as clinical psychology, engineering, and medicine. Untangling the Gordian Knot to achieve the correct balance of technical knowledge and soft skills will require innovative pedagogical approaches; however, our belief is that it should be based on a thorough analysis of the competencies required throughout the career, and it was for that reason that the Professional Practice Committee embarked on an ambitious analysis of the work roles of practicing I–O psychologists. We would encourage everyone to assist in this endeavor by completing the online survey when they receive their request.
- 2014). Educating industrial–organizational psychologists for science and practice: Where do we go from here? Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7(1), 2–14. , , , , , & (