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February 26, 2014


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As a student in a master's program, I'm not sure my post will bare as much relevance as the others, but I found this to be an interesting question.

I abide by the notion that MA/MS are not psychologists, but practitioners. As such, when people ask me what I/O psychology is and why I have an HR internship if I study psychology, I tell them that I am preparing to use the research I'm consuming in grad school and the skills I'm building in HR to develop expertise in strategic organizational improvement.

The the deer in headlights stare.

Then I explain (briefly) what the goals of strategic improvement are, and methods that can be used to identify needs and build solutions for problems.

Great blog. I just checked it out. So who won the elevator speech contest? You said in your blog that you have practiced the elevator speech and that you teach it to students. However, despite that you even admit that "Even after repeated explanations, I doubt my parents understand what my field of study is."
So, maybe, there is just something about this field that REALLY IS complicated, that makes it tough to communicate, even with the world's most polished elevator speech. Do you agree?
P.S. I am now following you on Twitter. If others are interested, Sy is @IOSyIslam.

Interesting idea. I have not tried NOT saying psychology before. I'll have to try that. Maybe something like, "helping organizations figure out how to shape human behavior so there is a win-win between the company and its employees. We help organizations be more successful by helping their employees be more successful". A elevator speech without mention of psychology or HR might be the way to go!

Ben Elman,
Nice speech! I am not a fan of focusing on fixing problems and tweaking broken systems, so I have to say the last part of your speech was my favorite part. An ounce of prevention... is also true in organizations as it is in our bodies. It's also more cost effective to invest in prevention.
Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

Hi Gillian,
You described a potential I-O elevator speech well when you said "using information to change behavior and help organizations make better decisions"
Thanks for your comment.

My work as an IO psychologist over the past 20 years has been in program evaluation, policy analysis, information systems and performance management, using information to change behaviour and help organizations make better decisions. I do very little work in HR but quite a lot in software usability and business process improvement. I'd prefer that IO psychology not be identified solely with HR - it's broader than that - but of course HR can be used as an example of the types of things we can do.

Hi Carrie Anne, Here is my elevator pitch:
Just as you might go to your local doctor when you are feeling unwell, business and organizational leaders with human capital pains call on I-O psychologists. We first listen to the organizations’ HR symptoms; then we use tested scientific methods to check the organizations’ pulse; and finally we prescribe a course of treatments from our org-kitbag. In addition, we work closely with organizations that want to avoid getting sick in the first place.

- Ben Elman (Touro College, NYC)

Carrie Anne,

Almost every time I tried to explain I-O in detail, the most common answer I got is, "Oh! So, like HR?" So, now I try to work backwards. The most successful 'elevator speeches' I have encountered, were due to the omission of the word psychology in its entirety at its introduction. I'd say something along Industrial relations and/or organizational development. This prevents any possible bias that has the propensity to arise upon hearing the word psychologist. At the conclusion, I would then state the actual official name of the field– Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
This technique has worked with my peers and family decently.

- Cristopher Michael

This is a great idea and something I wrote about on my own blog recently http://psychologyofwork.wordpress.com/2014/01/30/contest-your-elevator-pitch/

I'm interested in hearing other people's elevator pitches because of how important it is to effectively communicate what I/O Psychology is.

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