What I Learned About Myself and the Career Path to Becoming an Organizational Psychologist

By Caroline Griffith, MA in Industrial-Organizational Psychology Candidate | President – Psychology Association | Networking Ambassador – Office of Career Planning

Embarking on a new career requires courage and persistence. The outcome of your hard work and effort will not immediately be apparent because having a successful career is a journey where persistence is required. In the process, trial and error are inevitable, calling on our courage to face the unknown and stretch our understanding of the world and how we fit into the grand scheme of things. In 2014, I moved to Arizona to pursue a doctorate in Family Studies and Human Development. I was intrigued by the novelty of living outside my home state of California, and I was fascinated to learn about human development and interpersonal theories. As much as I learned about the field, I learned about the vision and strategy of leadership in the program and how it was different from my own. It turned out not to be a good fit for me. Finding myself in the wrong program was devastating and forced me to reevaluate my self-concept, past accomplishments, and work experiences, as well as my future career goals.

Fast-forward four years and here I am today, halfway done with my Master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology (I-O psychology). My journey has not been a straight road with clear signs telling me where to turn, which now I can say I am thankful for because my courage and persistence has been tested and strengthened. Knowing the nuances of my own journey sparked my curiosity of the career journeys of others. While researching professionals on LinkedIn in the field of I-O psychology, I came across Dr. Nora Abdoun’s profile and was impressed by her work and educational experiences. Here is what I learned from my informational interview with Nora, showcasing the career journey of an organizational psychologist.

The Journey to a Career in Organizational Development

I was curious about how Nora became interested in a career in organizational development. While pursuing a master’s degree, Nora interned at Great Place to Work Institute, a consulting firm focused on excellence in the workplace. During the internship, she discovered her passion for shaping cultures inside organizations and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior. While in school, she gained more hands-on experience in the field by working as an external consultant in various firms and in-house roles at Disney ABC Television Group. In 2010, she moved back to San Francisco and, through building relationships, landed a position at Levis Strauss & Co. and later at eBay and Salesforce.

Improving Performance Management Systems

At Salesforce, Nora had a direct impact on how the company evaluated their employees. The company was changing their performance management system, and Nora led the creation of a performance management system app with a team of engineers that enabled all employees to provide continuous, ongoing feedback to each other. Nora says, “Annual performance reviews don’t fit today’s nature of work. Business needs change, projects change, and we work with many different teams that have a closer pulse on our performance than our ‘official’ manager.” Performance reviews are a difficult process to change because organizations have been using this process for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. The new app included progress check-ins where continuous feedback and conversations occur. People can give feedback to anyone at any time, rather than having feedback come solely from a manager. For example, a manager answers five questions about their employees every month, and employees answer five questions about their manager every month. Additionally, there is peer-to-peer feedback, which Nora believed could offer more accurate assessments since it comes from multiple sources. From an organizational behavior perspective, organizations are highly interpersonal and relationship based, which makes it difficult for employees to give constructive feedback to each other. Research backed ways to handle this by having people set goals around their areas of development and to ask for feedback on those areas.

Change Management

Nora mentions that an organizations’ tendency to maintain the status quo can make organizational change difficult. “A lot of organizations, especially successful organizations, are used to doing things the way they have always done them and perceive change efforts as unnecessary,” Nora says. Change has to do with what is being reinforced inside a company. For example, if employees are asked to be transparent, yet leadership shares no information, then transparency will not be reinforced. Change can be applied to everything including individuals, teams, and organizations.

Talent Development

When it comes to talent development, Nora believes it is a subset of an organization’s business strategy;

“Developing people is just as important as
developing your business strategy.”

Talent is all about people, and a company cannot do much without people. However, the way talent is viewed depends on the company and the mindset of leaders. Companies that integrate people into the business strategy are often the best because they do not treat their people as an afterthought.

How to find a job in Organizational Development

When looking for a job, she recommends selecting leadership and teams to work with that have a similar vision and values for growth in their company. “Make sure you understand the vision and strategy of your managers, team, key stakeholders, and leadership, because that will directly impact your work, especially if your role has to do with creating change in the organization,” Nora says.  Having a vision for oneself and career goals is good practice, and it includes having a network of people who understand your skills and aspirations. There is a need for people in the field of industrial-organizational psychology. Nora encourages interested individuals to continue networking, email your questions to professionals in the field, be open to hearing their stories, and develop (as well as evolve) your own point of view.

A Never Ending Journey

Reflecting on my interview with Nora, I can now attest to the power of networking. The process pushed me out of my comfort zone because I initiated contact with a person I did not know but now consider a professional in my network. After all, it was through networking that Nora discovered opportunities at eBay and Salesforce. We never know where our next opportunity may come from or the kinds of insights we may gain about a company or industry. The more people I meet in the field of I-O psychology, the more confident I am in knowing I am on the right career path.

About Nora:

Dr. Nora Abdoun is from San Francisco, CA. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology from San Francisco State University, and Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Claremont Graduate University. She is in the process of starting her own LLC while traveling internationally.

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