How to Become a Consumer Psychologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a consumer psychologist. Research the job description and education requirements to find out how to start a career in consumer psychology.

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Should I Become a Consumer Psychologist?

Consumer psychology, or the study of consumer behavior, is multi-faceted and of interest to businesses, marketing firms, government institutions, and other consumer-driven areas. This field is a branch of industrial-organizational psychology, which, according to the Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology (SIOP), focuses on the scientific study of work environments, including issues that relate to workplace efficiency, employee morale, and productivity.

Consumer psychologists often work for companies or are hired by larger organizations. Their work is completed in office settings, often meeting with groups and individuals in order to complete their research and draw conclusions. Therefore, while many psychologists are able to set their own hours, consumer psychologists' schedules may be set by their employers and/or be project-based.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

  • Apparel and Textile Manufacturing
  • Apparel and Textile Marketing Management
  • Consumer Economics
  • Consumer Services
  • Fabric and Fashion Specialist
  • Family and Consumer Sciences
  • Family Resource Management Studies
  • Human Sciences Communication
  • Retail Management and Merchandising

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's, master's, Master of Business Administration, doctorate
Degree Field Psychology, industrial-organizational psychology, business, communications, consumer psychology, economics, interdisciplinary studies, marketing, social psychology
Licensure and Certification Licensure usually not required for non-clinical work. Certification optional for specializations
Experience Varies, internships, depends on jurisdiction, 3,000 hours supervised experience including 1,500 hours postdoctoral experience
Key Skills Analytical, communication, interpersonal, observational, problem-solving and research-based skills, judgment and decision-making, systems analysis, evaluation, writing, analytical and scientific software, document management software, enterprise resource management software, and spreadsheet software
Salary (2014) $76,950 (Median salary for an industrial-organizational psychologist)

Sources: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, The American Board of Professional Psychology, O Net OnLine.

Step One: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that a career in business or sales may be possible with a bachelor's degree in psychology. Careers in consumer psychology, however, may be limited without a graduate degree. Even though employers and graduate school admissions committees may prefer psychology degrees, graduates with significant psychology coursework may also be considered. Some programs may offer a consumer psychology minor, which may include approximately four classes, including statistics and probability.

Step Two: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Since consumer psychologists usually don't work in clinical settings, a master's degree, according to the BLS, tends to be sufficient for industrial-organizational psychologist positions. Some graduate programs may focus on social and industrial psychology with an emphasis in consumer psychology, while others may offer a social and consumer psychology specialization. Another option is to obtain a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Some MBA programs offer an advertising and marketing degree with an emphasis in consumer behavior.

Success Tips:

  • Take additional electives. You may want to consider taking additional psychology courses to further expand your knowledge base and gain insight into relevant topic areas.
  • Explore program emphases. Since graduate programs tend to provide specializations, it's important to choose one or more that are in keeping with your career goals. Just a few areas to consider include advertising, advocacy and public policy consulting, consumer awareness education, market research and focus groups as well as strategic branding.

Step Three: Complete a Ph.D. Program

After obtaining a master's degree, graduates considering a career in consumer psychology may want to explore whether a Ph.D. will fulfill their career goals. Researchers, independent consultants and academics generally need to complete a Ph.D. or Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program, according to the BLS. Since Ph.D. programs tend to be research-based, students are usually required to complete an internship, comprehensive exam and dissertation. The Psy.D. degree program tends to be clinically-based and requires students to complete clinical work experience and multiple examinations.

Another educational path to consider is a Ph.D. program in marketing. Some of these programs, which are usually located in business schools, offer an emphasis in consumer behavior. Coursework includes economics, marketing theory and research methodology. This type of Ph.D. program is usually intended to prepare students to work in academic settings and to engage in theoretical research.

Success Tip:

  • Become certified. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers specialty certifications in a number of areas including the Organizational & Business Consulting Psychology. In addition to holding a doctorate degree, applicants may need to meet other post-doctoral requirements.

Step Four: Search for Jobs

For applicants with bachelor's degrees, business job boards may be an effective resource. Candidates with a master's degree or Ph.D. can consider consulting or research positions. Dedicated job boards are also available from a variety of membership-based organizations as well as through such groups as the SIOP and classified boards such as the one provided by the SCP. The SCP job board also lists events and research opportunities for consumer psychologists; these may be helpful to recent graduates who are seeking to become established in the field.

Success Tips:

  • Consider licensure. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) indicates that non-clinical psychologists may not need a license. In some cases, and depending upon the jurisdiction, psychologists who work for federal agencies, universities or research laboratories, may also be exempt. The ASPPB does state, however, that government agencies are tending to require a license.
  • Find a mentor. The SCP is one of several organizations dedicated to providing mentoring opportunities to both doctoral students and junior faculty members.
  • Subscribe to industry journals. The SCP's Journal of Consumer Psychology is just one of the journals available in this field. Publications of this nature assist job seekers and entry-level practitioners with becoming aware of current topics and issues within the field.

Step Five: Furthering Your Career

Consider continuing your education with conferences and other programs related to your work. Organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) host a variety of division conferences, summer conventions and summer workshop series. These events provide professional development and networking opportunities that could aid in the advancement of your career.

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