IO Psychology Career Advice for Emerging Leaders

I recently sat down with Wendy Merrill – a member of the Advisory Board for UMBC’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology graduate program – to chat about career advice in the field of I/O Psychology. She offered a candid view of a day in the life of an I/O Psychology professional and insights into how to improve your career success. Wendy is the Founder and Chief Rainmaker of StrategyHorse Consulting Group and Author of Path to Impact: The Rising Leader’s Guide to Growing Smart.

Wendy welcomed me into her cozy consulting office in Owings Mills, MD and I marveled at her passion for this dynamic field. She gave some great career advice for those eager to get their start in the ever-changing field of I/O Psychology.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and readability.

In your opinion, what is the value that education can have on an emerging leader in the I/O Psychology field?

Education is important in any field, but especially so for those of us figuring out the problems we want to solve. I/O Psychology is a complex field. It’s evolving quickly. A lot of the traditional HR roles are blending with organizational development roles. Developing employees and culture is exactly what we should be doing, but it requires a lot of skills and talent.

For younger people who don’t have ten, fifteen, twenty years of experience they need to develop those skills in a tighter time frame. Pursuing a master’s degree in the I/O Psych program is really helpful because students develop technical skills and get to connect with people like me and other advisory board members. We help give them ideas of what the real world looks like and where the career opportunities are.

Can you talk about your role on UMBC’s I/O Psychology Advisory Board and how the board helps students succeed?

First, I love my role on the UMBC I/O Psychology program advisory board. The best part of it is working with people like Dr. Lasson and the other advisory board members. I also love sharing ideas with the academic team on ways to hone the program to make it more applicable to real life. The work we do on the advisory board helps create a winning environment for our students. We serve as mentors and work closely with them. Great friendships and working relationships with students result from the collaborative nature of the work we do together. It’s a win-win for everyone.

What does a day-in-the-life look like for you?

Well I am me, myself, and I. So I do everything, on purpose actually. I don’t want to run a team. Rather, I’m in growth mode. I focus on forming alliances with people and facilitating workshops. I do marketing, business development, and promotion. Counseling clients and coaching is a huge part of my everyday life. I’ve been able to incorporate what I love to do in my personal life with what do I love to do my professional life, which is my mission – to help rising leaders be more impactful.

A day-in-the-life could be spent focusing on social media, engaging in meetings, curating my network, and developing more resources for my clients.  I also conduct individual coaching sessions and group workshops. The list goes on.

Where did you come up with the name StrategyHorse Consulting Group?

I’ve always been a ‘horsey’ person, hence my branding. But more so, the reason is based on the proverb, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I work with thirsty horses who want to find water sources. When I’m finished working with them, they have learned how to find their own water sources.

I’ve been doing this for six years and my business is really focused on helping rising leaders to be more impactful. I do this through coaching, workshops, my book, and strategy sessions. I work with early to mid career professionals, helping them to define their own idea of success and to help them get there.

What do you love most about your career?

My best career advice to anyone is to seek work you love. Personally, I love helping rising leaders to be more impactful. Helping people to get out of their own way to fulfill and realize their goals and dreams inspires and excites me. I’m a scrappy survivor of sorts, and I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. So, as a UMBC advisory board member and a consultant, I really love being able to help other people do great things and dream bigger. Facilitating that process is truly the most rewarding thing I do. There’s nothing better than that.

What important qualities help an I/O Psychologist stand out?

An ideal quality to possess to have a successful career in I/O Psychology is intuitive ability. Listen to your gut. Also, pay attention to others who are in great alignment to your purpose. Being able to connect with others and clearly identify impactful goals requires a certain level of intuition. To be successful, you have to strengthen that. It’s a growth skill like anything else. It’s absolutely essential for a successful, sustainable future for individuals and companies.  That’s what I/O Psychology is about, growing smarter.

Let’s talk about specific skills a person should develop to be successful in this field.

For someone who wants to pursue a career in I/O Psychology, in addition to developing their intuitive abilities, I would recommend working on enhancing communication skills. It’s critical to take the time to understand the motivation of those with whom you’re working, whether that be an employer, colleague, potential client or stakeholder. Understanding what you both care about finding common ground to reach a goal can be a game changer. This intersection of communication and motivation is where I see every kind of business struggling. Without understanding this piece, communication breakdowns are bound to occur.

Such breakdowns are driven by fear. People don’t want to admit what they know or don’t know. They’re threatened, and that just gets in the way of doing great thing. Getting to the root of why we do what we do helps us understand why others do what they do. So my career advice around this is to develop communication skills. It’s the key to ultimate success.

You wrote a book with career advice for people interested in creating impact. Can you tell us about it?

path to impact bookMy book, Path to Impact: The Rising Leaders Guide to Growing Smart, is quite autobiographical. In it, I share my journey and how I figured out a lot of important things along the way. I wrote about how I battled my fears. I shared how I focused on where I wanted to be and how I got there. And when I got there, my reaction was, “Wow, this wasn’t so bad. Okay, well let’s go a little bigger. Let’s stretch outside of the comfort zone.”

Path to Impact: The Rising Leaders Guide to Growing Smart is geared for early to mid career professionals who want to do really impactful things. These individuals want to do something great in the workplace. They want to be able to impact their career, the careers of others, the community, and beyond. To impact in this capacity requires us to identify what that looks like, what we care about, how do we take the steps, and how can we be intentional.

The book is full of proprietary exercises that I developed and lots of client anecdotes about what’s happening in the trenches every day. It’s designed to help people organize their thoughts and go out and inspire others.

What career advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in I/O Psychology?

For people who aspire to be leaders in any capacity you must develop an intimate understanding of your relationship with risk or you can never be impactful. To do this, you first have to start with understanding your value.

The career advice I would give to any professional starting their career or even thinking about grad school is to ask yourself what problem or challenge do you want to solve in the world.

To enjoy a meaningful journey requires that you dig into what you care about and the problems you want to solve in the world. You must decide where you want to focus your efforts on providing solutions and making things better. Most any employer wants to have someone with that thought leadership on their team. Thinking this question through can help people to decide whether or not they need to pursue higher education to develop the skills and the tool set that they need to really be as effective as they can be.

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