Industry Insights

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4 Ways to Take Your Operations Research Career to the Next Level

July 9, 2019

This blog is contributed by Burtch Works’ operations research and supply chain recruiting team.

A few months ago I wrote about in-demand skills for operations research and supply chain professionals as a way to stand out. For those of you who are interested in career progression and how to best position yourself for advancement, I wanted to expand on that premise and share some additional points based on my recent conversations with employers hiring OR professionals.

How to Advance Your Operations Research Career

1. Understand the broader business context of your work

One of the best ways to demonstrate your value to an employer is to consider the big picture and broader business context of the work that you’re doing in operations research. Learn more about other business functions and how they operate – What’s their budget? What are their pain points? What additional information can you learn about the problems that you’re trying to solve?Yes, you want to have a thorough understanding of your company’s OR and supply chain concerns, but examining the broader scope can help you be proactive about finding ways to optimize, and make your suggestions even more relevant. Additionally, if you gain an increased awareness of external and internal factors that play a part in your company’s decisions, this can help you better target your analysis.

Understand the process that the suppliers go through before they are hired, and it’s also important to understand the workings of the finance department.
2. Refine your presentation skills

As I wrote about before, presentation skills are in high demand for operations research and supply chain hires. With more OR professionals presenting their findings to leadership, many employers are looking for employees that are skilled at translating their analysis into action for the company.In addition to needing strong communication skills to better present your findings to a less-technical audience, having a strong awareness of all parts of the company (see previous point) will help keep your presentations as relevant as possible.The more you know about other business units, the better you can target your presentations and keep your presentations relevant to their business goals. Additionally, being adept at sharing your findings and making insightful recommendations is an excellent way to not only show that you are able to do analysis, but that you’re also able to translate it into improved outcomes for different parts of the company.

Incorporate your knowledge of the broader company context into your presentations, thereby bringing all relevant actors into the process, and telling them how they are impacted.
3. Make sure to keep your technical skills sharp

With many companies integrating data science skills and techniques into their operations research approaches, now more than ever it’s crucial to keep learning and adapting your technical skills as new tools and approaches come onto the market. Continuous learning is the key to keeping your skillset marketable, and being proactive about developing new skills can signal to management that you’re invested in your work.Want to expand your skills? Try talking to your manager to see if there are online courses they would sponsor, or whether there is a particular direction they would recommend if you’re going to be learning on your own. It can be hard to find the time, but, at the very least, learning new tools can prevent your skillset from being out-of-date if you find yourself on the job market.

Make sure you’re not just focused on supply chain skills. Coding, statistical analysis, and other techniques are increasingly required for supply chain analysts. While you may not need the same depth on these techniques as data scientists, understanding the basics will set you apart.
4. Be proactive about taking on leadership opportunities/experience

Hands-on work is of course front-and-center in operations research, and many OR professionals who are earlier in their careers are often keen to focus entirely on technical work. However, it’s important to keep in mind that leadership or management opportunities often require some ramp up to obtain, so if you’re presented with smaller opportunities to work on these skills (leading a project, mentoring an associate, etc.) I’d strongly recommend taking advantage of them.I’ve worked with operations research and supply chain professionals who spent their early career focusing on technical work and passed over managerial responsibilities, only to find that it was difficult to pursue these roles now that they’re later in their careers, because they lack any examples of management experience.This is not to say that you should forgo technical work – it’s true that many OR leaders are expected to still be somewhat hands-on – but don’t ignore or reject opportunities for managerial experience! You may also have to be proactive about seeking out this experience, and that’s something I would suggest doing just in case that’s a route you want to pursue further into your career.

Try providing training or organized presentations to other members about new tools that others may not be familiar with. On example we’ve seen are professionals who’ve incorporated Lunch and Learn programs into their teams.

I hope this information gives you a starting point on what to start thinking about if you’re looking to further develop your operations career. Oftentimes advancement opportunities are a result proactive career planning rather than passive development from management, so take the time to think about where you can invest your time to move your own career forward!If you’re looking to see if I have operations research or supply chain opportunities that might be a fit for your experience, feel free to connect with us.