How to Become a Operations Research Analyst?

About Operations Research Analysts

An operations research analyst uses advanced analytical and mathematical methods to investigate complex issues related to corporate decision making and problem-solving. As a mathematical expert, an operations research analyst identifies problems, collects information, examines data, and obtains input from employees to develop a statistical analysis of an issue at hand. This individual must also weigh the cost of solutions against any benefits before acting.

Most operations research analysts work in the finance, insurance, manufacturing, and computer systems design industries. The federal government or states and local governments also employ operations research analysts, from smaller contract positions to the U.S. Department of Defense. A company may hire an operations research analyst to study the cost-effectiveness related to product distribution, labor requirements, or day-to-day operations. The analyst must approach each problem objectively and recommend suitable options.

Education and Experience Needed

A recent graduate with a bachelor’s degree can obtain an entry-level operations research analyst position, but competition has increased the need for higher education. Some employers prefer to hire applicants with a master’s degree instead. Operations research analysts typically have degrees in operations research, business, analytics, management science, engineering, computer science, mathematics, or some other quantitative or technical field such as physics. 

The most relevant coursework for which an aspiring analyst should focus on includes linear algebra, calculus, and statistics. Supplementing these subjects with engineering, political science, and economics is always helpful. The occupation has an interdisciplinary nature, and having a broader range of knowledge can make you more of an asset to potential employers.

Overall, an operations research analyst should have strong problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Communication and interpersonal skills are also essential since these professionals are expected to work on teams. An operations research analyst will also need to write reports, a practice that requires good writing skills.

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Average Salary

In 2016, the median annual wage for an operations research analyst was $79,200. The lowest 10 percent, which includes entry-level workers, typically earned less than $43,400 that same year. The highest percentage earned more than $132,660. The highest-paying industry for operations research analysts is the federal government, with manufacturing coming in at a close second. Those working in finance and insurance tend to earn the lowest amount.

Employment opportunities for operations research analysts are expected to grow at a faster rate than average over the next few years. In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 114,000 operations research analyst jobs existed in the United States. This finding should not deter college students who are considering this career, however, as the outlook for analysts appears promising.

Average Duties and Tasks

Almost all operations research analysts work full time in an office setting. Operations research analysts not employed full time may work on a contract basis through consulting firms to handle special projects.

During a typical workday for an operations research analyst, the individual may research certain topic areas for a project team and define and analyze a problem to come up with a resolution. This work may involve detailing the design, resources, and cost estimates for a complex research project.

An operations research analyst may also track, report, and analyze important metrics, including an inventory life cycle, inbound and outbound operations, customer service issues, and labor-management problems. This professional assists in scheduling, project planning, budgeting, status reporting, and generating new ideas. 

These analysts must be familiar with sophisticated computer systems, including statistical packages and databases, to analyze and solve problems. They use software to simulate future events to best determine a course of action. For example, an analyst may help a major airline decide how much to charge per ticket so that the airline can cover costs associated with fuel and maintenance.

The analyst must also prepare paperwork, equipment, and supplies for use in the analytical laboratory or manufacturing environment. They may work closely with human resources on how to allocate funds to spend on facilities or equipment, and they must interpret their findings to others. As such, they may present information to colleagues, supervisors, and executives, often in the form of extensive reports. 

Travel is sometimes necessary if an analyst needs to meet with clients. Depending on the project, an analyst may also need to spend time in the field to observe business processes and gather information. Otherwise, most operations research analysts work from their offices. Since the problems they work on are complex and require interdisciplinary expertise, most operations research analysts work on teams.

Advancement Opportunities

Individuals with a master’s degree or a doctorate in operations research, management science, or a related field can advance to leadership-level positions in their field. Additionally, professionals with business experience and strong analytical skills may also likely have the best job prospects.