What Operations Professionals Do
People in operations wear many hats. On a broad scope, the career entails examining an organization’s processes and systems, then refining them to improve productivity and profits. Operations managers work for startups, corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations, serving every industry imaginable. For this reason, the duties will vary drastically from one position to the next, but typically involve meeting with execs and department heads to identify issues, collaborating to come up with solutions, laying out a plan for changes, executing the plans, and then revisiting data to see how much improvement was made. When looking at it from a company perspective, there is much ground to cover, from daily operations, to supply chain, inventory, and delivery management, but the general overview is typically covered by a director, and individual aspects overseen by managers, all working together to ensure the company runs like a well-maintained engine.
Who would enjoy a career in Operations?
Operations can be a rewarding career for those with an analytical business mindset. The career brings together many aspects of executive functions, as well as human resources, finance, and supply chain management, so those who excel tend to have MBAs or work toward them as they climb the corporate ladder. Operations professionals are critical thinkers, able to look at processes and systems they’ve already refined to identify even more opportunities for improvement. Those who do best are also excellent communicators and negotiators, as much of the job entails collaboration and getting everyone on board with new ideas. However, operations professionals must also be adept leaders, prepared to make hard decisions which benefit the company, even if there is pushback from staff and vendors. For this reason, a great deal of mental fortitude and confidence is necessary.
Who mightn't like the career?
Operations careers typically provide a standard 40-hour workweek, but may require extra hours and night/ weekend work at certain times, so it’s not a good fit for someone who is inflexible. The career pulls together many aspects of management and leadership, as well as in-depth knowledge of business processes and systems. For this reason, those who aren’t committed to lifelong learning and enhancing their skills over time will not generally do well. Lastly, this can be a high-pressure career; the functionality, and ultimately the profitability of the company, can rest on the shoulders of the operations team. It may not be a good fit for those who are unprepared for the pressure or who are lacking in any of the necessary skills.
Most people have at least a bachelor’s degree in business administration, accounting, finance, logistics, or a related field. An MBA is expected at the upper levels. Experience with various analytical tools to monitor and document performance and processes, as well as general comfort with technology is a must.
- Bachelor’s in Accounting
- Bachelor’s in Finance
- Bachelor’s in Economics
- Bachelor’s in Business Administration
- Master’s in Accounting
- Master’s in Finance
- Master’s in Economics
- Master’s in Business Administration
Candidates may be asked about everything from their business experience through which analytical tools they use, what processes they might improve, what improvements they’ve made for other companies, and ethics-related questions.
- Operations Analyst Interview Questions
- How do I prepare for operations analyst interview?
- Operations Manager Interview Questions
Moving into Operations from another career
There isn’t a definitive list of careers that could lead into operations, as virtually anyone with the right business skills can transfer. “How 5 Operations Managers Got Their Start” shares the stories of finance, food science, engineering, music, and sociology majors who ultimately found happiness in operations. However, it’s significantly easier for those with backgrounds in business, finance, and supply chain management to transition.
- Corporate Strategy
- Corporate Development
- Management Consulting
- Human Resource
- Risk Management
- Product Management
- Sales Ops
- Partnership Management
Role: Most people beginning their careers start as an Analyst or Lead, and some organizations will further designate junior and senior levels. This is a support-type role, and the duties will vary based on the needs of the Operations Manager. Analysts may carry out processes related to changes, gather and analyze data, conduct audits, and provide the Operations Manager with insights about what’s happening in various departments. Senior Analysts may be involved in collaboration sessions regarding changes that could be made to improve performance, and some may have Junior Analysts who work below them.
Role: After an Analyst gains experience, he or she may rise to the rank of Operations Manager. The Operations Manager oversees virtually every process carried out by an organization. On the one hand, an Operations Manager will oversee supply chain management, to ensure materials and labor are sourced in a cost-effective manner from vendors who are reliable and known for quality. The Operations Manager also concerns him or herself with the delivery of goods to customers. This may mean ensuring a virtual product like an app or physical product is meeting customer expectations and reaches them in a timely manner. The job can also stretch out into other departments, such as working with HR to ensure the right talent is hired, or working with a payroll department to ensure checks are going out in a cost-effective and timely manner. In short, if there is or can be a standardized process for something within a company, the Operations Manager should be investigating it and making sure it works like a well-oiled machine.
Director of Operations/ Chief Operations Officer (COO)
Role: The Director of Operations or Chief Operations Officer (COO) is a highly-coveted role which requires many years of experience and an MBA to attain. The job is strategic in nature, and involves setting milestones for the company, determining which measurements should be used to identify and track issues and progress, creating budgets, and overseeing the work carried out by Operations Managers. It’s common for Directors to monitor company data related to revenue margins and worker productivity. Whereas the Managers may implement more minor changes to enhance the effectiveness of specific areas, the Director tends to focus on growth and implementing new procedures. He or she may create guidelines for hiring, evaluating, and promoting employees too.
Directors travel frequently for business, and may be away from home for weeks at a time. It’s common for these executives to visit any location the organization does business, is considering doing business, or to meet with vendors and other execs. Managers may travel as well, though it’s considerably less. Analysts typically work in specific brick-and-mortar departments, and don’t travel for work. It’s also worth noting that operations professionals, particularity at the upper levels, are some of the best-paid business professionals. Because of this, there is much opportunity to travel for pleasure.
Operations Analyst: According to data from PayScale, operations analysts have base salaries of approximately USD$53,000 in the United States, £28,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$51,000 in Canada, and AU$67,000 in Australia.
Operations Manager: USD$64,000, £35,000, CAD$68,000, AU$83,000.
Director of Operations: USD$90,000, £63,000, CAD$98,000, AU$130,000.
Even at the lower levels, bonuses, profit sharing, and commissions can add tens of thousands of dollars onto an Analyst’s salary. At the upper levels, Directors may earn almost equal amounts in base salary and bonus pay.
Why Operations Professionals move on
Work in operations is a double-edged sword. Those who work for an organization that’s run extremely well-run will likely have trouble advancing, simply because those who oversee operations in those situations know what they’re doing and are not likely to step down or move. They’ll often enjoy their six-figure salaries and accomplished careers until the stress or extensive hours burn them out, or they’ll see it through until retirement, but turnover doesn’t exist much and room for growth can stagnate in the positions below them. On the other edge of the sword are the companies with great opportunity for advancement, which often comes about because the company is a tangled mess. Operations professionals may burn out quickly, citing stress, lack of cooperation, and lack of corporate direction as root causes. In other words, those who genuinely make it in operations often must take a leap from a “safe” and highly-organized company into a disaster in order to advance their careers. Though the perks and salaries can be amazing for those who manage to turn companies around, going to work every day and creating new strategies requires immense stamina, courage, mental fortitude, and more.
With that said, the diverse duties encompassed in an operations career make it possible for an individual to move into many other roles in business, finance, HR, and logistics. Others who want to step away from the corporate world may find happiness in entrepreneurship, nonprofit work, or following passions, such as writing, travel, or photography. For more information, see “I Hate My Job Already -- Should I Stay, Or Quit?” and “Why I Walked Away from My Six-Figure Career.”