One of the most daunting tasks in any industrial engineer’s life is to answer –
“What specialization should I choose?”
A little while ago, we as admins of a facebook page posted a question on what type of work do people do. We received tons of comments –
Time and again, people have said IE is diverse, IE has many domains to go into, that IE can do virtually any type of work. Yet, nobody has defined on how do we nail down on ONE specialization. How do we decide on an industrial engineering career path?
Surprisingly, people never realize and take efforts and end up getting any job — because hey, getting a job in today’s economy is better than no job — Wrong.
With just a little bit of preparation, you can actually design your own career — on your terms — without anyone driving you to a particular direction.
Additionally, we want to know if this one specialization is the one we’ll love working in, gets paid well and we can do it for the next 5 or 10 years of our life.
So how do we know?
After all, it’s a question about our career, our future! You don’t want a job which you don’t like or don’t enjoy and end up getting regretful everyday of your life. End up getting dragged to your office where you don’t feel like going.
End up doing a job just for the heck of it or only for getting those biweekly direct deposit paychecks.
After analyzing over 700 data points — job titles, the type of work, name of companies, — I’ve come up with this framework which you can start using today.
The beautiful part about is you can TEST it. It can work for a student, recently graduated engineer or even for someone who is currently working.
And once you see the results, they’ll be incredibly powerful and set you apart from everyone else.
So how do you decide which industrial engineering specialization to go into? Follow this 4-step framework –
Step 1: Know the Industrial Engineering Specializations
Let’s clarify some important definitions here –
An IE specialization is NOT –
- The type of industry you’ll be working in, like – Manufacturing, Healthcare, Logistics, Transportation, Consulting, Banking & Finance, Aerospace, etc. — you get the point
- The classes/courses you select in your university, like – Production Control, Stochastic Optimization, Six Sigma, Reliability engineering, ERP, Simulation, Inventory Control, etc.
- The daily mini-tasks you perform, like — Kaizen, Time and Motion studies, Value Stream Mapping, 5S, FMEA, Root Cause Analysis, Capacity Planning, Scheduling, Material Handling, etc.
In its simplest form — A specialization is the type of work you’ll do — the kind of projects you’ll work on at a high-level.
Here’s the thing, there are actually many specializations to research on and found out, but all will boil down to the 4 core ones below –
- Supply Chain & Logistics
- Data analytics
Meaning when you start working, you’ll have your own narrative.
- “I’m John, and I do [insert specialization] in the [insert industry/company name]
- “I’m Zubin, and I do Data Analytics projects in the Manufacturing industry”
Again, like I said, there are many and there’ll be some element of mix and match even in those 4 above, but for now know that these are good starting points to begin with.
Step 2: Find your specialization using The University Selection Strategy
Pretend you’re applying for a Master’s or a Bachelor’s program and evaluating different universities. Do you randomly pick an university and tell yourself — “Well, I guess this is the university where I’ll be studying for the next 2-3 years of my life.“
No, you don’t. Instead you go through these steps –
- Get curious to know more (coursework looks interesting, established faculty, what companies hire from this university, etc.)
- You research other options (compare certain criteria, funding options, check other universities, etc.)
- You talk to few people — (counselors, ask seniors on their suggestions)
- Maybe even visit the university campus to learn more
Don’t you think you should do something similar when it comes to your job too?
Finding your specialization involves a similar process –
- Get curious about a specialization
- Find out potential job titles/areas out there
- Do deep research to see if you’re really interested in it
- Talk to few people in the field to provide their advise
This way you virtually guarantee your success by increasing your odds.
Now, before you proceed beyond this step — I want you to select 1 specialization from the above 4 you’d like to explore. Don’t obsess over this, just select one you might be interested in.
Ready? Okay great!
So, how do you start this process? Introducing the Amazon technique.
What happens when you browse amazon for any product. Do you see 1, 2, or 10 options – No. You see thousands and thousands! In other words, you have many options to select from.
After you chose a potential specialization to explore, the next thing you want to do is brainstorm all potential job titles/roles you like to work on for that specialization –
- Like to be on a production floor doing time studies for a Manufacturing Engineer job? Write it down
- Does Consultant job look cool to you? Add it to your list
- Did you like the job of one of your seniors who works at Amazon as a Supply Chain Analyst? List it out
- Ever thought you would love to do a Business Analyst job? Yes, add it here
I call this the Amazon technique because your options are not limited, they are infinite. You’re not confining yourself to anything. You’re actually telling yourself — “Hey, what are the options out there that I might be interested in?”
Where should the ideas for the job title/role should come from?
- Go to Linkedin or any other job portal site and read the job descriptions. If anything you see catches your eye, add it to your list
- Any job role from a senior/friends/family which caught your attention in the past
- Any skills you have or like to develop. Do you know Excel or really like developing dashboards? See what jobs involve those skills and add these to your list as well
Couple of points to remember as you go through this process —
- You’re NOT fixating on one area as of now (this will come later.) We’re only at the brainstorming stage, we’ll test and refine later
- Silence your inner critic. Too many people get grappled by the fear of “What if I can’t do X?” or “This sounds tough, I can never do that” Sshhhh! Again, right now, all you want to do is flesh out everything from your brain. This is pure brain dumping
Step 3: How to know if a specialization is really right for you
Once you’ve some potential job roles you seem to be interested, it’s time to do some deep research. This is where you’ll go from – “Hmmm..interesting” to really know if this is a good fit for you. Let’s say you decide “Supply Chain Analyst” as a job title you want to look for –
Once you have a basic understanding of the job, you’ll want to dive in the nitty-gritty details. So you answer penetrating questions like —
- What do SC analysts do on a daily basis?
- What type of companies do they work for?
- What’s the typical pay look like?
- What’s the trajectory?
- What specific skills are required for the job?
- How does the interview process work?
- What blogs/books/websites do they read regularly to stay up to date on the industry?
Some ways you can do deep researching –
- Review some of the resumes of people who have worked on similar job roles (bet you can find some resumes online)
- Read online Q&A sites like Quora
- Review salaries on Glassdoor to gauge what the pay is like
- Visit any online forums, blogs on this area
At the end, you’ll want to ask yourself questions like –
Is this interesting? or Can I actually see myself working at this job role?
This process will let you discover what you’ll truly enjoy v/s what will make you say – “That is definitely not for me” And in fact, that is GOOD. After this step, you’ll eliminate many ideas you came up before.
Step 4: Validate your Specialization by actually getting a “real sneak peak”
At this stage, you’ll most likely have 1-3 job titles you’ve narrowed it down to. This is where the final and perhaps the MOST important step comes — Informational Interviews.
Quick caveat — An Informational Interview is NOT
- Asking for a job, it is simply learning about it. So, if you want to know what a Manufacturing Engineer does, this is how you find that out
- WEIRD. Many of my students including me have conducted informational interviews. Remember, smart people want to help smart people
How do you get one?
Step 1) Research 3-5 experts in this area/title
This could be –
- Your friends, seniors, family members
- College alumni who are currently working at a company
- Someone who has an authority — website owner, public speaker, etc.
Again, this could be anyone but you want to make sure they are either doing similar work you want to do or has worked on the same job title you’re looking for.
Step 2) Reach out to them
To make it easier, here’s a word for word script you can use – (keep on testing different emails to see which is getting better responses.)
I’m John, an industrial engineering major from XYZ university.
I wanted your quick advise. I’m currently evaluating different options for an IE major out of college and want to pick your brain on your suggestions and insights in this industry.
I specifically want to know your decision to work at (company name) and the kind of projects you work on.
Are you available for a quick 10-minute phone call this Thursday at 2 pm? If not, let me know your availability and I can work around your schedule.
P.S: I understand you’re busy, so if you want I can email you my questions and we can go from there, thanks again.
Step 3) Ask good questions
If you blindly walk into a job interview without any prior preparation, you’re doomed to fail and never getting that job. Similarly, do your homework first and prepare a list of 3-5 questions to ask.
During your interview, you’ll discover insights which you’ll never get by googling online or spending hours of your time sitting on your laptop.
If you realize this is the type of job role which you’re 100% interested in, you know you’ve selected the right specialization.
And if not, no problem — in fact,that is GOOD — you just saved yourself 3-5 years of headache. So simply select another specialization and follow the same steps laid out above.
This is the best way to choose an industrial engineering specialization — which you’ll love and are satisfied with.
The 5 sample questions to start with
I want to go one step further and give you the 5 list of questions you can use right away to ask anyone for your informational interviews.