How to prep for an industry career
I went to two panel discussions today that focused on careers in industry – the first was “What is Industry Looking for in Analytics Hires?” and focused on the demand side of this equation. This panel was formed from volunteers associated with an INFORMS committee on the teaching of business analytics, and it included Jeff Camm, The University of Cincinnati; Melissa Bowers, University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Pooja Dewan, BNSF Railway; Russ Labe, Bank of America; and Jeff Winters, UPS. This committee is trying to find out what industry wants (and has an industry subcommittee for that purpose), as well as focus on curriculum and information (essentially information-gathering and a survey of the programs), with subcommittees for each of those areas, too.
They presented great information on a survey done of CPMS, the Roundtable, and the Analytics Section on what industry wants. Then they presented on behalf of Goutam Chakraborty from Oklahoma State University, who couldn’t attend. I was sorry to miss him, because he’s a dear friend who does great work I recently wrote about in a post on 10 tips of where to find unicorns, aka data scientists. Goutam and one of his grad students used SAS Text Miner to look at job placement ads and identify the most common topics mentioned in listings. The fact that personal and communication skills came out top (65%), ranking significantly higher than the next topic, modeling and methodology (47%), generated interesting debate. Panelists from industry all agreed that the so-called “soft skills” are absolutely essential. Pooja pointed out that most PhD programs teach students strong fundamentals and require research that is done on your own, which is in contrast to the highly-collaborative nature of most industry roles, where to get anything done almost always demands working with people across other functions and divisions.
After lunch I went to the “Industry Job Panel,” which was focused on the supply side by helping students think about how to get a job in industry if that is their goal. It was facilitated by INFORMS Past President Anne Robinson, Verizon Wireless, and included Dan Fylstra, Frontline Systems; Theresa Kushner, VM Ware; Thomas Olavson, Google; and Erich Morman, a recent PhD who’d just found a new job. Some of their top advice?
- Be clear on what you want and make sure your resume reflects that focus.
- Be yourself – if you don’t fit what the company is looking for it probably isn’t a good fit for you, either.
- Do your research on the company where you are interviewing and know how they make money. Be prepared to talk about how you will add value and contribute to their ultimate goals instead of just focusing on what this role might do for you.
- In an echo of the earlier panel, be sure you listen well, show a positive attitude, and are prepared to show how you can collaborate and work on teams. Thomas said he’ll take a risk on whether you might be good or great but not on whether you have these interpersonal skills.
Finally, some students asked questions about how to answer “case” kinds of questions or illustrate practical or domain experience if you haven’t had it. The advice was to remember that these questions are rarely about whether you get the right answer but are looking to understand how you think and approach a problem. They also suggested students look for opportunities to get industry experience, whether it be internships or projects.
Which brings me to my plans for my last day of the conference. Tomorrow I’m chairing a session on “Exposing Students to Practice with a Case Competition,” which is at 8:00 a.m. and will talk about the SAS and INFORMS Analytics Section Student Analytical Scholar Competition. This provides students an opportunity to analyze a case study that is based on a real-world project and describe how they would address it in a Statement of Work. As the panelists advised, the focus of this competition is less on the single best technical solution submitted but more on the overall proposal, which includes the “math” but also the salability, understanding of business issues, etc. I will provide an overview of the competition, my colleague Jeff Day will talk about how the judges choose the winners, professor Young-Jae Jang from KAIST will talk about industry-academic collaborations and why he encouraged his student to participate, and 2013 Honorable Mention Shin-Woong Sung will talk about how this competition fit into her PhD studies and what she gained from participating. Hope to see you bright and early!