Are you thinking of working in industry?

Written by Sharon Arroyo (Sharon.F.Arroyo@Boeing.com) and Les Button (ButtonLJ@Corning.com)

Opportunities in industry for people with hard-core mathematical skills can be very rewarding. In this article, we give our perspective on how to search for a job in industry. We first discuss how to match your skills and career goals with a role. We then give information about the job search, and finally point you to a resource concerning interviewing.

The first order of business is to consider what type of working environment suits you. Your ideal working environment will likely evolve over time, but this information will help frame your initial job search. For example, you might consider the following questions:

  • Would you prefer to work at an organization where you might have the opportunity to do applied research and write papers? Most companies are under pressure to produce results that are useful to them and publishing papers is not usually a high priority. However, some companies, especially in high-tech areas, are able to provide some amount of time for employees to pursue their research interests. Some government agencies fit this category also.
  • Would you like to work in a large company with a diverse technical organization or would you prefer to work in a smaller one? In a smaller company you are likely to have to take on a wide variety of responsibilities as needed, which has advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, this can give you valuable experience in many aspects of the business; on the other hand, you may not be able to spend as much time doing what you like the most. A large company often has the advantage of offering more specialized technical roles for you, which you can turn into an upward professional trajectory over time.
  • Would you like to work at a company where you focus on a specific application area or would you prefer to apply your mathematical expertise across a broader range of applications? Larger companies with more technical products may offer opportunities to get involved in a variety of projects and work on a wider range of applications.
  • Do you aspire to become a Division Leader or Manager? Similar to academia, industrial careers may be roughly divided into technical (research or scientifically oriented) and management. Many people move to management positions after some years of working in technical positions. If you intend to remain in a technically focused position, it would be good to inquire if the companies you are considering have a formal technical career path where you can progress without moving into a management position.
  • What is your desired work/life balance and what aspects (e.g., job location) are most important to you? This question is not specific to industry but it is very important to most of us.

Once you have framed your career and life balance goals, it is a good idea to use as many sources as possible to review the opportunities that exist for mathematicians in industry.  Below are links to resources that can be explored to learn more about these opportunities.

  • The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) “Careers” web site has numerous resources where a sense of the wide range of ways mathematics is used outside academia is provided. Examples of non-academic career paths for mathematically trained people and some pointers to job searching are also included on this web site.
  • The website Mathematics in Industry is focused on workshops and study groups with industry, and it can be useful to read. It contains an excellent database of past study groups, including detailed reports illustrating the kinds of problems arising in industrial settings.
  • We also suggest you visit the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) “Build Your Career” web site. The focus on this web site is management science, operations research and analytics jobs, but valuable information, especially for students with some background in these areas, is provided.

In addition to exploring the web sites mentioned above, we also recommend the following activities to learn about careers in industry.

  • Perhaps the best way to learn about industrial careers is to participate in an internship program. Many of the suggestions for learning about job opportunities given below apply also to finding internships for graduate students and undergraduates. Companies often start to advertise and interview for internships in the fall, so you should target looking in this time frame.
  • Attend conferences and talk with people involved in applied mathematical careers.
  • Read papers written by people working in industry and look at industrial web sites for information about technical careers. Connect with authors and ask them if they would be willing to tell you more about what they do and how they are managing their careers.

Once you have learned what type of industrial position you would like to target, the following are suggestions for increasing your odds of success in obtaining such a position. Some of these recommendations work best if you take a strategic view and get started well before you expect to finish your terminal degree (whether that’s undergraduate, masters, or doctorate).

  • Explore job postings listed on the SIAM and INFORMS web sites.
  • Not all industrial mathematics jobs are advertised through professional societies, so you will also need to search company web sites. Don’t expect jobs titles to include the term “mathematician.” Be willing to dig deep into job descriptions to learn about the mathematical content of the required work. Look for words including analysis, optimization, modeling, and analytics.
  • Build a network of colleagues. Are there faculty members at your institution who work with industrial partners? If so, we recommend you talk to them about your career goals and stay in touch. If you’re still in the process of earning your degree, explore the possibility of industrial internships.
  • Attend conferences, especially those sponsored by SIAM and INFORMS, and talk to people from industry. If they took the time to attend the conference, chances are good they are also committed to building their network and expanding their professional horizons, and can guide you on any opportunities within their organizations.

Once you have an interview, we suggest you read “Interview Tips for Winning that Dream Job,” by Tom Grandine of The Boeing Company.

Working in industry as a mathematician is an extremely exciting career! We wish you luck with your search!

 

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