Operations Research Analysts

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Operations Research Analysts Do[About this section] [To Top]

Operations research analysts use advanced mathematical and analytical methods to help organizations solve problems and make better decisions.

Duties of Operations Research Analysts

Operations research analysts typically do the following:

  • Identify and solve real-world problems in areas such as business, logistics, healthcare, or other fields
  • Collect and organize information from a variety of sources, such as computer databases, sales histories, and customer feedback
  • Gather input from workers involved in all aspects of a problem or from others who have specialized knowledge, so that they can help solve the problem
  • Examine information to figure out what is relevant to a problem and what methods might be used to analyze it
  • Use statistical analysis, simulations, predictive modeling, or other methods to analyze information and develop practical solutions to business problems
  • Advise managers and other decision makers on the impacts of various courses of action to take in order to address a problem
  • Write memos, reports, and other documents explaining their findings and recommendations for managers, executives, and other officials

Operations research analysts are involved in all aspects of an organization. They help managers decide how to allocate resources, develop production schedules, manage the supply chain, and set prices. For example, they may help decide how to organize products in supermarkets or help companies figure out the most effective way to ship and distribute products.

Analysts must first identify and understand the problem to be solved or the processes to be improved. Analysts typically collect relevant data from the field and interview clients or managers involved in the business processes being examined. Analysts show the implications of pursuing different actions and may assist in achieving a consensus on how to proceed.

Operations research analysts use sophisticated computer software, such as databases and statistical programs, and modeling packages, to analyze and solve problems. Analysts use these mathematical programs to simulate current and future events and evaluate alternative courses of action. Analysts break down problems into their various parts and analyze the effect that different changes and circumstances would have on each of these parts. For example, to help an airline schedule flights and decide what to charge for tickets, analysts may take into account the cities that have to be connected, the amount of fuel required to fly those routes, the expected number of passengers, pilots’ schedules, maintenance costs, and fuel prices.

There is no one way to solve a problem, and analysts must weigh the costs and benefits of alternative solutions or approaches in their recommendations to managers.

Because problems are complex and often require expertise from many disciplines, most analysts work on teams. Once a manager reaches a final decision, these teams may work with others in the organization to ensure that the plan arrived at is successful.

Work Environment for Operations Research Analysts[About this section] [To Top]

Operations research analysts held about 91,300 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most operations research analysts were as follows:

Finance and insurance 26%
Professional, scientific, and technical services 23
Manufacturing 11
Management of companies and enterprises 9
Federal government 6

Most operations research analysts in the federal government work for the Department of Defense, which also employs a large number of analysts through private consulting firms.

Operations research analysts spend most of their time in offices. Some may spend time in the field to gather information and observe business processes directly. Analysts may also travel to work with clients and company executives and to attend conferences.

Because problems are complex and often require expertise from many disciplines, most analysts work on teams. Once a manager reaches a final decision, these teams may work with others in the organization to ensure that the plan arrived at is successful. Because they work on projects that are of immediate interest to top managers, operations research analysts often are under pressure to meet deadlines.

Operations Research Analyst Work Schedules

Almost all operations research analysts work full time. About 1 in 6 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

How to Become an Operations Research Analyst[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Operations Research Analysts near you!

Although applicants may need a master’s degree for most operations research positions, a bachelor’s degree is enough for some entry-level positions. Because few schools offer bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in operations research, analysts typically have degrees in other, related fields.

Operations Research Analyst Education

Although some employers prefer to hire applicants with a master’s degree, many entry-level positions are available for those with a bachelor’s degree. Although some schools offer bachelor’s and advanced degree programs in operations research, some analysts have degrees in other technical or quantitative fields, such as engineering, computer science, analytics, or mathematics.

Because operations research is based on quantitative analysis, students need extensive coursework in mathematics. Courses include statistics, calculus, and linear algebra. Coursework in computer science is important because analysts rely on advanced statistical and database software to analyze and model data. Courses in other areas, such as engineering, economics, and political science, are useful because operations research is a multidisciplinary field with a wide variety of applications.

Continuing education is important for operations research analysts. Keeping up with advances in technology, software tools, and improved analytical methods is vital.

Other Experience

Many operations research analysts who work with the military are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Some positions may require applicants to undergo a background check in order to attain a security clearance.

Important Qualities for Operations Research Analysts

Analytical skills. Operations research analysts use a wide range of methods, such as forecasting, data mining, and statistical analysis, to examine and interpret data. They must determine the appropriate software packages and understand computer programming languages to design and develop new techniques and models.

Communication skills. Operations research analysts often present their data and conclusions to managers and other executives. They also need to communicate technical information to people without a technical background.

Critical-thinking skills. Operations research analysts must be able to figure out what information is relevant to their work. They also must be able to evaluate the costs and benefits of alternative solutions before making a recommendation.

Interpersonal skills. Operations research analysts typically work on teams. They also need to be able to convince managers and top executives to accept their recommendations.

Math skills. The models and methods used by operations research analysts are rooted in statistics, calculus, linear algebra, and other advanced mathematical disciplines.

Problem-solving skills. Operations research analysts need to be able to diagnose problems on the basis of information given to them by others. They then analyze relevant information to solve the problems.

Writing skills. Operations research analysts write memos, reports, and other documents explaining their findings and recommendations.

Operations Research Analyst Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for operations research analysts was $78,630 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $43,520, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $132,500.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for operations research analysts in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government $108,500
Manufacturing 89,420
Professional, scientific, and technical services 83,690
Management of companies and enterprises 79,990
Finance and insurance 75,730

Almost all operations research analysts work full time. About 1 in 6 worked more than 40 hours per week in 2014.

Job Outlook for Operations Research Analysts[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of operations research analysts is projected to grow 30 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. As technology advances and companies seek efficiency and cost savings, demand for operations research analysis should continue to grow. In addition, increasing demand should occur for analysts in the field of analytics in order to improve business planning and decisionmaking.

Operations research analysts will continue to be needed to provide support for the Armed Forces and to assist in the development and implementation of policies and programs in other areas of government.

Technological advances have made it faster and easier for organizations to get data. In addition, improvements in analytical software have made operations research more affordable and more applicable to a wider range of areas. More companies are expected to employ operations research analysts to help them turn data into valuable information that managers can use in order to make better decisions in all aspects of their business. For example, operations research analysts will be needed to help businesses improve their manufacturing operations and logistics.

Operations Research Analysts Job Prospects

Opportunities should be better for those who have a master’s or Ph.D. degree in operations research, management science, or a related field. Applicants with business experience in addition to strong analytical skills will also likely have the best job prospects.

Employment projections data for Operations Research Analysts, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Operations research analysts 91,300 118,900 30 27,600

*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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