Deciding “what you want to be when you grow up” is one of the toughest challenges every adult wrestles with. Next to “what’s your favorite color”, “what do you want to be when you grow up” is one of the most common and painful questions we all get asked. The process of deciding whether or not to even go to college , then choosing a college major, and settling on a career path is extremely difficult and scary considering you don’t always know what’s waiting for you on the other side.

We are not going to uncover this hidden jewel in this post but I am going to take some time to share my experience specifically in a career in Operations Management. By the end, I expect you will have a strong understanding of whether this path is the right fit for you.

How I stumbled into Operations Management.

I started my first job in high school. I started washing dishes then stocking shelves in a retail store. Shortly after high school, I spent a summer as a butcher. During college, I then worked in retail and worked at a distribution center.

I was all over the place with my experiences.

Fast forward to now and I’m focused on one thing. My career revolves around helping people implement processes and workflows that help get better work done. I clearly took an unconventional route but constantly looking for opportunities to make things better and taking the initiative to get things done created a clean path to my current role as Operations Manager. It took a while to land where I am now, but I am enjoying making meaningful change with my team within the multi-disciplined function of Operations Management.

What I’ve learned along the way.

It’s been over a decade now in an Operations Management role and there are a lot of lessons I’ve learned. Some of them painless but most of these lessons were learned the hard way. Here are a few key lessons that you should reflect on before making your career decision.

Never a dull moment.

Being in charge of a company’s “operations” can sound overwhelming and may appear to be daunting. A lot goes on behind the scenes for any business to run smoothly. From design and release of new products and solutions to integration of new technology and processes, sales and supply chain functionality, to the happiness of customers and suppliers.

Honestly, there are days that I just don’t quite understand what my role is.

Some days I feel like a surgeon. I plan intensely on how to tackle a problem and make delicate and precise moves to make sure nothing goes wrong. I fear for the life of my patient — usually an employee or a customer — but stay confident and in control so I can help get them up and functioning better than before.

Other days I feel like a firefighter. Sparks turn into flames and rapidly spread. I spend hours trying to extinguish those fires. Whether it’s an employee-related issue, a machine down, disgruntled customer, or failed product that has the potential to turn into a massive recall costing a lot of resources and money that the business can’t afford to absorb.

There are a lot of moving parts. But that is what Operations Managers do best. Working with cross-functional departments in varying functions and making sure that each part is doing their job and playing well with others. With so many moving parts it truly feels like it’s the heart of the business.

The work hours can be long.

A lot of moving parts means a lot of responsibility. A lot of responsibility often leads to long work hours, long weeks, and can quickly lead to you disliking your work. Keep your eye on the fact that your contribution matters. If that’s not enough, then consider something else.

The hours are weird.

I have workers starting at 5 am. More times than not this means that someone has to be available to make sure work is being completed at that time. That sometimes means I am it. I also have multiple shifts. Part of my personal accountability is ensuring I understand everything that goes on under my watch.

This sometimes means making appearances at oddly late work hours. If you’re prepared for a steady work/life relationship, this may not be your career of choice.

The people aren’t easy to work with.

I lead and collaborate with all kinds of people: engineers, technicians, suppliers, customers, third party companies, and day laborers. They all are human and they all have personalities. It takes an immense amount of patience and emotional intelligence. People skills are a must, not a nice to have.

The mistakes will be painful.

Errors can result in broken equipment, loss of productivity, and inability to fulfill sales. Errors can also result in someone getting hurt or someone getting fired. Neither is better than the other. Errors stink and they are always bound to happen. Preparation, communication, training, and avoiding distraction is essential. Be prepared to fail and be prepared to act quickly.

I shared some thoughts on how to make tough decisions which may help you avoid some mistakes.

The work can go unnoticed.

You may only get recognized when bad things happen. Have you heard the saying: “no news is good news”? Well, it is common in this industry. If you hear nothing from your peers it can mean that you’re doing a good job. If you hear from them often it can mean that you’re failing, miserably. Prepare yourself for what can sometimes feel like a lonely and under-appreciated career.

The wins can be awesome.

When you do a good job you tend to hit your targets, customers are happy and it usually leads to more business. The downside of a growing environment is that this can mean longer work hours, growing pains, and a higher risk of things going wrong. The reality is that there are opportunities to advance your career by increasing your skills and value. There is always an opportunity to grow your skills and in return increase your income.

Preparing to win in Operations Management.

By this point, I hope you’re not scared off because Operations Management can be a fruitful and gratifying career path. There is a lot to do and a lot to learn. This article is not intended to deter you away from a career in Operations Management. My intention was to share real insight in order to help you make the most suitable decision for you and your career.

Looking back, I wish I had read something like this before I made my decision to enter this field. I didn’t know any better and the information wasn’t given to me or readily available at the time. Now, for you, there’s no excuse.

When you think of Operations Management consider Frank Sinatra’s quote:

“If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”.

It’s not for everyone. In fact, it’s not for the faint of heart. It tends to be less of a job and more of a lifestyle.You get good when you are able to blend both in a healthy way. Growing yourself as an operations professional, learning about trends and business, and being an active everyday problem solver are paramount for your success, the success of your team and the organization. You end up thinking, breathing, and living operations management.

Still interested?

If you’re a creative, high-achiever, with the ability to look for opportunity and take action on problem-solving then I’m confident that you’ll be great for the role.

Best of luck.


What industry are you currently in or looking to get into and what challenges have you come up against? Share your thoughts by clicking here.

Edwin Almonte writes at EdwinAlmonte.com, where he shares practical ideas to help hard workers think higher, see broader, and care deeper. To get his latest work — including relevant tools, resources, and interesting links — join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on EdwinAlmonte.com as WHAT NO ONE TELLS YOU ABOUT A CAREER IN OPERATIONS