Choosing Your Industrial Engineering Specialization

January 23, 2017

An Industrial Engineer's (IE) career can be diverse, have many domains to go into and can virtually find itself in any type of industry. Yet, it is difficult to find directions on how to determine ONE specialization and career path.


Some believe that in today's economy your career path is determined on available opportunities. Not true. With a little bit of preparation, you can actually design your own IE career - on your terms - without anyone driving you in a particular direction.


The framework below was determined after analyzing over 700 data points, job titles, types of work and names of companies. The framework can work for a student, recently graduated engineer or even someone who is currently working.   


What Industrial Engineering specialization should I choose?


Step one:  

Know the IE specializations.


To clarify, 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 the simplest form - a specialization is the type of work you will do - the kind of projects you will work on at a high-level.


    There are actually many specialization to research, but all boil down to four core areas below:


    1. Supply Chain and Logistics 

    2. Quality

    3. Procurement 

    4. Data Analytics 


    For example,

    • I do [insert specialization] in the [insert industry/company name].

    • I do Data Analytics projects in the Manufacturing industry.


    There are many specializations and there will be some elements of mix and match even with the four areas above, but for now these are good starting points.


    Step two:

    Find your specialization using the University Selection Strategy.


    Pretend you are 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 will 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 career 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.


    Before starting the next step, attempt to select one of the four specializations above that you may be interested in pursuing. Next, how do you start the process? Let's use the Amazon technique.


    What happens when you browse Amazon for any product? Do you see 1, 2 or 10 options? No. You see thousands. The point is - you have many options.


    After choosing a potential specialization to explore, you will want to brainstorm all the potential job titles/roles you like to work on for that specialization. The options are infinite. 


    While brainstorming, try not to fixate on one area, this will come later.  Also, silence your inner critic and fears because for now this is pure brain dumping. 


    Where should the ideas for the job titles/roles come from? 

    • LinkedIn or any other job portal site and read the job descriptions.

    • Senior/friends/family job roles that caught your attention in the past.

    • Skills you have or like to develop and see what jobs involve those skills.


    Step three:

    How to know if a specialization is really for you.


    Let's say you decided "Supply Chain Analyst" sounded interesting. Once you have the basic understanding of the job, you will want to dive into the nitty-gritty details and ask questions like --

    • What do Supply Chain (SC) Analysts do on a daily basis?

    • What type of companies do they work for?

    • What is the typical pay?

    • What skills are required?


    Some ways you can research additional details:

    1. Online Questions and Answers sites like Quora. 

    2. Review Glassdoor for salary ranges.

    3. Visit online forums and blogs.


    Step four:

    Validate your specialization by getting a "real sneak peak".


    By this stage, you will have narrowed down job titles.  This is where the final and most important step comes. Informational interviews.


    An informational interview is NOT -- Asking for a job. It is simply learning about it.


    Many people conduct informational interviews. Remember, smart people want to help smart people.


    How do you get an informational interview? Start by reaching out to friends, seniors and family members. You may want to email college alumni who are currently working at a company, professors or even a public speaker as experts to interview. Keep the email short. Ask for 10 minutes of their time, suggest a date and time and offer to email questions in advance because their time is valuable.


    Do your research and prepare three to five interview questions. During your interview you will discover insights that you can not get by spending hours online researching. 


    If at the end of the four steps you discover that the job role is not something you are 100% interested in, no problem. In fact, that is good. You have saved yourself three to five years of headaches. Simply select another specialization and follow the same steps laid out above.


    Zubin (2017). "How to choose your Industrial Engineering Specialization". Retrieved from

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