How to become an Operations Manager

Operations Manager Blog | Group of People Around Desk

A 5 step guide on how to become an operations manager

If you like the sound of a hands-on, dynamic and challenging career with plenty of opportunities, then you may want to find out how you can become an operations manager.  

Operations managers are important senior managers with broad competencies, and you’ll find them working in every sector. They are the glue holding together a company’s production and operations, coordinating different areas and ensuring everything runs smoothly and efficiently. 

Having a good operations manager can make a huge difference to a company’s bottom line. If you can demonstrate your competence in this jack-of-all-trades role, you will be in high demand. 

In fact, growing demand for operations managers landed this role at number three on the 2020 Business Insider ‘30 Best High-Paying Jobs of the Future’ list. 

In Australia, operations managers have strong prospects for employment, an approximate salary of AU$110k and high job satisfaction score of 4.1 out of 5 according to a survey by Seek

So, how do you get started on your operations management career? Firstly, let’s take a brief look at the basics such as what skills and tasks the role involves. 

What an operations manager does

An operations manager is a particular type of senior manager who develops and implements operations strategy, oversees different divisions and coordinates all staff and production activities to ensure the most efficient delivery of products or services. This role demands a lot of diverse, soft and practical skills, as well as a sound understanding of business theory and financial analysis. 

Here are a few more functions an operations manager may perform:
  • Reviewing budgetary information
  • Monitoring expense reports
  • Interpreting financial data
  • Improving operational systems and processes
  • Developing budgets
  • Contributing to long term planning and strategy
  • Driving management and organisational initiatives to motivate staff
  • Overseeing hiring and HR management
  • Coordinating educational assignments for staff development
  • Ensure compliance with regulation

The blend of hands-on and theoretical tasks that make this job so diverse are also what makes it interesting and challenging. It’s a job well suited to individuals who are confident, enterprising, motivational, optimistic, thorough, careful and conscientious. 

Skills you’re going to need include:
  • Leadership
  • Organisation and decision-making
  • People management
  • Data entry and processing
  • Finance and reporting skills
  • Strategy
  • Budget development
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Time management and planning
  • Teamwork and delegation
  • Negotiation, conflict management and communication
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to work under pressure
Because the job requires a foundation of financial and business theory, you won’t be surprised to hear that the first step in your journey to becoming an operations manager starts with education.

1. Get a bachelor’s degree

Owlguru career finding platform conducted a survey of working general and operations managers to find out what kind of education they had when they first landed their job. 

They found that the majority of respondents had a bachelor’s degree. Respondents with bachelor's degrees typically had studied the following:
  • Business
  • Business Administration
  • Retail Management
  • Public Administration
  • Parks, Recreation and Leisure Facilities Management

The survey also found that degree type varies, according to the sector that operations managers end up in. 

They found that general and operations managers in the public sector commonly have a degree in business administration, public administration, law or the liberal arts. On the other hand, general and operations managers of large corporations often have a master of business administration (MBA), as well as a bachelor’s degree. 

To get started, you are first going to need a bachelor’s degree. 

A BA of Business is an ideal choice for an aspiring operations manager to learn the broad variety of leadership, strategic, management, financial and analytical skills you’re going to be using in your role. 

Some good choices in majors for an operations manager career include:
  • Business Administration
  • Economics
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Organisational Leadership

However, if you already have a different and perhaps seemingly unrelated bachelor’s degree, don’t worry. You may already have a lot of transferable management or soft skills, and you can fill any gaps in your business knowledge and gain some important credentials by enrolling in one or two years of postgraduate study. 

At Torrens University Australia (TUA), there are lots of flexible options for postgraduate business and management study, ranging from a postgraduate Certificate of Business Administration or a full MBA, depending on your time and ability to commit. 

2. Get part-time or seasonal work while studying

Many of the most important skills you need to be a great operations manager are people-focused soft skills. Skills, such as communication, conflict management, negotiation, leadership, time management, organisation, teamwork, understanding customer needs and delegation are learned and perfected mainly through practise. 

You do get opportunities to practise these in the classroom, when performing group assignments, for example. However, having a part-time job where you’re challenged to work within a team in a high-stress environment will teach you valuable lessons about how you work with people under pressure. 

Because operations management is not an industry specific role, it doesn’t matter which industry you choose to gain some of this valuable, on-the-job learning. In fact, it’s great to get a lot of experience in different industries, because you’ll be seen as proactive and flexible. 

With these transferable skills, you might end up working as an operations manager in practically any industry.

Having diverse working experience shows versatility and will be great for your CV, when you begin looking for your first operations manager position. 

Whether you work in hospitality during the evenings, manage a retail store on weekends, or get a part-time job as a warehouse supervisor, any of these roles will give you important experience. Getting junior roles in finance, human resources, sales, or IT will also serve you well. 

3. Step up into management and leadership positions whenever possible

If your part time work and university curriculum aren’t providing enough opportunities to practise your management skills and get some manager roles onto your resume, you need to take matters into your own hands. 

Here are a few ideas on where and how to get valuable leadership experience without yet having a qualification.
  • Seek out volunteer activities that come with manager or supervisor titles, such as these supervisor and manager level volunteer positions currently listed.
  • If there is the chance to step in and supervise at your part time job, put up your hand.
  • Talk to your boss to let them know you’re interested in any opportunities that might be coming up.
  • If your university offers an opportunity to manage a committee or supervise volunteers for an open day or trade fair, go ahead and do it.
  • Become a mentor or tutor to younger students.
  • Try to find any opportunity to practise creating and managing a budget, even if it’s just a food and beverage budget for a university society event.

4. Organise at least one internship before you graduate

An internship is an essential part of any business education, whether you’re studying at a bachelor or a master’s level. It’s an important stepping stone from study to your career, so make organising one or two of them a priority for your final year. 

When choosing your university, check to see that they have a good internship program where you will get real support, and where you can access industry partners you actually want to work for. This will make your life a lot easier, further down the path. 

At TUA, we have a fantastic internship program with some great industry partners and I advise all students to take advantage of it. 

If you don’t have access to an internship program via your educational institution, it’s still possible to organise one yourself. You can search for internship opportunities online, or simply get into contact with a company that you want to work for and ask if they hire interns.

For a more detailed guide on how to organise your business internship with or without a university program, take a look at the ‘3-Step Guide on How to Start Your Business Internship Program’ I put together to help our business students, last year.

5. Get your foot in the door and start at the bottom

Operations manager is usually a senior role requiring between 4-10 years of experience. If you’re aiming for a chief operations manager role, you can expect to step into that with 8-10+ years of experience under your belt. 

So, you’re probably not going to step into an operations manager role straight out of university. In reality, most operations managers start out in junior roles and work their way up.  

When you’re close to graduating, you can start applying for junior positions. As of the first week of February, there are almost 7000 junior manager positions in Australia being advertised on just one search platform, across a broad range of industries. 

There are lots of opportunities to step into junior roles, depending on your interests and preferences. This is the moment where all your effort to gain working experience while studying will pay off. 

Here are a few tips on how to land that first foot-in-the-door job:

  • A paid internship is proven to be one of the best ways to move into paid employment. Again, I urge you to do an internship.
  • Demonstrated experience is what is going to set you apart from other applicants. So, make sure you write a resume for roles that clearly shows what you’ve accomplished in your leadership experience so far.
  • Explore and expand your networks to find opportunities that may not be advertised.
  • Take advantage of any career services or student coaches that your education provider offers. At TUA, students have access to a personalised Success Coach who is there to help them find internships or job opportunities, and to guide the application process.

Once you’ve landed your first management job, it’s up to you to learn all the relevant operations management skills and give yourself the best possible chance for promotion. You’re already well and truly on your way to success.

See here for more on the Bachelor of Business course at Torrens University Australia.

Justin Pierce, Director of Innovation, Industry and Employability, at Torrens University Australia (TUA).

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