OR/MS Tomorrow Alumni Spotlight: Navigating Career Paths with Nithish Saji

Soham Agarwal Nithish Saji
M.S. Student Purdue University Operations Research Scientist, FedEx

As recent graduates and to-be graduates prepare for their Spring career fairs and online job search, it becomes imperative to consider the various features the predictive model of "the job search“ has to be built upon. Even with a surge of tech layoffs at the start of 2023, we see an estimated decline in layoffs from over 84,000 in January to over 4,600 layoffs in September. (Stringer, 2023) This suggests potential improvements in the employment situation within the tech industry. Nithish Saiji, a former OR/MS Tomorrow member and an operations research scientist at FedEx for the past 3-4 years, breaks down the complexity of this black box by describing the process through anecdotes and his journey of finding a job as an international student.

Generalization vs. Specialization

The longstanding debate between generalization and specialization continues to shape the professional landscape. As highlighted in David Epstein’s TED Talk (Epstein, 2019), there’s a case to be made for a broad-based approach before diving deep into a specialized field. Nithish’s journey provides a practical perspective on this debate. With a foundation in simulation engineering from India, he sought to expand his knowledge at North Carolina State University, enrolling in courses such as automation systems engineering and logistics engineering. In my interview with him, Nithish emphasized the value of exploring various courses across different departments. This approach not only offers a comprehensive learning experience but also helps in determining if one’s interests genuinely align with their chosen path.

“From my own experiences in the job market, it’s common to see professionals navigating through different roles before settling on a perfect fit. This exploration can be accelerated during graduate and postgraduate studies by sampling a range of courses of potential interest.”

However, there’s also an ‘It depends’ case for specialization. As Nithish points out, "For entry-level roles, a diverse background can offer flexibility. But for roles in specialized teams, like computer vision, deep expertise is essential."

Nithish’s background in simulation engineering, especially with tools like FlexSim which are favored by many US firms, gave him a competitive advantage. He also highlighted the importance of skills like Gurobi for optimization. On the softer side, adaptability and an open mindset are key. As the technical landscape evolves, flexibility becomes crucial. For instance, when Nithish joined his company, FedEx was collaborating with tech giants like Microsoft and Google on cloud solutions. This shift required transitioning from SAS systems to more scalable solutions like Python or Spark, necessitating training on platforms like Azure. Nithish’s adaptability enabled him to address challenges, such as revamping the facility location model, originally developed in SAS, to meet changing demands and service priorities.

A Different Day, a Different Market

Considering the widespread knowledge of the lackluster market conditions, finding a job can seem like a mirage with the illusion being a prospective job looming in the distance. Companies aren’t hiring as predictably or as far ahead as six months to a year in advance. Although challenges in job searches and job security plague the market, some companies are looking for innovative solutions to current challenges, indicating that there are pockets of opportunities.

Attesting to his own job search process, referrals were instrumental in landing a job at FedEx. Referrals can help bypass the initial stages, which are often the hardest part of the job search process. A significant 82% of employees favor referrals over other recruitment methods. Impressively, 45% of these referred employees remain with the company for more than four years, whereas only 25% of employees sourced from job boards stay beyond two years. (Stafiej, 2021).

People run the world, and so does the hiring process that you apply through. Networking helps align interests with employers and allows you to play a winning hand at a win-win game that involves mutual interest. Interests, as we talked about, can also be discovered through engaging with as many people as possible, as they can provide you with insights into their work. This allows you to potentially skip years of work that you might not have liked.

As the social media coordinator at OR/MS Tomorrow, Nithish had the opportunity to further validate his interest in the field of Operations Research. He mentions that interacting with industry professionals helped him understand the direction the industry was heading in, and helped him build a web of networks that he could later rely on to capture an opportunity. Actively getting involved in areas that involve people, allows one to learn a lot of traits that would have taken a longer time otherwise to learn, and doing that with a diverse group such as the one at the OR/MS Tomorrow magazine allowed this learning to be expedited.

•  Social Media Screening: Over 70% of employers use social media profiles for screening, and 55% have found content that led them to reject a candidate. (Glynn, 2023)

•  Customize Your Resume: 87% of recruiters use LinkedIn to check candidates, so ensure your LinkedIn profile matches your resume. (Jobvite, 2016)

•  Mind the ATS: 98.2% of Fortune 500 companies use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Make sure your re- sume is ATS-friendly. (Myers, 2023)

•  Soft Skills Matter: 91% of recruiters want to see interpersonal skills on your resume. (LinkedIn, 2019)

•  Follow Up: 80% of job openings are never advertised, so always follow up on applications and interviews. (Townsend, 2023)

A Glimpse of Recovery

Nithish plans to stay in the same sector but acknowledges the rapid changes in the industry. FedEx is exploring new techniques for shipping tracking and merging different techniques. With automation and AI on the rise, companies are exploring the use of these technologies for forecasting as well. Large language models (LLMs) are being used as supplements, but copy-right concerns and data privacy can hint at companies trying to create their own models for specific tasks within the organization. With a huge flux of jobs in the market, Nithish recommends staying up to date with the latest tools to stay ahead of the curve.


Epstein, D., 2019. Why specializing early doesn’t always mean career success. URL: https://youtu.be/B6lBtiQZSho?si= JqpKvNH9lEX3qdPp.

Glynn, P., 2023. Recruiting statistics 2023. URL: https://insightglobal.com/blog/recruiting-statistics-2023/.

Jobvite, 2016. Jobvite Recruiter National Report 2016.  URL: https://www.jobvite.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ RecruiterNation2016.pdf.

LinkedIn, 2019. Global Talent Trends 2019.     URL: https://business.linkedin.com/content/dam/me/business/en-us/talent- solutions/resources/pdfs/global-talent-trends-2019.pdf.

Myers, S., 2023. Which fortune 500 companies use ats. URL: https://www.jobscan.co/blog/fortune-500-use-applicant-tracking- systems/.

Stafiej, M., 2021. Employee referral statistics 2021. URL: https://erinapp.com/blog/employee-referral-statistics-you-need-to- know-for-2021-infographic/.

Stringer, A., 2023. Tech layoffs 2023 list. URL: https://techcrunch.com/2023/10/10/tech-layoffs-2023-list/.

Townsend, T., 2023. Report: 80 percent of recent job seekers used misc resources. URL: https://www.inc.com/tess-townsend/ report-80-percent-of-recent-job-seekers-used-misc-resources.html.


Acknowledgments: We would like to thank Kara Combs for taking the time to review this article. Photo credit to Clemente Vatte for the header photo.