How to identify and recruit top procurement talent

Hiring staff is one of the most stressful and time-consuming tasks in a manager’s career. It’s a massive drain on resources and it’s a process that’s taking longer than ever before. In fact, according to data from Glassdoor Economic Research, in the last four years, it’s gone from taking 13 days to 23 days to hire a new employee.

The research group attributes this increased interview process time down to more vigorous background checks taking place before the point of interview. In fact, 43% of job applications now have some sort of screening processing according to the same source.

With it now taking longer to recruit staff, its impetrative to make sure you hire the right people, to save time precious time and in this blog post, we speak to Peter Brophy from Edbury Daley about what procurement managers should look for when hiring new employees.

Q: What sort of qualifications should you look for when sourcing procurement staff?

Teaching in a classroom

It depends on what kind of vacancy you’re trying to fill. For senior and mid-level appointments, most businesses we supply candidates for look for Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS) qualifications. They’re the industry standard qualification and very much sought after.

However, many organisations often focus on the relevant experience they need or for transferable skills rather than any ‘formal qualification’ – and this is more prevalent in some sectors than others.

For graduate or entry-level roles some of our clients look for people with qualifications such as business studies, economics or a numerate degree. For junior positions, some of our clients are happy to take on candidates without any qualifications, offering to mould and shape them with a comprehensive training program.

In short, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and it’s down to you as the recruiter to figure out what’s best for you and your business.

Q: What experience should top-tier procurement candidates have?

Once again, it really depends on the role you’re seeking to fill. Universally speaking, you want any member of the procurement team to have had experience of interpreting and understanding data So, any candidate should have extensive experience of working with Microsoft Excel. They’ll know their way around a VLOOKUP and be a dab hand with macros.

Speaking of IT-related skills, with much of procurement now based on IT technologies such as ERP systems and eProcurement tools, you’d expect any candidate to have expertise using these systems. You should look for proficiency with things like web3, SAP Ariba, Oracle and ERP packages such as Microsoft Dynamics and Salesforce.

You’d expect candidates, of all seniority, to demonstrate commercial awareness and business acumen, ensuring that they understand the idiosyncrasies for working for a business.

For senior appointments, you’d want to look for specialist skills, so perhaps someone with experience working in other functions or perhaps a project management role.

Q: What are the most valuable soft skills to look out for?

Negotiating with people

It’s important that any candidate you place into your team has the right soft skills. They’re often overlooked, but with procurement, even a junior member of staff can be doing a deal worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to the business. I’ve compiled the top four below:

  • Negotiation skills – these are a must. Whether its sorting out a new contract with a supplier or persuading the wider organisation to embrace procurement’s cost-savings strategy for choosing a new supplier, the ability to influence and negotiate and most importantly, compromise is key.
  • Good communication skills – as procurement involves multiple stakeholders, at every single level of the business as well as a lot of work with external organisations. Candidates need to be confident talking to people with different seniority. Also, prospective employees should represent the business in the best possible light when dealing with external stakeholders. Test both written and verbal communication skills in the interview process by using situation-based interview questions.
  • Leadership skills – any candidate, regardless of how senior they are, will need to demonstrate leadership skills. If it’s a CPO, they’ll be leading the procure function for the entire business whereas a category buyer might be responsible for negotiating new contracts. The point is, they’ll need to take ownership of their projects and make important decisions with confidence. You’ll need to tease out examples in the interview portion of the process to assess whether they’re capable of leadership or not.
  • Curiosity – this might seem like an odd one to include, but some of the most successful candidates I’ve placed has the innate desire to learn more about things. Expressing an interest in the business and approaching situations with a fresh attitude goes a long way to being successful in any procurement job role. Look for candidates that aren’t willing to accept the status quo and question everything.

Q: What kind of personality do you think helps procurement professionals succeed?

Businessman talking

There isn’t a specific personality that’ll help you succeed in procurement. However, procurement has changed significantly in the last decade or so. As technology has improved and as purchasing has become a key part of a cost-savings strategy for FTSE 500 businesses after the 2008 financial crash, a new wave of talent has infiltrated the profession.

In the past, procurement was a back office, administrative role. But digital transformation has fundamentally altered the function, and now, Category Buyers, all the way up to Chief Procurement Officers are keen networkers, have excellent communication skills and have a can-do attitude.

Q: Should I be looking out for specific skills for direct and indirect spend roles?

In the past, I would have said yes to this question, but now, direct and indirect spend roles are merging. It’s a case of a different approach to each type of spend, instead of being completely different skills.

There’s massive crossover between the two disciplines, and like I mentioned in the last question, technology has facilitated a change in procurement this is reflected in the approach to direct and indirect spend roles. Both require good stakeholder management skills, as well as proficiency with a suite of IT-related tools.

Q: What kind of questions should I ask when interviewing procurement staff?

Interviewing a candidate

We reckon the best way to objectively assess a candidate’s suitability is by using the competency-based interview technique. That way, you’re allowing the interviewee to draw from their experience and provide you with a solid answer for your question. Here are a few sample questions:

  • Describe a time when you had to explain something complex to a colleague. What problems did you come across and how did you deal with them?
  • Tell us about the biggest change you have had to deal with in your previous employment. How did you handle it?
  • Describe a time in which you had to improve a team’s performance. What challenges did you encounter and how did you address them?

Ensure you study your job description and draw out questions that will help you assess and understand the attributes you need for the role.

Q: Do you recommend setting a task before or during the interview phase to assess candidate suitability?

We see this a lot in marketing and sales jobs, and it is starting to creep into other industries too. We recommend only setting a task if it relates to the job the candidate is applying for.

While building a tower of paper cups might be great fun, it doesn’t really, in my view, tell you much about the candidate. Instead, if you’re hiring an analyst, set them the task of interrogating data in Microsoft Excel. Or if you’re hiring someone quite senior, give them some figures to work with and ask them to present to you their vision for procurement in your business – that way you’ll be able to get a measure of their approach and communication skills.

Q: If someone who’s looking for a job in procurement is reading this for tips and advice on how to get into the industry, what advice would you give them?

Someone in procurement

I think first, just get the basics right. So, make sure you’ve got or acquire good numeracy skills and knowledge of Microsoft Excel and other database platforms. You get all this knowledge online or just by asking people more experienced people for help.

As cliched as it sounds, having a lot of passion really helps you get started in procurement. If you come across as keen and eager to learn in a job interview, your interview will pick up on that and it’ll give you every chance to succeed in landing the job.

Landing a job in procurement, like many others, is very much a numbers game – so be prepared to apply for as many roles as you can to maximise your chances. You will get knocked back and rejected at times, but the most important thing is to keep yourself motivated – because the dream job is just around the corner!

We’d like to thank Peter for taking the time to talk to us about his experience recruiting procurement professionals.

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