Attention Candidates: Don’t Try to Be all Things to All People

May 28, 2019

Being a jack of all trades is great, but it can hurt your candidacy to apply for jobs way outside your specialization.

Today’s Supply Chain is marked by a staggering array of different specializations. In the old days, you might focus on just “Logistics,” or “Purchasing,” and when you were a bit more senior, you might have responsibilities over both. Now, the flowering of digital technology, combined with new organizational thinking about Supply Chain’s value, has led to more diverse career opportunity in the field. At the same time as Supply Chains are expected to break down silos and work cross-functionally, there are a multitude of discrete different Supply Chain jobs, with different skills requirements.

Now, someone with 3-5 years of experience might be a supply chain planner, a network planner, a production planner, a supply chain analyst, a procurement specialist, a P2P specialist, an EDI specialist, and that’s just scratching the surface.

A number of core Supply Chain and Procurement skills are transferrable across a wide variety of roles, and soft skills are pretty universal. But there’s still something to be said for specialization.

Most Supply Chain leaders begin in one specialty (say, Procurement). They learn the ins and outs, and own that specialty. Then, they move their way up by working within roles that give them exposure to other functions (say, Logistics, or Planning). That experience interfacing with adjacent functions gives them a wider scope, more understanding of budgets, and they can then move into roles with more responsibility. Continue this process, and you can become a Supply Chain Manager, Director, and more.

Other people specialize in one subdiscipline (i.e. Planning), and seek to become leaders in that discipline. They’ll seek to rise to a role as say, a VP of Planning, within a large organization, rather than aiming to lead end-to-end Supply Chain in a holistic role. This is also a good path to move your career forward, with lots of opportunities and strong compensation.

All of which is to say, there are various paths to success as a Supply Chain professional. But they all begin with a decision to specialize.

But there’s something we, as recruiters, see from candidates very often – which means that hiring managers are seeing it as well. And it’s something that can harm your candidacy and make you seem like you don’t understand Supply Chain Management as well as your experience would indicate:

Too often, candidates apply for roles way outside their specialty. It’s something we talked about in a recent post as the #1 reason why candidates scare away recruiters. An Inventory Planner will apply for a Procurement role, without any Procurement experience. A Logistics Analyst will apply for a Demand Planning role, when they’ve never done anything close to that. You get the picture.

It seems like obvious advice: don’t apply for jobs where you don’t have the experience. But it happens all the time. And if we had to speculate, it’s not really incompetence or people failing to read the job description at all (although it must be in some cases). It’s that most Supply Chain professionals are bright, and many skills are transferrable. People must figure, “I have three years of experience in this subdiscipline, I can do this other one.” And you very well might be able to.

But the fact is, if a company wants to hire someone with three years of experience in a certain function, they want someone experienced in that function. Very rarely will they take a flyer on someone who has experience way outside their requirements.

Hiring is an immense financial risk for companies, and they don’t want to take it. We’ll rarely represent candidates at the sole contributor level for roles that are completely remote from their experience.

The other thing is, applying for jobs way outside of your experience isn’t just futile, it can actually seriously hurt your candidacy. When a Supply Planner applies for a Procurement role, it doesn’t send the message of, “wow, that person is ambitious” (even if that’s why you applied). It sends the message that you don’t understand the difference between these subdisciplines, and that you don’t have respect for the expertise of people who have spent years specializing in that function. It will actually make a recruiter or hiring manager less likely to work with you on a future role, if they’ve never worked with you before and your first communication is applying for a job way outside your specialty.

If something happens and you’re in the job market again, it can be an intimidating experience. There might be some urgency, and you feel like you have to get as many irons in the fire as possible. But it’s important to think about the reception an application will get on the other side of the “send” button, and whether it might actually hurt your burgeoning personal brand.

We get it. Job searching is tough. But the most successful candidates are those who apply for a job, we open the resume, and immediately think, “hmm…that makes sense,” instead of “what?!”

So how do you get that diversified experience we talked about above, once you’re ready to move up? It’s by learning the ins and outs of one specialty, becoming confident in who you are and what you know, and sticking to it for a good amount of time. Then, seek out roles in that specialty, but have cross-functional exposure to other subdisciplines once you’re in that role. That way you can gradually broaden your experience in a way that makes sense for the organization.

That’s our opinion, but we’re curious about yours! Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments!


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