It’s Time to Recognize Transferable Skills in Procurement

December 10, 2018

Every once in a while, we on the Argentus blog need to take a stand, and today it’s for something that more companies should recognize:

Core Procurement skills are transferable. Full stop.

Hiring managers have a difficult job. Companies task them with finding the needle in the haystack.  Business leadership often mandate that new hires come from a specific industry or category background to try to reduce risk. It’s the “safe” way to hire, and sometimes it’s necessary. But sometimes a fixation on a candidate who has done the exact same thing before can shut the door to the best performers – the people who can really create change and drive strategy.

We’ve written about the importance of recognizing transferable skills before, but it’s time to talk about this issue specifically in Procurement, where candidates are often fielding multiple job offers at a time. The fact is, the most important Procurement competencies translate to any industry, and many categories (be it IT, travel, marketing, equipment, etc). This is true for transactional-level skills, and for strategic, function-defining skills as well.

You can drop the best people into any industry, assign them to any category, and they’ll thrive, whether they’ve worked in that category or industry before.

Many executives get this. They recognize that if they find someone with the right skills and business acumen – which we blogged about recently – they can train a specific category, or certain industry. But too many hiring managers are mired in a process that refuses to give transferable skills their due.

The thing is, hiring someone from outside a certain niche isn’t a compromise. It can actually provide extra value by bringing a diversity of thinking and perspective. But if you adopt a “cliquey” mentality, and only hire from within your industry, you’re limiting your company’s perspective. If you hire a Procurement person and then stick them in one category forever, you’re also compromising their growth, and opportunities for innovation and collaboration.

We’ve spoken to Procurement leaders who will “rotate” their staff across categories. For example, they’ll give a Procurement Specialist six months on the travel file, and then six months on the IT category, then six months on facilities Procurement. That shows great investment in growing employees, but it’s also smart business because these managers are giving their people the experience they need to see the forest for the trees.

Hiring managers should consider adopting the same mentality: hire based on skills, potential, and personality. Train the category.

We don’t want to be absolutists here. There are specific cases where you absolutely need to hire someone with certain non-transferable category or industry experience. For example:

  • Cases where the candidate needs to have deep category understanding in order to set strategy. For example, say a large company is re-evaluating their Marketing function. They might want someone with strong experience in Marketing procurement – or even someone who’s been on the supplier side – to help with agency reviews or other changes. Another example: if a company is undergoing an Information Technology transformation, it makes sense that they’d want an individual who has a deep understanding of the IT supplier marketplace (whether for hardware, software, cloud, or another sub-category).
  • If you’re hiring in Public Sector or another highly regulated industry, you might need someone who has experience in Broader Public Sector (BPS) Procurement or other regulatory frameworks.
  • If you’re conducting highly technical procurement, for example in electrical manufacturing, you might need your Procurement people to have a deep understanding of technical components and the ability to source from spec.

If you absolutely need a certain bit of experience because of these or other factors, by all means, go for it. But it’s not worth it to mandate experience in a certain category just because it’s the safe choice.

From our perspective, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of highly transferable Procurement skills:

Core competencies

  • Purchase order preparation and processing
  • Supplier research.
  • Bid preparation (RfP, RfI, RfQ, etc.)
  • Supplier evaluation and selection.

More strategic competencies:

  • Procurement strategy building.
  • Supplier negotiation.
  • Supplier relationship management.
  • Contracts management.
  • Vendor management.
  • Building stakeholder engagement.
  • Business transformations (for example to a centre-led, total cost of ownership or centre of excellence model).

Soft skills:

  • Relationship building
  • Change management
  • Negotiations skills
  • Presentation and influence-building skills
  • Communications skills
  • People management skills

These are relevant no matter the industry, no matter the category. They’re vital to all Procurement professionals, depending on level of strategy and seniority. It’s a long list, and we’d venture to say that these skills are way more crucial in more circumstances than experience in a specific industry, specific category, or specific title.

But if companies become more willing to hire based on transferable skills, it shouldn’t be an excuse for Procurement professionals to rest on their laurels.

To speak to candidates for a minute: build a base of Procurement skills, then carefully evaluate your career goals and where you want to land. It often makes sense to develop specialized skills like a deep understanding of Public Sector regulations, a highly-technical competency, or deep category knowledge, depending on the industry. Transferable skills aren’t an excuse not to figure out your blue-sky dreams and specialize.

Also, while transferable skills are important, they can just be table stakes. Organizations want to see accomplishments, so the mere fact of having transferable skills on your resume isn’t enough to secure a dream job. You should also be able to speak to concrete, quantifiable value you brought to an organization. What cost savings have you achieved? What Procurement centralization or transformation have you done?

Speak to those, and you’re the total package.

The bottom line for hiring managers and decision makers is this: if you find someone who excels at all these transferable skills, and has a proven track record of translating them into results, hire that person, even if they don’t have experience in the specific category or industry.

But what do you think? Do you have any other transferable or non-transferable skills to add? Do you vehemently disagree? Let us know in the comments!


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