Building on the popularity of our recent post explaining the difference between a Buyer and a Category Manager, we decided to tackle another common talent-related question in Procurement, one of Argentus’ areas of specialty:
Why is some category expertise transferable, but some isn’t?
In Procurement, (the discipline managing how an organization buys the goods and services it needs for production and for operation), one of the most important skill profiles is an individual’s category experience. Whether it’s direct Procurement for manufacturing, or Procurement of IT, travel, marketing, facilities, or professional services, organizations are almost always looking for experience buying in specific categories from prospective candidates when they’re hiring. In the Procurement field, a strong understanding of specific categories allows professionals to be more strategic. It allows them to have subject matter expertise over what they’re buying – which is a necessity, but often also an added value for companies because strategic Procurement professionals can have oversight over the strategy of why or what a company is buying, not just how they go about buying something.
Procurement professionals sometimes get into a specific category because they have a background in that function (for example, coming from the IT space into IT Procurement). And sometimes they fall into it.
We often hear from candidates looking for new jobs who have specific category experience, wondering whether that experience will apply to other categories or industries. Which makes sense. High-achieving Procurement professionals are often looking to get a variety of experiences, and they’re also looking to avoid being pigeonholed. But the fact is that in the eyes of companies, some category experience is transferable to other categories and industries, and some isn’t.
So why is that?
What it comes down to in most cases is that some categories require specific subject matter expertise so that the Procurement professional can get buy-in from internal clients in that function.
- Direct Procurement for Manufacturing is a great example of a case where category expertise isn’t really transferable. In this category, where the Procurement professional is buying parts needed for the manufacturing of the company’s products, an understanding of the parts’ specifications is key. A Buyer in a manufacturing organization is going to have scientists, engineers, and/or research & development as their internal stakeholders. So the Buyer needs to have a solid understanding of the parts involved in the production – what each part does, where it fits into the product – so that when they go to market to purchase, they have enough information to make a sound buy from a technical point of view.
- Information Technology Procurement is similar. While a Procurement professional in the IT category might have the expertise to purchase hardware and/or software, and the skills are transferable in that way, an IT Procurement professional needs to “speak the language” of the IT function. They need to have an intimate understanding of the services IT is providing to the company so that they can assess risk; for example, say a company has more copies of software installed than they have licenses, an IT Procurement expert would have an understanding of the legal implications and would be able to help their company assess and avoid risk in that area. They also need to have the strong technical background required to interpret the IT department’s requirements.
- Marketing and Travel Procurement are other great examples of categories where an understanding of the subject matter is key. Professionals in both categories are buying very specific, tailored services. Again, the Procurement professional needs to “talk the talk” with suppliers and 3rd parties, with an understanding of, for example, advertising buys, print buys, or loyalty programs. This makes these categories harder to transition into from another category, as Procurement professionals in these categories often come from the industries they end up buying from.
Sound Procurement fundamentals are relevant across the board. But beyond this, is there a category where specific expertise is transferable?
- Services and Facilities Procurement are generally categories where candidates can move more easily across industries. No matter the industry, office services (e.g. cleaning, paper shredding), real estate, and other more general business services are pretty similar. They deal with similar vendors, and because of that, expertise in these areas is more transferable. This allows for more career flexibility – but at the cost of some of the deeper specialization that some of the less-transferable categories offer.
So there you have it: a quick guide to categories in Procurement and why expertise in some of them transfers, and why it doesn’t in others.
As a bonus, we thought we’d offer some extra advice that answers the most common follow up question:
How can you make the move to a different category?
We often hear from candidates who’re looking to make the move to a different category. And some candidates will avoid even mentioning their category expertise on their LinkedIn Profile to avoid only hearing about jobs in that category (being pigeonholed, in a sense). So what can you do if you’re looking to make a category switch?
1. Consider contract.
When hiring for a contract role in Procurement, companies are often more lenient when it comes to specific category experience. While you lose some of the stability of a permanent role, contracts are a great opportunity to learn a different category’s Procurement practices and subject matter (and make some solid money through tax advantages).
2. Consider services and facilities Procurement.
These areas are broad enough that they’d let you work with the right vendors and gain the experience necessary to move into a different category. For example, if you’re in a role where you’re interfacing with telecommunications providers, you might be able to slide into an IT Procurement role. In Services Procurement, You might get a chance to source Recruitment firms, which might let you move into HR as a category. The broadness of these categories, in other words, allows you to tailor your Procurement expertise and relationships and move into different categories.
3. Look internally.
Keep your eyes open for job opportunities within your organization in different categories. It’s easier to switch between Procurement categories when you’re in the same organization than it is when you move to a new organization. This is because, within an organization, you’ll probably have existing relationships with some of the same stakeholders across categories.
A big thank you to Sam Manna, Adele Casciaro and Bronwen Hann of the Argentus Recruitment team for contributing their expertise for this article!
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