5 Key Procurement Skills to Look for When Hiring

By Hugo Britt | June 10, 2021

Hiring someone new isn’t all that stressful. Even if it turns out that they don’t have the right skills for the job, they’ll simply leave after a few weeks and you can easily hire someone else…. right?

Wrong. With the costs of recruiting and training new talent as high as 50% of their annual salary, it’s more important than ever for hiring managers to get recruitment right the first time.

This will require a meticulous approach to recruitment including a competitive salary package to attract the right level of talent, a carefully-worded job description, thorough screening of applications and CVs, and doing your due diligence in terms of reference and experience checks.

There’s one stage in the recruitment process where you have a chance to find out whether you’ve found your dream hire – the job interview.

Key procurement skills

For procurement and supply chain professionals, the focus has moved away from hard skills to ‘soft’ or ‘essential’ skills. In other words, asking a new hire if they can run a tender process is much less valuable than enquiring about their communication skills.

The reason for this (despite the consultants trying to tell you otherwise) is that procurement isn’t rocket science: there are very few hard skills in procurement that can’t be learned on the job or acquired through a training course.

It’s also important to keep in mind that requiring new hires to have basic (hard) procurement skills closes the door in the face of potentially excellent talent who are willing to step into procurement from other professions. This robs your team of the vibrant mix of experience that people with engineering, legal, operations, and other backgrounds can bring to the function.

There’s an ongoing debate about whether soft skills can be developed on the job or whether they are something you are simply born with. Either way, soft skills are incredibly valuable for an organization and should, therefore, be something that hiring managers do their utmost to discover. 

Here are five key procurement skills that I believe are essential for a great hire within the sourcing industry, along with interview questions that will help unearth these skills.

1. Communication

Procurement offers countless opportunities to be a fantastic communicator. Whether it’s meeting with business stakeholders to understand their requirements, negotiating with a supplier to get the best deal (while being careful not to damage the relationship), or managing relationships with your top suppliers, these skills come into play countless times every day.

How can you test for communication skills in an interview? It’s difficult to judge someone’s face-to-face communication skills if they’re nervous, so concentrate first on setting candidates at ease.

Once they’re relaxed and chatting, evaluate their communication skills. Does the conversation seem difficult or stilted? Are they too formal? Too casual? Do they ramble or get to the point?

Although this will add an extra step to an already lengthy recruitment process, I can’t recommend it enough: give your shortlisted candidates a brief, written task such as giving constructive feedback to an underperforming supplier. This can be done by email or at the interview itself – perhaps while candidates are waiting outside for their turn.

2. Adaptability

I firmly believe that the worst-possible hire you can make is someone who is afraid of change. Adaptability – or a willingness to embrace change – is absolutely vital in a fast-paced environment where disruptive events take place with increasing frequency.

Adaptability encompasses a candidate’s ability to learn new technological skills. Instead of asking if they are familiar with whatever source-to-pay platform is currently in vogue at your organization, ask questions that explore their ability and willingness to dive into new technology

During the interview, ask the candidate to tell you about a situation in the past when they were assigned an unfamiliar task. How did they adapt to this situation? What were the challenges and how did they overcome them?

3. Resilience

Things go wrong all the time in procurement and supply chain management. Deals fall through, negotiations come to a halt, business priorities change and supply chains get disrupted. It’s essential, therefore, to hire someone who won’t fall apart when it hits the fan.

Good candidates are resilient and flexible enough to take disruptive events in their stride. GREAT candidates will seek out the opportunities presented by a disruptive event and use them to the business’ advantage.

To test for resilience in an interview, ask the candidate, “Tell us about a time when you faced a major crisis that threatened the success of a project you were working on. How did you cope with the setback, and how did you deal with the pressure?”

4. Business acumen

Business acumen can be difficult to define, but you’ll know when someone doesn’t have it. People lacking in business acumen usually do not consider the bigger picture, or how the project they are working on relates to overall procurement strategy and enterprise-level goals.

They may come up with innovative ideas, but often fail to consider how other parts of the business would be impacted. Another red flag is an ignorance of basic finance terminology.

Questions like, “Tell us how your day-to-day tasks tied in with company-wide financial targets in your previous role,” may provide insight into whether or not your candidate possesses business acumen.

5. Data analytics

While technically a “hard” skill, I’m a firm believer in the importance of analytical skills because:

  1. The future of the profession – cognitive procurement, artificial intelligence, procurement analytics, and more – all depend on one thing: data. Candidates should understand the importance of data and (critically) know how to convert data into actionable insights.
  2. Although many procurement teams have specialist data analysts, this is one of those skill-sets (like communication) that everyone should have at least a basic grasp of.

To test for data analytics skills in an interview, ask the candidate to tell you about a dataset they’ve relied on in the past. How did they turn data into actionable insights that benefitted the organization?

Having difficulty finding the right candidates with these key procurement skills? Maybe you don’t have the budget to hire people with the skills you need. Consider outsourcing some of your procurement activity to a third-party Group Purchasing Organization. Contact Una to learn more.W


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