How to Prepare for a Procurement Job Interview

For most of us, interviewing is like public speaking – we would rather get healthy teeth extracted without Novocain than subject ourselves to such a stressful experience.

As an executive recruiter focused in procurement/sourcing and supply chain for the past 20+ years, most of my conversations with job seekers focus on preparing for interviews and discussing interview strategies to get offers. Most of the job descriptions companies send me are very similar or identical. But a “Sourcing Manager” role for company A can be completely different than the “Sourcing Manager” for company B. There are so many variables to every interview scenario that a job seeker is often confused about how best to prepare. Many aspects of the interview process are out of the job seeker’s control. Because of this, we recommend that the best way to prepare for an interview is to focus on the things that we can control – seems so obvious, but it’s shocking how many candidates who are well qualified fail to get an offer because of lack of preparation or preparing in the wrong way.

Things in our control:

  • Know your own resume and be prepared to discuss concrete examples of your experience (should know the ins and outs of your own experience without having to consult your resume).
  • Research the company and the interviewers (made possible thanks to LinkedIn and a good network).
  • Get to the interview on time (with all of the smartphones and traffic apps – traffic is no longer a good excuse).
  • Bring extra copies of the resume, dress appropriately.
  • Interview with energy and enthusiasm (attitude can make or break an interview).

Unfortunately when candidates fail to advance in an interview process, all too often the feedback we receive from clients includes, “The candidate was”:

  • Not prepared, seemed like they were winging it.
  • Did not know much about our company.
  • Was late to the interview.
  • Had really low energy.
  • Could not provide examples or explain how they arrived at a result, etc.

But don’t take my word for it; I consulted with experts in the hiring process who shared what they look for to hire procurement candidates and things that knock people out of contention. I consulted CPOs, a leading supply chain recruiter, and a career coach/talent management professional:

I asked:

  • What are most important Procurement/Sourcing skills/experiences that you look for when hiring?
  • What are the most important Non-Procurement skills/experiences that you look for when hiring?
  • What are behaviors or traits that would knock someone out of contention?

Their responses:

What are the most important Procurement/Sourcing skills/experiences that you look for when hiring?

Linda Behan (CPO at Iron Mountain – strategic sourcing and change management thought leader for multiple companies): “I look for demonstrated ability to identify new strategic opportunities that deliver value. The candidate should provide specific examples on category planning and management applying unique approaches from a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) perspective. “The ability to influence change is also critical.”

Procurement leader for large media and entertainment company (Experienced CPO and procurement transformation leader for several global market leaders in several industries and has also led supply chain/sourcing consulting practice): “I typically look for resources that have a combination of consulting background, and industry experience. Consulting experience helps them engage with clients and have a disciplined delivery skill set. Industry knowledge helps them relate to the client and provide insight. Since sourcing has become highly specialized, having category subject matter expertise helps with strategy development and execution and we find that embedded resources who bring strong category expertise perform much better with our clients. I recently had two candidates who were very strong on paper, however both received poor feedback from the internal clients. They fell short in demonstrating that expertise. Needless to say we selected another candidate.”

Bob McInturff (President – McInturff and Associates – leading Supply Chain recruiters based in the Boston area): “My clients view analytical capability and presentation and communication skills as critical to success for their procurement and supply chain hires regardless of industry. When I look at a resume these days I look for e-sourcing proficiency and strong analytical capability. I also look at the education, certifications, category knowledge, global experience and of course accomplishments. When talking to or meeting candidates, I look for communication skills and presentation.”

Julienne Ryan – J Ryan Partners (Talent management professional with 20 years of organizational development, management consulting, talent acquisition, and training experience. Has interviewed many sourcing and supply chain professionals in HR roles with Avon, American Express, Diageo, Con Edison Non-Regulated Subsidiaries and Right Management.): “Think about how your interview answers will impact your audience, and how your experience is relevant to them (marketing customers will have different needs than IT or Finance). It’s also important to have multiple examples and be able to discuss them in detail – must be able to answer the follow up question, ‘Tell me more.’ Also very important to answer the question that is asked.”

What are most important non- procurement/sourcing skills/experiences that you look for when hiring?

Behan: “I look for the ability to truly understand the business issues and concerns. Procurement professionals get a bad reputation when they look only through their own lens – I look for someone who understands the business user challenges and perspective and how to apply the procurement process (or not) to enable overall business success – not just from a procurement perspective. A sense of humor – it takes intelligence and perspective to be funny.”

Procurement leader in media and entertainment: “Project management skills, listening skills and being able to formulate a clear strategy are all important. Sourcing is a multistep process and it’s important to understand how the methodology applies to the situation. For example you may not go to RFP for a Mainframe Computer, however you will put together a strategy that outlines the steps required to achieve the best outcome for your company. An individual needs to be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together when a few are missing. You typically see these traits in senior sources or those individuals that have big 4 experience (Consulting).”

McInturff: “Collaboration and presentation skills are critical. All sourcing and supply chain roles require ability to work effectively with other functional areas. If you don’t have it, you must learn how to communicate and develop strong presentation skills.”

Ryan: “It’s really important to engage with those who you are talking to. Good body language, focus and visible interest are really important. People who are too passive, quiet, or shy often get overlooked. Be able to collaborate and build relationships, be a good communicator. Since it is not always easy to assess yourself when preparing for interviews, it is a good exercise to videotape a mock interview and/or conduct a mock Skype interview so that you are comfortable with the format.”What behaviors or traits would knock someone out of contention?

Procurement leader in media and entertainment: “Over confidence is a deal breaker. The individual may be the smartest resource in the room, however they need to be able to relate to the customer and become a trusted advisor. I look at how an individual will fit into the organization in terms of interpersonal skills and cultural fit. Sourcing skills and methodology can be taught over time; however interpersonal skills, along with cultural fit help the individual to become successful. You have to ask yourself the question ‘would you put this individual in front of one of your clients and feel comfortable that they would represent Global Sourcing, and be seen as an enabler vs. overhead’.” 

McInturff: “Understanding how to communicate interest to a company is very important. Once a company has established interest they will always ask a variation of the following, ‘why our company, why this position and why you?’ This often is your most critical response during the interview process. Such answers as, ‘shorter commute, more money’ or other things that are personal motivations but not related to how you can have a positive impact are deal killers.”

Ryan: “Too many buzzwords turn interviewers off – don’t want to alienate interviewers by talking down to them or coming off as pompous. Also procurement professionals who try to sell themselves by pointing out how ‘messed up’ the interviewing company is and how much they need to hire the candidate to ‘fix’ things. Insulting the company and its employees is a bad way to build interview chemistry.“ Don’t make broad generalizations or jokes about race, gender, ethnicities, etc. and try not to be too familiar too quickly – good chemistry can go bad in a hurry – my last name is Ryan and many people think that is a good excuse to make Irish jokes. In addition to being inappropriate, I am not actually Irish, my husband is.” Ryan also highlights the following interview experiences as strong DON’TS:

  • “Candidate brought food to their interview, placed it on my desk and started to eat.
  • Another person assumed that somebody they were riding up with in the elevator was a ‘nobody.’ The person was the executive’s right hand.
  • Candidate did well in the interview and then sent a follow up letter with the wrong company and interviewer name.”

Also see Kevin Rohan’s blog at My Purchasing Center, New Year New Job and the article: Procurement Job Interview: How to Stand Out from the Pack