How to Break into the Supply Chain Field

May 16, 2016

 

 

We talk a lot at Argentus about how great the Supply Chain field is. We’re always writing about the field’s innovative and strategic nature, fast-pace, global scope, and competitive compensation – all facts that are at odds with the old-school image of the field as a back-office function. But with the prominence of innovative Supply Chains at companies like Amazon, that staid image is changing. It seems like Supply Chain is close to having a moment and breaking through into the wider popular consciousness, with statistics pointing to more young people entering the field than ever before.

Anecdotally, we’re hearing from more and more recent graduates and junior workers looking for Supply Chain jobs. Which is great for us as recruiters because we love connecting to people throughout their careers, even if they’re at the entry-level end of the career spectrum. To that end, it’s worth passing along some advice into our network: how do you break into the Supply Chain field, anyway?

The new graduates and junior Supply Chain professionals we speak with want to work at top-flight companies. They want the possibility of fast career progression into roles with a diversity of responsibilities and interactions, with the potential to impact a company’s strategy – and bottom line – rather than filling a seat in a transactional, day-to-day role. So when you’re trying to break into the Supply Chain field, how do you do so in a way that’s going to leave you open to further progression instead of getting yourself pigeonholed in a role without much room for growth? This advice, gleaned from over a decade of recruiting in the field, is tailored to these questions.

1. Pick a Specialty.

Supply Chain is a diverse field, touching on almost all aspects of how a company brings a product or service to market, with subdisciplines including Procurement, Logistics, Planning, and Operations. And Supply Chain Professionals work across a variety of industries, from Manufacturing to Consumer Goods to Retail. Before you start looking for roles, and during your education, it’s important to think about the specific subdiscipline and industry that interests you most. Do you have an engineering background? Maybe a role in Manufacturing makes the most sense. Is problem solving your major strength? Consider Logistics. Are you interested in the fast-paced world of digital commerce? The Retail industry might be a good bet.  Start tailoring your educational, work and internship experiences towards your specialty as early and often as possible. Nothing hurts a candidacy for a job more than when a candidate isn’t able to articulate their specific interest.

2. Get Technical.

For further advice, we reached out to Nadia Kassam, a Supply Chain lead who we profiled last year as one of Supply Chain’s rising stars. “For new graduates embarking on a career in Supply Chain,” she says, “it is very important to be comfortable with data analysis. If you don’t have experience in analyzing data within MS-Excel and Access, develop those skills! Graduates with Engineering degrees tend to be equipped with strong data analytic skills, which gives them a head start, so if you come from a business background or otherwise, know your competition and combat them with the right mix of skills.”

Beyond these technical skills, consider enrolling in Supply Chain programs at colleges – or, if you’re already out of school, a Supply Chain certification (e.g. SCMP). These schools offer training in Supply Chain fundamentals and intermediate concepts, even if they occasionally focus on the more transactional elements of the field (how to fill out a purchase order in Procurement, for example) rather than the more strategic parts of the function. If you’re trying to break into Supply Chain from another area of business, an MBA program with a Supply Chain specialization might be the way to go because it helps you develop not only “hard” technical skills, but soft skills and an understanding of end-to-end business. Which brings us to the next point.

3. Certifications and Technical Skills Are Great, but Business Acumen is Even Better:

Time and again, Supply Chain executives and hiring managers tell us that the true opportunity for advancement in the field comes with business acumen – the breadth of understanding of how Supply Chain impacts an organization, to go along with the depth of knowledge in a particular function. We’ve had numerous executives tell us that they’d rather hire someone with a strong understanding of business, who can take ownership over a function within a larger organization, and train the specific Supply Chain skills later, rather than the other way around. Part of this business acumen involves presentation skills and speaking ability. In Nadia Kassam’s words: “Most graduates start off as a Supply Chain Analyst or a Process Improvement Analyst, but if you plan to go further, be comfortable with public speaking. Take a Toast Master’s course if necessary. In my experience, leaders in Supply Chain tend to understand numbers quite well, but are even better at speaking to them!”

4. Be Open to Contract:

Some of the most successful entry-level roles we’ve placed have been in contract roles. While many people still think of contracts as leave coverages or short-term assignments for more established professionals, they can be a great way to break into an entry-level role at a top company. Contracts sometimes combine Supply Chain responsibilities with customer service or data entry. Be open to this kind of experience, because the Supply Chain learning opportunities are invaluable. And many Fortune 100 companies use contracts as proving grounds for their entry level employees before hiring them on a permanent basis.

5. Get Creative:

Okay. You’ve figured out your skills and your goals. But finding that first opportunity in your chosen field might be the hardest part of any career, and that goes for Supply Chain as well. It’s tough to expect that you can land your first SCM position from applying to online job postings – these have a low success rate compared to more creative job search efforts. If you’re in school, look at internships. Join industry groups and find as many Supply Chain-related events as you can. Network with other young Supply Chain professionals. Get active on social media such as LinkedIn by joining relevant Supply Chain groups and contributing substantive discussion. Every little bit helps when it comes to the kind of networking activities that will get you in the door. Our final suggestion would be to work with a recruiter (like Argentus); even though most specialized recruiters are mostly looking for candidates with 3 years of industry experience at a minimum, they do get entry level roles, and connections with recent graduates and new entrants to the field are invaluable.


That last statement is part of why we wrote this article! If you’re a junior Supply Chain professional looking to break into the field, we want to hear from you. We might not have a role at the moment, but we want to connect with people in Supply Chain throughout their careers, even at the beginning. In any case, we hope this advice has been useful!

What advice would you have for people trying to break into Supply Chain? Let us know in the comments! logo_icon

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Sign up for Argentus’ Market Watch newsletter

It only takes a moment. You’ll receive low-volume, high-impact market insights from the top specialty Supply Chain recruiters including: Salary Information, Supply Chain industry trends, Market Intelligence, personal branding tips and more.