Despite the strong hiring market for Supply Chain professionals, it can still be tough to get your foot in the door. Here are the top tips from Argentus for securing your first — or next — Supply Chain job.
Time was, most Supply Chain professionals “fell into” the profession. In fact, most of the executives we interview who have risen through the field will say that they never expected to end up in Supply Chain. They also invariably say that they love it. But until recently, Supply Chain was often an “accidental” career.
That’s no longer the case. As Supply Chain has risen to become more strategic, more digital, and more important to companies’ competitive positioning, demand for candidates has risen. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused untold Supply Chain disruptions and raised awareness everywhere of the field’s importance to businesses, and the global economy more generally.
At the same time, baby boomers are retiring, creating a wealth of Supply Chain opportunity. More universities and colleges are offering strong Supply Chain programs, recognizing that the skills needs have increased – and also that the field is an incredibly attractive option for young people.
Despite all this, it can still be hard to get your first Supply Chain job. So if you’re part of the new generation who’s choosing Supply Chain as a career, how do you get your foot in the door?
Breaking into many industries is hard, and Supply Chain is no different. Actually, it’s a little bit different. Owing to the demand for talent, you won’t find entry-level roles that paradoxically need years of experience, or years of unpaid internships. But you do need the right approach, and the right connections, to secure your first Supply Chain job.
Argentus is a boutique recruitment firm exclusively servicing the Supply Chain industry. We place individuals in Supply Chain jobs all the time, so we consider ourselves an authority on securing a role in the field. We mostly work at the sole contributor level at above – meaning we place individuals with at least 3 years of Supply Chain experience, rather than entry level.
That being said, we speak with hiring managers all the time, so we’ve collected some advice for anyone looking to break into the field. Here are our biggest tips, both for new graduates, and people with experience looking to move into Supply Chain from other careers:
1. Target your search, but don’t pigeonhole yourself.
Not all entry-level Supply Chain jobs are the same. As the field has grown, so have the number of disciplines where you can begin your career. Do you want to start with Inventory Planning, Procurement, Logistics, Customs and Import/Export, or in a more holistic Supply Chain analysis role? These functions all have related, but separate, skillsets. Take some time to learn about the various Supply Chain disciplines, and see what appeals to you. For example, Demand Planning tends to have higher starting salaries, but can be a bit thankless – and also a bit more siloed from other disciplines.
Another key consideration is the industry you want to work in: are you targeting manufacturing? Retail/eCommerce? Pharmaceutical? Consumer Packaged Goods? Public Sector? These industries all have different Supply Chains, different paths to advancement, and different unique appeals. Take some time to reach out to people in different industries and get a feel for which suits your needs.
It can seem daunting, but this would be our biggest piece of advice: today’s Supply Chain is far from a monolithic field. Take some time to learn about these different. Once you’ve found a discipline that appeals to you, focus your personal branding (LinkedIn profile, resume, etc.) in that area. It’s easy to say, “I want a job in Supply Chain,” but if you can show employers you know which specific job in Supply Chain you want, or which jobs plural, that gives you a leg up.
That being said, once you have an idea of what to specialize in, don’t pigeonhole yourself. In our interviews, executives also say that one of the best ways to grow your Supply Chain career is to gain exposure to a wide variety of different functions. Specialize, but once you find a job, don’t be afraid to broaden your experience.
2. Explore Educational Opportunities
In Supply Chain’s previous era, most people rose to management from front-line roles like warehousing and truck driving. These days, that can still happen, but education represents the best way to get into Supply Chain Management as a field.
Many of Canada’s top universities – as well as schools in the U.S. – now offer excellent Supply Chain programs. If you already have a degree, and don’t want to take another one, a Supply Chain MBA is also an attractive option. Many top colleges, including Humber College and Seneca College in Ontario also offer good Supply Chain programs introducing students to the fundamentals. Sometimes, if you have a degree, a great certification (such as APICS or SCMP) can do almost as much for your career as an MBA. The decision to pursue any of these paths depends on how much time and financial resources you’re able to commit.
Supply Chain is still a field where on-the-job experience counts more than anything – it’s not like medicine or law, fields that require a lengthy academic tenure to even get your foot in the door. That being said, more companies are requiring degrees in Supply Chain than before. And formal education is more valued in the field than ever – while also, of course, being a great way to learn.
3. Focus on Analytics and Soft Skills
We often ask executives and hiring managers about skills. Almost invariably, they say that the top new entrants to Supply Chain boast a mix of analytics and soft skills. Those should be your bread and butter. The ability to analyze and manipulate data (either in Excel, or in more sophisticated ERP systems like SAP, Manugistics, or others), and draw insights is a core Supply Chain skill. For different specialties, production planning, demand forecasting, logistics planning, and others are key. Equipping yourself with some of those core competencies can help you target the disciplines we outlined in #1.
But even more crucial is the ability to communicate insights from data to senior leadership, both written and verbally. You need to be able to build relationships with a diverse set of stakeholders from all the other Supply Chain disciplines. Employers are looking for all of these soft skills, as well as emotional intelligence and, maybe more than anything, business acumen. (See our blog on the topic to learn more about what we mean when we say “business acumen.”
If you’re a new grad, work to develop these skills and learn how to show them off. If you’ve worked in another field before, these are the most transferable skills. Make sure to highlight them as you aim to make your career in Supply Chain.
4. Avoid Job Boards. Network Instead.
Job boards are ubiquitous – from Indeed, to ZipRecruiter, to Monster and all the many others across the internet. They advertise heavily, so it seems like they’re the primary way that people get jobs. But in today’s market, job boards are far from the most effective job searching tool. Many candidates report the classic “resume black hole” feeling – they apply to dozens of jobs on boards, never hear back, and get discouraged, thinking there’s something wrong with their resume or background.
Why don’t job boards work they way candidates hope they will? Many companies post on them far and wide, and they make it so easy for anyone to apply that they become inundated with resumes that don’t fit for a role. It’s pure quantity over quality. Faced with a stack of resumes, companies often outsource the task of combing through job board applications to a junior HR person, who isn’t always equipped to understand the nuances of a Supply Chain role.
So what works instead? Networking. As we’ve written about, referrals are still the most valuable hiring tool in a company’s arsenal. It’s the reason why many roles don’t even make it onto job boards. You’re more likely to be successful if you put your energy into networking, rather than applying to online postings (although feel free to do a bit of that too, just to cover your bases). It’s hard to network in a new field, but it’s definitely doable: connect with people you already know and have conversations. Connect with people in Supply Chain on LinkedIn and, again, have conversations rather than immediately asking for a job. Join organizations like Supply Chain Canada, APICS or others, and meet people in the field, or – once it’s safe to do so – attend a networking event like the ones hosted by Toronto Procurement Network.
We’re biased, but working with a specialty recruiter like Argentus can also be an extremely effective way to get a Supply Chain job. We have the ear of hiring managers who rely on us for vetted candidates, and we know what a good resume looks like. That being said, we don’t typically work on entry-level roles. Still, if you’re a candidate who has Supply Chain experience, looking for your next role, reach out!
These tips are far from exhaustive, but they’re some of the initial advice we often give to candidates. Hopefully they offer some food for thought, and good luck securing your next Supply Chain Job!