Procurement Professionals: Talk About Your Category Experience Loud and Proud!

October 16, 2017

Some personal branding advice for Procurement professionals.

Categories. They’re probably the biggest differentiator of your experience in Procurement besides how senior you are (how much spend have you managed?) and how strategic you are (how much influence do you have over supplier decisions?). One of the biggest questions that prospective employers and colleagues are going to have about your Procurement career is “what have you bought”? Whether you’re doing purchase orders, strategic sourcing, vendor management, contract management, or any other activity in Procurement, people want to know about your category expertise. Have you bought raw materials for production in manufacturing? Have you sourced software, hardware, professional services, travel, print, or what?

Some people will tell you that category experience in Procurement doesn’t matter. As we’ve written before, there’s definitely something to be said for the importance of transferrable skills. In Procurement, soft skills translate exceptionally well between industries and categories. Negotiation skills, communications skills, the ability to build relationships and get buy-in from both internal and external stakeholders are useful everywhere. There are some other fundamental Procurement skills that are relevant no matter the industry and no matter what you’re buying.

Despite this, companies do care about what categories you’ve worked in. Yet we still see so many Procurement professionals who don’t list their category experience on their resume or LinkedIn profile.

So here’s our tip: If you’re in Procurement, wear your category experience with pride. Put it on your profile and your resume. It adds specificity to your background, and it helps you stand out from the crowd.

It’s a bit of a thorny issue. People sometimes omit their category experience because they’re worried about becoming pigeonholed. They want to have a varied career. They think that if they mention their work in the facilities category, no one will want to hire them for travel.

People sometimes omit their category experience because they legitimately don’t realize that companies and hiring managers care about this aspect of their experience. People are sometimes vague about category experience because – believe it or not – they don’t know that categories even matter.

But they do. There are lots of reasons why companies are interested in Procurement professionals with experience buying in specific categories. Some categories require very detailed understanding of technical requirements. If you’re going to be purchasing parts for high-tech manufacturing, an employer is going to want to know that you’ve also purchased parts that have a high degree of technical specificity. For other categories, companies might be looking for people with an existing base of suppliers and existing relationships. For example, one of our clients last year was hiring a Strategic Sourcing Manager in the Print category, and they (reasonably) wanted to hire someone with a strong understanding of Print suppliers so that they could hit the ground running.

Employers do care. Not always, but often. Say a company is hiring for a job where they do want specific category experience, and you haven’t listed yours on your resume because you don’t want to be pigeonholed. They’re still going to ask you about your category experience in an interview, and it’ll still limit your candidacy if it isn’t relevant. So what have you gained by leaving it off your resume? Why not be up front in the first place?

If your resume just says “Buyer” and lists your duties – without indicating what it is you’ve bought, as well as your accomplishments in those categories, you’re selling yourself short. Because if you want to progress in your Procurement career, every different category you’ve worked in is a feather in your cap, making you more employable, not less.

Even if you don’t have a wide variety of category experience, you’re not going to be pigeonholed as much as you might think. More companies are willing to hire across categories. For example, in indirect Procurement, many companies are looking for someone who just has some variety of indirect experience, whether it’s professional services, marketing, travel, HR, or another similar category. More companies are also “rotating” their Procurement teams from category to category, giving them a wide base of experience and letting them work on a diversity of projects. But for some companies, your specific category experience does matter, so wear it loud and proud. Putting it on a resume or LinkedIn profile makes it easier for people to find you with opportunities, and it makes them more excited to hire you when they do fire you.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to market yourself as a Procurement professional, let us know with a question or comment! 

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