How to you prepare for (and ace!) your procurement or supply chain job interview?
There is no shortage of general advice available online on how to prepare for and behave in an interview situation, and it’s free. That’s all very helpful, but what about preparing for an interview in supply chain or in a procurement role, how is it different?
1. Before the interview
The basics are the same whatever the role, preparation is vital. Do research the following:
- The background of the company, its culture and the industry it is in. The more information you gather before the interview, the better prepared you will be to answer leading questions during the interview. Be fully prepared to answer the questions “How much do you know about our company?” or “Why do you want to work here?”
- The interviewer (or hiring manager). Who is he or she? What is their work background and experience? This will help you find some common ground.
- Know your TCO, RFI, P2P, SRM and the rest of the acronyms. Interviewers may use these in conversation. It may unsettle you if you don’t know what they mean.
- Make sure you really understand the skills that are required and how much experience is expected. If you don’t quite fit their view of a dream candidate, motivate how you will grow into the role quickly. Think about the types of questions that you can expect and prepare your answers in advance.
2. At the interview
Job interview formats go in and out of fashion: you can be asked to do a video or panel interview or even one that includes end-users or stakeholders. Whatever the format, you need to demonstrate your suitability for the role on offer and how your skills and background will provide tangible benefits for them.
3. Functional skills
You will probably be asked about your experience and skills in relevant supply chain technology and related tools, e.g. SAP, Oracle, Ariba or other e-sourcing software. You may be asked about direct and indirect categories that you have worked in (make sure you understand the difference) and about your particular expertise in certain commodities or services. In both these areas be careful not to embellish or over-represent your knowledge or achievements as your interviewer may know a lot more than you do. If you claim that you saved your organization £5 million in spend last year you will need to be able to substantiate it. Currently, employers are looking for people with specific experience in complex procurement categories. In these types of role they expect candidates to be already familiar with the external marketplace and key suppliers.
Questions sometimes start with “Tell me about a time when…”, where the interviewer will work through the STAR technique:
- The SITUATION
- The TASK or problem that arose
- The ACTION you took
- What was the RESULT
Prepare multiple examples in advance and rehearse them well so that they tell a story. Be ready for “tell me more”. Make sure that you demonstrate that you have good critical and analytical thinking skills, are a good communicator, have time management skills, and are flexible, i.e. show that your expertise is transferable to them.
4. Behavioural skills
Behavioural interview questions are very common in supply chain and are designed to elicit specific and detailed responses about inter-personal and conflict situations which you have been exposed to. How did you handle the issue, what actions did you take and what was the outcome? Your answers will show that you understand effective ways to deal with suppliers and internal clients. Listen carefully to any clues the interviewer gives you on what’s important to them so that you can respond by giving your own examples. You need to be able to articulate how you would be able to bring about change and implement improvements seamlessly, where required.
5. Do you have any questions?
An interviewee will almost always be asked this. Understanding how to communicate your interest is very important so have your questions ready. This is not the time to discuss the remuneration package or benefits that may be offered. Genuine questions about how the company manages its procurement function and how the different elements of their supply chain operate will be welcomed. If the interviewer is interested in you they will demonstrate it by asking 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.
6. Where it can go wrong:
Feedback from senior managers and top recruiters says that where candidates fail most is in:
- Not being fully prepared and having to refer to their CV for details
- Did not know enough about the company and its operations
- Did not have the right attitude/did not demonstrate any energy for or interest in the role offered.
- Could not provide examples or explain how they are suitably qualified
- And arrived late for the interview!
Displaying a positive attitude and expressing a sense of enthusiasm for the company and the role is an excellent starting point for landing that job. Cultural fit and good inter-personal skills may be the clincher; processes and applications can be taught over time to fulfil gaps in experience.