Hiring for attitude and training for aptitude in procurement and supply chain

Having had 25 years of experience in the procurement and supply chain industry and having hired in excess of 75 staff, I have learned a few lessons along the way. Namely that the non-technical skills required to excel in procurement can be learned but not taught – I’m looking for individuals to prove that they have the ability to influence or build and maintain relationships. This isn’t to say that a procurement professional can’t develop these ‘soft’ skills themselves, but the technical skills can be taught on the job by an experienced individual, the soft skills can’t be. This means uncovering those softer skills, or attitudes, during the interview process should be a procurement hiring manager’s main focus.

Technical ability

To give you an example, almost anyone can:

  • Send out a tender and evaluate the responses to a set of criteria
  • Choose the best price for a product
  • Identify the shortest timeline for delivery

It is the soft skills that you need to identify in potential candidates to make sure they have the ability to grow into the relevant specialist that you need.

Soft skills required

The skills you need to become a successful specialist in procurement, supply chain or category management are:

  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Change management understanding
  • Conflict management
  • Ability to influence beyond authority
  • Negotiation skills

How to recognise these skills in candidates

Questions to ask potential candidates include:

1. How much of your time at work do you spend negotiating?

Typically people will answer about 20%. You are looking for the candidate who says 70% - 80%. Every time one person seeks to influence another is a type of negotiation.

2. What is your negotiation style or approach?

Often people answer “win/win.” For procurement the answer is never win/win, but rather “it depends”. Understanding both parties’ needs is the platform for a “successful” negotiation. Price is what you pay and value is what you get. If you are building long-term relationships then you may be looking for a win/win situation, but this is often not the case. It depends on what you are trying to achieve.

3. Why should we hire you above anyone else?

The common answer is “I think I am really qualified for the position. I am a hard worker and a fast learner, and though I may not have all of the qualifications that you need, I know I can learn the job and do it well.” It’s important to look for someone who can back this up with their previous experience but also someone who understands that their attitude to learning can set them apart from other candidates, e.g: “I not only have the experience necessary to succeed in the position, including working with X, Y, and Z, I also fit in well with your department’s vision and have the ability to work quickly and efficiently to keep projects up to task. Other candidates may have some impressive qualifications of their own, but no other candidate is going to fit in as effectively as I will.”

Remember, softer skills such as ability to influence beyond authority and manage stakeholders are often more important than the capacity to immediately deliver practically, but you do need to be a leader and mentor to offer these candidates the development they need.


When hiring your next employee, remember:

  • The skills you are looking for in your procurement and supply chain candidates depend on what exactly you want them to accomplish in the role.
  • Limited experience with a great attitude usually means they can be taught quickly. You want them to show commercial nous. They also need passion and desire, understanding why you do what you do rather than just what and how.
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