What's the skinny?
October 24, 2012 4:45 PM   Subscribe

What is it like to work as a Buyer or generally within Purchasing/Procurement?

I'm considering switching over to the field (entry-level), but wanted to gather as much information as possible.

Would love to hear:
1) how you got started;
2) what's it's really like;
3) whether there is a lot of demand (i.e. is it easy or hard to break into the field);
4) how did you pick the industry in which you operate (ex: electronics, fashion, etc)?

In as far as I've gathered virtually every industry has a position of this nature. I've been also told to "find one industry and stick to it," presumably because it'll expand my network/expertise; perhaps it's best to cross this bridge later.
posted by rossenterprises76 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I was a full-time buyer in manufacturing, I've since been moved to planning, but still have a toe in buying.

I got started by basically being handed the job when someone else left, and I had conveniently just graduated college and had nothing lined up. I was temping at my work already, doing minor clerical things.

As far as manufacturing buying goes, I think it is helpful to stay in the same field - a ton of it is indeed building networks, and figuring out where to go to get good prices. This knowledge takes a long time to get, even with the Internet.

As far as what it's like on a daily basis - I come in, run reports to tell me what stock items to buy, then work on requisitions for non-stock. Then, follow up on late orders, invoice issues, etc. maybe work on an inventory reduction project.

I work at a very large corporation, so there are many levels of purchasing above me. They do things like negotiate contracts on a national level, and check to make sure people like me are following policies. (Which, there seem to be more and more of). I think it's a good field, and could expose you to other potential jobs or fields of interest later on.
posted by Fig at 6:05 PM on October 24, 2012

Argh , forgot one key thing - it helps to have fairly thick skin. You have to deal with coworkers demanding the impossible ("These parts that have a 6-week leadtime that I forgot to order? I need them TODAY!! Production will go down!") and vendors being late, which makes your coworkers very unhappy. This happens often. It gets annoying, quickly.
posted by Fig at 6:09 PM on October 24, 2012

I've done a little of this, and the most annoying thing is getting stuck on some part that seems almost unattainable. You know the damned thing exists, but can't find it at any resource. Or once you do it costs more than expected and you have to go back to the customer and say "yeah, that bezel will be $400. Yes, I know the whole machine only cost $800. That's the best I can do. No, we can't buy it off of ebay." Meanwhile, all your other stuff gets backed up.

I'm not sure if all of them do it, but one buyer uses instant messenger constantly- all her usual vendors are on it, and she can just shoot them a part number and they shoot back a price. Much more convenient than when I did it via fax and voicemail.
posted by gjc at 6:55 PM on October 24, 2012

I think that procurement, like politics, is the art of the possible. Everyone wants everything at a low price, with Net 90 payment terms, delivered tomorrow, and with a three-year warranty. Your job will be to manage vendors to achieve as much of those (and other) goals as possible while simultaneously managing your internal clients' expectations on the project.

I don't do the actual buying at my company but I build and manage the software platform our project managers use. We provide procurement software and sourcing services to telecoms.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:35 AM on October 25, 2012

1. Like myself, most of the people I've met in the industry come into procurement through another job, usually through other logistics jobs like shipping or inventory management. In my case I was an account rep/merchandiser/stock person. This is opposed to most other industries where you get a degree and start at the bottom. Purchasing doesn't seem to work like that (to me, and I'm a buyer now).

2. I enjoy my job - I'm the kind of person who's happy at her desk with a computer and phone. It's a bit like a financial job sometimes, but there is more interaction with people via building relationships with vendors and your internal customers. It will always be interesting if you are purchasing something you find interesting.

3. It is easy to break into the field, but hard to move up. Fortunately there are designation programs these days such as CPM or SCMP, similar to accounting designations, that help you get promoted.

4. I started out purchasing apparel, but the stress was very high. When my dream job of purchasing for a library cropped up I jumped on it. Now I buy buildings and equipment.
posted by Deodand at 8:45 PM on October 26, 2012

Thank you all for your comments! This is some of the highest caliber insight I've received to date.

After posting, if you ever find yourself thinking "darn, I wish somebody had told me this when I first entered the field" or "I wish I had known this before jumping in," please feel free to flood the forum.

All the best,

posted by rossenterprises76 at 8:37 AM on October 27, 2012

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