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Hiring Supply Chain Talent – How to Hire Great People
Category: Operations, People & HR
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Supply Chain talent can be difficult to recruit – especially if you are new to the Supply Chain field yourself. As a Supply Chain professional that did a brief assignment in Human Resources, I would like to extend some support to the many great HR and other non-Supply Chain leaders out there struggling to hire Supply Chain talent.

I did not realise, until I got into HR and saw it from a different lens, how murky and confusing the talent and hiring aspect of Supply Chain can be. And Supply Chain people are typically so focused on keeping the daily business up and running that they don’t have time to explain or help their HR partners.

This situation is not limited to HR leaders – CEOs, Heads of Engineering and Heads of Operations as well can find themselves needing to hire, but not having the necessary background on how to do it well.

So lets help fix that now!

After an entire career in Supply Chain, let me share some of my own learnings and best practices with you. Here is what I feel are the essential “need to knows” about hiring Supply Chain talent for non-Supply Chain people, including HR professionals.

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Hire great Supply Chain talent for your team!

There are no universal company definitions of “Supply Chain”, “Procurement”, “Logistics” or “Purchasing” or “Planning” roles.

This may sound bizarre, as there is actually an industry association that defines such terms, however in practice companies ignore the official description and create departments and roles according to internal needs, logic, and historical practices.

This means that if you are looking for a Procurement professional, the keyword “Procurement” may not actually find you the person you need. Because they may have always called their role or department “Purchasing” or “Commodity Management” or many other alternative titles. Even though both roles have the exact same responsibilities.

So how do you solve this? First, avoid assumptions – when recruiting, do not just scan for a simple single keyword and assume that is sufficient. You will have to dig a little – look at other job postings in industry for the key tasks you want the role to deliver, and then use their job titles as additional search words. Flexibility is needed here, even if you are sure the alternate title itself makes no sense – it may not for your organisation, however it may be what is used with confidence in other organisations.

During interviews, be careful with candidates that do not ask deep questions about the role – if they say something like “oh yes I know all about “Purchasing” because I have been in it for years” – double check that the tasks they are familiar with are actually what they are expected to do in your organisation. Otherwise, you both could be in for a surprise when they start!

Specific experience in your industry or product may not be needed for supply chain talent

So you have the “perfect candidate” but they have never worked in your industry and your hiring manager says no way – is that valid? In my experience the answer is mostly yes, but sometimes no.

Most jobs in Supply Chain are related to the manufacturing or transport or engineering of a physical product. The way that is managed is often so specific that it really requires years of understanding – as examples injection molding, or pharmaceutical production. You can hire someone without this understanding, but no hiring manager usually wants to wait for the new hire to learn it all as part of the job.

However! There are many types of production or materials that are similar, and your hiring manager may be open to those as well. For example, they may prefer injection molding experience, but accept any kind of high volume plastics experience. Or they may prefer experience with FDA regulations, but will be ok if the candidate has other regulated industry experience. So in order to not limit your search, ask and be sure to get some alternatives that are close but not perfect matches.

Soft skills can be crucial for Supply Chain talent

We Supply Chainers are often characterised as grumpy people who are only happy when either saving a dollar (regardless of the cost to the organization), or reciting all the reasons product will not ship on time.

In my experience, there can be some truth to this. Those grumpy folks do exist, and they can be really good at their jobs. However hiring them comes at a cost – they can also be toxic with suppliers and a real downer to the rest of the team. You should be aware that there are people equally good at those jobs that are personable, optimistic and good team players.

Supply Chain roles are often about relationships, both external with suppliers and internal with your team and other functions. Even with analytical roles, do not underestimate the soft skills requirements. Take the time to find those great candidates, they will make a huge difference on your team.

Flexible Supply Chain talent is out there and can be a great solution

Independent consulting and freelancing has exploded, and not just for young graduates. Many senior people are transitioning out of corporate positions and looking to use their tremendous expertise to help other businesses. You can now tap into experienced talent without having the expense or commitment of hiring internally. And freelancers are usually charging at a much lower rate than large consulting practices, and without the high markup of traditional contract talent agencies.

This is what we do at Supplino, and the range of talent is impressive. We have people from Junior Buyers and Analysts to VP-level consultants regularly designing and optimising large complex Supply Chains.

When thinking of contracting flexible talent as an alternative to hiring, consider the work requirement. Is the work a project or series of projects that can be defined, like developing a forecast or designing a supply chain? Or is the work an ongoing requirement, such as an operational Buyer? The clearer you are on what you need and how the work will be structured, the easier and faster it is to find the right expert to support you.

Finally, some key resources to help support your search for Supply Chain talent:

  • The ASCM Dictionary. This is the industry source for all definitions. Got a Supply Chain colleague throwing terms at you that you don’t understand? Check it here.
  • Medium Article on how to hire Here I talk about specific positions and skills needed, along with some sample interview questions. This article is targeted towards Startups but can be useful for any small team.
  • Reddit Supply Chain This reddit community is filled with Supply Chainers and their daily questions and issues. You can not post a job there, but it is a great place to lurk and see what daily problems and concerns people have with their roles and companies – and how you can attract them to your company.
  • Intro to SC Course Supply Chain Guru Dan Stanton has a short course on LinkedIn that is specifically designed as an intro. If you are new to Supply Chain, and want a short overview, this is a great resource.

Message me if you’d like to learn more about  additional aspects of Supply Chain roles. There are great people out there with the skills to make your business grow, best wishes for finding that Supply Chain rock star for your business!

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