Headhunting: how to find procurement professionals

It is not easy to find a top-class procurement professional, since, on the one hand, purchases require best practices expertise, and on the other hand, they need unconventional thinking and a creative approach. Highlights and challenges of up-to-date recruiting techniques with a focus on procurement can be found in a number of resources. Among them is procurement talent management and related issues described by Charles Dominic (Next Level Purchasing Association). When recruiting employees, I would suggest, two possible headhunting models that can be used either individually or in combination:

Traditional method

We are looking for a person with a good knowledge of the industry, experience in procurement and expertise in purchasing categories. If an employee is looking for a position with an international company, we add relevant experience to the vacancy requirements (since the way of thinking and professional approaches in Western and Russian companies vary fundamentally).

This approach can be effective when:

  • Purchasing activities are similar to other companies, but vary in scale/industry specifics;
  • Expertise in complex purchasing categories is required, for example, in raw materials, marketing or IT;
  • Procurement procedures in the company lag behind market trends, professionals are needed to restructure them;
  • There is no time to train employees, you need quick wins.

Table 1. Pros and cons of the traditional employee search method in the purchasing department

Move the table
Advantages Disadvantages
an employee is loyal to the industry and procurement sector; is not always open towards new ideas and techniques;
makes fewer mistakes; relies only on practical experience, is not prepared for making mistakes;
able to quickly start projects and deliver results. shows irrelevant self-confidence, which may go against corporate culture;
compares the job conditions with the previous place of employment and may not stay in the new place.

Nurturing method

Hiring an employee with no experience, but loyal to the corporate culture, outstanding intellectual abilities and empathy, without exaggerated demands, but of high potential and motivated for personal development and career.

This approach can be effective:

  • at a unique or highly specific field of activity of the company;
  • when a company actively applies its own unique procurement methodology, IT tools and analytics;
  • procurement process is well-adjusted, but the old team has lost the freshness of vision and new blood is needed.

Table 2. Pros and cons of the nurturing method

Move the table
Advantages Disadvantages
a professional, thanks to empathy, will find common language with internal clients; previously, was not employed in procurement and, perhaps, won’t like this field;
easy to train, loyal to the new approaches and techniques. can often make mistakes due to the lack of experience.


A candidate, selected with the help of the traditional method, is reliable for performing functions that require experience and specific skills. However, it is difficult to give them the orders going against professional experience: a specialist will object, argue and try to follow the instruction as they see it fit and right. When interacting with such an employee, coaching is preferable, rather than inflexible goal setting and control.

Beginners are good, where innovative approaches to work are practiced, fresh ideas and unobtrusive look to professional activities are required. However, for highly specialized segments of procurement such employees are hardly suitable. It happens that in order to save purchasing budget in IT category a new specialist is employed. As a result, he not only fails to deliver the result expected, but also upsets the department’s relations with IT-guys, who do not like buyers not versed in their field. Obviously, for such an area it is more practical to select an experienced employee who is able to quickly establish relations with the business function and launch burning projects.

Don’t forget that different approaches can be combined.

At PrECA we often use the method of nurturing our employees, since the specifics of outsourcing and consulting in procurement differ greatly from the operations of internal procurement departments in a company: a professional services company is more focused on project activities and proprietary technologies, and is aimed at specific results and achievements.

Where can I find professionals?

So, we’ve defined a candidate profile. Now a few tips on where and how to perform the search. The basic recommendation is to use the “pull” instead of “push” principle:

  1. Create a newsworthy event in social media so that prospective candidates could react to your request. Post ideas, questions, proposals and descriptions of the company’s needs, not only on personal and corporate web-pages, but also in professional groups. Strong candidates, as a rule, are not very active in searching for a new employer, but are in contact with colleagues and discuss professional topics — you need to get into their circle.
  2. Appear at specialized conferences, present your company, achievements and cases. There may be a candidate for your vacancy among managers and experts attending these events. Useful conferences are regularly held in Moscow by the companies Quorum, RBC, Moscow Times, AH Conferences, announcements can be found on their web-pages in Events section.
  3. Tell about the procurement department on your company website: about employees, methodology, training, career. Post articles in a corporate blog on how cool you’ve completed the project, and what value have been brought to the company. Post the pictures from corporate events and training sessions. Such PR works great in searching for the new employees.
  4. Look closely at the employees in business functions. If a candidate has expertise in IT, HR or marketing, is good with figures, then it will be easy to train him for procurement.
  5. Major suppliers are the donors of first-rate buyers. For example, working for a brewing company, you can pick up a worthy candidate from the packaging manufacturer.
  6. Speak at universities; tell future graduates about your company and about procurement in general. Students do not know much about modern approaches in the field of procurement, so everything that you tell, relying on your own experience, will be very valuable for them. We regularly address students at “career days”, hold workshops and seminars on the topic of procurement.
  7. Take trainees for summer! Trainees are inexpensive, and among them there will most probably be someone smart for a permanent job. Just please do not make them do humdrum operations filling out tables, etc. Be a mentor for them, try to get them interested.
  8. Take people from the companies operating in a competitive environment. The more competitive the company’s environment is, the stronger its procurement function.
  9. Represent the vacancy requirements attractively. Avoid language of officialdom! Phrases like “Introducing global standards, compliance techniques, developing suppliers…” are not the most advantageous description: young people are not fond of formal language and terms. And it’s better to make job announcements in your native language: it’s more difficult to pick up emotions and characterize a candidate with a CV and cover letter in a foreign language.
  10. Use real life cases to test candidates. We use several cases to check the knowledge of Excel in procurement, the project work skills. Answers to recruiter’s questions can be rehearsed, and with cases — it is more complicated.
  11. The world of procurement is a small place. Get feedback about the candidate from colleagues in professional groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.

And most importantly: do not try to lure a person with a recognizable brand, opportunities for trips abroad, an extensive social package and a modern office with coffee machines, comfortable furniture and cookies. The joy of having all this fades away quickly.

In the long term, it is important for people to understand the meaning of their work and its impact on the end-result, to be able to learn and develop their professional skills. Share interesting cases, stories of success in purchases, tools that you use. Show how you differ from other companies. Focus on the content, not on the cover, then you will attract those, who will stay with you for a long time.

You can avoid looking for a purchasing specialist, but outsource these functions instead, especially for indirect procurement. Outsourcing is 15-20% cheaper than an on-staff specialist, and efficiency is higher, since the remuneration of an outsourcer depends on the results achieved. Besides, you can focus your resources on value-added activities and strategic projects like procurement re-engineering or such categories as marketing services, transportation, IT.

In the next article, I’ll write about motivation and retention of employees in procurement department. And in the meantime, I would be glad to get feedback.

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