If you have worked within a procurement or buying environment, you have probably worked alongside people with quite a diverse set of backgrounds. So why is it, when you see a job advertised it will usually ask for experience in the same industry?

Generally speaking there appears to be two main schools of thought regarding the relevance of industry experience when it comes to securing that next challenge.

“If I can buy helicopter parts I can buy cake ingredients.”

The first school of thought is simple: procurement is a process of finding the best value source of a material or service. It doesn’t matter what that material or service is, just that you know how to run the process surrounding it. Some would argue that it doesn’t matter if that material is steel from China or pineapples from the Caribbean, because at the end of the day you are buying X of Y for Z and are pineapples and steel really so different?

The advantages of this argument are that by moving into a new environment you can discover a whole new way of approaching your procurement strategy, taking on brand new challenges and diversifying your skill set (and who doesn’t want that?). From the employer’s point of view, adding somebody with a different set of experiences and background to their team adds a fresh perspective and can produce unexpected and exciting results.

On the other hand, sometimes the leap can be too far. The culture might be completely different within a different industry and maybe moving from Cake Inc. to Jet Fighter Corp wasn’t the best decision for you!

“If they haven’t worked in automotive they wouldn’t fit with us.”

The second school of thought is the polar opposite. There are plenty of people who believe that unless you have had direct experience in a particular sector that you won’t have the knowledge or understanding of the product or processes necessary to make an impact.

Something I’ve often seen is engineers or other workers on the production side moving into purchasing, where their depth of understanding of all the different materials, machinery and processes gives them a huge edge when dealing with suppliers.

The advantage to this approach is that you are getting a like for like fit: you know as a candidate that the area you are going into is familiar and that you can and will achieve results. From the employer’s point of view it is far less risky to hire somebody that you know has worked in the same sector and can hit the ground running.

The only obvious disadvantage here is that you are dramatically shrinking the pool of positions you can apply for and who knows, that job within the steel industry might be a great fit for you, despite your Caribbean pineapple exploits.

Best of Both?

Personally, I think that the best approach varies massively depending on the environment you are going into. If the company is quite small and only has one buyer then it would probably be best to make sure that that the potential candidate understands the industry! If, however, there is a large procurement team, wouldn’t it make sense to have a whole range of backgrounds and experience to make sure that you are covering every possible angle? My approach as a recruiter is to get to the heart of what the client needs from a candidate and, although often they may be convinced it has to be someone from the same industry, they will usually be more responsive to the idea once I’ve explained why!

What do you think?

I’d be really interested in hearing your thoughts on this! I’ve recently had some very interesting conversations with hiring managers as to why a guy working in the dairy industry could be relevant to an automotive business.

Which side of the fence you are on; are steel and pineapples interchangeable, or do you have to have to come from the same industry background?


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