It was 9 years ago (almost to the day) that I applied for a job in the finance department of Alcoa (a mining company). Not long after that application, I was contacted by someone in the HR team and asked if I would be interested in interviewing for a role in procurement. I didn’t know what procurement was (it wasn’t mentioned in university courses back then), but needed a job, so I answered that question with a resounding yes.
Somehow I managed to get through the interview process and shortly after kicked off my career in the function.
My ignorance of what procurement was ensured that my learning curve would be a steep one. I have compiled my advice to procurement and supply chain graduates below, perhaps you can learn from my mistakes?
- Pitch up on time
This is critical. When you are the new guy (or girl), it’s inevitable that people within your organisation will be questioning your maturity, your experience and your capability. If you can’t get to a meeting on time, or haven’t prepared for the ensuing discussions, you’ll go a long way to confirming these fears. It’s simple, get there on time, be prepared and you’ll find you’ll alleviate lot of the unfounded concerns about young workers.
- There are no stupid questions
I spent the first two months of my procurement career not knowing the difference between direct and indirect procurement (despite the fact that it was discussed daily in my office). There were also scores of internal terminology that I didn’t understand. It took me months to figure this stuff out because I was too scared to ask my superiors questions for. It’s important to remember that you are new, you’re not meant to know everything on your fist day and while you might feel stupid asking simple questions, trust me, you’ll feel a lot more stupid when you’ve been in a role for months and still don’t know the difference between direct and indirect procurement. I found that a great way to open a dialogue and get answers to your questions is by saying “I was wondering if you could help me to understand xxx?” People like to ‘help’ one another, it gives them a chance to show off their knowledge and this makes them feel happy and important.
- Be confident
With all the new terminology, older co-workers and an unfamiliar corporate environment it’s easy to get intimidated in your first procurement role. But remember this, you’ve passed the exams, got through the application process and managed to impress someone enough in your interview that you warrant this position. You deserve to be where you are. Everyone started somewhere. Someone once said to me “your boss puts her pants on one leg at a time in morning just like you do”. There is no need to feel intimidated.
- But leave your swagger in the nightclub
There a toxic phrase that has entered the business lexicon recently (I think we’ve got Silicon Valley to thank for it) it goes like this: “fake it till you make”. I despise this expression. There is simply no faster way to isolate yourself from your co-workers (and your boss, your suppliers, your friends and actually from anyone you’ll ever meet) than to pretend you know more than you do. In a technical profession like procurement, you can’t fake experience, you’ve either ‘got it’ and you know what you’re doing, or you’re ‘learning it’. As a graduate, you fall in to the latter category. Be humble and leave the swagger and showmanship for the bar on Friday night.
- Do what you said you’ll do
Our founder Tania Seary recently pointed this out in her blog for those striving towards a career as a CPO, so this is sage advice to remember throughout your career. At university, it may have been possible to get around the commitments to your group assignment with a few well-positioned excuses. In the workplace, this won’t fly. If you commit to doing something, it’s your responsibility to see it through to completion, no excuses. If it looks like something is running over time or is getting derailed, it’s your job to get it back on track. Chase people up if they don’t respond to emails and communicate openly with your boss about any issues. Believe me, if a savings target looks to be in jeopardy, your boss wants to know now, not in three months time when it’s unsalvageable.
- Learn to answer the phone (and the other basics…)
I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but when I was at university, PowerPoint, Excel and such programs were dealt with in three 30-minute tutorials. This meant that while we could all develop a strategic plan for the corporate restructuring of a multinational company (Organisational Behaviour 243) and had memorised the date that the Corn Laws were repealed (Economic History 331), we were completely incompetent with the tools that would comprise the bulk of the first five years of our corporate existence. Learn pivot tables (and Macros if you’re a gun), figure out how to create an engaging PowerPoint presentation, learn how to answer the phone politely and how to construct an email that will lead to a positive response. This is what you’ll be doing for the next few years, so do it well. The corporate restructuring can wait until you’re the CEO.
But above all, just have fun!
It’s your first ‘real job’. Enjoy it! Enjoy the consistency of monthly salary, enjoy not having to study any more, enjoy no longer delivering pizza for a living, enjoy having a bank account that remains in the black and enjoy Friday night drinks.
Now is your time.