How to get a procurement job in the private sector

We wrote last week about Paul Vincent's investigations into the chances of private sector procurement people getting into the public sector.

However, given the Spending Review and the outlook for employment in the UK public sector, it seems more likely that procurement professionals are going to be traveling in the opposite direction. In fact, I suspect this applies through most of Europe; as government expenditure is reduced, public sector jobs will unfortunately disappear.

While we might assume that procurement will be spared the worst of the reductions, given it has a key role to play in reducing expenditure, I fear that will not be enough to exempt the function from the pain.

So, there may well be a large number of good, experienced public sector people applying for procurement roles in private sector companies. If you are in that position, how should you approach the recruitment process?

We're going to publish three posts here. This one, apart from the introduction, will cover briefly the application process, in terms of how you present yourself before you get to formal interview stage. Part two will cover what to say at interview; part 3 will cover what not to say, and may well be the most entertaining of the three!

So, you've seen an advert on the Internet or in a newspaper or magazine; or if you're very lucky, a recruitment person has called you. What happens next?  Here are a few tips.

  • “There is no such thing as an “informal chat” (telephone or in person) in the recruitment process”. (Those words of wisdom come from my wife, a 15 year veteran of the specialist scientific recruitment market!)
  • So if you get the chance to speak to the recruiter or the organisation itself, always assume that any conversation – even if it is only positioned as a 'chat about the job' – is part of the process. Sound enthusiastic, be able to explain why you are interested, and, if you had prior notification of the discussion,  show you have done some research.
  • Let’s assume you are now getting into the written element of the process.  It may not be what you may be familiar with.  Many public sector recruitment processes are very bureaucratic, often with many forms to fill in and a pretty structured format. You may find a private organisation has a much more flexible approach; it may just say “send your cv to this address” or “ring our consultant for a chat”.  Make sure you read and follow instructions carefully.
  • Even if the advert just asks for a cv, include a tailored covering letter explaining why you are interested and what you can bring to the job – no more than about a side of ‘content’ (excluding the address, headers etc).  In many cases, the covering letter is at least as important as the cv. And again, it is vital to do your resaerch so you can show you understand the company and the role.
  • Put some effort into having a strong, clear, cv. It should be no more than 2 sides, font size 11 minimum.  Include an overall short summary, a clear record of academic and job history; some identification of your key skills and capabilities; and an explanation of what you have achieved in at least your last 2 or 3 jobs.  And 'achievement' is not just a role description or how many people you managed.  Outputs, savings, successes, innovation, positive change, reduced staff turnover... they are achievements.  Even better if they can be quantified.
  • There is much controversy about whether to include your photograph on the cv.  I tend not to; if I looked like George Clooney, I might… On the other hand, there is some evidence that very attractive people don’t get taken seriously in business (a problem I have battled with all my life....)  Your call!

Finally, don’t forget to include your contact details – I have seen that left off the cv, which sort of rules you out really....!

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