On Starting Out in Procurement: Giving a 21-Year-Old Career Advice

Earlier this week, I heard some terrific news. A son of a good friend, who had interned for a sourcing consultancy during the summer between his junior and senior years in university, was offered a full-time position. In the current job environment, an offer for recent graduates -- even at the low end of a desired salary range -- is still an offer. Moreover, the job was in a field that is near and dear to my interests. It's also one that I hope I at least partially convinced my friend would make good sense for his son as a career launch pad. Getting the first job, however, is just one thing (albeit a critical one). Having gotten this offer, what advice and early career/enrichment path would I recommend to my friend's son to maximize his potential for advancement and salary potential provided he stays in procurement?

The first step is one he's already done right -- starting in consulting. Even though it's possible to have a strong first experience in industry, there's nothing like getting tossed into the sourcing and supply chain fire in a professional services model at such a young age. Having consulting experience affords an environment of accelerated learning, not to mention gaining the ability to interact with and present to executives at an age where such interaction is often hard to come by. Perhaps most importantly, a professional services experience out of the gate affords quick career mobility. Besides, the best thing about starting out in consulting is that you get your card punched early, before having to travel when you have a family, sell work and enjoy the general hell that being a senior manager or partner later is when it comes to one's personal life. Get in, suck up everything you can, and get out, moving into industry or pursuing another option -- that's my advice.

Before considering the next option before the consulting exit 2-5 years into one's career (which may include graduate/business school before assuming a management or sourcing lead role), there are some things I'd personally recommended in the interim. The first is earning a certification or two. Given my friend's son meets the requirements for the CPSM -- or will, with enough work experience three years into his role -- this certification might make sense, given how well known ISM is in the industry. Or, if he gets involved in a supply chain or direct material focus, APICS certification would also make a lot of sense. Other options include the SPSM (Next Level Purchasing), IACCM and the American Purchasing Society (APS), all of which could be a fit.

If he has the time at night or on weekends, I'd also recommend getting early academic training in both finance and accounting (perhaps managerial accounting), taking night courses (given, in this case, his liberal arts background). There is no replacement for taking a financial look at procurement issues at a young age. In addition, if he decides to go down an MBA path, he'll be comfortable with the basics already. And if not, he'll pick up a desirable skill set that will apply to more senior roles in procurement, general management or elsewhere in his future career moves.

- Jason Busch

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