5 Young Supply Chain Professionals on What They Wish They Knew Earlier

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Supply chain management as an undergraduate major is booming.

Chalk it up to better outreach programs, a tough job market or sheer STEM mania — but supply chain is becoming an increasingly popular area of study for college students. Such is the reality of job-hunting today that few college students can afford not to at least wonder how their choice of major will translate into finding a job post-graduation.

Therefore, considering that the procurement and supply chain sector is facing a well-known talent gap and that the average entry-level salary for supply chain managers is around $65,000, majoring in supply chain is a pretty smart decision. Whereas the major was virtually unheard of two decades ago, now a steady number of young people with newly-minted supply chain degrees enter the workforce every year. That means more internships, more job fairs and also more competition for the young and ambitious who hope to be CPO someday.

If that’s you, consider the following pieces of advice from five young professionals whom ISM and Thomasnet.com named as “30 Under 30” Rising Supply Chain Stars. As Christina Gill, one such “star” with over a decade of experience in supply chain, said, “This is an exciting time in your career. Be open, be adventurous, be a sponge, listen, learn, and take risks in your career.” So read on!

Don’t Be Afraid to Say “I Don’t Know”

“Starting out, I wish I would have been more open to admitting when I didn’t know about a topic. There are certainly times where ‘fake-it-till-you-make-it’ works great, and I’m a big fan of Richard Branson’s learning-on-the-go approach: ‘Say yes, then learn it as you go.’

However, I now realize the benefits of being upfront with someone that I don’t have a reference point for a topic and that I am eager to learn more. This opens a dialogue and helps clarify assumptions with your colleagues. Far from eroding trust and limiting opportunities (as I sometimes assumed early in my career), I’ve learned it builds trust and fosters a culture of curiosity, learning and improvement.” — Paul Boyer, head of procurement at Genentech Hillsboro Technical Operations

Be Your Own Advocate

“When first starting my career, I wish I understood the importance of being your own advocate. [However], perhaps that comes with experience. It takes time to become comfortable enough with yourself to be able to voice your thoughts and opinions, especially to your superiors.

I’m not suggesting I would advise a younger sibling or my younger self to do so in such a way that it came across boisterous or rude, but looking back, my career didn’t start to advance or take the path I had envisioned until I began I speak up, which unfortunately, took me far too long to do.” — Amy Alpren, director of strategic sourcing at CBS Corporation

Align Your Role to the Business

“I first started my career in IT and then subsequently moved into supply chain. I had a hard time understanding how the organization and business worked at first, and as a result, it was difficult to connect how the work I was doing was affecting the internal and external stakeholders, as well as the business results and strategy.

I started out, in a sense, following the procedure. I am sure this is indicative of the millennial in me, but I now try to [prioritize] understanding the endgame and stakeholders when starting a new role. I think this is something that is important to many millennials, and it is worthwhile to take time at first to grasp the big picture to make sure not only that what you are doing is aligned to a bigger goal, but also that you see it how it fits.” — Laura Stearns, supplier commodity manager at Cisco

Take Control of Your Career Path

“It took me a while to figure out that you are the person that controls your destiny in your career, and that opportunity can't find you if you can't be found. Simply working hard and doing well won't make the rest of the company a mind-reader about the direction you want your career to go.

Most all of my big wins (and the projects and career moves I've enjoyed the most) have resulted from me being interested in something and stating my intention to be involved. For new initiatives, that meant creating the roadmap and then leading the charge to build momentum. On existing initiatives, that meant showing up and adding value to keep me getting invited back. If there's a gap between where you are and where you want to go, it's up to you to take the steps to bridge that gap as far as you can. That is especially true when there's nobody else doing it yet.” — Dan Kaskinen, manager of strategic sourcing at Premier Inc.

Pursue Cost-Savings (Not Just At Work)

“Something I was lucky to learn very early on in my career that is applicable to all millennials, no matter what field, is to start saving as soon as you are earning. With financial flexibility, you will be more likely to make decisions based on self-fulfilling matters such as personal growth, professional opportunities or work-life balance, rather than being forced to make career decisions based solely on monetary values.” — Christina Gill, international supply chain leader

What do you think recent grads starting out in supply chain careers should know? Leave us a comment!

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Voices (2)

  1. Charles Watts:

    Learn that regardless of what your procurement role might be, what goes wrong is always your fault.
    Supplier didn’t deliver on time? Your fault.
    Quality is poor from your supplier? Your fault.
    Suppllier not paid within terms of sale? Your fault.
    Received parts are improperly accounted for? Your fault.
    I have been in the procurement field over 20 years. I know of no one that went into procurement roles because they wanted to or were schooled for. Most all of my peers were looking for a job or transfer in their present organization and thought, “What the hell? I buy groceries. I can buy (fill in the blank).”
    If I had to do it all over again, I would have gone further in my education and studied organizations. Or gone to work for UPS.

  2. Matt Krane:

    Among several other suggestions, I would add that the continuous improvement mindset is not just a mantra for one’s company, suppliers, or client(s); continuous improvement (or as we all love to say in Procurement, “CI”) of one self by way of enhancing one’s skills, continuing education (whether a graduate degree, professional certification such as the CAPM or PMP, or other coursework), and as mentioned in the article, other individual learning & growth areas are incredibly important.

    Anyone in this industry knows that it has and will continue to evolve rapidly, and the outlook is that it will continue to do so, requiring new knowledge & skills on a seemingly daily basis. Be open to change and periodic learning, both formal and informal. The role of a procurement professional continues to evolve and become more strategic, pushing each of us into new frontiers demanding innovative, creative, and skillful team players.

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