4C Is Recruiting Procurement People – Ed Ainsworth Spills the Beans

Our new sponsor, 4C Associates, a leading procurement services firm, is recruiting procurement people via its advert that you can see just to the right of this article. We thought it would be a good idea to ask a few questions around that recruitment programme, so I met up last week with Ed Ainsworth, the CEO and one of the original founders of the firm.

You are recruiting at various levels – I assume things are going well?

Yes, we’ve seen a strong recovery in demand in the past couple of years. We found that although firms wanted to save money during the difficult years of 2009 - 2012, which you might think would put more focus on procurement, they were cautious about spending money with services providers like us! But we’ve seen a real upturn in the past couple of years, in managed services and consulting, and the prospects look good. We’ve also got some exciting ideas around further growth areas, so the recruitment programme will support that as well.

Why do you think a procurement practitioner currently in a line role should consider moving over to the consultancy / service provider world?

There are definitely some attractions. You can really see the impact of your work, often very quickly. And our people say that they enjoy the pace – there is less of the time-wasting internal politics and non value adding activities that you can get bogged down with in big corporate life. You’re expected and encouraged to be at the leading edge of procurement thinking, but we are also very focused on results. Those results are usually very tangible – you can’t just tell people you’re doing a good job, you have to actually do it!

Does that translate into career progression and reward?

Yes, absolutely. Because of that results focus, you can progress very quickly. We have six-monthly performance reviews and you can effectively be “promoted” and get a salary increase whenever you deserve it.

What about the negatives?

Well, you can’t get away from the fact that consultants need to be flexible in terms of location. We try and accommodate peoples’ situations, but if we win a big project in Glasgow, Plymouth, or Brussels, then we will need to have people based there. If you always want to be 20 minutes from home, this isn’t a role for you. But many people enjoy that side of the work anyway.

A lot of your staff have previous experience as procurement line roles. Do procurement people make the transition to consultants easily in general?

Many do, but we have found that just being a good category manager for instance will not necessarily make you an effective performer in our environment. There are other skills, even if the individual is still doing a very category focused job – for instance, in a service provider environment, communication skills are vital. It is essential to be able to put together a good report or presentation. The clients just expect that. It’s surprising how many procurement people don't have those skills. Good data skills too are vital – you need to know your way around an Excel spreadsheet.

What about at the more senior level?

Those same skills like communication are still vital. But one point even senior people need to understand – even if you are leading an assignment, you probably won’t have a huge team to run around after you! If something needs to be done quickly for instance, senior people must be prepared to get stuck in and get involved in the detail. Some really enjoy that, others find it a struggle.

Are deep category skills essential for some of the roles?

It’s fascinating, clients tend to say they want this, but then the consultants they rate the most highly are usually the people with pace and energy, and not necessarily the deep experts! I think the message is that if you have those deep skills but not the other attributes, you will struggle.

So how do you test candidates in your recruitment process?

We’re now using a case study approach a lot in the process. We give candidates a real life situation, with lots of data and information, which might be around a market, and we might ask them to come up with a short presentation outlining their thoughts on a category strategy. We used to send them the information in advance but now we do it in real time – so we are testing the pace and energy of the candidate as well as their more technical skills in analysis and communication.


Thanks to Ed Ainsworth, and we will have more articles from 4C to come. And if you are interested in the roles, follow this link for more information.

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